Jared Gertner: Ya Never Know

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When Jared Gertner was a high-school sophomore, he put on a lion-costume and won the first Best Supporting Actor Rising Star Award, bestowed by the Paper Mill Playhouse, in 1996.  As an energetic Jewish boy in Jersey, Jared always found his niche performing with the Tony Award-winning regional company; and at age 17, Paper Mill awarded him with a scholarship to pursue theatre-arts at NYU.

Jared most recently won-over theatre fans as the bumbling wiz-kid William Barfee in Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Reporter Eugene Lovendusky had the pleasure of first-meeting Jared in the Spring of 2006, where he glowed in his "big-break" as Barfee in the San Francisco Bee company.

After 12 years, five-foot-five Jared is ecstatic to return to Paper Mill, this time as a leading-man (sharing center-stage with a cannibalistic plant) in the highly-anticipated production of Little Shop of Horrors... Just goes to show, ya never know!

Eugene Lovendusky: Hey, Jared! How great is it to be chatting again! You remember the good ol' days in San Francisco?

Jared Gertner: I know! That was 2-1/2 years ago, can you believe it? A lot has happened since then. It was an incredible time doing Spelling Bee in San Francisco; and I think secretly I hoped I would be doing it in New York. It was a dream to do the role on Broadway for a year. But when Spelling Bee ended, I thought to myself: "When will I ever be able to do a show I'm this passionate about? When will I get a role this exciting again?" The fact my next big job is Seymour at Paper Mill – it's great!

Eugene: Especially for a character-actor like yourself! Congratulations on your first leading-role at Paper Mill!

Jared: Thanks! They don't always write leading-men roles that can be played by character-actors – so this is great. I have a long history with Paper Mill. To go back there to work as an adult is exciting. I did Peter Pan when I was 14; and I did Big River there when I was 17.  I also won their first Rising Star Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Eugene: What's the story there?

Jared: The Rising Stars are Paper Mill's awards for excellence in high school musicals, started in 1996. It's an unbelievable program; they model it after the Tony Awards. In my sophomore year of high school, I played the Lion in The Wiz (and I know you're having a fun time picturing a little Jewish kid playing the Lion).  And I won the award for Best Supporting Actor. I remember that night so perfectly. Also, the Rising Star Awards have a scholarship program for high school graduates going to college for theatre – two years later, I won a scholarship to go to NYU.  So, I had all this experience with Paper Mill by the time I'm 17 years-old. Since then, I've really been wanting to get back with them as a grown-up.  I saw that they were doing Little Shop of Horrors, and I thought: "That's it! That's gotta be my way back there!"

Eugene: Incredible! What was your familiarity with Seymour and the wonderful world of Skid Row prior to being cast in this show?

Jared: I've always loved the show. I watched the movie all the time. I liked the movie a lot – it's one of the good ones that transfered well from stage to screen.  I've never actually seen the production on-stage (which was exciting, to get to learn that!) But I always listened to the music growing-up; it was always one of those roles I imagined myself doing. During tech-rehearsal, I was standing on-stage singing "Skid Row" in my ugly cardigan, singing about being poor – and it blew my mind!

Eugene: Have you met The Plant yet?

Jared: Oh yeah! The Plants are absolutely incredible. They're all built new for our production.  The really nice thing was, before we had The Plant, Michael James Leslie (The Voice of Audrey II) would run lines with me on-stage.  That was great because you get to work with a human being and got to understand each other on the human-level first. Then we added in the puppet – and you can really lose yourself in it! We have wonderfully-built puppets.  I really like singing "Feed Me (Git It)" the song I sing with the plant. That is a really fun time in the show for me. And I also love doing anything with Jenny Fellner.

Eugene: New York audiences are familiar with some of the cast, like you and Asa Somers. But what about the rest of your stars, like Jenny Fellner as Audrey and Stephen Berger as Mushnik…

Jared: I mean it – there really isn't one bad egg in the bunch.  On top of being great people, they're all so talented. Asa Somers as Orin is hi-la-rious! He's doing so many hysterical things; I think people are going to be really surprised with his range. Jenny Fellner is superb. At call-backs, I think right away we knew something was there. I met her in Boston when I was doing Spelling Bee and she was in the national tour of All Shook Up.  We have an immediate spark. And Stephen Berger – I look up to – I learn so much from him, every day.

Eugene: And how hot are The Urchins…?

Jared: Singing their faces off! I'm only doing the show to see the three of them sing! [laughs] Everybody loves them.

Eugene: Opening Night is Sunday, June 8. Are you pumped?

Jared: Yeah. It's crazy. It's a very fast process but we're so ready for an audience.  The nice thing about Little Shop of Horrors is – no matter where I go – people tell me it's one of their favorite shows.  It's got great music, it's fun and silly, it's sort of dark… it's got everything.

Eugene: And puppets!

Jared: Puppets, blood and fun!

Eugene: You've got something else coming-up you're really looking-forward to…?

Jared: Right after we close, I go out to Pennsylvania Center Stage to do a new musical called Ordinary Days written by Adam Gwon; which is a show I've been working with in The City for almost a year now. It's a four-person musical about people in a post-9/11 New York and how their lives intersect. I absolutely love it and I'm so excited to be in its regional premiere.

Eugene: Sweet! I hope we hear more about that in the future.  Finish this sentence: For a New York actor, Paper Mill Playhouse is…

Jared: For a New York actor, Paper Mill Playhouse is a gift.  We're all really lucky it's still around and it got through its hard-times, because they do such great work and are such good people. To do an incredible show in a theatre like that is a gift.

Little Shop of Horrors at Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, NJ), by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman through July 6, 2008. Directed by Mark Waldrop, Choreography by Vince Pesce and Musical Direction by Bruce Coyle.  Tickets $25 to $52 ($20 student rush) may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, or at the Paper Mill Box Office on Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org.

Photos: Jared Gertner (headshot); Jared Gertner as Seymour (Gerry Goodstein, 2008) 

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF Bay Area, his love for the arts bloomed at an early-age; a passion that has flourished in NYC, where Eugene now lives and works. He is a proud member of the New York City Gay Mens' Chorus.


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