Jbara Still A SCOUNDREL!!!

"Nice work if you can get it" is one of my favorite lyrics, especially when it comes to my thoughts of working on Broadway. And this job does have its perks when you get to interview some of the lucky actors, whose dream actually becomes a reality. So, here is an interview with another one of the cast from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. This week, we hear from one of the nicest guys on Broadway, Gregory Jbara, who plays ANDRE in DRS. Jbara, a favorite of BroadwayWorld.com, last spoke to BWW about a year ago and so now, let's check in with him and have a chat…

TJ: Very nice to meet you, Greg. I actually saw you after you took over the role of BILLY FLYNN in CHICAGO, here in New York with Bebe Neuwith and Marilu Henner. I believe it was one of your first performances in the role.

JBARA: When I tripped on my curtain call coming down the stairs?

TJ: I don't recall you tripping so you must have covered it pretty well.

JBARA: That was actually the first time I ever replaced someone in a role. I had only two weeks of rehearsal with a stage manager and a piano. It was then that I realized what a luxury it was to have six to eight weeks to create a role before you start in front of an audience.

TJ: Well, we thought you were amazing in the role. But enough about that, what is this I read about a show you were in a the Monster??

JBARA: That was actually my very first show in NYC which was a camp musical based on the Bride of Frankenstein called HAVE I GOT A GIRL FOR YOU. And it starred Semina De Laurentis, the original Sister Amnesia of NUNSENSE. This was the first major role for her after NUNSENSE and I played Frankenstein's monster, complete with the bolts on my neck and wearing ledehosen. I was actually tap dancing in the big old Frankenstein boots. Coincidentally, it also starred D ennis Parlato, who stands in for Jonathan Pryce and myself in DRS. It was my first union gig in NYC.

TJ: Hmmm, a monster…OK. So what initially got you interested in acting?

JBARA: My therapist would say one thing. Well, I came from a family of four kids and there was also a big extended family. My father was the youngest of thirteen children and my mother was the second of three, but we had many many cousins. So at family gatherings, there were hundreds of Jbaras and Sweeneys so there was no time or place for being modest or shy. We were all raised Catholic so there was a lot of singing from the very beginning. As soon as we were able to talk, we were all singing church songs. I was an altar by third grade so the idea of being up on stage during high mass….there was no greater theatrical experience than that of high mass.

Attending public school, a lot of the other Catholic kids would come up and say, "Hey I saw you up there.." So here I was being singled out here and I thought "Hey, this is kinda nice being recognized." And on some of the weekday masses, I would get to do some of the readings. So I had a lot of experience early on thanks to the Catholic church.

TJ: So you could call it a "God-given talent?"

JBARA: Very good. Very good.

TJ: Did you got to school for acting?

JBARA: When I was in the community school, I was exposed to everything involving the arts…I was in band, I was in choir. I was doing all the plays and all the musicals from junior high on and instrumental music from fifth grade on. I had a lot of opportunity and my mom was a piano player. So music and performing was a big part of my family. Then I went to the University of Michigan where I really wanted to pursue acting but no one in my family ever made a living do that. You either worked for one of the big three auto makers or my father, who was an insurance claims adjuster. The idea of anyone making a living in the arts was a foreign concept.

So I had a major in communications with a minor in theatre, knowing I would do theatre while I was at Michigan. The whole time I was there I was doing all the student productions and then ultimately getting involved in the theatre department productions, once I could change my major. My folks never discouraged my change of major. It was obvious I had a talent there so they were very supportive.

Ironically, the University of Michigan musical theatre program, which now has one of the greatest musical theatre programs in the country, didn't exist. I knew after talking to teachers and mentors that if I wanted this career to happen, I would have to be in NYC. So I auditioned at Julliard and interviewed at NYU. The only weekend I was free for the Julliard audition, they were in San Francisco, so I flew out there and rocked my audition. But they were also impressed with my passion for flying out there for the audition. A couple of months later I got a letter saying that unfortunately I was on a waiting list. Sure enough, someone turned down the spot and I was in at Julliard in 1982 and graduated with a Bachelors Fine Arts degree in 1986. That's what brought me to New York and really launched my career. When you have Julliard on your resume, people take a moment to appreciate it.

TJ: Did you immediately get work or have to take a job as a waitor or something.

JBARA: I was actually working before I got out of school, doing a lot of voice-over work. My first job was a voice-over for a Norelco campaign. I was already paying off my student loans before I graduated. I always had a privileged sort of experience on this journey, although I was still catering while I was in school for a company called THE NEXT SUPPER that catered for production companies. So when I got acting work, people would say "Haay! Good to see you again. What was it that we worked on with you?" And I would say "I used to feed you guys. I used to be the guy slinging hash behind the sterno, man." So, it was kind of fun. But being on the set and having carte blanche, I had a great opportunity to learn.

TJ: Some guys just have all the luck, huh? So, how did you get involved in SCOUNDRELS?

JBARA: Everyone except for John Lithgow and the principals were already attached to the show. They had all done the workshops. Lithgow was attached before the production began in San Diego. Denis O'Hare was originally suppose to play this role, but he was still doing ASSASSINS and had his sights set on SWEET CHARITY. So he was not interested in doing this job.

So, about two years ago about this time, they held auditions in San Diego and I live in Los Angeles. I drove down and when I was signing in, I noticed that my name was the only one I didn't recognize. Everyone else was a major star and about 50% said "offer only", which meant that they weren't going to show up to audition but they were interested in playing the role. Everyone had starred in a major series or motion picture. There were several guys there that I knew, like Charlie Pankow was there at the same time I was there as was Robert Picardo, the guy who played the doctor on STAR TREK: VOYAGER. I was the last guy to audition. Having worked with Jack O'Brien, the director when I did DAMN YANKEES, I was a little more at ease. I worked harder on the audition for this than I had for anything because when I read this script, I was laughing out loud and couldn't believe that this script and lines were going to be performed on a Broadway stage. It was outrageous, it was a hoot!! And I hadn't heard the music, I was only reading the lyrics form the book.

After I left the audition that day, I kind of knew Jack had made up his mind already. The next day, they asked if they could meet with me again. Not Jack, just Jeffrey and Yazbek. So they came up to Los Angeles and had me sing through the song again, mainly just to check where the key would be with my voice. And they didn't really know me, they just wanted to hang out, shoot the breeze a bit and make sure they could spend two years with me. I mean, that's a big part of working these days because if people are difficult, they don't tend to be the first choice. If you're fun to work with, it helps. So when I left that second meeting, they basically said, "You're the guy!" So that was the journey.

TJ: OK, now give us the wonderful truth….what was it like working with Joanna Gleason? (NOTE: His current co-star is the amazing Lucie Arnaz!!)

JBARA: You know, I think I got the first place straight to heaven. Nothing against our understudies, because everyone has a different spin when they come in, but on-stage with Joanna, it doesn't matter what the audience is like….we know that when we are out there we're together totally. She is completely dependable and reliable. You know exactly what she's going to give you. When the audience is with us, we can just sit there, enjoy the ride together and look in each others eyes thinking, "Oh yeah, this is good."

Off-stage about three weeks ago, after the matinee, she and Chris came over (Joanna's husband, actor Chris Sarandon). Joanna cooked dinner, Chris entertained the boys and Julie (Jbara's wife) sat back and had a glass of wine. Bottom line is that she is just one of the nicest people and an incredible performer.

TJ: So for you, do you have a preference between the mediums? Stage, film, TV?

JBARA: Oh, always stage, most definitely. I would take a live theatre stage in a minute. Ultimately, I still appreciate that immediate acknowledgment. I don't just do it for myself….I enjoy the gratification of an audience's approval.

TJ: OK, now for the time when we find out a little more about the off-stage life of Greg Jbara in my special FIVE FAVORITE THINGS. And off we go……FAVORITE STATE

JBARA: California, for a couple of reasons. I auditioned for Julliard in California. My wife was born in California and both of my sons were born in California. It's a beautiful state.

TJ: FAVORITE FOOD

JBARA: Crunchy Organic Peanut Butter

TJ: FAVORITE BIRD.

JBARA: Owls. Their strength and magnificence truly amazes me.

TJ: FAVORITE SPORT

JBARA: Hockey. Although that may change once the kids start playing sports.

TJ: FAVORITE THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD

JBARA: Being in the backyard of my house with my family with the kids playing in the pool.

Thanks Greg! And there was so much more we talked about during the interview that just confirms what everyone tells me….this is a great down-to-earth guy who also happens to be amazingly talented. And you should go see him in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS with Jonathan Pryce, Norbert Leo Butz and his new co-star Lucie Arnaz. Check out the show's website at www.dirtyrottenscoundrelsthemusical.com/. Performances are on Tuesday @ 7pm, Wednesday - Saturday @ 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday @ 2pm, Sunday @ 3pm at The Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, New York, NY.  To purchase tickets, go to telecharge.com or call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250. Jbara is also receiving an award for his committment to theatre along with Joanna Gleason and Stephen Schwartz in November from the New England Theatre Conference in New Haven CT (www.netconline.org).

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TJ Fitzgerald TJ Fitzgerald has been interviewing theatre’s finest talent with BroadwayWorld.com since January 2006. He has been active in the New England Theatre scene both as a participant (acting and directing) and an enthusiast of the entertainment scene for over 40 years. He was a featured columnist writing interviews and theatre features for New England Entertainment Digest and served on the Board of the New England Theatre Conference (NETC) for several years. Some of his noteworthy interviews have included entertainment luminaries like Tony Award winners Tommy Tune, Sutton Foster, Karen Ziemba, Michael Rupert, Faith Prince, Joanna Gleason and Gregory Jbara, Tony Nominees Brad Oscar, Keith Carradine and Andrea McArdle, Oscar nominee Marsha Mason, Oscar winning songwriter Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau and Oscar/Emmy award winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz. 2009 saw a milestone for TJ as he was welcomed to the 50's. In TJ’s words, "Life is good! Everyone's got a great story to tell and I am all ears! Theatre is my life!"




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