BWW Interviews: Broadway's Craig Schulman Then and Now
Broadway artists come and go. Some are talented enough to survive the Great White Way for a few years and some are fortunate enough to have an enduring lifetime doing what they love the most; performing. Craig Schulman is among those whose career spans some 25+ years. From his numerous performances as Jean Valjean in one of the world's most beloved theatrical productions to producing and directing projects and teaching young people in theatrical master classes and workshops, Craig has done it all.
We caught up with Craig as he departs yet another production of LES MISERABLES. This time in Troy New York where he once again wore the mark upon his chest.
Pati Buehler: Craig, you've come full circle again in the role that has brought you so much joy and well deserved recognition. What is it about this role, this show that continues to capture so much interest?
Craig Schulman: The simple answer (if there is one) is in the universal themes of the story. Victor Hugo has given us a love story on a number of different levels: the romantic love stories of Cosette, Marius and Eponine. The story of Fantine, who ultimately sacrifices her life for her daughter, or of Valjean who raises the girl as his own. Man's inhumanity to man. Valjean's love for Mankind.
These subplots are set against a period of history that remains current; a wealthy, seemingly uncaring ruling class, desperate to deny its citizens basic necessities. That's where the title comes from: literally, 'the miserable ones'. There are even more themes and subplots, but you get the gist. LES MISERABLES is a story that remains poignant today, and almost anyone who sees the show will find something that they can relate to.
PB: As the only performer in the world to have played the title roles of Jekyll & Hyde, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera and Valjean in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, how do you prepare for such demanding roles?
CS: I came to the world of musical theatre from a career as a classically trained singer. My training and experience singing sometimes massive, dramatic operatic roles uniquely prepared me to undertake these difficult theatrical roles. I have a developed a healthy vocal technique that allows me to bring great emotional and dramatic weight to roles like Valjean and the Phantom. I am able to adapt that technique to different styles of music, including 'Broadway'. I also need to be in good physical shape. Discipline is paramount. No smoking, very limited consumption of alcohol. If you take care of your body, it will usually take care of you.
PB: What other roles have you enjoyed playing over the years?
CS: Tevye (Fiddler On The Roof) comes first to my mind. A wonderful character, and one that among other rewards, allows me to get some laughs. Most of the roles in my career have been so serious! I love performing Archibald in The Secret Garden.
PB: You have undoubtedly seen many changes in the way Broadway has evolved in so many ways. In your opinion who are today's Broadway audience and what are they looking for?
CS: Good question. Music and musical styles evolve over time. I came to the world of musical theatre in the decade of the '90's, the era of the 'mega' musical. The most enduring shows of the time were Les Mis, Phantom, Cats, Evita. Now we are in the era of the 'Jukebox musical', where a body of musical works of a single composer (usually pop) are combined in a story line. Mamma Mia is one of the most successful; 'Jersey Boys' has the best storyline in my opinion, because it uses the music of its composer(s) to recount its own history through the performers who made the music popular (Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons). Jukebox musicals are, in some ways, a throwback to the heyday of American operetta (gasp!), where a composer would create a body of songs and then try to come up with a story to tie the songs together. Some great songs came from that era, but operetta is rarely performed anymore.
In answer to your question, I think audiences continue to look to be entertained, moved. I think the 'pop' style of music used in so many shows at present is a great way to bring young audiences into the theatre, but I enjoy stories with great drama and more sophisticated music and lyrics.