BWW Interviews: Miles Phillips - Theatrical Journeyman Travels Many Roads
By: Patricia Gay, The Weston Forum
Miles Phillips has performed a dazzling number of Broadway musical roles: Robert in Company, Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, Officer Lockstock in Urinetown, Lumiere in Beauty And The Beast, The Wizard in Wicked, and Javert in Les Miserables, to name a few.
But you probably haven't seen him in any of them.
That's because he portrayed those characters on a series of studio cast albums - one of musical theater's best-kept secrets.
Stephen M. Pearl produces the albums under the Stage Stars label, and while not especially well known to the public at large, the albums are an actor's best friend. In addition to full vocals, they contain instrumental tracks in the show's original key and tempo - perfect for auditions and musical rehearsals.
Miles Phillips has recorded 20 albums so far for Stage Stars. On his latest, the handsome, blond, blue-eyed lyric baritone portrays the much-beleaguered Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
I caught up with Phillips recently in Connecticut, where Stephen Sondheim was giving an on-stage interview with newsman Morton Dean at The Ridgefield Playhouse.
At these events, the featured star usually has a 'meet and greet' with the audience. Phillips said he was looking forward to finally meeting Sondheim, his musical idol, who he had briefly corresponded with years earlier.
But it wasn't meant to be. It was a cold night and snow was in the forecast, so Mr. Sondheim was whisked away promptly in a limo as soon as the interview was over.
Although they didn't get the chance to connect, Phillips does have a notable Sondheim connection. Shortly after his Company studio cast album was released, he received a note from Stephen Sondheim's publisher, Bob Golden, calling him, "one of the very, very few definitive Roberts and important theater voices."
Phillips was blown away. "I'm not certain if Bob Golden was speaking just for himself or on behalf of the 'Sondheim camp.' I guess I'll never know for sure, but it was huge praise and it meant a lot to me," he said.
Phillips is perhaps one of the most self-effacing and unpretentious performers in show business. He doesn't consider himself a "star" and refers to himself merely as a "journeyman," a reliable and hard-working laborer.
But truth be told, he's had a successful and enviable career as an actor, director, nightclub singer and recording artist, and is as comfortable performing Shakespeare as he is the Beatles.
Originally from Weaverville, California, as a young boy Phillips fell in love with musicals after his mother took him to the movies to see Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. "I told my mother right then that I was going to be in The Sound of Music someday," he said.
He kept that promise several times over the course of his career, first playing Kurt, then Rolf, then the Captain in a production at the Britt Music Festival (the last performance his mother saw before her death.) Most recently, he reprised the role of The Captain for Stage Stars.
When it came time for college, Phillips initially steered away from theater and attended Kansas State University and the University of Hawaii, where he was a PreMed major. But he decided to change course and pursue his true passion by studying theater at The American Conservatory Theatre and The National Theatre Conservatory.
He worked for a time in Chicago in a wide variety of gigs. He fell down a flight of stairs eight shows a week in the Jeff award winning production of Noises Off; sang the national Anthem for the Chicago Bulls; and starred in a musical adaptation of Penny Serenade.
In 1993, the day after Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration, he moved to Manhattan, where his vocal career took off. He recorded a solo album "might as well be..." and carved out a niche as a popular nightclub vocalist, appearing at venues like The Metropolitan Room and Feinstein's. A cabaret favorite, he's won multiple MAC awards and was twice named a finalist as outstanding cabaret male vocalist by The Nightlife Awards.
Singing in nightclubs has been an important creative release for Phillips. "I went through a rough relationship break up and wrote a cabaret show about balancing art, showbiz, travel, and love, to express my feelings. It was about the challenges every actor faces," he said.
In a profession that can be mercurial and cruel, Phillips has earned a reputation for being reliable and kind. He teaches master classes to help actors learn how to sing, and he helps singers learn how to act. Behind the scenes, he's helped other performers rescue their cabaret shows.
Not content to be pigeonholed into one genre, Phillips occasionally dabbles in films. He starred in and wrote the screenplay for the indie film, Keepers. In the category of "most unique movie experience" he was the stand-in for Kevin Spacey in K-Pax, where he rehearsed and ran scenes with Jeff Bridges. "Kevin Spacey likes to block and shoot, but Jeff Bridges likes to rehearse first and run the scenes during camera blocking, so I ended up doing all these scenes with Jeff and nobody saw it but the director and cinematographer," he said.
His recent experience on the Fiddler studio cast album, has provided Phillips with the opportunity to expand his range even further. With his California good looks, Phillips was about as far from Zero Mostel's signature bug-eyed Tevye, as one could get. So when Stage Stars producer Stephen M. Pearl initially asked him to play the part, he turned him down. "In fact I turned him down five times. I just couldn't see myself in the part," he said.
But the project was delayed and Pearl was persistent. "He convinced me I could do it, so I agreed and worked hard to find my hook, getting the Yiddish Russian accent and the vocals just right. Plus the dialogue within the songs is so rich, I had to use all my tools as an actor for that role," he said.
Although Phillips never considered himself a character actor before, after Fiddler, it's something he said he is happy to add to his skills set.
As Phillips continues his career, there are two roles he would especially like to play - Arthur in Camelot and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. With word of a new production of My Fair Lady coming to Broadway starring Colin Firth, wouldn't it be loverly if the producers considered a well-seasoned journeyman for Higgins' standby?
Miles Phillips stars as Tevye in the studio cast album recording of Fiddler on the Roof.
At age 4, Miles Phillips was already a fan of musicals
Miles Phillips won a Drama-Logue award for his performance as Mordred in Camelot.
Miles Phillips as The Captain in The Sound of Music.
Miles Phillips as Bassanio in Merchant of Venice.
Miles Phillips in Reappearing in My Mind at Feinstein's.