BWW Interviews: JOSH LAMON Lets His 'HAIR' Down
Stage actor Josh Lamon is truly living his dream. A self-admitted theater geek, Josh has spent the past few years making a name for himself on the boards, most recently in the Broadway cast of HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. But before living the hippie life, he was last seen traveling the country in the First National Tour of the hit musical WICKED (as Boq) and starred as Seymour opposite Christiane Noll and Hal Linden in the recent touring company of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
Now, Josh—who grew up just south of Orange County in San Diego—can currently be seen reprising his HAIR-y roles as Claude's strict father and crowd favorite Margaret Mead in the First National Tour of the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a Musical, which continues performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through February 6.
Basking in the sunny glow of a Southern California "winter," Josh recently chatted with BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos about life on tour with this groundbreaking musical, his early-formed obsession with musical theater, and the first time he stepped on a Broadway stage. Plus, he offers some inside dish about his beloved tour co-stars!
BWW: Hi, Josh! So, how's the HAIR tour going?
Josh: The tour's been going great! It's been so much fun. Right now we are in beautiful Southern California and away from the terrible storms in New York City. So with that, it's been perfect!
And you guys are doing the show for two weeks here in Orange County! Have you been in our neck of the woods before?
Yeah, actually! The first tour that I did... I was in the First National Tour of WICKED... and that was, like, maybe six years ago now? I rehearsed in Costa Mesa! I rehearsed on that stage, but I never got to perform on it. So, yeah, I'm really excited to [finally] perform for people there!
Describe some of the "highs" and "lows" about life on tour.
As far as the "lows" go, you know, it's difficult to live out of a suitcase. It can get to the point where... okay, which suitcase did I pack my sanity? [Laughs] And the other tough part is being away from your friends, your home, your pets and stuff, and, for some people, their significant others. That can be difficult. But as far as the "highs" which for me, at least, definitely outweigh the "lows"... I love traveling! You get to go to all these places and get paid to go to these places, and experience these cities and get to play in these incredible theaters that have incredible history. The first theater that we played in—where we actually tech-ed the show in—was in New Haven. It was where Oklahoma ... South Pacific... The King & I... A Raisin In The Sun premiered! You know, all these classics did their try-outs at that theater, and we were on the same stage! So, that kind of stuff for me is really incredible... I'm a big theater history geek. [Laughs]
So, I first saw this tour on Opening Night at the Pantages Theatre up in Hollywood, and... my gosh, you guys really turned that place into a huge party! I mean, even some of the celebrities in the audience jumped up on stage and were like giddy kids dancing up there. Is it hard having to come up with that amount of energy to do this musical eight shows a week for three hours a night?
Yeah, it is hard, but... here's the amazing thing about the show. When it comes to show number eight of the week—and we do five-show weekends—we might be exhausted and just sitting there going "how am I going to do this for the next three hours?" But as soon as the music starts, it becomes an instant party! The one thing that you cannot argue about the show is that the music is just incredible and infectious. And the energy that the audience gives you—and they're singing along and they're dancing in their seats—it makes them feel like they're a part of the show. Altogether, it's like a big dance party! It's just so exciting seeing people come together, and I love it. Yeah, we get exhausted, but the audience and the music and the story really becomes an adrenaline rush.
Have you had any scary moments or run-ins with audience members that join you on stage for the finale?
Um... I don't think we've had any scary moments, per se. The show, as you know, is highly political and, I believe, can bring up some really conflicting issues within people... politically. There have been occasions where audience members get extremely upset about... you know, they feel like we're being disrespectful when, in reality, when the hippies were protesting... that was being patriotic. Protesting is patriotic. [In the show, we're portraying] a group of people saying that "we care about our country, too! We protest because we love America." But some people don't see it that way. And so sometimes that gets a little disheartening. When I play the role of Claude's father at the end of Act 1, I give little speeches about, you know, how "this war is a great thing" and "people need to have faith in it" and "we need to use Atomic Weapons!" Then I walk through the audience and it's always kind of spooky to me when people cheer me. You know, they say "that's right! You're absolutely right!" when I'm leaving through the audience. So that's the stuff that kind of makes me feel a little uneasy, but, you know, those are all [shaped] by my own personal beliefs.
This revival has received such great notices from critics and audiences, and, of course, won the Tony Award. What is it, you think, about this particular version of the show that's really resonating with people who see it?
That's a good question. I think part of it is that our director, Diane Paulus, is so passionate and so creative, and really made this piece come from the heart. During casting, the most important thing was "how well do you really relate to this? How passionate are you about this material?" And so, [in addition to] her magic and finding a fantastic cast that had the ability to really embody this time period and relating to it in their own personal lives, the material itself is just great. I think people—especially in times like these, where, you know, America seems so divided politically—they're starting to get angry again, and want to fight for what's right... for what they feel is right. So I think [the show] is really bringing that out in people. And also, the show's whole message is love and unity and to celebrate life. I think people need to hear it, and once they're in the theater, they embrace it themselves.
You started your "Tribe-hood" as a member of the Broadway company. How does taking this show on the road feel for you personally versus doing it in New York?
At first it [felt] off because, you know, Broadway houses are very intimate. They might seem big when you're in there, but touring houses are double or triple the size of a Broadway house! And so, because the show is intimate, I think my biggest concern was, you know, is it going to have the same impact? And, thank God that it did. And our cast is just crazy talented! I mean, they will run to the back of the balcony, like, 8,000 miles away! [Laughs] So, that was the biggest challenge...but also, it was really cool to feel like we were taking this message and bringing it to America as representatives from New York.
Now, I know the tour hasn't stopped at a lot of cities so far, but has reaction to it been pretty much universal?
Oh, yeah. That has been really amazing! And also it's been very interesting. Our official opening was at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington D.C. which is, you know, a very political town. I was walking home one night after the show and some audience member stopped me and she asked "what was it like performing tonight?" I thought she meant how I liked doing the show. But she corrected me and said "you don't understand! This town is just all politicians. You just performed for Senators and their wives or their husbands! This show probably pisses a lot of people off, so what was it like performing for these people?" The best thing about thinking about that is that they loved it and they were a part of it, no matter what their political opinions were. I think it really reminded them of what's important in life. So, that's been great. From there we went to Tempe, Arizona where, you know, it's very politically heated obviously right now. We've been to Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland... it's been great doing a show, as my friend said to me, that speaks to everybody the same way in every different city that we've been.
Okay, SPOILER ALERT!!! for our readers who have yet to see the show... One of the multiple roles you play in HAIR is Margaret Mead, which, I must say, is quite a highlight of the show. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with how to approach this character for yourself?
Well, I can start by saying that I love Margaret Mead. I love her so much. For me... and especially after having to take over from Andrew Kober in New York... I don't know if you've ever seen his performance [as Margaret], but he is a genius! An absolute genius. So, yeah, for me, I just had to make her as real as possible. Yes, there is a lot of comedy and it's borderline campy, but, you know, she had to be real. She had to be a real person—a real man that really identified and lived as a woman—that had to go on a journey of self-acceptance and being thrilled with who she was. She could never tell the world who she is and be proud of it. That's really the ultimate point of the character and what these hippies teach her... with that great monologue about teaching kids to be free and that they shouldn't have any guilt, and to be whoever they are and do what they want to do as long as they don't hurt [other] people. So, yeah, I just kind of worked it out from there and Diane and I worked on it a lot. And we still work on it.
Is comedy something you personally gravitate towards more?
I definitely work in comedy more, but my passion has always been acting and writing. Whether it's funny or dramatic or whatever, my passion is telling stories. I do work with comedy a lot, but I love art and I love telling people's stories.
Now, I've talked to a lot of actors on national tours, but only a handful of them have decided to do video blogs of their tour to sort of chronicle their travels. You and your HAIR co-star Allison Guinn have been producing a series of really hilarious ones... how did this project come about?
Allison was one of my best friends from the Broadway company, and when she left [to do HAIR in London], we kept in touch. We always had just these goofy ideas and would come up with random characters backstage. So when we both confirmed that we were going to do the tour together, we both talked about doing something fun and creative. I came up with the idea for the video blog "Touring with Josh & Allison" and we pitched it to our producers and they loved it! The first two episodes that we did were very much kind of introducing tour life, but now we're definitely gravitating towards... well, if you've seen Episode 3, we're definitely trying to make more fun movies for people that involve all the cast and, you know, have a great time... all kind of related to HAIR. As for Episode 4, I wish I could talk about it, but it's going to be amazing!
Oh, I was just going to ask if you could give us a few exclusive hints about the next episode!
Well... all I can say is... right now, what we're working on, has to do with a popular Natalie Portman movie... and Margaret Mead. [Laughs]
Okay, cool! Alright... I think it's time to dish a little dirt about your castmates.
So, pretend we're doing a list of "Class Personalities" for, like, a high-school yearbook... Quickly, who in the cast gets voted... "Most Popular?"
[Laughs] Um, oh God. Let me see... ME! Duh! Of course! That's not even a question! Give me a real question!
Okay, who gets voted "Most Intelligent?"
I would have to say... Paris [Remillard].
Who's the "Most Athletic?"
Who's the "Most Level-Headed?"
I guess, probably... Lee Zarrett, who plays Hubert.
Who's the "Biggest Flirt?"
Ooh, that's a good one. [Pauses] There's a few... but I would say Darius [Nichols]!
And the "Shyest?"
Maybe... let's see... Kaity! Little baby Kaitlin Kiyan, who plays Chrissy.
I might know the answer to this, but who's the "Class Clown" among you?
Um... I think that's me again! [Laughs]
Who's the "Biggest Troublemaker" or the prankster of the group?
[Laughs] Oh, god... all of 'em! All of us, we're all guilty! We're all pranksters.
Who will "Most likely burn his draft card" in real life?
Oh, that's a good question! Oh, Darius! Darius will definitely burn his draft card!
Who will "Most likely burn her bra" in real life?
Ha! That's a good one, too! Um.... Caren Lyn Tackett! She plays Sheila. Oh, she would burn it in a second!
Okay, finally, who'll win Prom King and Queen?
[Laughs] Oh, let me see... Let me go through the list of the boys' ensemble in my head. [Pauses] Okay, I'm gonna go with Marshal [Kennedy Carolan], our dreamy, blonde boy. Yeah, he's Prom King. For Prom Queen? I'm going to give to... Emmy [Raver-Lampman]!
Cool. Okay, now, let's talk a little bit about your background. As a kid growing up in San Diego, did you know you wanted to be a musical theater actor?
Yeah, I did. I'd say, from as early as I can remember, my mom used to take me to go see plays at San Diego Junior Theatre. You know, it's all I've ever wanted to do! Between Junior Theatre and the Muppets, I would just put on shows at my house all the time. And eventually, my mom let me start doing some local theater including San Diego Junior Theatre, and then I started working in the regional theater scene in San Diego. I was, like, a newsboy in Gypsy and I was in Joseph... It was the only real passion I ever had. I sucked at math, I sucked at science... I just sucked at school. But I excelled in creative arts and the theater... and I just knew that it was what I wanted to do.
Any particular stage musicals that were huge influences for you?
Gypsy was a gigantic influence for me, as well as Stephen Sondheim. I can't explain why—though this may explain why I was never the most popular kid in school—but I was obsessed with Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods from the time, I guess, when I was about ten. It was back in the day when they were filming all these [live stage productions]. We could rent them and had them on tape... and my bar mitzvah was Broadway-themed! Oh, it was BROADWAY-THEMED! At the party, every table was named after a Broadway musical! As it should be! And the kids' table—I kid you not—our theme was Sweeney Todd. That was my bar mitzvah! [Laughs] So, that's where I got my love of storytelling. Nobody does it better than Stephen Sondheim.
I take it he was a huge influence for you!
Carol Burnett is a huge influence. Betty Buckley is another... I saw her in Sunset Boulevard when I was about fourteen years old, and she was a major influence on me. Patti LuPone is, of course, another. They're my biggest inspirations. I just loved that while all my friends were listening to Nirvana or whatever, I was walking up to the counter with a tape of, you know, the Guys and Dolls revival and say I was buying it for my aunt.
So finally, you arrive in New York. Can you describe to me how you felt the first time you were on a Broadway stage?
Oh, well... it was a long time in the making... getting my first Broadway show. It was really overwhelming. I guess I was in New York for about eight or nine years, and at this point, I was very successful in the sense that I always worked. I was always working regionally or I did a tour or something like that. But by the time HAIR came around.... [Pauses] I didn't have the fight in me anymore, and I wanted to pursue maybe other things in the business... and I even turned down the audition for HAIR the first time I was called to go in.
So, with all that in mind, when I did my first performance on "Broadway!"... it was everything! I'm sure this is going to sound corny—and I'm sure your readers will make fun of me for it—but it's like HAIR itself: the stars aligned and, you know, it was magical. It was everything I ever dreamed of. Sometimes when your dreams come true, it's not exactly what you thought it would be. My dream came true and it was everything that I thought it would be.
When I started, I was in the ensemble at the time and it was still very early in the run, but ... I mean... [Sighs] to be on stage with Gavin Creel! And Will Swenson! And the show is so trippy and we wore these incredible, crazy hippie costumes! [I wore] this wig that made me look like a young Camryn Manheim! [Laughs] There was just too much. And then later, my PSM came up to me after the show and gave me a hug and said how proud she was of me. And this reminded me when they announced earlier back stage that I was "on" for this performance and that it was my Broadway debut, and so everyone was coming up to me and hugging me... there was a lot of crying that day.
Wow, even I'm welling up right now just hearing about it.
Yeah, I'm like an Oprah episode.
[Laughs] Okay, you probably get asked this a lot, but I'm asking it anyway: are there other dream roles from other musicals you'd like to perform someday?
Oh, yeah! Sure there are! Most of them will never play out... but... one of my dream shows is Road Show and I would also love to play Charlie in Merrily We Roll Along. I would love to be The Baker in Into The Woods... you know, I want to do it all! And, of course, Arthur Laurents will not agree, but I think I would be a fantastic Mama Rose [in Gypsy]. I would be so good... you should see me in my living room! My cat loves it! And... I think I would be a fantastic Pippin... in my living room, I am. I don't think they'll let me do a reading like Gavin did, but... [Laughs] I can really get to the emotions of "Corner In The Sky" going on.
You know, I foresee these as other possible future episodes of your video blog for some reason.
[Laughs] Oh... more ideas for my sick mind!
Now, I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the terrific work the HAIR cast has been doing with Broadway Impact and other philanthropic organizations. Why have these outreach programs been so important as side projects for your show's cast?
Well, it's what our show is about. Our show is about change. It's about making a positive change in the world. And we have this feeling of obligation, a feeling of... this is what we do and this is what we stand for. In a way, it's kind of like art imitating life... this is what we believe in and we're going to stand up for it. And since we're in this sort of position that can get people to come when we try to raise money for a project that we really believe in, well, then we have to. It all started with Gavin organizing us and our producers at The Public to give us the day off so we can go and march at the Equality March in D.C. That was beautiful because it got all these other Broadway stars and shows to put in money to get buses to get more people down to it. So, yeah, I think it's very important, and I'm so proud of the Broadway community for continuing to do such wonderful things. I myself am very passionate about the Ali Forney Center in New York and I've been talking to the cast if we wanted to try and find other organizations like that in these cities that we go to and help raise money for them individually as well.
Great. I think you guys do such great work. Okay, before I end our interview, we've come to my favorite part: THE LIGHTNING ROUND! I'll ask you some quick, short questions and just give me the first thing that pops into your head. Ready?
Oh, God. Okay.
What's your favorite musical of all time?
What song do you like to belt in the shower or when you're all alone in the car?
[Laughs] "Colors of the Wind"
Who is the person you admire the most?
My biological mother. I'm adopted.
What scares you the most?
Oh, gosh. [Pauses] Moving home with my parents.
What is your one guilty pleasure?
What do you like to do on your day off?
What or Who irritates You the most?
People being rude.
What instantly puts a smile on your face?
If you weren't an actor, what other career do you see yourself doing?
I'd be a writer or a therapist.
A lot of our younger readers on BroadwayWorld include many who dream of a career in musical theater. What is the one piece of advice you'd like to share with these young performing arts students who want to someday do what you're doing now?
Oh, gosh. There are a lot of things I want to share with them. But the most important: follow your bliss... and be a good person. This business can turn people really ugly, and it's important—most important, no matter what profession you're pursuing—be a good, kind person. Oh, and success is merely showing up. The results are out of our hands at all times. The results have nothing to do with you. Success is being present and being passionate.
Is there a specific city that you're looking forward to the most on the schedule?
Uh, Costa Mesa! [Laughs]
And lastly, what's been your absolute favorite moment of the tour so far?
Oh, gosh. There's a lot. I don't know if I can pinpoint it to one specific moment, so... I mean, in L.A., for example, I think it is magical when you see Diane Keaton dancing five feet away from you... or when Eric McCormack comes on stage. That makes me a little girly. But another favorite moment of this touring experience was when I did aerobics with Richard Simmons. Priceless. Priceless! Okay, my favorite favorite favorite moment of every day is hanging out backstage before the show and saying hello to everybody. I love that everyday.
Follow Josh Lamon on Twitter: @joshlamon
Photo courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Performances at The Segerstrom Center of the Arts (formerly the Orange County Performing Arts Center) continue through February 6, 2011 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm.
Directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Karole Armitage, HAIR features book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.
The HAIR National Tour is produced by The Public Theater (Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director; Andrew D. Hamingson, Executive Director), Nederlander Productions, Inc., Carl Moellenberg/Wenlarbar Productions, Rebecca Gold/Myla Lerner, Rick Costello, Joy Newman & David Schumeister, Paul G. Rice/Paul Bartz, John Pinckard, Terry Schnuck, Joey Parnes and by special arrangement with Elizabeth Ireland McCann.
Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). A limited amount of Student/Senior Rush tickets are available for certain performances.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
For more information, please visit SCFTA.org or HAIR's official site at www.HairOnTour.com.