BWW Interviews: Meet Mr. Emcee, Tyler Michaels
Tyler Michaels is stepping into one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre history--the Emcee. Thus far in his career, Michaels has run the gamut of roles; the sleepy, bed-headed Moritz Stiefel in SPRING AWAKENING, the jealous but loving boyfriend Hugo Peabody in BYE BYE BIRDIE, Snoopy in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN and even the big guy in the sky, Jesus in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Not to mention, he's graced the television screens of suburban homes in a Subway commercial, which he still gets recognized for today. To say he has experience in the field would be quite the understatement. Michaels, however, is facing a dilemma with his newest role in the Theater Latte Da production of CABARET--how will he take such a well-known role, make it his own and leave behind a lasting impression for Minnesotan fans of musical? It won't be easy but we have gut feeling, Michaels will find a way to make it happen.
It's a cold and immensely foggy Friday in the Twin Cities when my phone buzzes on the desk beside me--it's Michaels. He's a cheery fellow and it makes our brief but informative 30-minute interview rather enjoyable. That's the thing about Michaels, he's a likable guy and by the end of our conversation, I wanted to say, "you're hired."
Growing up in Bloomington, the now 25-year-old actor knew musical theatre was his calling while playing the apple seller in his middle school production of ANNIE. "I think I had one line," he recalls.
After graduating high school, he initially set his sights on California--he was on a scholarship--but quickly realized he missed home. So, Michaels packed his bags, headed back to the Midwest and is now garnering repeat work from Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Theater Latte Da and Bloomington Civic Theatre, to name just a few.
"I feel really fortunate," say Michaels and he should. His ability to procure a steady stream of work is undeniable and also made for quite the busy schedule. Michaels was a part of Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF but transitioned out early to make time for CABARET. But before CABARET is complete, Michaels will be back in Chanhassen to start rehearsals as Prince Eric in their production of THE LITTLE MERMAID. He will then leave that production a bit early to make his Guthrie debut in MY FAIR LADY as Freddy--you following all that? And that's just in the next few months. It's exhausting at times but he admits he's very happy. It's rare to find a full-time musical theatre actor living outside the massive concrete hub, known to all as NYC, but Michael's has done just that.
Despite being incredibly busy, the Minnesota native is currently focused on only one role, the Emcee in CABARET. He's the "narrator" of the story that never actually finds himself involved--he is the guiding hand that helps us navigate the various twists and turns in the plot. He's a critical component of the show, and a bad Emcee can spell, "disaster" for any production.
Based on Christopher Isherwood's novel, and written by the highly notable duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical is set in 1931, just as the Nazi's are gaining momentum. It centers on a scuzzy club known as the Kit Kat Club and follows the life of the 19-year-old English performer Sally Bowles as she enters a more than complicated relationship to American writer Cliff Bradshaw. There's more subplot beyond that, but that's the brief rundown.
The show became an instant hit and since its debut in 1966, spawned reproduction after reproduction from various theatre companies around the globe--all promising to give you, "CABARET like you've never seen it before" and while Theatre Latte Da is no different, I believe them more than I've ever believed any other companies declaration. They promise that this is, "Broadway Re-imagined" and from the sounds of it, they've got quite a few tricks up their sleeve and so does Michaels.
"I don't think I'm like an expert on it [the show] but I knew just about as much as any other musical theatre actor before the process began," says Michaels humbly. "I think removing myself from other interpretations early on was beneficial. I could just do Alan Cumming but I didn't want to." Good choice Michaels, because the world doesn't need another Alan Cumming imitation.
Theater Latte Da--in conjunction with Hennepin Theatre Trust--began previews for the massive production January 15th and will open the production January 18th. It will be the first time the Mendez version is staged regionally and when the rights came available Latte Da artistic director Peter Rothstein just couldn't resist the urge to put his stamp on it. "He [the Emcee] is a little more present in this production. He's on stage 80-90 percent of the show and a little more integral in the whole story," explains Michaels. During the rehearsal process, Rothstein incorporated many of Michael's unusual talents in order to help put a unique twist on this particular production. "I do a lot of aerial acrobatic work, so we've incorporated that into the show."
Michaels readily admits that this is one of the biggest productions he's ever been apart of--and with the added bonus of the Hennepin Theatre Trust it only means more tech, more publicity, a bigger stage and an even bigger audience to impress but Michaels is confident that he and the entire CABARET team are up for the challenge. "I think our production will be successful," proclaims Michaels. "From the beginning we've been talking about, how long can you turn a blind eye and I think this revival has a more specific ending that will make the message clear for audiences. I think they are really going to enjoy this particular version."
CABARET aside for a moment, while Michaels may have settled down in Minnesota for now and although he might enjoy the comforts that come with being close to family, as a rapidly growing talent with a wonko-schedule and consistent demand, it might be destiny that moves the Minnesota native from the frozen tundra to the bright lights of New York City and that wonderful place we all know, Broadway. It worked for Laura Osnes (well, that and a reality show) and it could certainly be the same for Michaels.
Theater Latte Da, 1170 15th Avenue SE, Minneapolis, 612.339.3003, theaterlatteda.com