2006 Tony Awards Q&A Michael Cerveris

Current starring in Sweeney Todd in the title role, Michael's previous Broadway credits include Assassins (Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, original cast Grammy nomination), The Who's Tommy (Tony nomination, Theatre World Award, original cast Grammy) and Titanic. In London's West End he's taken on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, also Off-Broadway and Los Angeles (Garland Award, Ovation Award nom.). His Off-Broadway credits include premieres and revivals by Charles L. Mee, Lanford Wilson, Maria Irene Fornes and Christopher Hampton; The Games with Meredith Monk and Ping Chong (BAM Next Wave); Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening; The Apple Tree for Encores!; and the Emmy Award-winning broadcast of Sondheim's "Passion." Cerveris toured the U.S. and U.K. as guitarist with punk icon Bob Mould and has performed with Pete Townshend, The Breeders, Stone Temple Pilots, Frank Black, Teenage Fanclub and Lloyd Cole. He recently released his indierock debut solo album, Dog Eared (Low Heat Records). His new band, Tiny Mammoth, plans a debut in 2006.

To start things off Michael, please tell us about your Tony Awards nomination day…

As is my tradition I slept through it, and because I always figure that anything I need to do I could do later. There's no need to wake up at an indecent hour! So, I woke up later to a bunch of texts, phone calls and emails this morning.

After you put everything 'back on the hook' – what was your reaction?

My first reaction was relief and I was glad to have all of the pressure and waiting and wondering behind me. It's kind of a relief to know that you're nominated and that you get to be included in this great group of actors.

Who did you call first?

The first person I called was my Dad, who's in Mexico at the moment so they hadn't heard the news yet either. They were watching CBS by satellite, but do to the time delay I think, they hadn't yet seen the news.

Have you connected with any cast members?

I've been in touch w/ Mano (Felciano), so I called him straightway when I heard he'd been nominated too and Alex Gemignani.

Having gone through this processes a few times before, do you look at it any differently this time around?

I think that each time that it happens I'm always incredibly grateful and honored every time. I think that it gets easier to keep everything in perspective and to enjoy the aspects that are fun because you learn to let the negative aspects role off.

What are some of those fun things?

Well, the great things about it are just -- when you're an actor you spend so much of your life feeling undervalued and underappreciated, and wondering if anybody knows that you're working. So, the outside acknowledgement really means something and the other part of it is going to events and seeing other actors who you admire, or who you know. We're all lumped together, and gravitate towards one another so it's a real bonding experience.

How many of your fellow nominees have you been able to see this year?

I try to see as much as I can, especially in this time of year so I can admire what they do. I've seen everything but The Wedding Singer so far, but I have seen Stephen perform numbers from the show at a few events recently. It's nice, to have been able to see them before and you're happy for them because you admire their talents. However it works out, you're happy for the winner because you like them as people and as actors.

'Sweeney Todd' is one of the most recognizable characters in the musical theater canon today, what has your experience of playing him been like?

It's just been truly the highlight of my career thus far and I've been luck to have had a number of highlights. This has been such a special thing though on a number of levels. It's by far the most challenging role that I know of in musical theatre, and just to be able to test myself against that high of a benchmark is a challenged. It's a thrill-ride, and I can only compare it to being like doing Hamlet – with tunes.

Had you seen the show previously?

It was actually the first Broadway show that I ever saw, and Len Cariou was my idol growing up. He was an amazing musical theatre actor, and just to follow in his foot steps is a huge responsibility and a huge honor. In this production particularly, I'm so proud to be in it, and adore the company so much. Working with Patti makes me a better actor, because you have to be to try to keep up with her.

It's been exactly the way that I love to work because everyone in it is so for all the right reasons, and they're people that love to work. It's been so gratifying that audiences and critics have similarly felt like this was a really unique once in a lifetime experience.

And Len Cariou came to see the show recently, right?

Both Len and Angela (Lansbury) have come to see the show and it's been quite thrilling. I'm not sure about Angela, but it was the first time that Len saw the show; he had never seen any other productions. To meet him, and to go out for drinks was my childhood dreams coming true. At the heart of it all, I'm really a fan still, just as much as I was growing up, so I get just as excited about it…just as much as I did outside the stage door waiting for autographs.

Was Len Cariou one of those whom you waited for outside the stage door?

Yes, I saw Sweeney Todd 7 times, and got his autograph many times.

I'm guessing that he didn't remember you this time around?

No, he didn't remember me, but I had hair then.

What did he think of the show?

It was sort of odd for him because the production was so different, but he really enjoyed it and thought we did a remarkable job. We went out for drinks afterwards, and told me stories about when he did it, and we swapped war stories. He also told me all about what it was like to hear the music for the very first time, and that was incredible to hear about.

You've brought up the interesting point about the difference way that this production has been presented – how's it been received?  

Well normally, when you're on your 37th day of 10 out of 12 tech rehearsals, you turn to your colleagues and say "couldn't we do this with a few cubes like we did in high school?" These days, we couldn't because it seems like Broadway has to be big and has to be a spectacle. Because of that, I'm constantly amazed that we're on Broadway with this production, but I'm so thrilled that it is been, and that people have responded to it as they have. It's just 10 human beings, and it's theatre in its purest magical form - magic made out of a few chairs, a ladder and a coffin.

Also a small coffin…

Exactly! The show is really primitive, and the thing I think it does best is that is shows respect for the audience and for their imagination to fill in everything. That makes the audience even more a part of the story and the experience because they're filling in so much of it. It doesn't feel bare up there, it feels so full because our character lives, and our activity on stage is very full for not having things flying or spinning around us.

What many people don't know about you is that you've got a band as well on the side from your theatrical career – are you still finding them these days?

I have 2 EPs that I'll release in early fall that I recorded before Sweeney started, so I'll get that out and will do some more shows this summer…all after June 11th. I have been getting together with the band to play a bit, but it's hard to find time to do it with Sweeney Todd. That's where I'm spending most of my time and energy these days and I couldn't be happier!

For more information about Michael Cerveris, visit www.cerveris.com.

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