BWW Interview: Justin Guarini Talks Bringing LOVESICK to 54 Below, His New WICKED Gig & More!
Tomorrow, June 2, Broadway veteran and current star of Wicked Justin Guarini brings his new cabaret show LOVESICK to 54 Below. Directed by Gordon Greenberg, the show is a tribute to all the horrifying places love has taken him - from a Catholic school closet in Doylestown, PA to the revolving hotel rooms at American Idol, and, ultimately, to Broadway.
With a seven-piece band, back up vocalists Shayla Benoit, Rashidra Scott and Rebecca LaChance, and music from Burt Bacharach to Beck to Mika, LOVESICK promises to be an evening of raucous and revealing storytelling - and a full-on party.
Justin recently took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld all about the new show, what it's like stepping into Fiyero's shoes, and so much more. Check out he full interview below!
Your new show, LOVESICK, seems like a really fun concept. How'd you come up with the idea?
Gordon Greenburg, the director called me up. He and I are actually cousins by marriage. We worked with each other before at the Bucks County Playhouse doing a radio play adaptation of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Robyn Goodman, the artistic director, called him and said, 'Hey, we'd love to do something for Valentine's Day, who do you think we could get?' So he called me and asked me if I'd like to do a fun cabaret piece for Valentine's Day, and I thought that was a great idea.
My very first show on Broadway was WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN and one of the opening numbers was "Lovesick." So we thought, why not call it that and make it all about funny, interesting, mostly embarrassing stories from throughout my love life. So from that idea, I started digging through my past and finding some really embarrassing stories, and putting them to music that I loved to sing and that fit with the stories. Gordon and I crafted a really funny, touching and entertaining piece for the Bucks County Playhouse.
Have you tweaked the set at all from that initial production?
Yes! What's really great about doing at 54 Below is that we have a tight hour time limit. So the stories are sharper. We've actually even mixed in the music with the stories themselves and created this really seamless piece that fits perfectly into the hour. I think it was about an hour and a half before. We've really stripped it to the essence of the stories, the essence of the humor, the essence of the embarrassment. I'm just so excited, because having my 11-piece band in 54 Below... with the richness of the sound in the space is gonna be so fun.
What kind of music can the audience expect to hear?
I purposefully picked an eclectic mix. There are tunes from Broadway, pop tunes, soul tunes. It's everything from WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, with that beautiful David Yazbek score, to Bacharach, to Mika, to Donny Hathaway, to Harry Connick Jr. I love to sing all kinds of music. I studied vocal performance in school, so I love being able to touch on different genres yet make them all a part of this piece. It will be all kinds of music with a rich sound.
You developed the show at the Bucks County Playhouse, and you're originally from Doylestown. What was that like for you getting to perform on your home turf?
There's no better experience than being able to develop this kind of piece in front of a hometown crowd. I was shocked and amazed that we were able to pack the house during a HORRIBLE ice storm on Valentine's Day. And then on top of that, being able to develop it at a Broadway-worthy house... the Bucks County Playhouse was the place where so many Broadway shows got their start. Everyone from Liza Minnelli to Grace Kelly has been on that stage! Angela Lansbury developed a piece there. It has such a rich history and to be a part of it is such an honor.
I know that you've worked with your backup singers before. That must be fun to get to reunite with them...
Yes! Shayla [Benoit] I met years ago when we were doing RENT at the Surflight Theatre. Then Rashidra [Scott] I did a workshop of DRUMLINE with, and then Rebecca [LaChance] I just met through Gordon. It's so great to have people like Rebecca and Rashidra who are on Broadway and who are sluggin' through eight shows a week like I am.
And then something that a lot of people don't know about Shayla is that last year the Tonys got in touch with her and asked her if she and her business partner, Shady Theatrics, would shoot little pieces for the audience at the Tony while they are on commercial break. So she did that last year and she's currently shooting another whole set for this year. So its really awesome to be working with people who are doing eight shows a week and so active in the community. Then I have my personal band with me- we've done stuff all over the place together. It's a lot of heart up on the stage.
Speaking of eight shows a week, how are things going at the Gershwin?
I absolutely love it, no lie. It's one of the best jobs I've had on Broadway, easily. What really makes it, besides the fact that it's just a phenomenal piece, is the cast. They're all so kind and so talented. It's so nice that there aren't any bad apples in the bunch. It's like a big family onstage and everyone has everyone else's backs.
It was announced last week that the cast will be involved with the Tonys ceremony!
Yes, some of the cast will be performing! And I'm really excited to be doing something very special that's in conjunction with the Tonys. That will be announced soon! I'm very excited.
Is this the first Tonys that you'll have been involved with?
Yeah, this will be my first direct experience with it. I watch it on TV but I'll be actually involved- it's very, very exciting for me. My goal one day is to host the Tonys! It's big shoes to fill but I need to put it out there. I will work very hard! If there was ever any major telecast that I would want to host it would be the Tonys. It's the combination of all of my passions.
It's been a while now since you American Idol days and you've come so far since then... is there any advice that looking back you'd give your younger self?
I like to think that all of the 'mistakes' I made led me to this point. I wouldn't have learned anything if I did I right the first time [laughs]. I guess it would be to see the bigger picture. When you're in the throws of all the highs and lows, and the highs are really high and the lows are really low, it's easy to be myopic. So my advice to myself would be to see the bigger picture and trust that if you have a dream and you never give up, that eventually it will come back around to you. Most of the people who are a success are the ones that just didn't give up. They just kept going when everyone else quit. You never know where the path will lead you, especially in the business, but if you believe in your talent, work hard, and treat people right, then you'll win in one way or another.
Bottom line, why should people head over to 54 Below tomorrow for LOVESICK?
If you want to laugh and you want to get to know me in a way that you have never ever seen me before, then come on over!
LOVESICK plays at 54 Below tomorow, June 2, 2014 (9:30pm). Tickets on the day of performance after 2:00 are only available by calling 646.476.3551. Click here to buy tickets now!
Guarini's past Broadway credits include: Romeo & Juliet (Paris), American Idiot (Will), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Carlos, original cast). Solo albums: Justin Guarini RCA Records, Stranger Things Have Happened. Regional: Ghost Brothers of Darkland County (World Premiere, Drake); Rent (Roger); Chicago (Billy Flynn); Joseph...Dreamcoat (Joseph). Film: Fast Girl, From Justin to Kelly. TV: "American Idol" season 1 (Fox), "Run of the House" (Fox), "Wizards of Waverly Place" (Disney), TV Guide Network (host).