SPOTLIGHT ON NY POPS: Aaron Lazar
In a very short time since his Broadway debut roughly ten years ago, Aaron Lazar has crafted a particularly impressive career consisting of a striking series of featured and leading roles in everything from LES MISERABLES and A TALE OF TWO CITIES to THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA - and the sensational PBS Live From Lincoln Center telecast of it - to his superb turn as Count Carl Magnus in the recent revival of Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury to, most recently, Lonny Price's rapturously received presentation of Sondheim's COMPANY: IN CONCERT starring Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone at Lincoln Center - which will soon be seen in 500+ movie theaters nationwide starting in June. In this revealing conversation we discuss all of the aforementioned peformances, as well as what fans can expect from the forthcoming Clint Eastwood film J. EDGAR starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Josh Lucas, written by Dustin Lance Black, with Lazar in a featured role, as well as his upcoming dates premiering his new show at Feinstein‘s in June. Before all of that, you can catch Aaron live and in person May 2 at the NY Pops Tribute to Bob Hope, which will also feature performances by Kelli O'Hara, Tom Wopat and many more in addition to a special presentation by Angela Lansbury. More information about the event - and tickets - is available here.
In Praise Of Aaron
PC: Was J. EDGAR an especially exciting shoot with Clint Eastwood at the helm?
AL: Yeah, that was one of the greatest experiences I've had in show business, actually. It was just awesome.
PC: Dustin Lance Black wrote an impressive script, then?
AL: Yeah, it's a great script. I mean, you know, I have no idea about the finished product, obviously - but, it's got the potential to be something very special.
PC: Who did you film your scenes with?
AL: I'm with Josh Lucas and an Australian actor named Damon Herriman in my scenes. Armie Hammer and Leo are witnesses who sit directly behind me in the big scene I am in.
PC: Who else is in the scene with you?
AL: Oh, I mean, it was unreal the line-up of actors sitting behind me - Denis O'Hare, Stephen Root, Dermot Mulroney; it was just awesome.
PC: Denis O'Hare has done this column - what an intelligent actor.
AL: Yeah, he's a great guy.
PC: What memories stick out most about your past co-stars? Perhaps the best place to start would be A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Angela Lansbury, who you also will be appearing with on Monday at the NY Pops gala. What was it like working with her every day, eight times a week in that production?
AL: I mean, that was a dream come true and she has become a really dear friend - we just spent some time with her in LA. She's just such an inspiration. She's so humble and she's so classy and just a lot of fun. She handles her success with such grace that it's really an inspiration for how you can still have your feet on the ground even with that level of success.
PC: What about working with Catherine-Zeta Jones and Bernadette Peters?
AL: I got to work all four of those amazing leading ladies - Elaine Stritch, too. It was totally awesome.
PC: And you will also be re-teaming with you LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA cast-mate Kelli O'Hara at the Pops gala. What can you tell me about working with her?
AL: I worked with Kelli in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA for the first time and then we did some concerts together. I just think she's as good as it gets. You know, there are a few people in this business who were just born to be Broadway stars and I think that's Kelli in a nutshell.
AL: Yeah, I just love every time I get the chance to work with her. I think she is the real deal. We don't get to perform enough, as far as I am concerned. I mean, I get to sing one song with her in this benefit and that will have to give me my Kelli O'Hara fill-me-up until we work together in October with the National Symphony. That will be great.
PC: What other dates do you have coming up?
AL: I'd love people to come see me at Feinstein's on June 19 and 20.
PC: What can we expect?
AL: It's going to be a bit of a departure for me. It's got a lot of big, soulful stuff - James Brown and Tom Jones and Bob Dylan. It's a big departure from the Broadway stuff, so I am really looking forward to people hearing it.
PC: Any Elvis Costello?
AL: Ha! (Laughs.) You know, I tried. That's funny - you brought up the one guy who, no matter how many of his tunes I looked at and tried to make work for me, I couldn't do it. He's just got something that I can't figure out how to tap into for some reason.
PC: His material with Burt Bacharach might be the key - GOD GIVE ME STRENGTH; the title song and the whole album.
AL: No, I don't know that! Thanks a lot for the suggestion because I'd love to check anything out with those two. That's really cool, man.
PC: What about some of the lesser-known Sondheim stuff, too?
AL: That's funny you mention that, too, because somebody brought up to me the song he wrote for DICK TRACY with Madonna and Mandy Patinkin.
PC: "What More Can You Lose?"
AL: Yeah, yeah. It's a nice tune.
PC: How do you devise your song list for a concert like the one coming up at Feinstein's? Do you work with a musical director?
AL: Yeah, I am actually working with Aaron David Gleason. We are putting this thing together. He sort of comes from a blues/ funk/rock background.
PC: You're bringing major soul to your sound, then.
AL: Yeah, man, it's sort of like east meets west and we are meeting each other somewhere halfway in the middle. We have been coming up with some interesting stuff so it should be a great couple of nights.
PC: What songs are you looking forward to performing most?
AL: Well, last year when I was at Feinstein's I did like a Great American Songbook thing with a jazz band. So, we will be keeping a couple of tunes I did then - like "New York State of Mind" and "That Old Feeling", which is a remake we did of an old tune. But, we're trying to beef it all up with some bigger stuff. We'll see how it goes.
PC: You could always do "What Kind of Fool" now that The Warblers on GLEE are bringing it back again.
AL: That's true! That's true. (Laughs.)
PC: What do you think of GLEE?
AL: You know what, I wish I could say I watched it, but I'm embarrassed to say I don't. We have a fifteen-month-old little boy and, so, I watch nothing.
PC: You have other things to attend to with a toddler.
AL: (Laughs.) Yeah, I watch nothing - I have no time to watch TV anymore. In fact, I was just saying that to my wife yesterday, after we DVR-d GAME OF THRONES on HBO.
PC: Pretty cool, right?
AL: Yeah! I watched the first episode with her a week late and now we've had the second one on the DVR and I've been trying for the last three days to watch it and there has been absolutely no time.
PC: What have you been up to recently besides fatherhood?
AL: Well, today, for example, I am going back to North Carolina, going back to my alma mater, to talk to the graduating theater students and then back to New York for the Pops gala. But, with a baby, there's just like... no time! (Laughs.)
PC: It's all-consuming!
AL: Ugh, I wish I could just sit back and watch TV sometimes. But, obviously, I am a huge Matt Morrison fan and I am a big Lea Michele fan because I know those guys from way back.
PC: And your COMPANY cast-mate Patti LuPone will be on the season finale it was just announced.
AL: Oh, really? That's great! (Laughs.) They done good!
PC: What was that experience like doing the COMPANY concert with her and Neil Patrick Harris? Lonny Price recently did this column and spoke quite highly of the resulting product.
AL: Lonny is great. I've wanted to work with him for so long, I was so glad that he asked me to do the concert. I'm hoping they do it again somewhere else - they should do it at Ravinia and at the Hollywood Bowl; it's such a great group of people.
PC: What was it like working with Lonny on this production?
AL: I thought Lonny's concept for the show was just brilliant. To try to make that show work in concert with limited time and limited tech and limited space and the whole thing - I thought it was just so smart. That cast was so awesome.
PC: Who sticks out, in your experience, having worked with them all?
AL: Patti LuPone is just... amazing. I had never gotten to work with Patti - this was my first time working with her. I am just the biggest fan.
PC: What was it like working with Patti on COMPANY?
AL: She is just like... you know how sometimes you have these ideas of how it's going to be working with people and it turns out to be a dream come true like that?
AL: Well, that's how it was with Patti. She's such a powerhouse and such a cool lady. We just had such a great time - everybody; all of us in that show. You know, there were no egos in that room. With the amount of success and talent that was in that room it could have gone another way, and it was such a wonderful experience.
PC: Did you get to work with Sondheim one-on-one at any point during COMPANY?
AL: He's great at giving notes. They are so, you know, precise - he hits the nail right on the head. I forget what exactly he said to me once, but I was emphasizing one word in a sentence and he was like, "You've got to emphasize this other word. It's not ‘Da da da da da DA,' it's ‘Da da da DA da da.' But, otherwise, it was great - perfect!" (Laughs.)
PC: Right to the point.
AL: Yeah, the smallest detail but it changed everything about the line.
PC: How did you react once it sunk in what he had said?
AL: I was just like, "I would have never thought of that! It's unbelievable that he heard that." (Pause.) That's the kind of stuff in this life where you're just like, "Wow, I just got a note from Stephen Sondheim."
PC: A major "Wow!" moment.
AL: Pretty cool, man. Pretty cool.
PC: It's pretty cool, too, that LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA lives forever on YouTube thanks to it being broadcast on PBS. How does that feel knowing your performance will live on?
AL: Yeah, I am just so, so proud of that experience and I really cherish it. I am so appreciative that I had the chance to do it. The fact that we got the PBS thing? I gotta say, that's sort of the benchmark that I try to reach with every career opportunity: which is to be as good as I feel like I was in that show. Or, at least as committed. I don't know, that was just a rare bird of a show.
PC: An anomaly. What ways did it seem that way as an actual part of it?
AL: That was one show where everybody in the production was just in it all the time - backstage, onstage - and there was never any messing around. I just think we all committed to sharing that experience onstage with each other eight times a week, and I did it for ten months - and, some people were doing it four or five months longer than me - and, when you are doing a show, after a few months it becomes difficult to keep it fresh. (Pause.) But, we just did it, man.
PC: You made it happen.
AL: We just did it every single day. Vicki Clark was the captain of that ship. Bart Sher, too.
PC: How did you become involved with that production in the first place?
AL: I learned that thing in only twelve days of rehearsal and it was my first lead role in a Broadway show. It came after I was an understudy. I learned so much from Bart Sher, so quickly, about this relentless commitment to going for it - and, that stayed with me ever since.
PC: How do you wrap up your experience with that show, looking back?
AL: Well, that was my first lead role, and since then I've had some great opportunities playing opposite some great actors in supporting roles, so I look forward to hopefully carrying that into some more lead roles where I can chew a little more scenery now, you know?
PC: All three of you - Matt Morrison, David Burnham and yourself - brought three completely different takes to the role. Did you see either of them in the show yourself?
AL: I never got to see David because he was on when I was out. But, I did get to see Matt do it once - I got some tickets to the show before I auditioned for it; that's going back, what, five or six years ago now?
PC: Time flies. What a score, too: "Love To Me" is one of the great love ballads in recent memory and "Say It Somehow" is one of the best duets.
AL: Yeah, yeah, yeah - I completely agree. Let's get Adam Guettel back on Broadway!
PC: Were you involved with THE PRINCESS BRIDE before it was abandoned?
AL: THE PRINCESS BRIDE? No, I wasn't, but, obviously, a bunch of my friends were. I heard it had something to do with the rights of the book being taken away or whatever. I don't care - the bottom line is that that guy needs to be back on Broadway and it can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned.
PC: Supposedly what was written what quite a score, with even some video game music and a very original, unique sound.
AL: Cool. But, look, you know, that's the unfortunate reality of developing a new musical these days: it is no small task. It is to the credit of teams of people that anything ever makes it from the page to the stage and I just hope it happens - for the sake of theatergoing audiences and everybody that stands to benefit from Adam Guettel's work. I mean, the bar gets raised and everybody benefits - from the actors to the audience. Someone like him - his talent belongs on a Broadway stage, you know?
PC: Totally. He is the continuation of the Sondheim tradition.
AL: Yeah, he is. And, it raises the bar for the audience and I think that's really important because I think the bar has slipped for a lot of the audiences - what's sad is that that then becomes the norm. Adam's stuff deserves a place out there with the rest of them.
PC: Do you see yourself doing more straight plays in the future?
AL: Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah - definitely. I am just a big fan of the classics altogether. Then, there's Tracy Letts - AUGUST and SUPERIOR DONUTS - and I'm also a big fan of Douglas Carter Beane. There's some great, new stuff out there and I would love to get into more straight plays for sure.
PC: How did you get into such good shape for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC?
AL: (Laughs.) You know, that's another disappointing reality of having a baby is that I haven't been to the gym in months. I used to try to make it there a couple times a week, but not anymore. We eat pretty healthily - so, that helps a lot. That's like 80% of it.
PC: Just genetics?
AL: Well, for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, I did try to get little bit more beefed up for that because I thought that would help me carry myself around the stage in that character. And, I would have loved to keep that weight on, but, like, as soon as I lost the show schedule where I was sort of able to dedicate myself to the routine of, you know, eating like a horse and trying to stay beefy for that part - as soon as that show ended, it was like, "Ugh!" It's a whole lot of work to keep that up.
PC: What performances have you seen recently that you really enjoyed?
AL: I went to the opening of SISTER ACT and I had such a great time. I had no idea what it was about and I had never seen the movies. But, I heard the show went through some major last-minute craziness in previews and, man, opening night was really fun and really entertaining.
PC: That's a fantastic score.
AL: Yeah! And, so much fun! I mean, c'mon, I'm a huge Alan Menken fan and I don't get to see enough of his stuff, either. But, I'm sure with having a kid now it's going to be Disney, Disney, everywhere...
PC: You get your wish!
AL: (Big Laugh.) It was a lot of fun, though. Douglas Carter Beane added some great material in there, too, and I read that the original one was by the people who wrote for THE JEFFERSONS and CHEERS and stuff. I mean, I grew up as the last generation with a foot in THE JEFFERSONS and all that stuff, so it was kind of like you were watching that kind of feel-good comedy onstage. That was great. I had a really great time.
PC: What else have you seen that you enjoyed?
AL: Well, we just got back from Los Angeles so I haven't seen a lot of the new stuff. I have to get back out there.
PC: Did you see SPIDER-MAN?
AL: Yeah, I saw it. I definitely didn't hate it as much everyone else hated it. I think there were some really good things. I thought the production design was like, "Holy sh*t!" I actually thought the score worked for the first act, but something happened in the second act where it all fell apart. So, I attributed that to "Oh, [Julie Taymor] is working through the show and she's only done with the first act." I have to say, the audience I saw it with was even really psyched to see the second act and then it all kind of fizzled out. So, I was really surprised that it all never came together and I really hope they are able to salvage that thing. Otherwise, that's a real big shame.
PC: Could you relate in some ways since A TALE OF TWO CITIES was such a troubled production?
AL: No, I didn't really have any issues in that myself - I just felt bad for the production team. The issues were that they were spending so much money that they just couldn't stop the bleeding. I mean, yeah, there were also probably comparisons to LES MIZ that shouldn't have been made - and, you know, we were closed in a couple of months. You just never know - you never know what's gonna happen with a show. I mean, I did IMPRESSIONISM with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen and we had high hopes for that and it never found its audience, either. So, you never know. Like, I don't even think about that stuff anymore because you think they are gonna like it and they don't and you think they're gonna hate it and then they love it - you just never know.
PC: Would you like to re-team with Jeremy Irons on THE BORGIAS?
AL: (Laughs.) Yeah, I'd love to! I haven't seen that show yet, though. Like everything else, it all went to the kid.
PC: What was working with Lea Salonga on LES MIZ like?
AL: I did the revival on Broadway a few months before she left. She is amazing. She is like the nicest person ever and has this immense, huge talent and has conquered the West End and Broadway and all over. It's so unreal. She's so down-to-earth.
PC: What do you think of contemporary music on Broadway?
AL: You know what, I am actually developing a new pop/rock musical with this writer Jordan Allen-Dutton called PHENOMENON. The score is so contemporary - it is by Arthur Bacon and Freddy Wexler - and there are straight-up Rihanna, Drake-type songs. It couldn't be more contemporary.
PC: What's the future forecast for the show?
AL: We are going to debut the score in concert in mid-June. We're going to debut like an hour of the top ten tracks. It's so fresh and so hip. I am flipping out over it. I am so excited about it.
PC: Define collaboration.
AL: I mean, I think it's true what they say: you are only as good as the other people you are onstage with; that's the collaboration. To get onstage you are collaborating with all the people - the whole creative team - and, also, the guys that are backstage - the crew and everybody; it is all a giant effort to sort of give birth to this live art for audiences to see.
PC: What's next?
AL: That's a good question. We are just trying to figure out NY or LA. And, I am spending a lot of time developing PHENOMENON and these concerts I have coming up. So, I am hoping to be back on Broadway in something exciting soon and I'll see what comes down the pike. In the meantime, I am happy to do gigs like Monday night at the NY Pops and working with Steven Reineke, who I just love.
PC: So, you are really looking forward to the gala on Monday?
AL: Any opportunity to work with Steve Reineke in Carnegie Hall with that orchestra? It's just like, "C'mon!" - you know?
PC: Are you also particularly excited about COMPANY: IN CONCERT being shown in 500+ theaters in June?
AL: I am really excited - except for the fact that I caught pink eye from my kid the day of the concert. (Laughs.)
PC: Oh, no!
AL: I was a disgusting mess. The timing could not have been worse - my kid got it the week before and I got sick that week. I was like, "OK. Whatever." Everyone had a cold who was in the show, so I thought I'd be fine and it wasn't stressing me out.
PC: Then what happened?
AL: I wake up the day of opening night, Thursday morning - and we only have four shows; and, they are filming all four nights - and I totally had viral conjunctivitis.
PC: No way!
AL: Yeah, so, the only thing I am scared about now seeing it in the movie theater is seeing my nasty eye on a movie screen. (Laughs.) I hope Lonny worked some magic in the editing room.
PC: You never know: it is also coming out on Blu-ray so you better watch out!
AL: (Laughs.) It is! It's in hi-def! So, let's hope that my friends who were sitting three rows from the stage who said, "You looked fine, you can't see anything," that they are actually right! Seriously, though, to be a part of the permanent representation of one of the finest pieces of theatre that has ever been written is really, really exciting for me.
PC: This was great. Thanks a lot, Aaron. Break a leg on Monday night.
AL: Thank you, bro. I appreciate your time. This was fun. Bye.
Photos: Aaron Lazar Headshot; Others, Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.