Jason Graae: Anatomy of an Actor
Ever-humorous and award-winning performer, Jason Graae that's pronounced "GRAW" not "GRAY," as this reporter embarrassingly learned returns to the legendary Birdland October 21 and 22 with his acclaimed solo-act "Graae's Anatomy."
In "Graae's Anatomy," Jason sings from the heart, breathes through his nose, touches a nerve, and tickles the funny bone. It includes Jason's somewhat twisted and sometimes even humorous take on songs by Bucchino, Sondheim, Mercer and more. His solo show, "Coup de Graae!" won the 2006 New York Nightlife Award, as well as the Bistro Award for Best Major Engagement, and was listed in TimeOut NY's Top 10 Cabaret shows of the year.
Graae boasts an incredible list of creative arts experience, including turns on Broadway (A Grand Night for Singing, Falsettos), Off-Broadway (Forever Plaid, Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah) and even voiced breakfast-cereal icon Lucky, the Leprechaun! Not to mention his slew of opera credits among most prestigious companies, including Washington National, San Francisco, Los Angeles and The Metropolitan Opera.
Join BroadwayWorld.com's own News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, in a morning chat with Jason dialing in from California
Eugene Lovendusky: What are you up to in Los Angeles?
Jason Graae: Oh, a lot's going on these days. Can I just tell you We just sold our condo, my partner and I and bought a house in the Hill it's actually not "The Hills" it's a hill, The Hollywood Hill. My mom just moved in with us from Tulsa, Oklahoma. All of this just happened in the last three weeks.
Eugene: Oh wow.
Jason: I know! It's been a really intense time. That's what I've been doing I've been like a house frau for the last month.
Eugene: You're returning to New York very soon, to Birdland with your one-man show "Graae's Anatomy"
Jason: Graae! It's "Graaaaw's Anatomy," Eugene!
Eugene: Are you kidding!?
Eugene: But [laughs] Your concert title is so misleading for those who don't know your last name! Okay, Mr. Graae, what are audiences going to find this time around?
Jason: I'm trying to make it a little bit more personal this time. All my shows are hodge-podges, and this one is no exception but this one delves a little more deeper into my life and my world. Hopefully it's funny. I did a version of this at Birdland last January and it's similar-ish to what I've done before. But I've been working on it all year; I did it out here in Los Angeles in a theatre and kept developing it. Hopefully it'll be better.
Eugene: When you're doing a one-man show, can you really be "your own worse critic" or is there even room for that?
Jason: No, there's plenty of room for that! There's lots of room to be your own worse critic. It's just you, so I think that's inherit, that voice that's always that's there monitoring everything you do. It's definitely worse; the critic is harder when it's just you. If you're doing a show, then the critic can blame the other actors your with. If you don't get a laugh I immediately think it's somebody else's fault. You can always blame the material. But when it's just yourself and songs that you've picked up because you love them and stories that you've written yourself and patter you think is really funny if that tanks, there's no one to blame it on. God knows, I try!
Eugene: I don't think anyone has room to blame you! You have a plethora of awards under your belt. The New York Nightlife Award, the Bistro Award, and TimeOut New York's Top 10 list. So what's your secret? What makes a good one-man show?
Jason: Wow, I should just quit now, shouldn't I? It's all downhill from here! [laughs] I got my Backstage Bistro Award, I should just retire. You know, that's a good question and I guess it's really really different for everybody. For me, I think it's keeping a surprise element, so that the audience never gets ahead of you. I like to pull the rug out from audiences, I don't like for them to think they know what's happening next. I also think the reason I like to do a one-man show is you're not limited into the confines of a role. There's so many facets to actors and I think it's important to push those limits, as far as what a person can do. I know when I like to go see a show, I like to see people show as many different facets of themselves as they can, because I think that's the fun of it.
Eugene: You mentioned how people should show many different facets when I was looking at your bio before calling you, I'll be honest I had no idea where to start because you have such a crazy impressive list of experience! You've been artistic director, opera, Broadway, off-Broadway, cabaret, TV, voice-over. Do you like to dabble in all the creative arts for a reason? Do you like to keep it fresh?
Jason: I'm a prostitute. [laughs] Do you know what, it really is basically I just really like to work! I'm thrilled that there's a variety. It's why I got into this business to begin with, because I really don't have the discipline or intellect to have a 9-to-5 job. But I came from a classical music background and I merged that to theatre, it kind of opened up the door to a lot of different possibilities.
Eugene: You led me up right to my next question Personally, I am particularly interested in your opera credits. Why do you think having classical voice skills and experience is important in your performing career?
Jason: Wow, you've done some research! I like that in an interviewer. [laughs] When I do operas, I'm not really singing very classically. I have a classical background as far as being a pianist and an oboist, but my voice isn't really classical in the operatic sense. But I certainly have a classical sensibility, so I'm comfortable being in that world. The operas that I do are more in the operetta world, but I've gotten to do them in all of these major opera companies so it's been really wild. And I feel comfortable in that world because I went Cincinnati Conservatory and I hung out with all those kinds of people, I love hanging out with them and I understand them and their "diva-osity." But the stuff that I do is more like all the comic roles like in The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus and I just did this Offenbach operetta at the LA Opera. I love it. I just love it. For me, it's like a great mesh of musical theatre and my classical oboe background to be standing on these huge stages with a full orchestra and all the opulence. I'm a complete sucker for the over-the-topness
Eugene: Me too!
Jason: That's opera! I just love it. It just thrills me! And it's very different than theatre, and sometimes it can be frustrating because when you come in the first day of rehearsals obviously you're an opera fan, right?
Eugene: Oh yeah!
Jason: You know, on the first day of rehearsals, those opera singers are on their gig
Eugene: They blow me away!
Jason: Yeah! They're done. They're off-book; they've been working with their coaches; they're so prepared. And I come in as an actor, having read through the script a few times, made a couple of character-choices, thinking I'm going to be working on it during rehearsals. It's very different. It takes a while we're always like dogs sniffing each other's asses.
Eugene: [laughs] I know exactly what you mean, I was just in that position.
Jason: Yeah, the actors really come in as lumps of clay. We're ready to work with the directors and find our way. These guys really come in having done their work.
Eugene: Did you find the performing arts or did the performing arts find you?
Jason: I guess they found me. My whole family is in the arts some way or the other. My father was a cellist in a symphony outside Chicago that was a side-job, he was a scientist. My mother was a dancer in New York. She was next-door neighbors with Dorothy Loudon and they moved to New York together. Mom was a dancer in New York for several years before she got married. My sister was a classical pianist. And my brother was a partier. So it all just seemed to work. [laughs]
Eugene: [laughs] Okay one last question I'm not going to ask you to do the leprechaun voice, but I am going to play with my words a little bit. Do you see yourself as lucky? Is there a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow?
Jason: [laughs] Don't you sweet-talk me at this hour, Eugene. [laughs] Oh, that makes me laugh. I'm going to go have a little bowl of cereal right now. I guess I'm still kind of looking for that pot of gold. I think that's probably what keeps us all going. But I feel that it's insight. The pot of gold is insight. And I'm seeing some of the glimmer How's that for queer answers?
Eugene: [laughs] Sorry, I was so fishing for that!
Jason: Are you coming to the show?
Eugene: Well, I'm going to have to!
Jason: I think you better.
Eugene: Well congratulations and break a leg with your coming concerts.
Jason: Thanks, Eugene.
Eugene: No problem. Thanks for talking to BroadwayWorld!
Jason: I love BroadwayWorld. I read it all the time. I'm dependent on it out here in Los Angeles, so I love it. I look forward to meeting you! Thank you. You made this painless!
Jason presents "Graae's Anatomy" at Birdland on October 21 and 22 at 7PM. For tickets ($25 cover, plus $10 food/drink minimum) call 212-581-3080 or go to www.birdlandjazz.com. Birdland is located at 315 West 44th Street.