Haskell Takes His Place on the Altar
He's young, he's energetic and he dances like there's no tomorrow. I'm talking about Neil Haskell, from Fox's hit reality show So You Think You Can Dance, recently joined the cast of Altar Boyz, the acclaimed musical comedy at New World Stages, taking over the role of LUKE.
Haskell made his Broadway debut in Twyla Tharp/Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin'. His TV credits in addition to "So You Think You Can Dance" include "One Life to Live," and the film "The American Mall" (premiering on MTV in August).
Altar Boyz, the acclaimed musical comedy, winner of the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Off-Broadway, is the longest running new musical comedy to open in New York in years! Full of sharp parody, sinfully spectacular dancing, and irreverent humor, this spoof about a heavenly guy-group is adored by audiences and critics alike. With an extraordinary mix of side-splitting songs "convincing enough to be played on MTV," uncontrollable laughs and lighthearted fun, this award-winning and totally original new musical is "90 minutes of pure delight" that's suitable for all ages and will have "the whole family laughing and singing along."
TJ: Well, Neil, you've just joined the cast of Altar Boyz. How's it going so far?
HASKELL: It's going really well. It's a lot of fun.
TJ: So how did you get involved with the show?
HASKELL: I actually just auditioned for it about two weeks ago. They needed an immediate replacement because Jesse Johnson was leaving for Glory Days and I got a call that night after my audition. Then I started that Monday. It was a real quick process and it just feels so good to get back on stage.
TJ: That was pretty quick! Had you seen the show before?
HASKELL: I hadn't! I went to see it the night after my audition and loved it. As I was walking into the theatre, I got the call from my agent and that was pretty exciting!
TJ: This isn't your first time on stage in New York. You had done a Broadway show called The Times They Are A Changin. Was that show after your appearance on the television show, So You Can Dance?
HASKELL: No. I worked with Twyla Tharp on The Times They Are A Changin in August of 2006. I worked on that from August until November and that show was amazing to be a part of. The dancers I was able to work with were some of the best dancers I had ever seen. They were so consistent each night and just so amazing to work with, to be around and they were amazing people too. Everybody who was a part of that show was just so proud of the show as well. It was just a great experience to be a part of!
HASKELL: I was very intimidated to work with her at first. She wasn't frightening to work with she was just a very good person to work with, as well.
TJ: So you liked working with her?
TJ: OK, tell me a little about your character in Altar Boyz.
HASKELL: My character's name is Luke and he's from Ohio. He grew up as a kid watching MTV and seeing the way the music was going and seeing how that culture was going. He fell in love with hip-hop and all that sort of stuff. And he was from Ohio, so he really didn't fit in and he became more hip-hop than pop, I guess. So, he just brought on a lot of the characteristics that he saw on TV because that's wanted to become. So you see a lot of that on-stage as him being more of a thug, I guess you might call it.
TJ: Do you get a lot of fans from the TV show coming in to see you?
HASKELL: I've only had one performance so far and I wasn't worried about anything like that yet. I had first show jitters and I just wanted to get through the show and have a good show for myself. Now each show after that is going to be more and more fun because each time on stage after that, you get to bring in more and more of the character. It just feels so good to be doing the show!
TJ: You get stage jitters? Is that normal for you?
HASKELL: Yeah, definitely because I haven't been on stage for a few months and it's just getting back into the swing of things. I think if I didn't have jitters before a show, just like butterflies and stuff, then it wouldn't have been that exciting of a show. You know what I mean? It definitely made for a great first show. It just felt great to be on stage with those four guys because these guys in the show now are just amazing.
TJ: Was it strange for you to come into the show with guys who had been doing the show for awhile already? Was it a welcoming group?
HASKELL: Oh, yeah. This cast was extremely welcoming. I met some of them after my first rehearsals and I was extremely excited to work with them. I introduced myself and they introduced themselves and we just kind of hit it off right away. We all sort of clicked right away and I feel like we have great chemistry on-stage, as well already. I just think it's going to be a lot of fun working with these guys.
TJ: Now you've also done a film called The American Mall?
HASKELL: I actually shot that film for MTV in January and February of this year out in Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah. It's a movie musical and in the movie, I play a janitor who is part of a rock band, a garage band as well. He and his buddies working at the mall and they meet some girls. We dance and sing and have a good time. It's going to be real exciting when it comes out.
TJ: Having been on the TV show, do you find yourself being recognized more in public?
HASKELL: Occasionally, somebody will come up to me and say, "You were great on that show!" I get to meet people on the street and some people that I would never have otherwise had the chance to talk to. That's pretty cool. I get to meet people from all different backgrounds and really enjoy that!
TJ: How did the TV show change your life?
HASKELL: It definitely opened up my eyes to what is possible in the performing industry through television and film and theater. And it opened so many doors and I got to meet so many people. Overall, it was just a great experience! While I was going through it, I had no idea what would come out of it because you really can't tell if you're going to do well on the show or what people's reaction to you will be. I definitely owe a lot to So You Think You Can Dance and the producers. They really helped me out and I have stayed in touch some of the dancers and the producers. They're just great people and very supportive as well.
HASKELL: Yeah, these are the tough questions. I've got to go with Blockheads. It's a great Mexican restaurant right above New World Stages, where Altar Boyz is, on 50th between 8th and 9th.
TJ: Who would you say is your favorite actor?
HASKELL: Hmmm. I really like Will Ferrell because he's ridiculously funny, has great timing and is just a little crazy. He's pretty awesome. And Jim Carrey, definitely. I grew up Adam Sandler as well.
TJ: Ok, you like the comedians! So when you're not performing, what's your favorite pastime activity?
HASKELL: I really like riding my bike around Central Park. That's a lot of fun because you really don't get to see a lot of nature in New York and it's very peaceful.
TJ: What's your ideal vacation?
HASKELL: Ooh. Anything relaxing where you don't have to think about work. Where you can turn off your cell phone, except for calling Mom at night. A week of relaxing like that would be an ideal vacation.
TJ: And finally, what would you be doing as an occupation if you weren't performing?
HASKELL: When I was little, I would have hoped I would be a baseball player. I gave up pursing that because of dance.
And it looks like it paid off for him. Having seen the show this past weekend, I can tell you that it was like he had been doing the show for months and melded amazing with the other cast members. I am sure we all wish him continued success and know he has a long career ahead of him. You can catch him now as Luke in Altar Boyz at the New World Stages located at 340 West 50th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue. For more information, visit www.altarboyz.com or call 1 - 877- ABOYZ - 411. For all the gossip on the BOYZ, visit www.altarholics.com . So as always folks, ciao and remember, theatre is my life!
Photos by © Michael Portantiere