Cabaret is my very favorite play of all time, and Cliff Bradshaw is a role I never imagined I'd get to play. I drew from all of my acting skill and all of my life experience up to this point to create this character. Famously, the character of Cliff is a bit of a cypher - things seem to happen to him, rather than him choosing his destiny. I decided for my performance that Cliff chooses everything - he chooses to submit to the seductive nature of Berlin, he chooses to fall in love with Sally, he chooses to indulge his fantasy of starting a family. These choices are all doomed from the start, but he pursues them full-heartedly all the way to the bitter end.
I was able to draw from my natural chemistry with my Sally Bowles, Caitlin Jackson, to create a lived-in and believable relationship. My fabulous castmates on and off the stage infused all their energy into the show - I wasn't in any of the large musical numbers, but it always felt like we were working together to tell the same story. Staged in the upstairs pub of an Irish restaurant, we could see the whites in the eyes of our audience. It was an incredibly intimate experience which allowed us as actors to make very subtle choices that the audience would pick up on.
This Cabaret was one of the best productions I've ever done, and maybe the performance I'm proudest of in my career so far. I spoke to so many audience members who said Cliff is usually their least favorite character, but that they loved my take on it and I became one of their favorite characters. I took a big risk in this show, in that I didn't try to "play" a character, I used my own personality and just played the character's objectives. For the sake of the story, I became different versions of myself - naive dreamer, suggestible seducee, politically anxious citizen, disillusioned would-be father. It felt like the most honest and raw performance I've ever given.
I am most grateful to everybody at Cowardly Scarecrow, particularly our directors Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts, for trusting me with this role. Of course, I'm so thankful that I was driving Caitlin to rehearsals for Poseidon last spring when she told me they were doing Cabaret, and I begged for an audition. I'm grateful to Maiko for always bringing sweets, to Brittny for her hysterical grunting noises, to Sydney for her va-va-voom AND her brilliant make-up design. To Aaron for his Fraulein Schneider notes that tried to make me break, to Kevin for his casual superstar quality, to Mandy for her heartbreaking take on "What Would You Do?". The whole ensemble worked together to tell this story, which is so dang relevant to our times. It's taken me a month or so to process and fully accept the end of this project, but I will hold out hope that I'll be able to do Cabaret again.
This Saturday, I have the honor and privilege to join the cast for one performance of Pride Films and Plays’ magnificent production of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina. It has been an awesome experience watching this cast and creative team construct this beautiful and rich and timely story. I had the benefit of having worked with the director and nearly the entire cast, particularly my overstudy Patrick Byrnes - who I’ve known for almost half my life! His performance as George/Valentina is so layered and vibrant and moving. I have quite the challenge to match his excellence, but I also have the support of this brilliant cast, stage manager, Assistant Director, and the incomparable multi-hyphenate Robert-Eric West, who have taken time out of their schedules to help me prepare for the role. It’s comforting to know they’ve all got my back.
A month or so ago, a friend posted on Facebook a Barbara Walters interview with Harvey Fierstein from 1985, shortly after La Cage Aux Folles premiered on Broadway, along with his hit Torch Song Trilogy. Barbara (or BaBa WaWa, as she was known in my house growing up) was asking Harvey questions that to my 2019 ears sounded absurd - “Is it possible for homosexuals to be monogamous?”, “How do you live publicly as a gay man? - and Harvey answered them as generously and kindly as possible. Being gay was just as natural as the air he breathed, and he explained that most gays he knew were monogamous, as normal as any straight couple. And this was shocking - SHOCKING - to Barbara, and presumably to the millions of Americans who were watching that telecast.
So now to be doing one of this icon's plays is a great honor, and although I only get one shot at it, I’m going to make the most of it. I’ve been running the lines for months, I’ve had my make-up test and costume fitting, I’ve run through the show on the stage in heels. George is one of the most morally complex characters I’ve ever played - his compartmentalization of Valentina, and the ensuing disintegration of that has been one of the most awesome challenges in my acting career. And that I get to do it seven days before I open Cabaret adds extra difficulty and pressure - which would be absolutely crushing if I didn’t have an squad of actors and artists, family and friends, who have been unquestionably there for me if I had questions, or if I needed to run lines, or if I just needed to relax and destress.
So I’m dedicating this one to Harvey, to Mom (always), and to everybody who has believed in me and helped me get to this point in my career - most especially, Casa’s brilliant director Michael Graham. I’m so lucky to have gotten cast with him in a 2012 production of The Cherry Orchard, and since then he’s entrusted me with roles in readings and plays, particularly the amazing experience that was Ten Dollar House. He’s always given me wide breadth to create my characters, offering thoughtful direction that nudged me towards subtle and truthful choices, without telling or showing me how to get there. I’m so grateful to have had his friendship and his artistic partnership. I hope to do justice for him, and Harvey, and Mom, on Saturday night.
CASA VALENTINA by Harvey Fierstein
at Pride Films and Plays - Broadway Stage
Understudy George/Valentina - Performing Sept 28!
Let's start now - we are one week away from tech, and 23 days from Press Opening for the 2019 revival of Hell in a Handbag's Poseidon! Rehearsals have been awesome and fun. This cast is insanely talented and funny funny FUNNY. Without a single exception, every actor is making hysterical choices and cracking each other up near constantly. I've had the pleasure of working with a bunch of these people before, but there's possibly more though that I've admired in other shows or worked with in other non-acting capacities that I'm so jazzed to share the stage with for the first time. Then you've got our wonderful director, Derek Van Barham, who always has specific notes that encourage us to be even more goofy and yet more grounded in reality. Our choreographer Breon Arzell makes such creative choices that vacillate from classical musical theater to drag fabulousness to cartoonish ridiculousness. And then David Cerda's familiar yet updated script, with new songs, that ape the original Poseidon Adventure with love and heart.
This is my second time on the SS Poseidon. In 2009, I got my first major Chicago theatre gig thanks to the brilliant Matthew Gunnels - I outlined some of this when I worked on Bewildered two years ago. I started out in the role of Otis / Crewmember #1, then I played Nonnie's brother Teddy, and finally for one magical night I played that catatonic lounge singer herself. And this time, I get to play Mr. James Martin, played in the film version by Red Buttons. Without revealing too much, Mr. Martin's arc has been quite beefed up in this update, and I'm so excited to share the character's journey with audiences. As well as two awesome new Cerda/Lamberty songs!!
The 2009 production of Poseidon was a life-defining event for me, informing the art that I would create for the next decade, introducing me to the artists that would become my friends and collaborators, and forming the base for my career. I am forever indebted to David Cerda, Matthew Gunnels, Brigitte Ditmars, Steve Kimbrough, Jason Grimm, Trista Smith, and so many others for making me feel at home as an artist in this city - not to mention my fellow 2009 Poseidonites Michael Miller, Elizabeth Lesinski, and even David Lipschutz, who I'm so glad to be joining on this new voyage.
I never imagined myself in this role - it may only be that I'd considered myself disqualified based on my height, which is significantly taller than Red Buttons, who visibly is much shorter than his TPA co-stars. And I'm not a ginger. BUT I can play the "lovable loser" type preeeettty well, and as soon as I started playing with the cadences and vocal qualities of Red Buttons, I was having a lot of fun - which especially in Handbag shows, means you're doing something right. I was so pleasantly surprised at our first read-through, as it was clear that David had spent a lot of time crafting a fuller arc for Mr. Martin. And when I first heard the new songs and lyrics, I was balled over with excitement, and the teensiest bit of fear, that I got to play this pivotal role in the show. I only hope to do it justice.
Curiously, I'm finding a lot of my inspiration for this character (outside of the movie and Red Buttons' work) from Anton Chekhov. In Junior year of college at ISU (2005), I was in a Realism acting class, where we studied Chekhov's Three Sisters. It immediately became one of my favorite plays, and I was cast in one of my favorite roles, Kulygin, the older husband of Masha. Our teacher, the late Patrick O'Gara, encouraged us to live in these characters, even when, like in Act 3, our characters are outside of the action, obscured from the other characters. Kulygin is a beautifully tragic character, who thinks that his life is a comedy - despite the fact that nobody ever laughs at his jokes, if they are even listening to him in the first place. His failure to connect with other humans just reinforces his coping mechanisms, leading to a character who is just desperate to be acknowledged. Admirably, he never stops trying to connect, even when it's clear that his wife wants nothing to do with him, and that he doesn't really fit into this family.
As someone who has been dealing with depression and anxiety for my whole life, I find these characters, Kulygin and Mr. Martin, to be so inspiring. No matter how bad things look for them, they always try to find hope, and share that with those around them. It's a struggle to do that, and it's often a losing battle. But to admit defeat would mean death (symbolically for Kulygin, and quite literally for Mr. Martin), so they keep going. They Keep On Climbin', as we sing in the show's finale. It's an essential life lesson, one that's worth remembering every single day.
So this one is for the passengers in my life who didn't make it to the end, but who enabled me and so many others to survive: Patrick, who encouraged me to dig into those uncomfortable parts of my psyche and share them with the audience; for Matt, who allowed me to be goofy and claim moments in the spotlight, even as a chorus member; and, as always, for Mom (Queen Mary?), who told me to "play it to the hilt", and who I always see in the audience when I'm performing.
This is going to be a very special show - I hope you can see it! Tickets are now on sale!
I just closed one of the more difficult shows I've ever been in - Lifeline Theatre's We Found a Hat. Just because it's a TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) show, doesn't mean we skimped on anything. If anything, we packed two hours of gags and jokes into a tight 50 minute play with music. I had a heavy load of percussive cues (tambourine, maraca, bells), not to mention I learned to play harmonica for this play. Add on some very physical comedy in a heightened style of near-cartoonism, and lots of technical cues, and you've got a very complicated show that needs to move with the swiftness of a roadrunner.
But luckily. when you're working with a company as supportive as Lifeline, with a cast that was game for absolutely anything, and a director and design team dedicated to making the best show possible, you can rest assured that the final product with entertain audiences both young and old. We left it all on the stage, and I couldn't be prouder.
You can check out an excerpt of some of the silly hijinks and the heart of the this special show, below; as well as a glowing review here. On to the next one!
It happened at 8:04pm Central Standard Time. I was in rehearsal for the high school production of 12 Angry Jurors that I'm directing. Meanwhile, my friends and family were tuned in to NBC, texting me congratulations and pictures of their viewing parties.
My highest profile job to date was two lines. I will have those two lines etched into my brain for life. To anybody who doesn't know me, they'll blink and miss me - which is ideal. My purpose was simply to move the story along. As they say in the biz, sometimes you just have to "deliver the pizza." As an actor, I'm trained to dig deep and express my deepest emotion, but in this job, I just needed to "deliver the pizza" and not overthink it. I think I achieved that.
And so it goes. 12 Angry Jurors opens next Friday, I start rehearsals at Oak Park Festival Theatre next week, and at Lifeline Theater the following week. I'm taking On-Camera 3 at Vagabond, and working on editing more film clips into a reel.
Bring on those auditions!
Well, one of my dreams finally came true. On September 24, I shot an episode of Chicago Fire. A two-line role on a network series.
It was my first audition for any TV episodic, so I didn’t expect much to come from it. The audition lasted 30 seconds, tops. A week later, I was put on check avail - again, i thought, well that’s nice, I’m in the top two or three for this role. Then the following week, I got the call from my agent that I actually got the part.
I only told people who were super close, until I had my costume fitting. This was when it all became real. I had caught up on the previous season (which surprisingly hit me squarely in the feels), and to be in the same wardrobe department as the whole Chicago Fire/PD/Med universe was overwhelming. Oliver Platt, S Epatha Merkerson, Gary Cole, David Eigenberg had all been there (I assumed at least), and certainly my friends and colleagues who had been on the show certainly had come through here. I snapped the above photo while waiting to try on suits.
After that, I told a bunch of people, even though I still wasn’t quite sure it was really real. I bided time until it was finally time for me to go to set - 6:30am on a Monday morning. Dave Eigenberg was the first to introduce himself as we got onto the van to go to set (nbd, just Steve from Sex and the City, not a big deal at allllll). A relatively unfamiliar face was the next in, he introduced himself as Steve; I later realized I’d seen him star on Broadway a few years ago in Hand to God (Steven Boyer). Sure enough, then followed Mouch, Otis, Severide, Casey into the van. And I was an equal. They treated me, this two-liner actor, as an equal. Mind = Blown.
Since this is a professional website, I’ll end the celebrity gushing there. The day was long, we shot at a hotel on south Lake Shore Drive. I had left my cell phone in my trailer, so I didn’t take any pictures, but I’m glad I did that, because it kept me focused on the task at hand. I soaked it all in - it was one of the most harmonious and professional workplaces I’d ever worked in. Every person on set was there to do their job, and they did it very well, with positive attitudes and respect for each other.
While I’ve been making my acting career my top priority for over a decade, I was still shocked that this first step into television was actually happening. No doubt it will take much more work and auditions and bit parts to get where I want to be going. But for the first time, I feel like it’s truly possible.
I think this episode of Chicago Fire will air on Wednesday, October 31 at 8pm. I'll be in the first five minutes.