by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
SECONDHAND LIONS: A NEW MUSICAL ADVENTURE
5th AVENUE THEATRE
September 7 - October 6
(Official premiere Sept. 23)
Gregg Edelman is quite the triple threat of actors. Hes appeared in several feature films, traveled the country performing concerts, and earned three Tony Award nominations with his work on the stage, where hes performed in such classics as Evita, Anything Goes, and Into the Woods. Currently, hes here in the Emerald City at the 5th Avenue Theatre, getting ready for a lead role in the debut musical Secondhand Lions. It was a pleasure to sit and chat with this man of many talents.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Gregg Edelman: Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, most influences came from watching movies. Gordon MacRae [from Oklahoma!] was a real influence. John McMartin [in Sweet Charity] was another. I love both those guys, and obviously they are very different. Gordon sang with such a beautiful sound that was so natural, and so close to his speaking voice. I love that. John was so quirky, and I love the fact that he could be quirky and very human and still the male lead of a musical!
Andrews-Katz: What was the process like for your first Broadway audition, Evita?
Edelman: I auditioned for Evita for the Chicago company, and I later went into the Broadway company. During my senior year at Northwest University, I only went to the audition because my acting teacher would let me out of class if I was going to a professional audition. So Im auditioning for Paul Gemignani, and since it was for the ensemble I was given 16 bars to sing and thats it. I chose to do Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, since I had just finished doing that show [Oklahoma!] in summer stock a month earlier. I sang my bars and Paul stopped me, saying, This time, sing it as if you are a prisoner tied to a stake about to be shot. I jumped in with both feet and tried my best, and got the part. Years later I told Paul that story (weve done several shows together since then), and he said, I said what?!
Andrews-Katz: When you joined the cast of Anything Goes was there any hesitance due to the heavy tap dancing in the show?
Edelman: Actually when I did it (the Lincoln Center version) there wasnt as much tap as there is in the recent production. I needed to do more ballroom dancing, which I felt pretty comfortable with performing. Its the kind of script a guy like me - who sings and also loves to do comedy - can really sink his teeth into. I love getting laughs, dressing up like an old lady for a show or doing funny voices.
Andrews-Katz: City of Angels was a breakthrough show not only with its set design but also with its noir staging and themes. What was your first impression of the show?
Edelman: When I first saw the script I was doing Anything Goes. They sent me the script - it was called Double Exposure then. I read it and was fascinated with it. You read a lot of scripts in theater and film, and when you come across a really good, original script where comedy just leaps off the page at you & that was one of those kinds of scripts. All of us went into the audition [and anyone who was anyone auditioned] wanting desperately to be a part of that show!
Andrews-Katz: You appeared in the dark chamber musical Passion. Did you feel any intimidation going into a new Stephen Sondheim production?
Edelman: Its funny about Steve - if you ever pick up one of his books or song collections, theres always a photo of him that looks intimidating, and you assume thats what Steve will singularly be. When you work with him you very quickly find out thats not Steve at all! The real Steve is a great collaborator, very kind. When I worked with him we found ourselves laughing a lot. I kind of like to cut up with Steve Sondheim; its a wonderful memory.
That being said, when I went to the audition for Passion, I knew everyone there. I wanted desperately to be a part of the show, and luckily I did something in the audition they liked and got cast. When we started rehearsals, the person in the room who was most present was James Lapine, the director/book writer. The script was still being written at that time, and we removed the bugs as we moved through rehearsals. The score was created - literally - on us, as our performances developed the score would develop around us. It was such an organic and collaborative process. Steve made you feel like you were very much a part of the creation of a new show.
Andrews-Katz: In 1776, the cast is made up of 98% men. Are there noticeable differences working with a mostly male cast opposed to a more mixed-gender cast?
Edelman: Yes, there are. But I also have to say a lot of the chemistry of that particular show comes from the fact that all of us men are on stage at the same time, for about 90% of the show. So you have all men on stage, all at the same time, basically interacting freely with each other during the entire course. It has to be that way to capture the feeling of a Congress. And that chemistry developed on stage also goes off stage with you. We were very tight and had a great repartee, and have stayed friends all these years since.
One of the first things Scott Ellis said when we started rehearsals was, Guys, feel free to get up and walk wherever you want at any time during this show. If you are in the way Ill let you know, and if you are not Ill let you do whatever you want. I think he might have corrected a single piece of blocking once or twice during the show. There is one book scene where for at least 40 minutes there are no songs, and thats a long time. I think it was because we all entered into a sort of contract with each other that caused the mutual respect between us. We were all different types of men and we respected each other.
Andrews-Katz: Where were you when you found out you were nominated for a Tony Award [for the revival of Into the Woods] and what was your reaction?
Edelman: I must have been at home. Its all a bit of blur now, but I recall being really excited and making lots of noise on the cell to Carolee [Carmello, Edelmans wife and a Broadway actress]. Its always a surprise to get nominated because there are always so many really good actors each year who do not get nominated. I just dont expect it to happen.
Andrews-Katz: The revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood just closed on Broadway after many accolades. Do you prefer a more serious musical or a campier one?
Edelman: I prefer a mixture. Im often asked which I prefer to work [on] - movies, TV, or stage - and I like to mix it all up. As the years go on, I find the artistic fun of this career is to be able to vary where you work day in and day out. Some days Im on a sound stage in L.A., and some Im on Broadway. I think it would get boring doing the same thing over and over again, and making a career out of it.
Andrews-Katz: Secondhand Lions is making its debut appearance as a musical in Seattle. What are the different challenges in creating a role versus stepping into one already established?
Edelman: I would turn that question around and ask, What are the challenges in replacing a character once it has been established? Once a role has been trail-blazed, you have to find an actor who can fit in the trail that has been founded before you. And that has its own set of challenges. You want to make it your own but you have to fit in the show that has been created for a different set of actors.
Of course being in a new show is wonderful because the team that created it selected you to be the guy to develop the role around. Its your personality and talents. So, basically anything you do is hopefully pretty right for the role, and it should be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Sometimes its not, but in this case it is. Its been great to work with the creative team and cast. They allow me to be silly in rehearsals.
Andrews-Katz: What differences can the audience expect from the screen to the stage?
Edelman: First off, and most importantly, the show is now a musical. Some of the flashback sequences where my character [Garth] is telling about my past have been developed into fun sequences with great choreography, songs, and comedy.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of gender or any other limitation - what would it be and why?
Edelman: The one role I would like to play right now, and havent had the chance to play, is Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Im always looking for the unexpected role, that role that even I wasnt thinking I would want to play. Id love to play some sort of Jekyll/Hyde musical, but more like the Spencer Tracy version.
Gregg Edelman has been on Broadway in many roles including in Cats, Evita, City of Angels, Into the Woods, and Cats The Mystery of Edwin Drood, among others. Secondhand Lions is a new musical produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre and based on the 2003 film by the same name. The book of the script is by Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes (Cats Edwin Drood) and the music/lyrics by Broadway composers Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary. Weiner and Zachary also wrote the music/lyrics to another 5th Avenue-produced show currently on Broadway, Cats First Date.
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