Interview – Gregg Edelman on his Broadway State of Mind

Gregg Edelman performing at the Crazy Coqs

Gregg Edelman returns to the Crazy Coqs cabaret room, London from 21 October

Gregg Edelman returns to The Crazy Coqs cabaret room from 21 October in his one-man show A Broadway State of Mind, which reflects his own career in musical theatre.

A four-time Tony Award nominee, Edelman has enjoyed a successful 30-year career in theatre, television and film. The actor and singer has starred in a string of Broadway shows from Cats to Anything Goes, all leading to the lead role in the Best Musical of 1989, City of Angels. His performance as Stine earned Edelman his first Tony nomination.

In 1994, the performer originated the role of Colonel Ricci in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s award-winning musical Passion. That production led to Sondheim casting Edelman as Prince Charming in Into the Woods and the title role in Sweeney Todd. Other celebrated roles have been Javert in Les Misérables, Robert Baker in the revival of Wonderful Town and Dr. Alexandre Manette in A Tale of Two Cities.

Musical Theatre Review asked him to fill in the details…

You were subjected to the music of Broadway from the early age of three, listening to records of Flower Drum Song, West Side Story and Gypsy at your mother’s knee. Were you aware at the time that you might be meant for a musical career?

No, not at all. I loved sitting with my mom while she listened to those recordings because they brought her so much happiness. Being a single mother in the 1950s and 1960s was tough for my mom, and getting to witness the joy she found in music made me very happy. And when she would say, ‘Come on, sing with me’, it meant the world to me. It was a short but potent time out from the real world. And I guess looking at the big picture, when it was time to decide what to do with my life, trying to bring a little of that feeling to other people seemed like the right thing.

Do you think you were destined to work in musical theatre from your high school days when you played the title role in L’il Abner?

Not really. I did feel as though I had found an extended family backstage. That meant a lot to me who, like so many, felt like an odd duck in the rest of my life.

Was it finally seeing a production of Bye Bye Birdie that gave you the idea that you could be up on stage doing that yourself? Did you really have the confidence then to pursue the life of an actor?

By the time I saw Birdie, I knew I could sing a little but it wasn’t until I saw my track and field team-mate performing that I thought to myself, “Hey, if he can do that, maybe I can.” Plus, the girls were going crazy for him and to be honest, the prospect of impressing girls didn’t escape my notice.

You were still at university when you were cast in your two first professional productions, Camelot and Evita. Did you realise then how talented you were or did you think you were just lucky?

Well… I had been very fortunate to get cast in a lot of productions while at university and so going into the auditions I felt confident. However, both auditions were laced with good fortune. I was cast in Camelot because a NYC actor turned down the role and my Evita audition was, quite frankly, a tragedy. My getting cast in Evita was not the last time that Harold Prince would step in and insist that Gregg Edelman be hired.

In the past, stage musicals were mainly comedy shows such as Anything Goes and Wonderful Town. Do you prefer the meatier roles in what is now musical drama, such as Sweeney Todd or Les Misérables?

I love mixing it up. Going back and forth stretches different artistic muscles. I suppose coming from a troubled childhood, I always prefer comedy. I think we all need a good laugh.

For your cabaret show, A Broadway State of Mind, you draw your material from some of the shows you have appeared in over the years and you have done some of the most best musicals of all time, such as Camelot, Evita, Oliver!, Cabaret. Anything Goes, City of Angels, Passion, Into the Woods, Wonderful Town and Les Misérables. Do you have a favourite musical show?

Funnily enough, I’m not doing a song from my favourite show. My favorite musical is the great Harnick/Bock/Masteroff show, She Loves Me. Maybe it means too much to me to sing from that show. Joe Masteroff, the book author of She Loves Me and Cabaret, has become my second father and is my children’s godfather. A great man, a blast to hang out with, and has theatre stories to rival anyone.

Is A Broadway State of Mind set in stone or do you add and subtract songs to suit the venue or even your own mood?

I do change up the show a bit. And you’re right, it has a lot to do with my audience and their interests. However, I think the key to doing this performance form well is to make the show personal. If you pick songs that have some meaning to you, then the evening is not just a series of songs but a look into another person’s life. There are a lot of good singers out there, but only the ones who can get personal (not morose, mind you) while onstage are the ones that have real impact with the audience. At least, that’s my theory. Maybe I’m crazy.

Were you surprised by the reception your show received last year at The Crazy Coqs?

I was grateful. I’ve been offered West End shows before but I could never fit it in to my schedule. So, the chance to finally work in London was a dream for me. The fact that people seemed to like my show was a wonderful gift.

It’s a nice room for the audience, but is The Crazy Coqs also a good room to play for an artist?

I love it. Being so close to the crowd makes it more enjoying than being on an enormous stage. However, the intimacy does spook some artists… to each his own, right?

Teaching young performers is also a part of your work and it has to be something you really enjoy doing. Do you think you also learn from your students?

Very much so. The key to being a good teacher is thinking of your classes as a collaboration of artists coming together to improve their theatrical skill… and that goes for the teacher, too.

Is there a musical or a part that you would still love to play?

Well, there’s always a lot of ideas rolling around in my mind but I’m thinking that it’s time to do Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. I’d also like to try Sweeney again – I didn’t get it right the first time. And the Stage Manager in Our Town is a part I’d like to do.

What does the immediate future hold for you – stage, film, television or more cabaret and concerts?

I’m going to be in the new Broadway musical version of The First Wives Club. I’m playing one of the wayward, yet funny husbands… at least, that’s what I’m shooting for.

* Gregg Edelman is at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel from 21 to 25 October.

Compiled by Michael Darvell


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