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15 Minutes with Michael Cerveris

March 13th, 2017 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris (Photo: Zack Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cerveris has sunk a ship (Titanic), shot a U.S. President (Assassins), slashed a few throats (Sweeney Todd), and committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck (Fun Home). It’s a dark resume, but one that has earned him four Tony nominations and two awards. Not that he’s counting. The mild-mannered Broadway star tends to shun the fanfare of ceremony, focusing more on the joy of stagecraft and performing with his band, Loose Cattle.

On Thursday night, his fellow folk/country music cronies will take to the stage at the Sheen Center, where audiences will be treated to selections from his albums, Dog Eared and Hinterland. He’ll also be playing tunes from his new album Piety.

On a recent rainy morning, the Chelsea resident grabbed coffee at the Grey Dog Cafe with The Broadway Blog to discuss his upcoming gig, his career, and why—with complete sincerity—he doesn’t consider himself “the best.”

The Broadway Blog: First and foremost, let’s clarify the pronunciation of your last name. 
Michael Cerveris: It’s “server-iss” (rhymes with hiss). I have close friends who mispronounce it and I have to say ‘You are my friend, but that’s not my name.’

BB: And you come from an artistic family?
MC: Yes. My brother is an actor, my sister was a ballet dancer and later a Broadway actor. My parents met at Juilliard. They tried to send us to good schools so that we’d have ended up in lucrative, stable careers but that just didn’t happen.

BB: How did Loose Cattle get started? 
MC: My girlfriend at the time, Kimberly Kay, and I were going through an argumentative phase in our relationship and decided to create something a little more productive. She loved to sing and I did, too. After years of being away from the South and then returning, I realized that my formative years were spent here (West Virginia). We decided to start a casual country band for fun, but it grew from there.

BB: How did the name originate? 
MC: I was singing backup for my friend, Laura Cantrell, at Hill Country Barbeque [in New York City.] There was a photo on the wall of a road sign in Texas warning people of “Loose Livestock.” I thought it would be a great name for a band, but I misremembered the sign as “Loose Cattle.”

BB: Your night at the Sheen Center will be billed as “Michael Cerveris and his Accomplices.” Who will be joining you? 
MC: Unfortunately, Kimberly won’t be able to make this show but I’ll have a string quartet, fiddle, and mandolin players. Joe McGinty will play piano and a few others.  It’s going to focus mostly on my Piety album, which has just been released. There will be 10 of us altogether.

BB: Which do you prefer: Performing in your band or on Broadway? They are vastly different. 
MC: They are totally different. I’m so grateful that I haven’t had to choose. To be able to have acting as a day job is pretty exciting, but my band is really a labor of love.

'Fun Home' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Fun Home’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: You mentioned in a NY Times article that you “have ambivalence about awards in the arts, especially competitive awards.” Why is that?
MC: In general, I think I’ve struggled with competition. I used to run cross-country in junior high school in the hills of West Virginia. I would love the practice runs but as the week would progress towards the track meets, by Saturday morning I would be a ball of nerves. I think I that have color to my personality, which has aversion to ambition and competition.

In the arts, there is no way to objectively compare two performances and say that one is better than the other. The year that I won [the Tony Award for] Fun Home is a perfect example. The job description for my fellow four actors is completely different. There is no way I could have done what Tony Yazbeck, Robert Fairchild, or Brian D’Arcy James did. So to say that I was better makes no sense. I wish they would take away the “best” moniker. I love the celebration of the work, but the actual competition part drives me crazy.

BB: Who has influenced you in the Broadway realm and in the country/folk genre? 
MC: Seeing Len Cariou in the original Sweeney Todd is what made me think that I could do serious musical theater. I’ve always admired Ed Harris. In music, my tastes are pretty varied. John Prine, Dan Fogelberg’s early work, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce were also influences. I’ve also had my indie-rock and punk rock phases.

Now, I’ve rediscovered a lot of country music like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and those singer-songwriters who could capture a scene or character in the most commonplace words that take on a poetic essence. There are some modern bands I really like such as Blackberry Smoke and Drive-By Truckers.

Michael Cerveris & His Accomplices
Sheen Center
18 Bleecker Street, NYC
March 16
7:30 p.m.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

 

 

Review: Fun Home

May 4th, 2015 Comments off
"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Home is where the heart is. But sometimes that heart can ache from a life burdened with secrets and lies. That same heart can also beat strong when love, compassion, and empathy flows through its chambers. Fun Home, the new Broadway musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, is full of heart in every capacity — a humorous and occasionally harrowing journey that touches upon our creative yearnings and the emotional baggage we carry and occasionally let go of.

funhomeBased on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is the autobiographical journey of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel as she grows up in a funeral home helmed by her closeted father, discovers her own sexuality during college, and eventually comes to terms with his suicide. Tesori and Kron’s brilliant construct allows for us to share the journey with Alison through three stages of her life: as a young child (played by Obie winner Sydney Lucas), middle Alison (Emily Skeggs) and adult Alison (Beth Malone). Director Sam Gold seamlessly shepherds the action around David Zinn’s set, which includes a carefully curated collection of “fun home” antiques as well as other specific elements in Alison’s life. Originally presented at The Public Theatre on a proscenium stage, Fun Home benefits greatly from Circle in the Square’s in-the-round setting, which enables Gold to further immerse older Alison into the action.

Tesori’s music is a driving force and carries the same emotional highs and lows as previous works such as Violet and Caroline, or Change. But she’s a chameleon and also imbues the score with 70s riffs that echo The Partridge Family and The Jackson Five. Kron’s book is just as keen, balancing humor with pathos as Alison retraces her life before the audience’s eyes.

"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Alison, in each of her three incarnations, builds a story of hope and forgiveness. As the youngest of the trio, Ms. Lucas is haunting in her natural and untainted demeanor. She is a child discovering her love of drawing and creative expression yet emotionally tethered to her father’s fleeting approval. As the college student, Ms. Skeggs is beautifully gangly and awkward, yet fiery with her newly discovered sexual desires. And providing a calm yet solemn through line, Ms. Malone is not only narrator, but also a mirror of the experiences unfolding before her. Rounding out the cast are exceptional performances from Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother, and a Tony-nominated performance by Michael Cerveris, whose tortured inner conflict is riveting and will likely resonate with anyone who has struggled with his or her own sexual identity.

Fun Home was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and it’s easy to see why. The musical, which so truthfully delves into the specifics of Bechdel’s life, also touches upon universal themes about creativity and truth. As her father falls deep into a life of deception as a means to cover up his repressed homosexuality, he inadvertently smothers her artistic expression in an unconscious attempt to control what cannot be controlled, both within him as well as others.

In Julia Cameron’s principles of The Artist’s Way, the author writes that “there is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.” The fact that real-life Bechdel was able to transcend her father’s creative suffocation is a triumph and testament to the human spirit and a destiny that she felt compelled to follow. Fun Home pays homage to her journey with a captivating theatrical sensibility you won’t want to miss.

Fun Home
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street
Open ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo