By Matthew Wexler
Tony-nominated Constantine Maroulis returns to the New York stage in BULLDOZER: The Ballad of Robert Moses, a new musical about one of the most influential people in New York City’s urban development. The Broadway Blog’s Matthew Wexler had a chance to chat with Maroulis before the show’s opening.
The Broadway Blog: First I have to applaud you. You’re a theater person doing an interview at 9 a.m. Are you a morning person?
Constantine Maroulis: I have a six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old puppy, so I’m up with the sun every morning. When you get older, the days of sleeping in are of the past. I dig it, man.
BB: How did this project come to you and what attracted to you about the piece?
CM: Anyone’s interest is piqued when it’s something brand new and there’s an opportunity to create something from the beginning. The music spoke to me and being born in Brooklyn, I knew of Robert Moses and his association with David Rockefeller. I’m a bit of a history buff myself and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
BB: The central character, Robert Moses, is known as New York City’s “Master Builder.” He was also very polarizing in terms of his strategies for urban development. What do you think impacted his decision-making?
CM: I think he had a vision and was somebody with conviction that wanted to get things done. He came from an affluent background and would stop at nothing. I also think there was something he wanted to prove, having not had much success early on with the women in his life. He lived at home longer than most men did at the time, his mother was controlling. He was never an elected official but pushed his way to the table.
He was a brilliant man, but we’ve also come a long way in 100 years (we’d like to think)—prejudice came into play. He was an innovator with serious faults as well.
BB: Director Karen Carpenter, is quoted as saying, “Moses single-handedly sold the soul of NYC to the automobile, building by decree, transcending local politics, unseen omnipotent, running roughshod over the common man—building highways at the expense of people and neighborhoods and mass transit.” — Are you portraying an asshole or have you found his humanity?
CM: You can’t play ‘asshole’—that’s not interesting. I play the scene. We find him charming and endearing at first and then we see the man he becomes when power devours him. It’s a great time for a piece like this.
There’s a great scene with Rockefeller, where he and Moses are flying in a plane over the Hudson River. Moses points out what he’s accomplished and his plans for the West Side Highway and it’s interesting to visualize nearly 100 years ago. People will relate to the story because it’s real and they love New York. Moses’s efforts have been replicated all over the world. We don’t give much thought to the outer boroughs and greater metropolitan area unless there’s a bridge closure, but he made it convenient for people to come in and out of the city.
BB: How would you describe composer/lyricist Peter Galperin’s score and does it juxtapose a contemporary sound against a period storyline?
CM: Peter’s been great. Both his parents were classical musicians and he grew up playing rock ‘n roll. He’s about 10 years older than my brother but they have similar tastes in music, like Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music—I hear the new wave influence.
He’s been open to my influence. When I grab hold of a song it becomes distinctly my own and he’s been collaborative in creating the right sound for the character and my voice. Similar to Spring Awakening, the show shifts into a different reality when the music kicks in. It’s a deconstructed sort of period piece and we’re excited about that. It’s nice to hear music that isn’t just varying the entire time through a song. There is a repetitive chorus when needed, not unlike pop music, you have to make those choruses different every time.
It’s not Rock of Ages rock ‘n roll, but you’ll find more pop new wave and a nice haunting duet that I do with Kacie Sheik. There’s a bit of glam and a Bowie-esque kind of sound, but more tender. The demos were crude at first and I got together with Peter and we began editing. It’s a process, taking on a huge new piece. We don’t have the luxury of working out the kinks out of town or getting in the studio.
BB: You’re known for having a powerful rock tenor voice but are there differences in how you use it for a work of musical theater versus singing in a band?
CM: I wouldn’t be able to do what I do all these years if I didn’t have the training and grounded approach. It took me years and years to hone it and do it in a healthy manner.
I only ever had one voice teacher, James Javore at Boston Conservatory, God rest his soul. (Javore passed away from prostate cancer in 2016). He turned me into an opera singer and it’s something I apply when needed. I never used my lower register much but as I get older it’s developing more. I feel like more and more—shit, now I’m over 40—I can rely on acting the lyric and not worrying about what it sounds like.
Still, musical theater folks love the riffs and runs but it doesn’t always make sense in the idle of a song. They love that kind of slash and I get it. As Salieri says to Mozart in Amadeus, “too many notes.” Do what’s needed in the song and leave the histrionics.
BULLDOZER: The Ballad of Robert Moses
The Theatre at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th Street
Through January 7, 2018
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.