Mrs. Yazbeck might not have had a dream about her son being on the Orpheum circuit, but she knew that her son, Tony, was meant for a Broadway stage. For two years, she drove the future Tony nominee to and from their home in Bethlehem, PA. to the St. James Theatre to perform as a newsboy in the 1989 revival of Gypsy. The production marked his Broadway debut. Yazbeck would go on to star in the revival of A Chorus Line, On the Town, and the 2014 version of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone.
Recently, the song and dance man chatted over the phone about his new role as a father and Pops Ambassador, as well as his career and what audiences can expect from a night at Carnegie filled with “Razzle Dazzle.”
BB: I know that new parents love to talk about their children. Tell us about your newborn.
TY: It’s your entire world now. It opens you up as a person and makes you more vulnerable. You have an instantaneous feeling of ‘I will die for you.’ It settles your mind and heart. It’s constant love. He’s a cool dude and I hope he loves his parents as much as we love him. When they say they grow up in a heartbeat, they aren’t kidding! Leonard Blaise Yazbeck was 4 weeks old on March 1.
BB: Are you getting any sleep?
TY: Oh! That’s relative. My wife is the real trooper and I’m just trying to be there for her as best as I can.
BB: How did you land your first Broadway show, Gypsy, at the tender age of 11?
TY: I was living in Bethlehem, PA, at the time, religiously taking dance classes. My mom saw an ad that they were casting newsboys. We went to the call at the stage of the St. James theatre and had to sing, dance, and play the clarinet. Before the day was done, the casting director, Stuart Howard, brought my parents and me downstairs and offered me the part right away. I started work two days later with three days of rehearsal and was put into the show on the fourth day.
BB: That version starred Tyne Daly. You were probably wondering who she was.
TY: I learned from the older actors who everyone was and they told me that she’s an incredible actress. I thought, ‘well, I guess I have to watch her!’ Every night, I would watch her sing “Some People” from the wings. Watching her affect an audience like that was amazing.
BB: Did your career continue after Gypsy or did you take a break?
TY: I was 13 years old when it closed and it was at a point when a boy goes through puberty. I auditioned for The Will Rogers Follies and they told me that I was too big. It was rather disparaging to think that I was no longer a kid in the business. So, I went back to school. I ended up graduating high school at a performing arts school in Florida, then went to school in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, moved to New York City, and continued my goal of reaching Broadway again.
BB: Is this your Carnegie Hall debut?
TY: As a solo performer? For sure. I was in the concert version of South Pacific with Reba McIntyre and Brian Stokes Mitchell. To this day, Mitchell’s version of “This Nearly Was Mine” is one of my favorites.
BB: You’ll be singing songs from the legendary team of Kander and Ebb. What is it about their body of work that people find so appealing?
TY: They write for the underdog. I’ve been looking at a lot of their lyrics that I haven’t seen since college. They are so clever! It’s amazing to see that the words they wrote years ago still pertain to today. It’s neat to see songwriters like this that are so timeless.
BB: Can you share some of the songs that you’ll be singing?
TY: I’ll be doing “City Lights,” “And the World Goes Round.” Also, Caissie Levy and I are doing “New York, New York” and many others.
BB: You are an ambassador for NY Pops as well. What do you do in that capacity?
TY: I just started that role. I’ve always been interested in youth education programs. It’s about constantly increasing awareness, which is so important. I’ll be going into schools and teaching the importance of music and the arts. It just heightens our awareness as people and our society.
BB: Is there anything in the pipeline for you?
TY: I’m on a few episodes of Billions on Showtime right now and I’ll probably be doing a Broadway show later this year that will be announced soon!
Life is a Cabaret: The Songs of Kander and Ebb
Featuring The New York Pops with Tony Yazbeck and Caissie Levy
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium
881 Seventh Avenue
March 10, 8 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.