What's New on the Rialto
with Patrick Cassidy
Interview by John Garcia
Patrick Cassidy has appeared on Broadway in Aida (as well as in the national tour for which he won the 2002 National Broadway Theatre Award for Best Actor in a Touring Musical), Annie Get Your Gun opposite Cheryl Ladd, Pirates of Penzance and Leader of the Pack, which earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor. He originated the role of the Balladeer in Sondheim's Assassins at Playwrights Horizons and appeared in Lady in the Dark at City Center's Encores!.
In the film Longtime Companion, his compassionate, raw and devastating performance as the closeted soap actor was both loving and heartbreaking - just watch his scene in the hospital for proof. Other film roles include I'll Do Anything, I Won't Dance and Burning Love. Patrick starred in the TV miniseries "Dress Grey" (Emmy nomination) and "Napoleon & Josephine," and movies-of-the-week "Oklahoma City," "Something in Common," "Christmas Eve," "How the West Was Fun" and "Follow Your Heart."
TV audiences may also have seen him as a series regular on NBC's "Bay City Blues," CBS's "Dirty Dancing," HBO's "Perversions of Science" or the WB's "Smallville."
I've had the pleasure of seeing Patrick Cassidy deliver an outstanding performance as the doomed lover Radames in Elton John's rock opus, Aida, and most recently as a sexy Julian Marsh in the current 42nd Street, now playing its final performances at the Ford Center. It was in the Ford Center on a recent cold and rainy evening, that Patrick and I met to chat a bit.
I was led down a winding staircase and deep into the belly of the Ford Center, passing orchestra members, cast members in mid-makeup, rows of body mikes on the walls, and rolling cases that contain sequined, glittery costumes. Cassidy is taller than I expected, but the strong, extremely handsome features are there, with those now very familiar blue eyes (the only difference now is that the hair is silver). After introductions are made, we are led into his dressing room where we begin our conversation:
John Garcia: In a couple of months, this theatre becomes the Paris Hilton Theatre ... I mean the Hilton Theatre.
Patrick Cassidy: I think the Paris Hilton Theatre's the way to go. Are you kidding, she's very famous now! (laughs)
JG: God help us all. You had an accident last night on stage. You cut your hand, bled like crazy, but still you were a trouper and went on with the show.
PC: (laughs, holding his injured hand, which is taped up.) I had a moment on the stage where I ... sort of barrel in. I play Julian Marsh, this tyrannical director who's ranting and raving all night. Anyway, I barreled into the dressing room and I slammed the door. Well the door caught my pinky finger, so now I have blood gushing on me, as I'm barking orders to everybody. I was doing my best to let the audience know that this was not Dracula the Musical but indeed 42nd Street. (laughter) But I think I'll be OK for tonight.
JG: I saw the 42nd Street revival about a month after it opened here on Broadway with Michael Cumpsty in the Julian Marsh role, and I've seen it on tour as well. But to be honest with, you I think - and I mean this as a compliment - you're the first matinee idol Julian Marsh I've seen.
Usually it's played by an older, character actor - starting with Jerry Orbach. But with you in the role, I think it really adds a dimension with Peggy Sawyer that I've never seen before.
PC: Well thank you. What's interesting is how I even got the role. My mother sort of was approached to do Dorothy Brock and she came to me and said, "I really don't know if I want to go back and do eight shows a week." It's really difficult at her age. She hadn't been on the stage in thirty-eight years. And then she said, "Why don't you do it with me? I'll do it if you'll do it.!"
I said, "If I do it?" One, I hadn't been offered it, and two, I didn't know if there was a role [for me]. I had not seen the show ever! So I was completely in the dark. And then I thought, well there's Jerry's (Orbach) part. But I never thought that I was that old, because when it opened I was nineteen. I was doing Pirates of Penance. I said "Oh well, guess what? I am about that age." So here we go.
So it became available and the producers caught wind of the idea of the two of us coming in together ... and it was a fantastic, overwhelming, and surprising experience. Not just in terms of getting to work with my mother, which was just an event. But this part and this particular actor - me - melded. I didn't know about this role, I hadn't seen anybody do it so I didn't have anything to compare it to.
But for some reason, when I put on the blue pinstriped suit and the wig I become ... (his face takes a soft glow as the memory flashes over his face) my father [the late Jack Cassidy]. I become a version of this sort of Irish, New York guy who can order people around and get the show up on its feet pretty well. So it's been great. I've had a great, great time so far.
JG: Usually it's been played like a daughter/father relationship with Julian and Peggy Sawyer. But with you in the role, you wonder if Peggy and Julian skip the cast party and go for drinks on their own. I think it leaves a whole lot more up to the imagination which I think works a lot better for the characters.
PC: Well that's great to hear. I'm thrilled. I'm having a grand, grand time doing it. We're sad that it's going to close in January, but it's been fantastic thus far. It's one of the few shows that has a huge cast ... one of the few musicals, I think, that one can really see the money on the stage. This show is remarkable. You don't see musicals or shows like this ever anymore. God knows they're too expensive to do. But with this show they really put the money on the stage in the costumes and in the set and in the amount of people. I always say this in the talkbacks, I talk about how the show backstage is so unique and so impressive. The way these dressers, hair and wig people make it seem seamless. They have these tiny little paths that one has to get through to make a quick change to get back on the stage. It's timed out so beautifully and runs so well, it's really a wonderful thing to watch.
JG: Was your first show Leader of the Pack?
PC: Actually, my first show was The Pirates of Penzance in 1982. I took over for Robbie Benson. Rex Smith had originated the part and then Robbie Benson did it and then I did it. But, first, I did the national tour.
That was my first real professional theatrical experience, and I was not even a year out of high school. I did it for three months on the national tour, then came to New York and I replaced Robbie ... for a year on Broadway. And it was amazing. It was the greatest learning experience any actor could ask for because I was studying at H.P. Studios in the daytime and learning on my feet the craft at night with some really gifted performers like Treat Williams, Maureen McGovern, Kaye Ballard and George Rose, who was just remarkable. It was great.
So that was sort of my big Broadway debut. I returned to New York in 1985. I did Leader of the Pack and then subsequently Assassins.
I worked with Encores! and a lot of stuff regionally - Hartford Stage in Connecticut and the Ford Theatre in Washington. Then I did Annie Get Your Gun a few years ago and then Aida for a year. I got to do Aida for a couple of weeks here on Broadway when Adam Pascal hurt his back. So I've really gotten to go come back and forth from New York. Never being really a New York actor, my residence was always in California. But I've gotten the New York experience and I love being here.
JG: You worked on Broadway at such an early age, with the end result being a Tony nomination. What was all that like?
PC: Oh it was great. It was overwhelming, though. I was just talking about this tonight with a fellow actor, about that whole experience that happens to young people when they get too much too soon. Now I feel like that didn't really happen for me, but for both of my brothers [Shaun and David Cassidy] it did; they went on to become huge stars in their late teens.
That's a huge thing to grasp. And nobody understands that unless you go through it. I think that's the one common bond that they have in common is, they both uniquely and separately went through that experience. What that does to you and how you deal with it, it's a very difficult thing to overcome.
The actor I was talking about has an uncle who became famous young and then it didn't happen for him later and he unfortunately turned to drugs and alcohol. That's what happens so many times. It is that adulation you get at such an early age, but then you don't have the foundation to ground you. So what happens is, when it stops, when the business stops calling, you are grabbing at straws and you don't know what to do. So you look for other outlets.
But I was the lucky one because that didn't happen to me (the fame), but more importantly because I had two siblings to learn from and my parents as well. I do believe that it was a conscious choice in starting in theater. I came out of high school and my last name pulled a lot ... in terms of teen and bubblegum music. I could have easily put on the spandex pants and recorded songs and maybe done the same thing. But I made a real definitive choice to go to New York and give my wares a shot there. Luckily I got cast in a show and was studying at the same time. So I really got to learn on my feet at a young age. I think that gives you a sense of foundation. It definitely gives you a sense of craft and understanding of what you're doing.
JG: Do you think producers or directors looked at you in a different light because of your pedigree?
PC: Oh yeah. I think it helps you at certain times and it hurts you, too. It helped me in the sense that I had every agent at my disposal, and managers. I had people at the top of their game in terms of representation wanting to represent me. Where it closed a lot of doors was it completely, immediately put me into a category. As opposed to me sort of showing what I could do or couldn't do. I immediately was a "teen guy." And so I had to overcome that.
People weren't going to take me seriously as a dramatic actor until I proved myself. So that's why being in New York, trying to work in the theatre, continually doing regional stuff or a play here - that's given me over the course a long career and it's given me the longevity.
When I was doing Joseph, I remember giving an interview to Playbill, and the headline of the interview was "Cassidy Doesn't Want to be a Star," or something like that. Essentially, what the interview was about was how I had never considered myself or thought of myself or ever wanted to be a quote unquote star. Even though I had come from a family like that. I wanted to be taken seriously for what I did by my peers. I wanted to hopefully do good work. I mean that, was all. And I think I've achieved that. If I never ever became a household name, it honestly really didn't matter to me.
I've managed to work at what I love to do, I have a family that I can support, thank God, and I've gotten to do a variety of roles in a variety of different avenues of the business. I've gotten to work in television from sitcoms to dramas. I've worked in the theatre, both straight plays and musicals. I've even gotten to do Vegas, recordings, and right now for the first time I'm putting my own one man show together.
JG: Really? Wow!
PC: Yeah, so I've been very lucky and very, very blessed.
JG: I read that you were doing a workshop of a new musical called Take Flight.
PC: It was amazing. Here I'm doing a show on Broadway in a great role and then also creating a new show in a workshop during the daytime. You know, that's the dream. Well (laughing) the schedule kills you.
It was a month of agony in terms of not being able to speak at all. Julian Marsh is a very demanding role ... yelling and screaming all the time. The part of George Putnam in Taking Flight plays opposite Amelia Earhart, who were married to each other. It's a big part in this wonderful Richard Maltby and David Shire show. It was incredibly taxing but unbelievably creatively rewarding. I hope it comes to fruition. I think it will. It's a fantastic score. They had an amazing cast. It's an ensemble show even though it focuses in on three stories: the George and Amelia story, the Lindbergh story and the Wright Brothers. But it's an ensemble piece and beautifully performed. Like I said, it was such a great cast they put together. Richard and David both seemed thrilled with what we did. Hopefully, some theatre company or some producer will get attached to it and we'll have a production of it soon. You know it's hard to sell those kinds of shows. I know because the ones that have all the heart and the smarts are the most difficult to sell.
You know someone in the audience would ask, " Well when's the guy going to fly?" (The room fills with laughter).
"When are we going to be able to put him over the audience hanging from his ankles? When's that going to happen?" (more laughter).
JG: I got hooked immediately with your voice on the Assassins cast recording, and then thankfully it was preserved visually on the Sondheim salute concert at Carnegie Hall. You have a very pure, clean tenor voice. It really is a beautiful singing voice.
PC: Well thank you. That was, without question, the most rewarding theatrical experience I've ever had, in terms of getting to create a Stephen Sondheim piece. Very few people on this planet will ever say, "I was the guy. I got to do it first in 1994." So, from that standpoint, it was just amazing.
I remember clearly that "The Ballad of Booth" was being written and I was singing it in previews in sort of like a low register in my voice. Then it seemed like it was too low.
(Here Cassidy proceeds to sing perfectly clear and clean, "Why did you do it Johnny?" in a lower register.)
I remember Mr. Sondheim saying to me, "You know, lets take it up." So they took it up, then they took it up again and took it up again. They ended up raising the note a third from the original composed key. Because I really wasn't a trained singer - I was sort of a pop singer who'd sung in bands and stuff - I didn't know what my voice was capable of doing. And then this, sort of this sound that came out of me ...
(Cassidy sings in a high, lilting, tenor voice, "Why did you do it Johnny?" And let me tell you readers, he sounded exactly like the cast recording. His voice has not changed at all!)
That was the kind of sound they wanted and said, "That's him. That's the Balladeer!". So that became it. I set the precedent for what that sound would be for that show. How many times in an actor's life can you say that?
JG: I consider Longtime Companion to be the breakthrough film concerning AIDS. When it came to the scene in the hospital between you and your partner, I walked out. It was too hard to watch. And at that time, that's when the first wave was hitting hard.
PC: (His face clearly showing he was touched by these comments, as he says softly) Thank you so much, that's very kind of you.
JG: Bruce Davidson, Dermot Mulroney, Campbell Scott and you are all straight ... to take on those roles back then, it was groundbreaking for you guys to do that. That took some major guts.
PC: Thank you. In my particular character, you know I played an actor who gets a job on a soap opera and they're trying to write him as a gay character and he has a problem with it. How's this going to affect my career, meanwhile it's art imitating life, life imitating art. I was living that.
But you know something? The script was so fantastic. I had known [director] Norman René and [writer] Craig Lucas both. I had auditioned for Prelude to a Kiss when they did it at South Coast Rep prior to it coming to New York. I didn't get the role, but somehow they remembered me.
Two years later I got a call from my agent who said, "You've been offered a movie." (pause) "Excuse me? I didn't hear what you said. I've been offered a what? You said the word offered?" And they said, "Yes. You've been offered a movie."
Then they sent me the script and I read the script and I went, oh my gosh. This is unbelievable. Everybody [in the film] worked for scale. All the actors donated, it was scale. Everybody. Pan-o-vision donated their camera equipment so it could be made. It was made on a shoestring budget. They did it for less than a million dollars. So everything was done as a labor of love. We knew we were doing something really special. But we didn't know that what we were doing was breaking ground. I think maybe Craig knew. I think Norman knew. But as actors, we though we were just doing great acting. It wasn't till the first premiere I attended and I saw it that I said to myself, "Oh my gosh. This is the first of its kind. This is the first time that anybody's ever seen this, talked about it on this kind of scale."
You know, you don't get to do that. Like I said before, you get to originate a Sondheim thing, which is an amazing thing within itself, but then the idea of creating something that no one's ever done before, in terms of cinema, is really beyond a blessing. Like I said, those two particular projects are the ones I relish the most.
JG: But it is still a tough film to watch emotionally.
PC: Oh, yeah, I agree it is hard. But it was an amazing experience with that group of actors. Bruce Davison got an Oscar nomination for it. Mark Lamos directed me in something at the Hartford Stage when he was there, so we worked together, and I've worked with Campbell since and Mary Louise Parker was in it ... it was just a remarkable group of people in it.
JG: I saw John Dossett right here at the Ford Center playing Father in Ragtime.
PC: Oh he was amazing in that and recently in Gypsy. He's so good and so talented.
JG: Well I can see on the clock you have to get ready for your show. Patrick, I thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I hope you have a great run and also a great closing here.
42nd Street continues at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts through January 2, 2005.
For more information about Patrick Cassidy, visit his official website at www.patrickcassidy.net.
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