Spotlight on Alexander Gemignani

by Nancy Rosati        

A Little Night Music
A Little Night Music
Photo: David Cross
NR:  And now, your big Broadway break has finally come. It almost came a few years ago ...

AG:  Yeah. That was kind of rough. The climate was so perfect a couple years ago. After the 2000 election, everyone had had it up to here with politics. They were ready for that kind of a story. You feel guilty for being sorry that youíre out of a job because so many people died in such a tragedy. After you get over it, you realize this is life. Despite September 11th, this could have happened anyway with any show, like what happened with Harmony.

NR:  This is a show thatís definitely a gamble.

AG:  Yes, this is truly a gamble.

NR:  You have people who absolutely canít wait to see this show, but youíll also have many who will be offended by it.

AG:  This is the trick, and this is what lies in the hands of the producers. There are enough people in New York who will keep it open for however long itís going to be open. Beyond that, if youíre John and Jane Doe getting off the bus from Ohio, are you going to see Millie, or are you going to see Assassins? You know what I mean? Itís a hard sell. Itís not your everyday Oklahoma!. I do believe the show is so well written, that if they can get the word out there to the harder-to-reach people, then it can stay open.

NR:  There are very few people whoíve seen it. The CD liner notes say that the total wouldnít even fill half of a stadium.

AG:  I saw it. I didnít really get all of it. I was pretty young. I remember the theater being very small. Itís interesting - I think the story now has so much more resonance than it did back then. Maybe thatís because of all thatís happened since then. The last time it was open, the Gulf War was happening.

NR:  Weíre another ten years removed from the Kennedy assassination. Although many people still remember that day clearly, itís 40 years now instead of 30.

AG:  Sure. Itís the story of the American Dream gone wrong, sort of. But itís not about glorifying those people. Thatís the hardest thing to get across. That was a big criticism of the show the first time - ďTheyíre taking these villains and putting them on pedestals.Ē Itís not really about that. Itís showing these people in the perspective of what the show is about. You take it as it is. It doesnít make them right, and thatís the trick.

NR:  And youíre playing a guy (Hinckley) that we all still remember.

AG:  Yeah, and heís been in the news lately. I havenít had time to go through them yet, but Iíve saved a bunch of articles on my computer. Iím going to go through them and start reading.

NR:  That must be tricky for you. People have actually seen him and know how he looks, and how he talks.

AG:  Iíve never portrayed an actual person before on stage, so thatís challenging, but itís heightened. Weíre doing a musical. Itís not an impersonation of John Hinckley. The scene in the show takes place in Hinckleyís basement but Squeaky (Fromme) comes in. Youíre bending reality. You also run into John Hinckley in that scene in a very frantic state because someone has invaded his space and heís talking to the picture of Jodie Foster. Itís a heightened dramatic situation. Itís not like ďeveryday John Hinckley.Ē That allows you room to play.

NR:  How much work are you going to do to get into his head?

AG:  I donít know. I want to do research to find out as much as I can about him, but weíll see. Iíll get as much knowledge as I can and let that influence what Iím doing.

A Little Night Music
As Fredrik, with Patricia Lavery (Desiree) and
Maclain Looper (Carl-Magnus) in A Little Night Music

Photo: David Cross

NR:  Have you worked with Sondheim before? I know your father has a number of times.

AG:  We worked on the reading of The Frogs together with Nathan Lane at Lincoln Center. I had a great time. Itís fun, but hard music.

NR:  Isnít his music always hard?

AG:  Yeah, but the choral stuff in this is really hard. Into the Woods is tricky but that score is so ingrained in my head. I music-directed it and conducted it in college so itís really ingrained in me. Frogs is one of the scores I didnít know as well, and I know most of his scores pretty well from growing up with them. Itís great, itís thrilling. When it was right, it was thrilling, but itís a challenge. Theyíre going to do it this coming spring or early summer.

NR:  Youíre opening up in Assassins in the spring, right?

AG:  Yes. We start previewing in March and open in April. Rehearsals start February 17th. Iím getting ready. Iím very excited.

NR:  Have you worked with your father before?

AG:  Just on The Frogs. We have a great relationship, so weíre just thrilled, like any father and son would be to work together.

NR:  You seem to be walking on air.

AG:  I am, but I never take it for granted. First of all, because of the show and what happened the first time. Also, I could name dozens upon dozens of friends of mine who are out of work and canít get a job. Thatís me right now, technically, until I sign my contract. Thatís the way it goes, but yeah, Iíve been very lucky and very blessed. To get this job two years ago was spectacular.

NR:  There are a lot of people who are no longer with it for different reasons.

AG:  Yes, theyíre doing other stuff. We got most of the other people back, which is good news. We did a reading December of 2001 with Doug and Neil (Patrick Harris), John Dossett, Raul Esparza, Denis OíHare, and it was very bittersweet. It was a two-day thing, one day to rehearse music and we did it the next day for some backers. It was great but it was so bittersweet. Everyone in it was so charged to do it. Everybody - Joe (Mantello) and Dad. Steve (Sondheim) and John (Weidman) were practically frothing at the mouth because they were so excited.

NR:  It was still the right choice to pull it then. Everybody was just numb at the time.

AG:  Absolutely. They made the right decision and everyone knew that. They could have gone on with the show but it would have closed in five days. You want to look at the show without anything else going on.

NR:  Thatís true. You couldnít really look at any show then without 9/11 hanging over it like a cloud.

AG:  I was lucky. Joe Mantello called and said, ďWeíre not going to do the showĒ which was tough. He was very upset and I was very upset. Iím sure everybody was. The next day I got a call to do Zorba up at North Shore. One of the guys couldnít get back from overseas and they asked if I was free. I went right up and it couldnít have come at a better time. I got in my car and drove up to Beverly, Mass, and I tell you, there has not been a closer cast than that group of people. Most of us were from New York, and that cast was so close. We all wanted to be around each other all the time.

NR:  You seem much more hopeful for the showís success this time.

AG:  Itís going to be the first show at Studio 54 after Cabaret closes, which is so intelligent of them. People will come just because itís at Studio 54. People will come by to see if Cabaret is still open. Iím serious - I guarantee you someone who was in New York six months ago is bringing their friend to New York for the first time. Theyíre going to say, ďWe should go see Cabaret.Ē I guarantee it. You think Iím kidding, but Iím not.

Itís good itís at 54 because itís not on the main drag of where everything else is. I think thatís good for this show. Just like this version of Cabaret, it was smart that it wasnít at the Majestic. Itís in its own trendy thing on its own block. I go back and forth thinking itís going to be a hit or not. Of course, I hope itís a hit.

NR:  Is it an open-ended run to begin with?

AG:  No. I think itís similar to what they did with Nine. Thatís how Roundabout is because theyíre a not-for-profit organization.

Marty
Alex (at right) with
John C. Reilly in Marty

T. Charles Erickson
NR:  Do you have any dream jobs youíre looking forward to?

AG:  There are shows Iíd love to do in my lifetime. I have to do Sweeney Todd before I die. Itís my all time favorite show. One of my most thrilling experiences was last Thanksgiving when my dad was doing Sweeney Todd at the Chicago Lyric Opera and I got to go out there. I had never seen it live. Iíd only seen the tape with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury. Iíd listened to the recording about 800 times. To see it live on stage was just ... And of course the orchestra was around 50 members and they just blew you away. The director was fantastic, so was the set. I sat in the sixth row and it just blew me away. Iíve always wanted to do it, but never so much as after watching that.

So, that and Harold Hill probably some day.

NR:  Youíll be just the right age for the next revival. (laughs)

AG:  (laughs) That would be nice. I just want to keep working because I enjoy it so much.

NR:  Youíve had some amazing opportunities, and it sounds like youíve appreciated them.

AG:  Oh yeah. Itís easy to get bitter in this business fast. I know people in their 20s who are done with the business. I hear them bitch more than anything else. These arenít necessarily people who arenít working. I meet actors sometimes and all they do is complain about the job they have and Iím thinking, ďYou have a job.Ē I donít know. I just feel that everybodyís had a show that they think stinks for whatever reason. Either the cast doesnít get along or you hate the person youíre playing opposite, or the director makes you crazy, or the production qualityís not good, but itís never as bad as not having a job. No matter how bad the show is. It just kills me when people complain like that. I want to tell them to just get out of the business and do something else. Who wants that negativity around the theatre? Who needs it? Itís frustrating. Itís so easy to get sucked into that in New York, going on audition after audition and not getting a job. Sure, youíre going to get a little bitter. Thatís natural, like anything else. Itís like a real estate broker who canít sell a house, itís the same thing. Then he finally sells a house and goes on from there.

I learn this more and more every day - itís show BUSINESS. When you go home, you can go watch your TV and leave your work at the office. Itís hard because, as an actor, what youíre selling is yourself, but itís all a business, just like anything else. The more I think of it that way, the healthier I am.



When asked about the anticipation of working with his son on Assassins, Paul Gemignani said:

Alexander and I have always been very close, even through the "difficult years." He has always been my best friend. As far as working together, we are both professionals, therefore we work together not as father and son but as artists dealing with the same set of circumstances. I am very proud of him and I am happy to say that I think he is wildly talented. He is a pleasure to work with in any production that may come my (our) way. We all are very happy that Assassins is finally being done. We all are looking forward to this production. It is a great cast with a wonderful director. We are all hoping for a long successful run. The other up side to this is that I will be able to have dinner with my son "the actor" on matinee days.


AssassinsAssassins

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by John Weidman, Music Direction by Paul Gemignani, Musical Staging by Jonathan Butterell, Directed by Joe Mantello.

Featuring Neil Patrick Harris (Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald), James Barbour (Leon Czolgosz), Mario Cantone (Samuel Byck), Michael Cerveris (John Wilkes Booth), Alexander Gemignani (John Hinkley), Marc Kudisch (Proprietor), Jeffrey Kuhn (Giuseppe Zangara), Becky Ann Baker (Sara Jane Moore), Mary Catherine Garrison (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme) and Denis O'Hare (as Charles Guiteau), and directed by Joe Mantello, begins previews March 26 at Studio 54 for The Roundabout Theatre Company. Visit www.roundabouttheatre.org for performance and ticket information.


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