Spotlight On

by Nancy Rosati   

NR:  Did you have any idea that Cats would make history?

HG:  Yes. It was the kind of show that was going to run forever and we knew that we had a job as long as we wanted and as long as they were going to keep hiring us. We knew that it was going to be THE hit of the season and that it was going to win the Tony Award. Whoever played Grizabella would probably have won the Tony, although Betty (Buckley) was fabulous. That was the kind of a show that was a foregone conclusion.

At the opening night of Cats, the response at the curtain call was huge - Iíd never heard anything like it. I thought nothing would ever top that, until the opening night of Crazy For You. The sound that came out of that audience just dove into our hearts and pushed the tears out of our eyes. We could feel the sound hit us. It was unbelievable.

Crazy For You
With Penny Ayn Maas and Paula Leggett in Crazy For You
Photo: Joan Marcus

NR:  Crazy for You has such a great score.

HG:  They were basically given free rein to use whatever songs they wanted. There were two shows that the Gershwin estate held back, I donít remember their names at the moment, but it was as if there was this trunk full of music and Peter Howard was at the piano saying, ďWe can use a piece of this and a piece of that.Ē Mike Ockrent was so generous and Susan Stroman was just divine. Sheís the best in the world.

NR:  Michele Pawk said in an interview that you used to get to the theater very early every night and dance on the stage.

HG:  I had to. I had to warm up. I did the same thing in Oklahoma!. Once we learned the lariat, my understudy, Eric Aaron, and I had to practice it every day. In Crazy For You, I had to come in and do a warm-up in the dressing room. I did a lot of push-ups and sit-ups and stretches. Then Iíd go down on the stage and just tap away. I had to do it every day.

NR:  Did you ever get injured in that show?

HG:  I got injured once, but it was an accident. At the end of the first act, in the whole ďI Got RhythmĒ number there was a section where everybody came into the center and then formed two circles going in opposite directions. I would eventually go into the middle and be raised up at the end when the other Zangler came in and collapsed at the end of the first act. It was set in a mining town, so there were pickaxes used as props. One of the actors thought it might be a good idea, in the middle of all that hodge-podge, to throw the pickaxe up in the air and catch it. He threw it and he caught it, but the end of it came down right on the bone below my left eye. I thought it was in my eye. I didnít pass out but I blacked out for a second. I put my hand over it and ran offstage. While the number was still going on, I ran underneath the stage, dropped my hand and immediately said, ďTell me itís not my eye.Ē Fortunately they said no. I ran upstairs and we cleaned it. It was a cut that went down to the bone. We put a band-aid on it, I finished the second act, and then went to the hospital for stitches. The plastic surgeon did a great job and you canít see anything now.

This was a Sunday night and I was off the next day. I thought I was going to get a boxerís eye that was all discolored and swollen but it didnít happen. There was a little discoloration that I could deal with using makeup but it didnít swell. My wife was wonderful. Through the whole day off she put ice on it over and over again.

NR:  That was your third Tony nomination, but you still havenít won. Does that bother you?

HG:  No, it really doesnít. Yeah, sure, itís great to win. Everybody wants to win, but youíre in the group. Youíre with all these fabulous people and thatís enough.

Imaginary Friends
With Cherry Jones in
Imaginary Friends

Photo: Craig Schwartz

NR:  Your role in Imaginary Friends is so unique. I donít want to give anything away, but you come out near the end and sing about how youíve been playing all these roles. Your identity is constantly changing.

HG:  Lillian and Mary are putting forth their cases and my function is primarily to be whoever they need me to be. From the beginning, I was aware of the fact that these are all real people. The tendency when youíre playing real people is to want to play them as they actually were. I was worried that we were going down the road of not portraying these people accurately, but then I realized that itís not really necessary in this piece. Lillian and Mary are writers, so it all comes out of their imaginations, their perceptions, and their desires of who they want these characters to be.

Edmund Wilson comes out and heís a complete caricature. Thatís not like the real Edmund Wilson. He was heavy and he drank a lot and they were together, but thatís not how he looked. He didnít necessarily have a bowler, but sheís writing about a character and for this purpose she says, ďThatís Edmund Wilson.Ē

When Dashiell Hammett comes out, thatís a little confusing because she says itís Dashiell Hammett, but the words I have are from The Thin Man. Then thereís the technical part of it. Iíve seen older pictures of him. His hair was very short and white and spiky. I canít do that because I need my hair long for the other parts. So we did my hair like William Powellís.

NR:  Youíre doing a lot of rapid changes.

HG:  There are only two that are really fast. Thereís plenty of time for the other ones. They just seem fast.

NR:  But youíre changing everything, not just your clothes. Youíre changing your voice, your posture. That must be fun.

HG:  It is fun to discover it. Itís fun to see what works and what doesnít. Initially they wanted to use more costume pieces but Jack (OíBrien) and I both felt that if I try to change physically and vocally without putting too many noses and all that crap on, itís much more interesting. You donít need all that to tell a story.

NR:  And you finally get to sing and dance near the end.

HG:  (big smile) I finally get to sing and dance. And in the song he basically says, ďI canít help you now. Iíve done what I was supposed to do to help you. Obviously itís not working and weíve had enough. Weíre going to be here until you figure it out.Ē

NR:  How was the decision made to call it a play? It really comes across as a musical.

HG:  I donít know. Nora (Ephron) wrote it with music in her head. She said it was a play but there were places where she thought there should be some songs.

NR:  Itís a very fine line because thereís a lot more music in here than youíd expect and some of it does progress the story. You have Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia as composer and lyricist. Is it just a Tony Award distinction?

HG:  There is a distinction. I donít know the exact rule but I believe thereís an amount of music you need before it becomes a musical. Iím not sure exactly what that is.

NR:  Whatís it like to work with Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones?

HG:  (not missing a beat) Oh, theyíre just awful. Theyíre just terrible. Iíve had nothing but trouble working with them ... (big smile) Oh my god, Iím the luckiest guy in the world. First of all, they adore each other. When the curtain goes down, every single night, Cherry picks Swoosie up and twirls her around. I have the best time being up there with them. Theyíre fabulous.

I knew this whole experience would be fantastic. It doesnít matter to me what happens after the 12th because itís been such a great ride. I knew it would be. I was doing Twelfth Night at The Globe last year and thatís when Jack O'Brien talked to me about this. He said, ďWeíve got this piece. Itís really terrific. Itís unusual and very, very different. We have no idea how to do it. Weíre going to have workshops and weíre going to figure all this stuff out. After the workshops, weíre going to do it at The Globe, and then weíre going to open it in New York.Ē And itís all happened exactly as he said. He said, ďI want you to play this guyĒ and I just said, ďGreat!Ē (laughs)

Had it not been for Jack, this wouldnít have happened. When we first started rehearsals, just to be in the room with these people... my god! All of us feel that way. All of us in the cast just watch them and weíre so focused on whatís going on and what Jack is saying. Itís intense and fun. He is at the top of his game. Heís brilliant. Iíve worked with a bunch of directors and I think heís one of the best directors in this country, if not the world. Weíre so lucky to have him. And he loves to have a good time. He wants everyone to work very hard and do the best show we can, but at the same time weíre going to have fun doing it. Thereís no agenda other than doing the best show, unlike some directors who have different agendas.

NR:  Letís switch to TV quickly. You played Ralph in Dear John.

HG:  This is an example of demographics. I did three years of Dear John and one episode of Star Trek. When I was doing Crazy For You, the same number of people referenced Star Trek as referenced Dear John.

NR:  When I was doing my research for this interview, the credit most often mentioned on the Internet was ...

HG:  ... Buffy. Itís a whole other audience and itís been great. Iíve been lucky enough to do a couple of conventions, one in London and one in Scotland, and I love doing them. There are so many sci-fi fans. Theyíre definitely not reflected in the Nielsen ratings at all. People stop me all the time and talk about Buffy.

NR:  Youíve been married to actress Dawn Didawick for over 20 years now.

HG:  We had our 24th wedding anniversary in September and all these cards are from her (indicating at least 100 cards on the wall of his dressing room.)

NR:  A 24-year showbiz marriage - is there a secret?

HG:  I know a lot of couples in showbiz who have been married for a very long time. What we hear about in the tabloids is a very tiny percentage of people, but they give the impression that being in showbiz makes it very difficult. (teasing) I was crushed when Lisa Marie (Presley) and Nicholas Cage broke up. Werenít you? Werenít you crushed? I was devastated. What was it, three months? Oh, please. Those people would have troubled marriages if they were not in show business. It has nothing to do with show business. With some people, ego matters, and they donít want the other person being more of a star than they are. That certainly does come up, but itís a tiny, tiny percentage. Most of the people who have a drug problem, an alcohol problem, or a marriage problem would have those problems in whatever profession theyíre in. Theyíre just famous so theyíre in the tabloids.

NR:  Is there anything you havenít done in your career that you still want to do?

HG:  I donít know. I just want to keep doing it. One of the goals was to be able to do all of it Ė theater, film and television, and thatís whatís happened. I just did a Jack Nicholson film, About Schmidt, and thatís going to open on the 13th of December. Itís supposed to be a fabulous movie. I havenít seen it yet but theyíre talking about an Oscar for Jack. Everyone who has gone to a screening has been going nuts for it. I have a nice part in that. It was so much fun to do, so weíll see.

NR:  I hope it goes well, and good luck with the opening of Imaginary Friends.

HG:  Thank you so much.


Imaginary Friends opens December 12 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Visit Telecharge.com for more information.

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