by Ed Feldman
EF: Was there somebody who was an influence to you growing up, acting or otherwise?
MG: I would say looking at Gene Kelly's films there was a kind of kindred spirit. Not that I would ever put myself on his level of incredible artistry. We are a similar type and perform in a similar way. I've sometimes been compared to him. People find a similarity in our energy on stage. As far as people in my life, I have a wonderful acting teacher named Alan Savage who I have studied with for about eight years. He really has changed the way I have perceived the work. I also have a spiritual friend who is a Native American Indian called Gypsy. I met him last summer when I was working out in Las Vegas. A lot of people know him in the industry. He goes out on the road. He is kind of a mind, body alignment sort of person. He helped me get to a place to let go of some of my blocks such as an overwhelming need for attention which sometimes can make me introverted. There is a wonderful woman, Adelaide Laurino, who is the production wardrobe supervisor for many of Cameron's (Mackintosh) shows. I met her when I was in Miss Saigon. She helped me in a Freudian way by getting into psychotherapy which was of great help.
EF: What have you gained from this insight?
MG: I'm now trying to let go of controlling my life and where it goes. I want to allow my life to flow in a way that surprises me. For example, my role in SWING! (above, left) is honestly not as big and a little disappointing compared to what I was initially told when I was brought in to the project. After some thought though I now realize what a wonderful opportunity it is to be a member of this ensemble. A friend of mine would say it is better to be a part of the circle, not the center of circle, and not to have an ego to destroy the experience. There is a lot of joy going out on the stage. I want to remain open-mined instead of being angry or frustrated. A lot of performers deal with this because we all want to be loved. We are in this business because we need attention. An ego can be crippling. It can make people be unprofessional. All kinds of things can manifest from having a big ego. It is always about the work. That is where the joy comes from. If I can keep that straight, I will have good experiences.
EF: Sounds like a sound philosophy. You mentioned you attended college. I read an article where there was a bit of a debate gong on. One side was that a good actor has an innate ability and just needs to perfect it by being on stage. Others say going to college is a necessary thing to learn more about the craft. What is your view point? Is a college education necessary to be an actor?
MG: I think it is a completely individual thing. I know I needed college because I came from a very sheltered life and I was not ready for New York. I needed those four years. I was very green and didn't have any real experience. Of course, some colleges are better than others. I enjoyed Michigan and actually studied with the same dance teacher that Madonna had. In retrospect, my life has been fairly easy and the transitions relatively easy as well. I am no big overnight success but instead worked my way up. I always try to reinvent myself with each role I get.
EF: It sounds like a road map.
MG: It is. Even if it curves or goes back, you are still moving.
EF: I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
MG: Absolutely, me too.
EF: If you were to take us through some of the past shows you have been in, what would be one or two sentences you would say about your experience in those shows?
MG: A Chorus Line - An overwhelming experience to be in the final company. There are no other words to describe that. I remember I finished singing "I Can Do That" and the audience clapped for a minute. It was an incredible experience. I remember that show with a great deal of fondness. The discipline of that show helped set me up for future shows.
West Side Story - That show was fun. I remember thinking that I am now on my way.
Miss Saigon - I thought I'd do the ensemble and the tumbling acrobat because I was certain that I'd be the Chris cover. It did not happen. They absolutely would not see me as anything other than a dancer. It was very difficult. I almost quit the business. My heart and my ego was bruised. I'm not saying those people were wrong in not making me a Chris cover but in my mind I thought that what was going to happen.
Singing in The Rain - Helped me regain my confidence.
My Favorite Year - That was sort of another negative experience. It was not really what I wanted to do. There was a lot of difficulty with the creative staff.
Falsettos - Really great growing experience
CATS - It was my first New York audition. I'm not a dynamic auditioner. In fact, it was how I got my agent. They almost didn't hire me because they thought I didn't sing well enough. I can say that Gillian Lynne(Associate Director and Choreographer) told me that of the people she worked with Steve Barton and I were the best Munkustraps. I do feel that I did master that role. As difficult as that show was, it was a great experience.
CATS video - It is sort of the signature of my career. The London experience was difficult but I enjoyed it. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. I had dinner with him and Sarah Brightman. He encouraged me to continue writing. He was very supportive.
EF: There seems to be a resurgence of these dance/revue type shows. Some make it, some don't. Is that the new trend?
MG: - Well, it is always timing. I think Broadway is doing well because the economy is doing well. People have the money. There is this iconic attraction for the ticket buyers. They want to know what they are getting. For example, Saturday Night Fever was recognized from the film. The same is true for Footloose. The audience has the knowledge of the film. Then I think there is the sporting event which is theatre that people attend in order to be thrilled. The genre of the revue is that where people can experience something and just get away.
Swing! (above, center), I think, capitalizes on the swing craze. It is finally becoming main stream so it appeals to a broader audience. It is a very visual show. It is not a generic Broadway ensemble. You have a cabaret singer in Ann Hampton Callaway. You have Everett Bradley, one of the creators of Stomp. You have Laura Benanti, the young, sexy ingenue Broadway girl coming from The Sound of Music. They really hired some great diverse talent. The show doesn't try to be more deep than it is. We are going to sing for you, dance for you, make you laugh. In two hours you will be out on the streets again thinking that it was fun.
EF: Did they involve you and the cast in the creative process of the show?
MG: I know Ann wrote some original stuff and Everett arranged "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". I came in late. The character wasn't even fully defined yet when I came in. I think Ann and Everett were more involved because they were associated with the project from the beginning.
EF: How would you define success in terms of being an actor?
MG: Well, I think in order to sustain a career, fame can't be the kernel of your desire. Success can't be defined by fame. You will burn out. There is not enough gratification there. For me success is defined by the wonderful moment you learn something about yourself or you realize you did something you didn't think you could do. As artists, in the grand scheme of things, the reason why we do what we do is to heal. This may mean that someone forgets their trouble for the afternoon. It is to give cathartic experiences to people. If you look at the business as a wonderful place to explore yourself then it will bring you nothing but joy. To me success has been just learning more about myself. Becoming a more compassionate human being.
EF: What about your upcoming project, this new piece you are composing?
MG: My collaborator is Jennifer Allen who took over for Faith Prince in Guys and Dolls. We've worked on this project for 10 years. It is based on the martyrdom of this woman Hypatia during 415 AD. It is sort of the struggle between the last matriarchal pagan world and the early Christian church. It is done in a very pagan, fun, jazzy, humorous way like Rocky Horror. After ten years we are at a point where we may be going to the next step of getting some readings done.
EF: Have you done most of the composing?
MG: She is the bookwriter. We are both co-lyricists and I'm the writer/composer.
EF: It sounds very promising. You have really made a name for yourself. You are getting more well known and even have your own website. What is your message to your fans out there?
MG: Gratitude for their support of musical theatre and music. Appreciation for their interest in what I do. On the other hand, not to mythologize me and to know the work is the work and it isn't the person. I'm appreciative they are touched by my work but to also know that I'm just a guy. I'm very genuinely touched by people who say thank you and that they have been affected by my work.
Thoughts and Reflections
Michael is a very introspective individual yet has no problem connecting with people. His inner reflection and articulation of feelings is inspiring and thought provoking. Like a prism, Michael has many wonderful facets in his life. It is his great life experiences that make Michael Gruber the tremendous actor that he is and one you don't want to miss seeing.