Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Interview with Jake Loewenthal
It's been a whirlwind year for the Brown University grad, whose theater credits include Hartford Stage and Trinity Repertory Company. But before Rent, he had never performed in the D.C. area. He says, "The amazing thing is I put myself on tape, sent my audition to Signature, and got cast as Mark, a dream role."
Matthew Gardiner is Signature's award-winning artistic director who also directed Rent. When he first saw Loewenthal's video, he says: "Immediately, I was taken by Jake's voice, which perfectly illuminated Jonathan Larson's score. When he came to the theater for a callback in-person, I discovered an incredibly deft actor who is deeply authentic in every choice he makes. We are very lucky that Jake has made his home here in D.C. as an artist."
Loewenthal has made fast friends among D.C.'s actors. Natascia Diaz, a three-time Helen Hayes Award winner who played his mother in Our Town, says: "Jake is fearless, open, and the biggest ray of sunshine. He can sing in so many styles, and he's handsome, down-to-earth, and so funny."
Plus, he has received raves from D.C.'s reviewers. In praising Our Town in the Washington Post, Thomas Floyd wrote: "Jake Loewenthal, fresh off musical triumphs in Signature Theatre's Rent and She Loves Me, imbues lovestruck, baseball prodigy George Gibbs with boyish charm."
I chatted with Loewenthal, 34, about Signature's Into the Woods, finding his footing in D.C., and coping with COVID-19 challenges as an actor.
Wayman Wong: Congrats on your third Signature role, as the Baker in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. How's it going?
Jake Loewenthal: It's a beast of a show. We've got so many elements: magic, shadow puppetry, and a really cool set. It's like an overgrown Victorian nursery with lots of nooks and crannies. And the cast is really fantastic. Matt's assembled such a smart ensemble, and everyone's having so much fun.
Wong: Signature is a Tony-winning regional theater with a storied history with Sondheim. Last spring, you and Erin Driscoll sang a duet from Into the Woods for Signature's 2022/23 season preview. What does it mean to actually do this fairy-tale musical now (with Erin Weaver as the Baker's Wife)?
Loewenthal: It means the world. I was in the Signature lobby a year ago when we found out Sondheim had died. To salute his legacy here is such a thrill. They're also going to honor him by doing Pacific Overtures (March 7 - April 9, 2023) and Sweeney Todd (May 16 - July 9, 2023) later. But believe it or not, Into the Woods is the first Sondheim show I've ever done, and it's always been my favorite. I love the music, and it's such a joy to sing.
Courtesy of Signature Theatre
Loewenthal: My childhood best friend, Kelly Tieger, had the PBS version of Into the Woods on VHS. I loved listening to the cast album, and I'd fall asleep to it. I was obsessed with Bernadette Peters, so I memorized her Witch's rap. Here I was this 8-year-old child screaming about someone "robbing me, raping me, rooting through my rutabaga" at my Jewish day camp. I also remember Chip Zien as the Baker. I loved his voice, and he had this incredible energy. Characters were constantly popping up before him, running onstage and off. Into the Woods requires a lot of cardio.
Wong: The Baker races around the forest in order to get a child and wants to be "the perfect father." Do you look forward to being a dad someday, too?
Loewenthal: That's definitely in the cards for me. Maybe that's something three or five years away. I'm actually working with a few performers who are balancing being a professional actor and a parent at the same time. Erin [Weaver], who's great as my Baker's Wife, has a daughter, Maisie [Ann Posner]. She's 11 and quite a bright actress, too. She played my little sister in Our Town. Which shows you how small the acting world can be in D.C.
Wong: So, you're playing a Baker. Can you bake in real life, too?
Loewenthal: (Laughs.) I can make chocolate-chip banana bread, but that's about it.
Wong: Matt Gardiner has directed you in Rent, She Loves Me, and Into the Woods. What's it like working with him?
Loewenthal: I love working with Matt. We both discovered Into the Woods as tiny children. He brings decades of that passion, obsession and ideas to it. Everything he does is carefully considered and inventive. He even knows our lines better than we do. Matt's on fire, and that's exciting.
Wong: When you did Rent last fall, that was Signature's first show post-COVID-19. What was it like reopening in that show?
Loewenthal: During COVID, I wondered if I'd ever get to act again [onstage]. As a kid, Rent was a huge deal, so it was a gift to play Mark. It felt amazing and so emotional. Signature did a terrific job of keeping us safe, but there was an omicron spike, so 13 of us got it, and we had to shut down during the holidays. That was devastating, but we came back and extended Rent into January. And during She Loves Me, we didn't have a single case of COVID.
Wong: Speaking of She Loves Me, you jumped in and replaced an injured actor during rehearsals. How did that go?
Loewenthal: Signature called my agent and asked if I could join the cast as Kodaly the next day. So I did. But it was only three days before tech. It was my worst nightmare and the scariest thing I've ever done, but it also became one of the most rewarding things. It was an incredible show. I got to watch Ali Ewoldt sing "Vanilla Ice Cream" eight times a week. And Maria Rizzo, who played Ilona, was a comedic genius and a wonderful scene partner who took care of me.
Wong: Later in the run, weren't you juggling She Loves Me and Our Town?
Loewenthal: Yeah. For two weeks. I rehearsed Our Town during the day and performed She Loves Me at night. It was tough, but I wasn't about to complain about having too much work. D.C. is a warm, welcoming community stacked with talent. During Our Town, there was a lot of COVID in the cast, and they'd hire understudies who would go on with only 24 hours notice. We had seven understudies at our opening night, and it was incredible.
Wong: Finally, tell us about When Playwrights Kill, a new Matthew Lombardo comedy you did with Harriet Harris and Jeremy Jordan.
Loewenthal: Sure. We got to do three industry presentations in July at Signature Theatre on 42nd Street in New York. The play's very funny. Harriet is such an expert comedienne. It was fun to see her craft one comic bit after another. I played some small parts in the show, but I also understudied Jeremy, who was a dream. I think they have an eye on Broadway, and I can't wait to see what happens with it. Looking back, I don't think I would've gotten that opportunity if I didn't have the year I had in D.C. I feel so artistically fulfilled here. Or to quote one of Sondheim's lyrics [in Into the Woods]: "I'm so happy."