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Ryan Silverman
Passion at Classic Stage Company

by Wayman Wong

Ryan Silverman
Photo by Ben Strothmann
Broadway star Ryan Silverman has been singing with passion all of his life. But nowadays, the 6-foot-2, charismatic Canadian, 35, is singing in Passion at Classic Stage Company. With his good looks and robust baritone, he plays Giorgio in the Tony-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

This tale of sex, love and obsession is based on "Fosca," a novel by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, and Passion d'Amour, a 1981 movie by Ettore Scola. Set to Sondheim's lush and lyrical score, the show opens with Giorgio and his gorgeous mistress Clara (Melissa Errico) in the throes of Passion. Once transferred to a military outpost, however, this captain is relentlessly pursued by Fosca (Judy Kuhn), his colonel's needy and neurotic cousin.

In the original 1994 Broadway staging, Donna Murphy was so dynamic that audiences seemed to focus on Fosca. But in the Classic Stage Company's revival, directed by John Doyle, it's Giorgio, the embattled soldier, who stands out in a major way, thanks to Silverman, who's more forceful and front and center.

Errico, his Tony-nominated co-star, says, "Ryan is the perfect Giorgio. He is the definitive interpretation—masculine, animalistic, heartfelt, searching, sensitive and unorthodox. And he sings like a dream. I feel very inspired by Ryan. Onstage, he is so alive and honest. And offstage, he's kind and relaxed and fun."

I chatted with Silverman about his Passion for Sondheim, singing and suits—and dished about Rebecca.

Melissa Errico, Ryan Silverman and Judy Kuhn in Passion
Photo by Josh Lehrer
Wayman Wong:  Congrats on Passion! Were you familiar with the show before? Did you ever see the original 1994 Tony-winning production on video starring Donna Murphy, Jere Shea and Marin Mazzie?

Ryan Silverman:  No. I caught a couple clips on YouTube. And I saw the original movie, but it was difficult to watch because it was in Italian, dubbed over in Croatian. I also had heard some of the score, and it's a masterpiece.

WW:   What did you think of Giorgio when you first read the script?

RS:  I thought Giorgio was just a typical masculine man in the Army. But he's really a very passionate, poetic guy who loves to read. He share his books with Fosca. No one else does that. He points out beautiful music. No one else cares. Those things connect them. And Fosca makes him see things: "Would Clara die for you?" No, she can't. She's got a child and she's married. Fosca breaks down his walls. Giorgio has a feminine side, and I do, too. I don't have that alpha-male side. I'd be more comfortable sitting with a female friend than in a room of jocks.

WW:  From what you know, how is this production different from the original?

RS:  It's nothing like it. It's very intimate. We have six chairs, and there's no bed and no nudity. The audience is wrapped around three-fourths of the stage, and the orchestra is above us, so you'll feel surrounded by music.

WW:  Since it's directed by John Doyle, do you play your own instruments? (Laughs.)

RS:  No, none of us whip out any instruments. But John's direction is pretty fabulous. We had acting exercises and really dissected Passion each day in rehearsals. It was so cool. Before, John said he didn't know why the other Army officers are in the show, but now they give a feel of the macho world Giorgio's walking into.

WW:  In the original production, Donna Murphy gave such a tour de force that she dominated it. But Sondheim says, "When Fosca made her first entrance [in Scola's movie], I realized with a shock that the story was not going to be about [Fosca] being in love with [Giorgio], but about how he was going to fall in love with her." So Passion is really Giorgio's story, isn't it?

RS:  Yeah, everything's happening to him. It's about how he changes and discovers what love really is.

WW:  Jere Shea, who was the original Giorgio, has said that the role is more reactive than active.

RS:  He's right. For the first half, Giorgio doesn't say a lot. He listens. He has this duty and a kindness to him. And he keeps taking everything in until he fucking loses his mind. It's a great acting challenge. Also, a lot happens in a short amount of time in Passion, so you have to make strong choices in every scene.

WW:  What's it like sharing the stage with Judy Kuhn and Melissa Errico?

RS:  Judy's so fun to work with because she gives you so much. She's like an open book. And Melissa is gorgeous, too, and we've sung together in concert. Thank God, we get along because we start the show off pretty hot and heavy.

WW:  What was it like the first time Sondheim came to the rehearsals?

RS:  It was amazing ... and nerve-wracking. We were at 42nd St. Studios. It's a big wide-open studio. Bright lights. And Sondheim and Lapine were just sitting there, right in the middle. But they really loved it.

WW:  Passion isn't your first Sondheim musical, is it?

RS: In college in Edmonton, our teachers were Sondheim freaks so we did Anyone Can Whistle and I was young Ben in Follies. I played John Wilkes Booth in Assassins in the Fringe Festival, and I did Anthony in Sweeney Todd in Vancouver. In fact, Sweeney Todd is my absolute favorite musical.

WW:  You made your Broadway debut in Cry-Baby and then you played Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas and New York, but the show that's gotten the most press is the one that didn't happen: Rebecca. You were supposed to star in it last fall, until the financing and the show fell through.

RS:  It was definitely bizarre and a shame. Having heard the music and read the script, it's a beautiful story, and it was gonna be a great opportunity for all of us. Unfortunately, I gave up a year's worth of symphony work to do Rebecca and when the show closed, I couldn't get it back. We were all in the same boat. We had had costume fittings and my suits were stunning. When the final blow came, it knocked the wind out of everyone's sails.

WW:  If Ben Sprecher, the producer, came back and said he now had the money, would you do Rebecca?

RS:  Absolutely. It's not my job to judge what happened or who's to blame. My job is to sing, act and put a suit on. I can't worry about the rest, because I can't do anything about it. It's still a Broadway show and it could be a terrific one. Ben's kept us updated. He's still trying to make it happen.

WW:  Speaking of putting on a suit, your photos often feature you in one or a tux.

RS: I love wearing a suit. It's truly classy. You feel better, stand taller and look damn good. I love Hugh Boss suits. They fit me like a glove. But my all-time favorite is Tom Ford. I hope to get fitted for one someday.

WW:  On March 8, you'll be suiting up to do a New York Pops concert with Megan Hilty ("Smash") at Carnegie Hall.

RS: I love singing with a full orchestra, like Tony Bennett. We'll be doing lots of standards and maybe "Sway."

WW:  Tell us about your "Come on Down to My House" music video on YouTube. You're decked out in a tux and singing a snazzy remake of Rosemary Clooney's 1951 hit, "Come On-a My House."

RS:  I love that tune. The rhythm and beat and drive are just fun, so we came up with a modern version.

WW:  And you just posted a new music video at YouTube, "If Only in My Mind."

RS:  Rocky (aka Christian Guglielmo) wrote the track, and I wrote the lyrics. I wanted it to be sexy and romantic and classy. If I had to choose between acting or singing, I'd pick singing because I do it everyday. I love acting, but singing gives me so much joy. That's my goal for the next year: to bring my music to more people.

WW:  Valentine's Day is here, so what's the most romantic thing you've ever done?

RS:  Propose to my wife [actress Kim Craven]. One day we were talking about Cracker Jacks, and six months later, we were on a beach, and we had a bag of them. But earlier I had secretly opened it and took out the prize and replaced it with the ring. Happily, she said yes.

WW: Your family just grew in November when you and Kim had a baby girl named Presley. Congratulations.

RS:  Omigod. She's incredible. It's funny. I never thought about kids. I never really liked them. But then my sister had kids and that started to change things. It's amazing. Now I can't wait to get home to see Presley. She gives me a focus. I feel more driven in my career, so I can provide for her. They're linked and that's really neat.

WW:  Finally, do you believe in fate? If Rebecca had run, you might not be doing Passion with Sondheim.

RS:  If Rebecca had run, it could've been a great show. Who knows? Looking back now, I'm glad it happened the way it did. This is such an exciting journey, and I'm a better actor, hands down, for having worked with John Doyle. Whether it's fate or not, I always look forward to another door opening and hope it's an equally fun adventure.

Passion is now in previews; it opens Feb. 28 and plays through April 7. 136 E. 13th St. Tickets, $60-$75. (212) 352-3101. Info:

(Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News and is an award-winning playwright.)

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