Interview with two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris
As the 2015 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Fun Home enters its last months at the Circle in the Square, we caught up with two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris to talk about the show's tremendous run off and on Broadway.
A true stage veteran, Michael picked up Tony Awards for his current role as Bruce Bechdel, as well as for his performances as John Wilkes Booth in Assassins. He also earned Tony nominations for Evita, Lovemusik, Sweeney Todd, and The Who's Tommy. He also appeared in Titanic and the Broadway plays - In the Next Room, Hedda Gabler and Cymbeline.
Thomas Hayden Millward: As we head into the last couple of months of Fun Home on Broadway, looking back, what would you say have been some of your personal highlights of your time with the musical?
Michael Cerveris: I’ve particularly enjoyed the friendships that I have made with the rest of the company, especially the child actors that I have gotten to work with, who are just extraordinary and hilarious. I find myself learning little things from them about the excitement about what it is that we get to do on a regular basis as actors. A lot of what I’m going to take away from this experience is the joy of having worked so closely with the company. The show is about a family and our company has really become one. And then there’s the connections with our audiences. Maybe particularly because of the way it has been staged in the round along with the subject matter, it feels like there is a kind of connection that the cast feels with the audiences. It’s unlike anything I have felt in any other show that I have done.
THM: When I saw the show the other night, as I got up to leave, a young lady behind me was so overcome with emotion that she had to take a minute for herself. She couldn’t get up and let the rest of the row out and amid her tears just kept saying how incredible the show was. I expect that’s not an altogether uncommon reaction in your experience?
MC: No, it’s not at all. We hear that sort of thing all the time, when we talk to people afterwards in the autograph line. It really affects some people in a really profound way. And even the people that perhaps aren’t affected to that degree, they also find themselves just a little bit changed – whether that’s looking at somebody else in a different way or discovering themselves on stage in a Broadway musical for the first time.
THM: Your character of Bruce Bechdel is one of the most complex characters I think I have ever seen in musical theatre. How does he compare to some of your other roles in your stage career so far?
MC: Well, I have a history of playing various dark, complex and somewhat troubled characters. I don’t know if it’s just me or what exactly (laughs). But I have to say that Bruce probably has the most complex, the most nuanced and the most contradictory aspects all wrapped up into one character. As I understand it, that’s how Alison’s father really was. That gives me a creative challenge every night and keeps it from ever feeling the least bit repetitive, despite the fact that we’ve performed the show over 500 times on Broadway and hundreds of times before that off-Broadway. He is sometimes a big-hearted, delightful and off-the-wall kind of character and other times he is a very dark, troubled and painful character. All the contradictions exist simultaneously.
THM: When the closing date for the show was announced, how aware were you in advance as a cast and does something like that affect the atmosphere backstage in any way?
MC: Yes, absolutely. I think we were aware that the intensity we had at the beginning of the run, where every night was standing room only, had started to diminish. But you never know for sure what that means. Firstly, audience attendance for shows varies at different times of the year. I would say that we were all conscious that the show was beginning to seem a bit vulnerable, in terms of audiences, but I don’t think you ever want to believe it’s not just something that’s going to turn around of its own accord. So I would say that we weren’t totally surprised but still a little surprised when it was actually announced. And it does change things. I think the sadness for us comes from the idea that people are no longer going to have the opportunity to come and have this extraordinarily rare experience on Broadway. They won’t quite find the same thing that we do in any other show that is running. Happily, there is going to be a tour and the show will live on. But it’s not going to be performed in the round to audiences where the furthest row away is only eight to ten rows from the stage and not by a company that is as nuanced and as lived-in as this. I think Fun Home changed what is possible in Broadway musicals and I think it is a shame that it is something that won’t be available to people for years and years on Broadway. I think our focus as a company has been to try and not look at the sadness of what might have been or what we will miss. I think we’ve been focusing much more on the amazing fact that this kind of show and this kind of artistry in the middle of Broadway commercial theatre was ever here in the first place. It was never a given. It was never going to be an obvious success. The fact that it has been embraced and awarded the way it has is really astounding. It’s also a lovely thing to get to close a show with the entire adult company that you opened the show with. That almost never happens.
THM: And finally, Michael, what is next for you? Is there anything in the pipeline or anything you would like to do?
MC: There are all kinds of things I would like to do. There’s nothing in particular that I am looking at for sure right now. I hadn’t even thought about being available for anything until a couple of weeks ago. Little opportunities are now starting to present themselves. It’s going to be a difficult thing to figure out what to follow this extraordinary and unrepeatable experience with. I hope it will be something completely different and a whole new challenge, but I don’t really know what that will be for certain yet. I did do some work for Steven Soderbergh for a new television series that will be on HBO in the new year. I already did that whilst I was doing Fun Home. Beyond that, a little time to play music would be nice and a little time to play with my dog would be nice (laughs). Those are the things I’m looking forward to the most.