Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Interview with Michael Arden

Actor Michael Arden, who has played Broadway and sung on a European tour with Barbra Streisand, is currently blowing audiences away at La Jolla Playhouse as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, playing through December 14.

How arduous was it to prepare to do Quasimodo physically? How difficult is it to maintain throughout the show?

I would be lying if I said this role wasnt the most demanding Ive ever taken on. I started training a few months prior to starting rehearsals and I still feel like its a bit of a marathon every time I go onstage. Its a huge sing, but also incredibly demanding physically. Maintaining Quasimodos stature takes a toll on the body, so I have been developing a routine to keep myself from turning into a Hunchback offstage. Its also emotionally draining as well. 

What are your feelings about this man?

I love this character. I love that he is in many ways a child, but also an adult. He has created a universe around him, in his solitude and it’s such a joy to explore each night. There’s no limit to his imagination and therefore it allows me much freedom in the playing of it. His world is the cathedral and his master, Frollo. It has been very fulfilling to try to strip away worldly pressures and influences on the character in order to get closer to who this man would have been. 

Is this the greatest part you have played so far? If so, why? The most difficult?

I’ve been very lucky to play many wonderful roles, but I would count this among the greatest. The score is sublime and demanding as is the physical nature of the role, but I would say that the emotional journey is both incredibly challenging as well as rewarding. It isn’t an easy thing to lose what Quasimodo loses every night, but it is also an actor’s dream. 

Your voice is really a powerhouse. Do you do anything special or different vocally to play Quasi?

I have developed a sound for him that is what other people hear. He is deaf (fully in the novel, partially in our production) so that was definitely taken into consideration. I also spend a lot of my day warming up, steaming and drinking tea. =)

How has it been to work with this creative team like Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Parnell and Scott Schwartz, and these actors like Patrick Page and Ciara Renee?

This process has been such a thrill. The creative team is truly a dream come true. These are writers I have idolized and admired since I started listening to music and developing an interest in theater. As daunting as it could be, they are all men I so respect because of their devotion to the craft of theater-making. They are some of the most supportive and encouraging people I have ever come across and their talent is only the outward manifestation of who they are as people. I am honored to bring their words and music to life and hope to instill each note and syllable with all of the care and thought they deserve. 

Working with this cast has not only been a joy, but a master class. I am so grateful to play with Patrick Page each night onstage. He is so alive and dangerous and I learn from him nightly. Ciara is not only the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my entire life, but also such an inspiring scene partner. When she sings, it comes from somewhere deep within her soul and I sometimes find myself lost in her performance. I also get the chance to work with the incredible Andrew Samonsky and Erik Lieberman, not to mention this magnificent ensemble. I’m a very lucky man. 

Tell me a little about directing Spring Awakening at Deaf West Theatre?

I could write a book. At times, mind-melting, it has been the most rewarding project of my career. I set out to create a true company of stage actors and was able to assemble the most wonderful ensemble of young deaf and hearing actors and musicians I think the world has ever seen or heard. I am so proud of the work they all did and will continue to do on this show. It’s a play I have long loved and to bring it to life in a new light for a new audience has been the highlight of my career.

You seem to have a long-standing relationship with Deaf West. I saw you do Big River there and then Pippin for them at the Mark Taper. Will you talk a little about this?

I was lucky enough to make my Broadway debut in Big River. Before working with Deaf West, I had never met a deaf person, and now I can’t imagine life without ASL. The deaf community has shaped me as an artist and a person and I am very grateful that I have been able to share and create so much art with a group of people I would have never imagined sharing and creating with. It’s a true testament to the power of theater. There are no walls. 

Have you done any concert work since performing with Barbra Streisand several years ago? Are there any plans to add that to your schedule at some point?

I have done a few concerts here and there. Below 54 and in Los Angeles. I also sing every now and then with Trumpet player Chris Botti. I do hope to do some more concert work soon. 

Be sure to catch Michael Arden as Quasimodo in Hunchback through December 14 at La Jolla Playhouse.

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