Describe the experience of playing the emcee in Cabaret. What makes this role such a coveted one?
Playing the emcee has been the most liberating, challenging and rewarding professional experience of my career to date. I think the role is so coveted firstly because the material is so good. The book is one of the best in the musical theatre canon and the score is rightfully iconic. And the role is unique in that it can be so many things - there can be me a myriad of interpretations that all potentially work, so it gives an actor an amazing opportunity for creativity and invention. It also spans an immense emotional and stylistic range.
You get to wear a lot of funky clothes ... or very little in this part. Tell the audience how different this version of Cabaret is from the original.
The emcee in this production loves playing with gender. It’s not something that was absent in the original production but the envelope is pushed farther in this production. Weimar Berlin clubs and bars were progressive, even radical: gender roles, expression and sexuality mores were being openly subverted and explored. Magnus Hirschfeld was beginning his extraordinary research on sexuality and gender. This production is extremely tawdry, raucous, sexy and challenging in a way that is probably very similar to the actually Weimar era cabaret clubs it depicts.
What message does the emcee carry to the audience?
The potential consequences of political disengagement.
You have many fun musical numbers to perform. It's an energetic role. How are you preparing for it? Any challenges?
I’ve been doing it for 6 months now, so it’s pretty much in my body. I have a half hour vocal and physical warm up and I need to be very vigilant about my eating and sleeping schedule.
Is this your best role to date? If so, why? How?
I have a hard time ranking my different roles hierarchically, I’ve loved so many of them. This is a very special role, and a show and production I believe in very deeply. It’s satisfying not only to get to act and sing amazing material but to feel you are communicating a perfectly structured story that is of artistic, social and political significance.
I reviewed you in Amadeus a couple of years ago in Santa Barbara. You were very good. Talk a little about your involvement with this play.
|Randy Harrison as Emcee|
Did you ever see the original Cabaret onstage with Joel Grey? If so, how did it make you feel?
I did not see Joel Grey on stage in Cabaret. I did grow up with the movie, which is very different from the stage version. I was always fascinated by the world of Cabaret and by his Emcee.
What else is new on the horizon for Randy Harrison? Stage, TV or film!
I’ll be on the road with Cabaret through February. I’m in a short film called Photo Op that has been playing festivals (Palm Springs, Soho, Outfest, etc.) And I directed a web series called “New York is Dead” that is just now completing post production.
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Here is an interview below that I did with him in 2014 when he played Mozart in Amadeus at Ensemble Theatre, Santa Barbara.
What was life like, briefly, during Queer As Folk? Did you know at first that this show was unique and groundbreaking? You guys had so many fans. I know because I interviewed Gale Harold when he did Orpheus Descending a few years ago, and the fan response to the interview was incredible. I had comments from all over the world.
My life during Queer as Folk was pretty hectic. I was in my early 20s, which I think tend to be a chaotic time for most people, especially young artists. I was living half the year in Toronto and the other half in New York, which were both new cities to me at the time, attempting to create some kind of stability in my life. I was trying to figure out what I was most interested in as a performer while simultaneously working and shooting this very personal, emotional and intimate material and becoming some kind of poster boy for something I didn’t understand at the time. I knew very much that the show was unique and ground-breaking.
What made this show so unique in your mind and why does it still attract fans? Oh, and how did you feel about doing the nudity in the show? Was it fun? Did it bother you?
I thought the show was unique because gay romantic story lines and sexuality hadn’t yet been depicted in that way on American television. No, I would never describe being naked on camera as having been fun for me. But I felt the sexuality was a really important aspect of what was ground breaking about the show, so I wasn’t initially bothered doing it. As the series progressed it got more and more difficult because it felt redundant and unnecessary.
On to the stage. You did a couple of plays in New York. What were they? On Broadway or off? Was that your first exposure to theatre or do you come from a long background of theatre training?
My background is in theatre. I’ve been doing theatre since I was a child, working professionally in theatre since I was a teenager and I went to Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where I got a BFA in theatre. Off-Broadway I’ve done shows at Primary Stages, The Public Theater, Theater for New Audience, Red Bull Theater, Manhattan Class Company. I did Wicked on Broadway. Regionally, I’ve worked at the Guthrie Theater, Shakespeare Theater DC, Yale Repertory Theater, Cleveland Playhouse, Studio Theater DC and many others performing plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Beckett, Williams, Ibsen, etc.
How are the rehearsals for Amadeus going? Is it daunting to play Mozart? How do you feel about it?
Rehearsals are going well. It's a big show- technically, thematically, emotionally. I love playing Mozart. I played the role before about 7 or 8 years ago. It's interesting to approach it now. I am now a year older than Mozart was at his death. The role requires a lot of energy which is harder at this age but I feel much more grounded and am bringing significantly greater life experience than my previous go.
Who are your mentors? Do you have an acting idol or someone who has taught you more than anyone else?
I don’t really have a mentor or an acting idol. After undergraduate I studied with a handful of incredible acting teachers and directors for many years that shaped me hugely. I’ve seen performances that devastated and thrilled me, and followed certain actors' careers pretty extensively- seeing them do anything and everything. At a certain point I was working consistently enough, it felt more natural to allow my company, director and the material teach me. I can’t remember being a part of a company where I didn’t deeply admire, look up to and learn from other actors in the cast.
Do you have a favorite playwright or author? If so, who and why?
Samuel Beckett. For me, Beckett addresses the most significant questions about being a human being on this earth in a way that is deeply intelligent, realistic (not the style of his plays obviously, but his view of the world to me is profoundly realistic), gorgeously poetic and also hilarious. I’ve done Godot and Endgame. I find it a relief to be in a Beckett play, because it feels like I’m lying less than when I’m performing the work of other authors.
What kind of music do you like to listen to? Has classical music always been a favorite of yours? If not, how has the exposure to Mozart worked into your routine? Has it changed you in any way?
I listen mostly to rock that edges toward experimental and electronic. Current favorites bands are Tune-Yards, Dirty Projectors, The Knife, Liars, Autre Ne Veut, to name just a few. I’m not currently a huge listener of classical music. But I grew up singing classical music and I went to a music conservatory where I was exposed to a great deal of symphonic, choral and especially opera music. My experience with Mozart’s music is greatly filtered through my experience of Shaffer’s Amadeus, both growing up watching the film (it was a favorite of my mother’s and she introduced to to me at a young age and we watched it a lot), having played the role before and of course preparing it again. I can’t hear that Adagio Serenade #10 for Winds in B Flat Major without getting chills every time that oboe comes in, but I wonder if I would feel the same way if I hadn’t been taught to listen to it by Shaffer’s Salieri. It’s one of the many remarkable things about this play. I hear those chords that introduce the ghost father in Don Giovanni and they terrify me. But I definitely hear them filtered through playing Mozart shattered by grief and guilt just after his father’s death. It a strange thing to do: to teach yourself how to listen to music as a fictionalized version of the person who created it.
What role do you yearn to play? Onstage or film or TV...doesn't matter?
One current fantasy is to play the Doctor or one of the Doctor’s companions on Doctor Who. Unlikely, but a man has to dream. There are a million roles still. And more than roles, directors and writers I want to work with. Someday Didi and/or Gogo, Krapp, and Uncle Vanya. I want to work with Ivo Von Hove. The list is fortunately never ending.
Any new projects on the horizon for the big or small screen?
I did a film with Michaal Urie called Such Good People that has been playing festivals this year. And my friend Jenn Harris and I are developing content for Stage17.tv, which is exciting and hilarious.