This spring Josh and I sat down with the cast of Sex and the City in a suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York for exclusive chats about the show’s gay fans, plotlines that never made it to the show, Sex-y fashion, and what it was like to return to their characters’ (high-heeled) shoes for Sex and the City: The Movie.
On The Show’s Gay Fans
Cynthia Nixon: In the first couple years of our show we didn’t have any female writers. Our two writers were gay men. There was a lot said about, “These aren’t really women—these are gay men disguised as women,” and that really bugged all of us. It was like, Why aren’t they really women? Because women aren’t having this much sex? That’s annoying.
It’s a very gay friendly show. Not only do we have gay characters, but one of the central themes is a very gay conceit, which is your family is not the family you came from. Your family [develops] when you come to a place you always wanted to be and you meet people who are like you, and you create your own family. You notice in the series that we almost never meet anybody’s family. Once we met Charlotte’s brother. We heard about Miranda’s father after he was dead. But we never meet anybody’s parents or family. And they really wanted to keep it about the family you create.
Sarah Jessica Parker: Because I’m from New York, and I was raised in the theater, the gay community was always part of culture to me. They were always some of the first audiences, always the first people at the preview of a Broadway show, so it wasn’t so shocking to me that they were some of the first, most committed audiences [of our show].
There was a particular attachment to this show, among even my gay friends. It’s less about the salty dialogue and the candid, forthright chat-chat. Your relationship with your gay friends is like your relationships with your straight women friends. It is that deep and that intense and they care about friendships in the same way; they talk and they share. That has been my relationship with gay men, and, of course, the majority of my friends are gay men. And it’s extremely comforting: They always make you feel good, they always make you feel at even your worst moments like a lady—like a girl—and they are never afraid to be honest. They loved the ridiculousness and the absurd and the dirty and costumes, but if there wasn’t an emotional connection to those friendships and what they meant—you know, the gay community can grow weary, and they can move on quickly. But I think that’s what it meant for [the gay community], that kind of connection.
Kim Cattrall: A lot of people ask me if they feel that I’m playing a gay man in New York, and if I am, I am having the most fabulous time as a gay man in New York. I don’t personally think that, but I think it’s a fun thought. I was very happy to be on the cover of The Advocate. I feel like I have arrived in some ways. But there has been a tremendous amount of support from the gay community, and I’m grateful for it.
Kristin Davis: We have been hugely supported by the gay community, absolutely, and we love that. I feel like we’ve got support from a lot of different groups, which I think was edifying to us. I think people in general identify with well-written characters.
But I think also for gay culture—men and women—we were not locked into anything particularly rigid—there’s Samantha and Charlotte and everything in between. It’s colorful and pretty to look at, and we’ve got crazy clothes, and it was risky in a way, and with sexuality, and I think that people felt free about that, and so of course the gay community would vibe with it. But also, when I go home to South Carolina, old women come up to me, and I say, “Really, you watch it? You don’t have heart palpitations?” So it’s been a really good cross section. But we love our gay fans, obviously.
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Josh and I recently interviewed Mario Lopez for Towleroad TV as he prepared to make his debut in A Chorus Line on Broadway as Zach, the show-within-a-show's director. Mario talked about his Broadway debut, his new fitness book (try not to drop your jaw when you see the cover), A.C. Slater, and his supportive gay fans. The bonus? We got to stay during a rehearsal and catch some of his moves from the show. Check it out.
Last week Josh and I sat down with author Christopher Rice (yes, the son of iconic horror writer Anne Rice) and talked with him about his latest New York Times-bestselling thriller, Blind Fall, and about the death threats he's since received due to some of the book's content.
Kind of fun, right? Josh and I love our new gig hosting Towleroad TV. We're workin' away on our next interview and can't wait to bring it to you.
Last year Kevin Sessums's memoir Mississippi Sissy about growing up gay in the South during the racially charged 1960s became a New York Times bestseller and earned critical praise. We chatted with Kevin this week in celebration of the book's paperback release.
What stands out for you from touring with the book and talking with readers over the past year?
I was very humbled by the stories people would tell me while in line to get books signed, or even on the book's blog. If you write specifically enough about your own life, it speaks specifically to other people’s lives.
My final reading was in Philadelphia and when I got to the bookstore there was only one woman in the audience, sitting next to this guy. I thought, "Who’s this woman? Is she a lesbian? Is she a fag hag? Is she the sister of the gay guy next to her?" She and the guy lingered afterward and she had two books in her hands. She said, "This is my husband. Will you sign one book to me and one to my son?" I told them they were very nice to come to the reading, but said they didn't look old enough to have a son who could be old enough to read the book.
"He’s seven," she said, "but he’s a Tennessee sissy, and someday I want to give him this book to read. We’re from Nashville and we didn’t get to see you in Memphis, so I convinced my husband to bring me up here for the day to hear you read because this book changed my life and made me a better mother." And she started to cry. And I started to cry. And then her husband started to cry. I was very moved and humbled.
She handed me some pictures and it was her son dressed up as the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween, just as I did in my book. And now, she said, he had discovered theater, and he loved Ethyl Merman and Marilyn Monroe. Now when I go to the theater I collect Playbills and mail them off to this kid, saying I’m a friend of his mother's, and he writes me notes back. I’m his New York City fairy godmother that sends him Playbills.
I heard that during the book tour you were banned in Tupelo, Mississippi. What was that all about?
The owner of the store in Tupelo where I was supposed to read went to high school with Frank Dowsing, an All-American black football player from Mississippi, and the owner told me that after he read the book that he would not allow me to read from the book or carry the book in the store because he was so disgusted by Frank's portrayal in the book. I thought I portrayed Frank as very dignified and loving, but I assume the owner was offended by the sex scene [between Frank and me]. Some people can’t put "dignity" and "love" in the same sentence as "homosexual," but that’s his problem, not mine.
When I went for a reading in Oxford, Mississippi, they gave me a t-shirt with the cover of the book on it and across the top it said, "Banned In Tupelo—Who's The Sissy Now?"
There are also some very intense moments in the book, including the deaths of your parents when you were very young, then the murder of a dear friend, and sexual abuse at the hands of someone you trusted. What was it like to go back and write about those things?
In 12-step programs they say you’re only as sick as you’re secrets, so I was trying not to be sick anymore.
The hardest part was writing about the death of my mother. I wrote about that while in Provincetown. I had a loft on the third floor of this Victorian house looking out over the bay, and sometimes I’d have to grip the terrace to steady myself and keep from jumping. I’ve never been in that dark of a place in my whole life. And then it dawned on me that I was getting up every day and writing about the death of my mother and reliving it. It was like my mother was in the room with me, like I was with her in the hospital again.
Once I realized all of that consciously the depression lifted. I don’t know if writing the book was therapeutic, but it was cathartic. I don’t think I’ll ever be over what happened to me, but with the physical sensation of writing it was almost as if I felt the story leaving my body. It’s odd to talk about the book again after a year, so all these issues are coming up again as the book comes out in paperback. I had sort of moved on from all this in a strange way after writing it, and now it’s coming back again.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to Mississippi Sissy called I Left It On The Mountain. The title comes from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and what I left on the mountain. I also just signed with a new agent and I'm working on a novel called The Sensual Music of Neglect.
You’re cookin' two at once!
I am cooking two at once. Oh honey, if you can have sex with more than one person at once, you can write more than one book at a time, too.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, star and creator of the Broadway musical In The Heights, in his dressing room at the Richard Rogers Theater. (Photo by Josh K.)
Robin de Jesus, (Sonny) backstage at In The Heights. (Photo by Josh K.)
A year ago we saw the musical In The Heights when it was Off-Broadway and earning rave reviews. (Check out our first In The Heights story and interview.) In The Heights, set in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights over one fateful Fourth of July weekend, follows the trajectory of two young couples falling in love and one very lucky lottery ticket.
Last week Josh and I had the chance to see the show again as it prepared to open in its new digs on the Great White Way and, afterward, chatted backstage with two of the show's stars.
Josh & Josh: Congratulations on the big move to Broadway! Has the show changed a lot since moving from off-Broadway?
Robin de Jesus: It has really changed, but to someone who only saw it once Off-Broadway, you wouldn’t necessarily notice the differences, or you’d notice an energy shift, or you’d think things were a little clearer. But the heart of the show is still there.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: We’ve done a lot. We’ve been working. There are four new songs in Act II. When most new shows move to Broadway they cut, cut, cut. We only cut two songs. The lesson we took from Off-Broadway was that we needed to take more time telling our story, not less.
J&J: What is it about this show that critics and audiences love so much?
Robin de Jesus: You know, the story of “In the Heights” is simple. You’ve heard it before. But this time you’re hearing amazing, different music, and there’s just so much heart.
Last week Josh and I caught up with noted author Tom Dolby as he began the book tour for his second novel, The Sixth Form. Already a successful author after his debut novel, 2005's The Trouble Boy, which focused on the coming of age of a twenty-something gay man in Manhattan, Dolby's second book follows the story of two friends, Ethan and Todd--one straight and the other discovering he may be gay--as the duo navigates the halls and traditions of their final year of boarding school. But all bets are off when Hannah, an alluring and mysterious teacher, is thrown into the mix.
Todd and Ethan have quite a few adventures while at Berkley School. Were your years at Hotchkiss as adventurous as theirs?
Some of the stuff that happens in the book is inspired by [my years at boarding school], in terms of rituals and rhythms of what happens in the course of a school year, like the carnations at Valentine's Day, dances, and the importance of long winter weekends. I definitely had intense crushes, too, but I never acted on any of them.
And, of course, the student-teacher relationship is fictional, but that kind of thing does happen. It's pretty rare, but it happens. You have these schools out in the middle of nowhere and sometimes there's not a big age difference between a teacher and the kids, who are sometimes sexually precocious. A good teacher will set boundaries--but Hannah is an example of a teacher who is not setting boundaries.
The Sixth Form has a darker tone and plot than The Trouble Boy. Are we going to be seeing a darker Tom Dolby in the future?
After I finished The Sixth Form I realized, "Wow, I've written a pretty dark book" and I wanted to write something that was maybe dark, but funny dark. There's unexpected humor in The Sixth Form, but it does have its dark and serious moments.
The book I'm working on now is much lighter and funnier. It's set in California and focuses on a family. There has been this tangential theme in my past books with characters going home to visit their families and I realized I really liked writing those scenes. There is a lot of humor to be mined from those situations. I'm still very much in the beginning stages of that project--maybe on page 100 at this point.
We noted that The Sixth Form is dedicated to Drew. Who's Drew?
Drew is my boyfriend. This summer, as the deadline was approaching to submit the final draft [of The Sixth Form], I made some drastic revisions and he was just amazing--I think he read four different drafts in a week. And of course that's not the only reason it's dedicated to him, but it absolutely would not have been the same book without his help. When doing book tours you're surrounded by people, but they're strangers, and so it's nice to have someone at the end of the evening to ask how it went. It's really nice to do [a book tour] with a boyfriend or partner.
This Josh & Josh interview also appeared on Andy Towle's Towleroad.com.
Last week Josh and I had a chance to sit down with Tony-nominated Broadway star Michael Berresse, currently starring in the revival of A Chorus Line as Zach, opposite 2007 Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise. We talked with Michael in his dressing room for an hour and a half, discussing the success and challenges of his show, unpredictable audience members, Liza Minnelli doing high kicks in the aisles, and what it's like being an out actor (with a very attractive and talented boyfriend, we might add), both on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Josh & Josh: Hi Michael! Congratulations on the Tony nominations for A Chorus Line [for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Featured Actress for Charlotte d'Amboise]!
Michael Berresse: Thank you so much!
How's the show going?
I think it's the best it's ever been. It's
become more and more organic. The show is actually in the best shape it's ever been in,
which is not always the case when a show has been on for almost a year. The Tony
nomination brought even more visibility to Chorus Line. We're the only show to open this year
that recouped its investment. The show's going to be here for a while. I'm really enjoying it. There's
a national tour starting soon, too.
Have you had a lot of celebrities coming to see the show?
So many. Vanessa Redgrave, Rosie O'Donnell. This week Alec Baldwin was here. Alec was backstage and Charlotte [d'Amboise, who is Tony nominated this year for her role in "A Chorus Line"] told me, the next day, that Alec said some really nice things [about my performance]. He's a fantastic actor, he's really funny and talented, and I think all that drama is a little overblown [concerning the infamous "little pig" voicemail Baldwin left his daughter]. Alec had to leave before I got there. [We had] Liza Minnelli, who got up and started doing the kick line in the aisle during the show.
No! What do you do when something like that happens?
You just let her do what she wants to do. Nobody really argues with her. [laughter] I was at the Tonys one year, when I was performing, and she was a presenter. She found me backstage and grabbed me and wouldn't let me go, just talking and talking, and I wondered what was going on. Then I realized she was so terrified to go on stage that she had to stay engaged with someone, and then she heard her name called and she just turned and walked away, like "Okay, I'm done with you," and then went out on stage. [laughter] Crazy. Show business.
For much of the show your character, Zach, the director of the show-within-the-show, is at the back of the theater, talking to the actors on stage. It is strange acting from the back of a theater?
In Chorus Line I had to learn to act with my voice, because I'm offstage, but heard, so much. It's tricky. Silence is critical, and when you breathe, and when you say your lines.
I hear these stories of Zachs from the past who have their checkbooks out, doing their bills, because there are a couple of gaps there when you're not talking much, but I can't do that, because then I wouldn't have an honest feeling about what's happening [on stage].
[As Zach] I'm supposed to be alone in an empty theater. There are [audience members] sitting right next to me. There are people talking to me, there are people standing right next to me, there are people's cell phones going off, there are ushers ushering me to the bathroom if they don't know I'm the guy in the show. Some guy shouted at me "Just give her the job, give her the job!" A little boy crawled up in the seat in front of me and put his hand on my leg. Another time a guy passed out and fell on me.
Have you had any overzealous audience-member encounters?
I've had some stalkers. Usually it's women, or really young or much older men. This flight attendant started bringing gifts every time she came to the show. She started sending strange letters, and then she showed up on Valentine's Day and wanted me to take her to dinner, and then she got beligerant, and tried to contact me at home.
Depending on what you're doing, or what role you're doing, people sometimes can't tell the difference [between you and your character]. In Chicago my original role was as Fred Casely, and I wore almost nothing, and people would wait at the end of the night, and say things, or call me, or flash me. It's kind of crazy, because they think that's who you are.
Tell us about how you got into acting and dancing in the first place. Weren't you a gymnast first, and then sort of fell into the whole acting thing by accident?
I was a competitive gymnast when I was young, and that's how I got my first job. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and I didn't know how to dance. I went to this audition with a friend as moral support, dressed in jeans and a button-up, no dance shoes or anything, and they said, "You should audition." I was like, "Okay." So I danced barefoot, in my street clothes, and I sang "Miracle of Miracles" because it was the only song I knew from when I did musical theater in high school. I got the job and that was it.
It all started because I could tumble, because of gymnastics. But then when you get a job on Broadway as an athletic Gene Kelly type, that's all they want you to do, and for four Broadway shows in a row that's all I did. So then I started having to say no, and people think you're an asshole, but then you get another opportunity to do something with someone else, and the first people come back and [forgive you]. I started understudying, then taking over roles, then starring in shows, and then choreographing and writing. I realized if I was going to [make it], it was up to me.
Have there been any really outstanding moments for you in this show?
The great thing about Broadway is that actors get to do what people are afraid to say and do [in real life]. There was this teenage boy a few weeks ago during Paul's monologue [concerning a young male dancer who dealt with sexual abuse in his past, and also with being gay], where the boy just lost it, crying. It was so moving. His whole world just cracked wide open because he's watching some kid talking on stage about his own life. And whether his parents figure it out that night or not, sometimes that's the best part about doing this.
There seems to be a unique opportunity in the entertainment industry to serve as role models.
If you want to be in a profession that gives you exposure, then it's important to use that exposure honestly. I saw David Hyde Pierce [former Frasier star who won a Tony for his current role in Curtains] at an event recently, and he was very open, but I didn't know he had come out. I knew he was gay a long time ago, but I say good for him [for coming out].
I'm saying this for the record: fucking Hollywood. The gays that run the industry and try and force actors back into the closet because they're afraid it's going to make them unmarketable have so polluted the industry that it makes me really, really angry. It's so hypocritical. It's studio execs, and a lot of them are gay, and they're still saying, "You can't be out." There are exceptions, like T.R. [Knight, from Grey's Anatomy], but I'm ready for there to be a 25-year-old heartthrob who's hot and working and have him be totally out. All they need is someone young and hot, whose career is built on being a straight sex symbol, and then have him come out, and then everything will be fine once that taboo is broken. It won't make any fucking difference. Does anyone really care?
You don't need to tell everybody your secrets, but don't lie. It's just a shame, living out of fear. Fear is the most dangerous weapon that abusers have. If you're not ashamed, they can't use it against you.
It used to scare me when I met people who were really out and gay because I thought something terrible would happen to them, and there was a time where something terrible could have happened, but it's not true anymore. I don't define myself by my sexuality, but it's part of who I am.
[When I was younger] I was very self-conscious. I always felt -- and this is going to sound harsh, but I guess it's true -- like a faggot. Like I couldn't just be what I wanted to be, or laugh at what I wanted to laugh at. I believed it when somebody would laugh and say "faggot" and then I'd feel bad. But now they say it and I'm like, "You're right!" [laughter] Gay people that are ten or fifteen years younger than me now have changed so much, to be at a young age and be able to self-express. I just didn't have role models to help me figure that out until I was older.
I don't necessarily believe anymore that being in the closet is going to help you get famous, or stay famous. You know, some people knew T.R. Knight [before he outed himself], but look at him now. Now everybody knows who he is. So it's okay, boys, you can come out.
Michael Berresse is also the director and choreographer of Off-Broadway hit [title of show]. (Yes, that's the show's name; we didn't just accidentally leave the title out.) They plan to bring the show to Broadway soon.
"College students steal songs from [title of show] off YouTube and perform them at their colleges," Berresse says proudly. "We have a big show that's growing. We did five special events in the last six weeks. Rodgers & Hammerstein bought the material and are waiting to publish it until we find out if we're going to go to Broadway. It's the thing that I'm the most proud of in my whole career."
Berresse should be proud because The New Yorker called [title of show] "immensely likeable," The New York Times called it "delectable entertainment," and Entertainment Weekly called it "sly, sassy, and inspired."
Oh, and the person who wrote the music and lyrics, and also has a starring role? None other than Michael's (very sexy) boyfriend, Jeff Bowen.
* Michael was nominated for a Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award in 2000 for his role as Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me Kate.
* Michael's first big acting gig was at Disney World. "I was there for the same ages and years when you'd be in college," he says. "It really taught me about community, it helped me really understand my sexuality in a much more positive way, and it taught me how to work my ass off with five shows a day in 90% humidity. It was really hard, but I grew up a lot," Michael says. It was also while at Disney that he had his first "healthy" same-sex relationship. After Disney, Michael moved to New York, and has worked on the stage (and screen) consistently since 1990.
* Michael has two small framed photos of his boyfriend in his dressing room. On his dressing room table sits a picture of his boyfriend, eyes closed and wearing a knit hat, somehow managing to look both serene and hot. "It's very sweet," Michael says of the photo, "and to me that's what I feel and think of when I think of him. But he was like 'Fuck that, you need to have a sexy picture of me in your dressing room." Thus, on a shelf above Michael's mirror sits a shirtless picture of Jeff, ripped torso in full view, focusing a smoldering stare straight at the camera. "Then he gave me that picture. And now I keep it on the top shelf," Michael said, laughing.
* Michael cringes, but admits that he has performed for both George W. Bush and George Bush, Sr., at the Kennedy Center Honors. "We did Forever Plaid, which turns out to be Bush Senior's favorite show." Who knew that Bush Senior was into musical theater? And Forever Plaid, a revue of a faux 1950s harmonizing boy band? Hmmm. Very interesting.
* Michael says that he's performed for so many celebrities that he's rarely star-struck anymore. There is one woman who gets him every time, though, he reports. "When Meryl Streep came to see Light in the Piazza [in which Berresse starred in 2005] -- she came, like, eight times -- she brought her daughter and waited at the stage door like everybody else. She made me really, really nervous. People would see her and they'd be all, 'Fuck the Light in the Piazza cast, it's Meryl Streep!'"
Chris Garneau photographed by Josh K. in New York City. (Click to enlarge.)
Not long ago Josh and I sat down with
twenty-four-year-old singer and songwriter Chris Garneau to
talk about his debut album, Music for Tourists. The indie record, with
Garneau's softly sung vocals and heartrending lyrics, has garnered
praise from mainstream media including The Advocate and National Public Radio, with word also spreading like wildfire
throughout the blogosphere. Originally from Boston, and raised for a
few years in Paris during his childhood, Garneau has settled into the
Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he's at work on a
follow-up album and preparing for a nationwide tour that begins on May
How did your debut album, "Music For Tourists," come about?
Duncan Sheik produced it. I was in the first workshops of Spring Awakening [for which Duncan wrote the music] when it was being written. I was 16 when they first started it. I did numerous productions of it with the same team that is still working on it now. They were like, "Just sing this song, and that song, but don't say a word." I was so awkward and I hated acting. Anyway, that's how I met Duncan. I did these silly recordings in high school at a studio and I gave them to Duncan, and he said, "I'm going to produce your record some day." When I moved back to New York five years ago, we started working on it at his studio. It was a long process. He's a really busy guy, so there was a lot of down time. We started when I was about 21, three years ago.
Originally it was going to be really big and really produced, but the longer the process went on, the more eager I was to complete it, and we didn't really have any money going into it. We were recording everything on our own time, and he was engineering it at the studio in Tribeca. I had the studio to myself for a month, so I would just go in and set up, which I had no idea how to do. I was recording by myself. Four of the songs are just one take.
Do you read your reviews?
I do. I read all of them. I should probably stop. [laughter] It's really hard in the beginning to not do that. I don't know who would do that with their first album, to just be like, "I don't read them." I have to remember half the time that there are people writing to make a point, or to have people just read their reviews. There are writers who sometimes write really drastic reviews, really good or really bad, so it sticks out and people notice it. I understand that that's a factor. I also try and consider that there are writers who truly care about music and really know music, probably a lot more than I know, and there are things I can learn from some reviews. It's a first record, and I was young when I wrote the songs. I don't expect everyone to love it.
Absolutely Kosher [the record company] asked me "How do you want to deal with press and publicity for being gay? Do you want it to be not mentioned at all, do you want to be out if people ask, do you want to be really forthright?" At that point I wasn't exactly sure. My feeling then was that I didn't want to be the gay piano-playing "fagitor" from Williamsburg who has a new album, "Music for Tourists." If anybody asks, or if gay press wants to run this feature or that, I thought, "Let's do it." I don't feel terribly political. I'm making music and I happen to be gay, and that's what's happening. If you want to hear about it, fine, and if you don't, that's fine, too.
So everybody's going to want to know: Are you single?
Why does everybody ask me that? That's so weird. [laughing, looking embarrassed] My feeling would be like, if I saw someone cute in a magazine or wherever, I wouldn't even care if they were single or not. I'd just be like, "How can I interfere? Who are they in a relationship with, and how can I fuck it up?" [laughter, then a pause] I am dating someone right now. He's a photographer. He just gave me a Polaroid camera -- he mainly does Polaroids -- and he's teaching me how to use it. It has a real lens so you can focus. It's a for real camera, not just a twenty dollar one you can get at a pharmacy.
Tell us about the couple years you spent growing up just outside of Paris.
I was eight when we moved. It was great. I went to an international school, which was mainly in French. My brother went also, however he didn't speak any French, so his time was miserable. And he was kind of pubescent, twelve or thirteen, so it was just the worst timing ever. My sister was in high school and she said, "I'm not going." For a year she stayed in Massachusetts with friends. She did her senior year in France at an American school and had the best year of her life and wished she had come earlier. I had the most fun of anyone, I think, because I was eight and at that age nothing really matters.
Josh K: Oh, let's ask some of the Inside the Actor's Studio questions!
Josh H: [to JK] Really? Um, okay. [to Chris] What profession would you like to attempt other than your own?
I'd probably be working with animals, I think. If things really started to not work, or if I have more time, I'd definitely want to work with animals. They're the things that I love the most besides music.
What's your favorite word?
Uh . . . I've been saying "douche bag" a lot. [laughter all around]
What's a sound that you love?
Do you know when you're sitting -- this is stupid -- you know when you're sitting at a piano and you have your foot on the pedal and you hear the whoosh, the damper coming off the strings? It's beautiful. I love that. Fiona [Apple] always has that sound in her recordings. You can hear the pedal letting off, and [her producer] leaves it in. It's so cool. It sounds like you're doing something in backward motion. It's creepy and it's beautiful and it's a really nice sound.
What is a sound that you hate?
You know when you're on the subway and you get to the end of the line and 30 seconds later the train makes a noise because it's at the end of the line? It's always at the 8th Avenue on the L. It's this letting out of air and it's so awful. It makes me so mad. I always forget that it's going to happen and it's super loud. It hurts your eardrums. The 6 train at Union Square, for some reason, it's so bad.
What's your favorite curse word?
I use all of them so frequently. I really got a potty mouth. I don't really have a favorite one. I guess I say "motherfucker" a lot. Sometimes kind of slowly. [laughter] I don't have any weird ones. I wish I had a really quirky one.
What's a week like now in the life of Chris Garneau?
A few days I work with my bandmate, Saul, who's also my roommate, whether it's rehearsing or writing or recording. We're still working on the new record, and we have a lot of work to do. I talk to people that are helping me, publicists or bookers or the label. My manager and I have been working with each other since December, so we're trying to get things going. I'm trying to write a lot, too, right now. I've been writing a lot of songs in the last few months. I play with my cats a lot. They're really funny, cute and sweet. They're really distracting. And [I'm] usually hanging out with my boyfriend at night and watching movies, making dinner.
How's the second album coming?
It's pretty much all tracked. There are a lot of big vocals. There's a big choir on one song. There are a lot of big string arrangements, percussion, and horn arrangements. There are a lot of things taken from "Tourists" stylistically, but almost simplified in a way. It's just smarter. It's better. I'm older.
The Chris Garneau Video Gallery
Josh and I are hooked on Chris's song "We Don't Try."
Chris on shooting the video in Paris: "We were there maybe an hour and did five or six songs. They didn't inform the bar, but they had picked out the place and then told them right before I started playing. Everyone was pretty quiet for the first two takes, but then it was seven o'clock and it got busy, but we kept going. It was a little weird for me for sure -- I'd never done anything like that before. It ended up just being fun."
Chris on the making of his first official music video: "Everyone in it is an actor, with the exception of a few of the drag queens who are actually prostitutes from in a diner in the neighborhood. They brought me out to Los Angeles, I showed up the set, and they rented out the diner for 12 or 18 hours and had a whole crew. They had costume, makeup, set crew, film crew, everybody. It was the real thing. They spent about twenty grand on it, which is a small budget, but big for an indie video. They played the song over and over and over so I'm sure anybody on the set can't listen to the song anymore. We were there from 3 p.m. to 5 a.m., so we were really tired afterward, but it was a lot of fun."
A couple weeks ago Josh H. sat down with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the 27-year-old creator and star of the new hit Off-Broadway musical In the Heights. Set in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights over one fateful Fourth of July weekend, Heights follows the trajectory of two love stories and the results of one lucky lottery ticket. With some of the most thoughtful lyrics that New York has heard since Avenue Q (according to New York magazine), energetic performances, inspired choreography and costuming, In the Heights is a sexy, fresh, funny, and moving addition to the musical theater canon.
Amid the seats at 37 Arts Theater in midtown Manhattan, where In the Heights is currently playing, Miranda (who is straight) talked with me about the show's gay plotline that was written out, the future of the American musical, and the seven-year journey to Off-Broadway — that may just lead to the Tonys.
What would you say is the essence of In the Heights? What's it really about?
I think the show is about home, and I know that's the corniest thing in the world, but I grew up here [in New York], my parents were born in Puerto Rico, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do here. I had heard about Puerto Rico as this paradise and I spent every summer there. I was like, 'Am I supposed to be here, am I supposed to be there, and if I'm supposed to be here am I really Puerto Rican?' Where's home is really the big ol' question, I think.
So you're the creator of the show. This is your baby. Take me back to your undergraduate years when you wrote In the Heights.
I had been doodling In the Heights in all my notebooks in college. I had written a song or two [and] I applied for the student-run theater space at Wesleyan [University]. That winter break I locked myself up and wrote everything I knew about. I grew up in Inwood, but I wanted to write about Washington Heights, this really dynamic landscape, and I grew up in the neighborhood. The music was very Washington Heights—it was salsa, merengue, hip-hop, and all that stuff that's still in the show—but [originally] it was not so much about the community as it was about a love triangle. It was this tortured love story. Nina had a brother named Lincoln [who] was closeted and in love with Benny [who was Lincoln's best friend and in love with Nina]. It was a totally different show. The show was a huge hit [at Wesleyan University], mainly because I was one of the only Latino theater majors at Wesleyan, so to get my cast I had to go all over campus. I got people from the Latino Program House, from the gospel choir, so everyone had a friend in the show and the whole campus came. It was an original musical my sophomore year.
You were 21?
I was 20. Two guys who were seniors at the time, Neil Stewart and John Mailer, loved the show and said, "We want to help you bring this to New York." They were able to take a CD of the musical to Tommy Kail [the director]. They got in touch with me my senior year and they were like, "We started our [theater production] company and we'd love to work on In the Heights with you as soon as you graduate." And so I graduated, and the next week I was in the basement of the Drama Bookshop. Kevin McCollum came to a reading we did in June 2003.
He's the producer of Avenue Q?
Yeah. He said, "I'd like to invite you to the preview of this new show we're working on, Avenue Q." It was like the third preview and I literally turned to Bill, my co-arranger and said, "Fuck." It was the same plot but it was so much wittier and better done than the tortured adolescent version [of In the Heights] I had written. That was the beginning of the end of the [closeted gay] Lincoln story. It turned from a love triangle into two parallel love stories.
Not many college sophomores are writing musicals. Was writing a musical something you always wanted to do?
I saw The Little Mermaid when I was a little kid and it changed my life. I dragged my parents over and over to see it. I just felt so transported to this other world with people bursting into song—like what life should be. I had a great theater program in high school called Brick Prison where it's student-written plays, student-directed, all student-run. I had written one-act musicals, these twenty-minute things, and I wanted to write a full-length musical. The soundtrack of In the Heights is really the soundtrack of my life. My parents were both born in Puerto Rico, so Latin music is a staple of our household, but I grew up with hip-hop and all my friends listened to hip-hop. It was Fat Boys and Beastie Boys when we were little, and then it was Far Side and Tribe Called Quest and Biggie in the 90s. I came of age with hip-hop.
It was a seven-year journey to get to In the Heights on this stage. What was it like when you finally opened here in previews in January 2007?
So strange. Very emotional. I really lost it when we did the first rehearsal with the band and I could hear the brass in the songs and we got to that section in the finale where [my character is] like "There's a breeze off the Hudson" and I started bawling my eyes out. It would hit me when I first saw the set and it was this mind-blowing thing.
What do you see as the future for musical theater? Is it an endangered species?
Every time I think it's an endangered species I hear some new music and I'm blown away. I like to try and write music that I listen to. I want music that I'm not ashamed to blast on my car stereo. I love hip-hop and I love Latin music and I love every genre of music, and so that's the fun part of using contemporary music and figuring out how to tell stories with it. Musical theater [used] to be the popular music of its day. Half of these music videos are stealing from old school musicals. You look at Usher's "My Way" video and it's West Side Story. "Smooth Criminal" is wearing the exact same suit as Fred Astaire wore in the dance sequence in Bandwagon. So it's not dead, it's just hiding.
Do you have more musicals in you?
Oh yeah. I got musicals for days, and I'm really excited about that. I don't know if they're necessarily stage musicals, I don't know if they're music for TV or for an album or for movies, but yeah, that doesn't stop. Since I was little that hasn't stopped. I'm not worried about that. I do have more musicals in me, but I don't know what they are yet.
IN THE HEIGHTS (website), at 37 Arts, 450 West 37th Street, New York City. Shows are Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets from $36.25 to $76.25. Photo credit: Joan Marcus. Also check this interview out on Towleroad.com.