Playbill Online Interview, 1994
Michael Cerveris who stars as Tommy in Broadway's "The Who's Tommy," answered Playbill On-Line members questions. Michael received a 1993 Tony nomination and the Theatre World Award for his work in "Tommy." He makes his Broadway debut, having originated the role in La Jolla. He has performed in various off-Broadway and regional productions including "Total Eclipse," "Abingdon Square" with Maria Irene Fornes, "Romeo" opposite Phoebe Cates, "Measure for Measure and many others.
Question: My friend Nicole is somewhat obsessed with you (in a good way, of course). First John Cameron Mitchell and now you -- I don't know, something about the St. James. Anyway, we're seeing the show on January 22 (my third time; her first) and she's dying to know if you're still going to be there. She just broke up with her boyfriend and has been kind of down lately, so I was wondering if y you would write just a little note to "hello." I assure you, it would be much appreciated. Thanks a lot and keep up the good work! --Alex Michael and Anthony Barrile outside St James Theater photo by Melanie Koster Michael: Nicole -- sorry your personal life has been rocky but I've no doubt you can overcome any present set backs. Love sucks sometimes. Hope you and Alexandria enjoy the show on the 22nd. Question: Do you remember me? Or were you trying to forget? I just wanted to ask, first, what is your advice to anyone who wants to get into the business? And second, What is really wrong with the character Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM? Michael: 1. Enjoy the process more than the result. Only do it if you must. Expect it to be very difficult but know that you don't have to be a star to have a rewarding life in the theatre. 2. There's nothing wrong with Puck. He's your average spirit of the forest with a knack for malicious mischief. Question: I LOVE TOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is the best show EVER!!!!!!!!! I have everything there is to have of TOMMY! I've seen it once, but would go every night if I could. It is absolutely the Best!! Especially Michael C. and Buddy S., and Anthony B. --Matt. TOMMY RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Michael, greeting fans photo by Melanie Koster Michael: Matt, is your exclamation mark key stuck or are you just excited? Thanks for enjoying the show. Question: I'm a 15 year old boy working up to getting my equity card. If there are any tips you could give me, I would greatly appreciate it! You probably hear this from everyone but I think your the greatest. I wish you much luck in the future. Your biggest fan and admirer. --Jason Michael: Thanks for writing. There's no one way to get an equity card. Audition for everything, call Equity and ask about membership candidacy. Look into graduate programs and apprenticeships that lead to membership. Sometimes it's best to stay non union when you're young so you're eligible for more jobs to help you gain experience. Best of luck to you. Question: Hi, I was just wondering. How old are you? And how long will you be in the cast? Michael: 1. I'm 34 going on 18. 2. I don't know how long I'll stay but I'm still having a blast every night. Question: I'm 12 years old and saw TOMMY in June. It was incredible! It made my trip to New York so worthwhile. Anyway, I have a story to tell you. In August of '93 I was in New York seeing GUYS AND DOLLS and PHANTOM. (I'm big on theatre, I've seen 11 shows so far.) We decided to buy tickets for TOMMY, seeing as how I taped the '93 Tony Awards and repeatedly watched the TOMMY segment. The tickets were for January 22, 1994. Now the most important part of this story is that my mom and dad are divorced, and I'm on only child at my mom's house and I have a brother and a sister at my father's house. My brother was 4 and my sister was 1. In the first week of January, remembering about our tickets, I asked my mother, 'Mom? when are our tickets for?" "The 22." she said. The 22, the 22. There was definitely something important about the 22. But what was it? Then it hit me. Very slowly I said, "oh...my...God." Another important fact is that I dislike my stepmother greatly. That means I'd be at my mom's house over my dad's house any day of the week. The 22 (gasp) just so happened to be my little sister's birthday. So I had to go to her party while my mom, stepfather and cousin were seeing TOMMY in New York. Life sucks. But I got to see it in June. It was worth the wait. Now I have a few questions. How do you get into this whole Broadway thing? I'm in a local theatre company called the South Country Players Children's Theatre. I've done the most show's in the theatre, 15. Although I don't have a dancer's body, I'm dance captain. I still dance for at least an hour every day. It really helps my dancing ability. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the show. Michael: Thanks for your lengthy, entertaining note. I arrived on Broadway after 10 years in regional theatre TV and movies. TOMMY actually began in regional theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. I've been with the show since its beginnings there. All the best with your shows at SCPC and best wishes in the future. Question: What is your favorite song in the show? Are you a Who fan? TOMMY is the best play I've ever seen on Broadway! Michael: My favorite song changes all the time. At the moment, I guess it's "Sensation." A few weeks ago it was "Eyesight to the Blind" even though I don't sing it. Yes I'm definitely a Who fan especially of the early stuff thanks for your kind word! Question: I wanted to drop a note to tell you what a fabulous job you are doing. I saw TOMMY last June and I was blown away by the whole cast. As a recently accepted college student who plans on majoring in musical theatre, I was curious as to if you had any words of advice for surviving in "the business"? Thanks and keep up the amazing work! Michael: First of all congratulations on your acceptance to college. I think it's really valuable and important to be an educated person as an actor. As for advice, in a nutshell, trust your instincts, listen to everything, be a sponge and soak up all you can from teachers, classmates, movies and stage performances. prepare for a lot of hardship and rejection. In the long run, you'll be happier if you focus on improving yourself, learning and growing personally instead of concentrating on goals like starring on Broadway or in movies. Love the process more than the results and you'll be more likely to find fulfillment. Best of luck to you. Question: We met a few times because I do a lot of volunteering for an organization that you and the other cast members give a lot of time to. I just wanted you to know that I think you're all very kind and caring individuals and as far as TOMMY goes (I've seen it twice so far) "IT'S A SENSATION!" I wish you all continued success with the show and all future theatrical endeavors. --J.B. Michael: Thanks very much for your kind compliments and good wishes. It's nice being in a position to help bring attention and resources to worthy causes. All the best. Question: I saw you a while ago on DREAM ON. You were great, very funny. I was wondering though if we are ever going to see you act without an English accent. I mean after TOMMY, FAME, and DREAM ON people must think you do a wonderful English Accent or they wouldn't keep hiring you to do it, but I look forward to seeing a performance where you use your normal speaking voice. It's not that I don't like the accent but... I was just wondering about it, you know. --Liz Michael: You know, I wonder, too, at times. I always wanted to be an English boy, so I guess this is the next best thing. Having grown up in West Virginia, however, I do look forward to speaking in my own voice in the near future. For now, though, I'm quite happy. Question: Still visualizing whirled peas? Remember me? I'm writing for three reasons! 1) I want to wish you a very happy holiday. 2) I wonder if you know anything about when TOMMY is going to open in London (are you going to be in it? Who is?) Also, do you know anything about IRON MAN and how it is progressing? 3)I wanted to tell you that I recently saw STEEL AND LACE and found it to be quite a switch! Do you prefer doing stuff like that or musicals? How much longer are you planning on staying in TOMMY (forever I hope!) --Joshua Michael: 1) Thanks! 2)I think TOMMY is expected in London in Fall 1995, probably with an all-English company. I believe Pete and Des are working on an animated film of IRON MAN. 3) "Steel and Lace" is fun for what it is. I hope to do more (and better) films in the future but I'll never leave the stage for good. It's the most satisfying, purest acting experience. Question: I saw TOMMY over thanksgiving, and it was terrific! I thought you did a great job and so did your 10 and 4 year old counterparts I really can't wait to see it again, I think I will enjoy it ten times as much the second time! I do actually have one question...what is the acting life like? I have always wondered. It seems really wonderful I wish I had acting talent Michael: It would take ages to describe what the acting life is like. A lot of it is wonderful. The best of it is the opportunity to work with terrific, talented people to create something together that can mean so much to so many people. The worst is the constant insecurity. The rejection and the lack of understanding and appreciation by many of those who run the business.
Saw the show 3x and think it is the best thing I have ever seen on B'way!! I have 3 questions: How do you have all the energy to do the show plus the time you put in your rock band "Lame"? 2) Any truth to the rumor that George Micheal will be taking over your role for 3 mos? 3) You have a T-shirt that says "keep music evil" what does that mean?
Michael: 1)Playing with my band actually give me the creative energy to keep doing TOMMY. 2) No, none. I was told his agents were pursuing options for Mr. Michaels now that his recording career is on the skids, but I think it's safe to say he'll never be TOMMY on Broadway. 3) It's for an Irish band call Fatima Mansions. It was partly in response to a campaign in London to keep live music venues open called "keep music live." They just spelled live backwards and it became "keep music evil" which I take to mean keep music from being safe, dull and corporate. Question: I decided to writ a few words in this subject since Alex and I saw the show together in Sept., the day of the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market. I, too, seem to have a thing for the St. James, although I think TOMMY is my favorite show. I curious in knowing whether your band "Lame" plays in any places people under 18 can get into (so far I've only heard of nightclubs). Anyway, your show has made a great impression on my life. I'm really in awe. Happy New Year. --Emily Michael: Emily, "Lame" has actually played several all-ages shows. One was at NYU a couple of months ago. All of our gigs at Sin-E are all ages. It's an Irish coffee house, so there's no cover and no age limit. It's at 122 St. Marks Place (8th Street) between Ave. A & 1st Ave. Thanks for writing and thanks for the support. Question: I owe you an apology. You may remember me (I'm sure you get a lot of notes that start out with that line). This past August the 9th, I met you after the show after having sent you eleven yellow white roses. When I met you, I gave you one more white rose to round off the dozen. You haven't heard from me since. That is what I need to apologize for. I needed to write you a letter to thank you for a wonderful performance and a great meeting after the show. I look forward to seeing the show again this coming summer at least twice (making it seven times so far!) I do pray that you will never forget the beauty and strength of the stage. You are at a critical point where you can basically take your theatrical career anywhere. You are the star of a Broadway show. your character's name is the title. But never lose -- yourself -- in it. You are not only Tommy, but you are Michael Cerveris. You have a wonderful personality, drive, with and musical ability. Hopefully in your life, drama will not allow you to lose yourself while being someone else. I hope people will pay attention to you for you and not for the part you play. I would love to hear any comments you have, especially any tips on acting or singing! --Gina Michael: Thanks for writing again. You really don't need to apologize. Recognition and attention are odd things. I don't worry much that I'll lose myself in Tommy -- although that's how I've been identified for 2 1/2 years now -- but only those closet and most immediately around me actually KNOW me. It's odd how we all confuse what someone does with who they are. It's one of TOMMY's main themes and I think a lot of people still don't get it. Take care and thanks for writing. Question: Did any of you like this? After I saw it for the first time, I was almost convinced NOT to see you guys (thank goodness I wasn't) I'm watching it now (trying to give it a second chance), and it's still awful. I guess what I'm asking is, did any of you, after seeing the movie, say YES! I'm going to be in this?!?! Did any of you follow the Who's version beforehand? Michael: I'd seen the movie a long time ago. I couldn't figure out how they planned to do the baked beans on stage. I enjoy the movie for its whacked out confusion but it's more about Ken Russel than Tommy. We referred to the Who's original album in putting the show together. Question: I had a crush on you when you played Ian Ware on "Fame." I really enjoyed the show and will see it again in Feb. My questions to you are: What theatrical role would you most like to play and do you have any other projects in the near future? --Laura Michael: I don't have any particular favorite roles to play although I look forward to returning to Shakespeare, Chekov, Shepard and other favorite playwrights. No plans other than Tommy at present though. Question: I was writing because I think we have a mutual friend. I live in Medford and one of my best friends (Kate McGinn) cannot stop talking about you . She even tried to convince me to drive her up to NY to see you perform again! But, my question: Have you gotten any feedback from Pete Townshend or any of the other members of The Who as to your performance? --Kate Michael & Melanie Koster outside St James Michael : Pete was very involved in the show as we rehearsed and we played together same at parties and on hi s most recent tour. He's very pleased with all our work and the show. John Entwistle has been around and seems amused by it all! Roger Daltrey is the only one who seem to have some reservations about it all but he's been fairly cordial when we met. Question: How much time, if any did you spend with Pete Townshend discussing the part. Realizing that you're a very talented actor (saw "Tooth of Crime" in Hartford) I wonder what it was like to mold the part while in La Jolla. Could you touch on the creative process that you engaged in during that time in CA. Michael: I spent a fair amount of time with Pete not so much discussing the role of Tommy, but soaking up his thoughts and energies about all kinds of things. He brought me to London and showed me his old neighborhoods and old Who stomping grounds. We played music together and parties in NY and on his solo tour. The actual character work he left to me with occasional suggestions. La Jolla is a great place to work and creating Tommy was a challenging but natural fit. I did research into Autism, listened to lots of music and looked into myself for where Tommy and I met. I'm glad you saw "Tooth of Crime." I loved doing that show.
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