Interview: Tony winner Steve Kazee makes his Cabaret debut Saturday

Posted by admin on August 20, 2015

By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
August 21, 2014

Steve Kazee was 13 years old when he last came to Indianapolis to visit his dad’s relatives, many of whom live here. But soon the 38-year-old singer/songwriter/actor will reunite with family members when they come to see him perform during his one-night only show on Saturday, Aug. 23, 7 p.m.and 9:30 p.m., at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club.

In 2002 Ashland, Ky. native Kazee moved to New York after graduation from Fairview High School. While in NYC, he earned an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Afterwards, he enjoyed a successful career on Broadway, culminating in 2012 Tony Award for Best Performance as a Leading Male Actor in a Musical as well as Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre album for his work in “Once.”

Kazee’s other Broadway credits include “Monty Python’s Spamalot” as Sir Lancelot, opposite Audra McDonald as Starbucks in “110 in the Shade” at the Roundabout Theatre Co., “To Be or Not to Be” at the Manhattan Theatre Club and Edward Albee’s “Seascape.”

These days when Kazee isn’t performing music he is concentrating on his television career. Currently he is a cast member on “Shameless,” which is a Showtime Series starring William H. Macy. reached out to Kazee by phone recently from his home in Los Angeles. Following is a conversation regarding the performer’s upcoming Cabaret debut, his family, “Shameless” and other topics.

Have you ever played Indianapolis?

No I never have. I have played New York and Vancouver but I have never really had a chance to spend much time on the road. Hopefully, Indianapolis is the first step on a long journey of playing all over the place.

Is this a new show?

It is in a sense, because there will be some new material. My show is always a little different than that of quote on quote, Broadway Cabaret performances. It’s me and my guitar. I play some of my own stuff. I play songs that have influenced me and I play some of the songs from “Once.” It’s new in the sense that I only started playing like this after “Once.” I was lucky enough because of the success of that show to find an audience that wanted to come out and see me perform. I took advantage of it. I always wanted to play my own music and be a musician, so it has given me a great opportunity.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for probably ten years, but I have only been making a concentrated effort for about two years to put my own music out into the world. I have always been very protective. Music was never going to be a career choice for me. It was always a hobby and a passion of mine. And so when I started music it was only for me. I was only writing songs for me and really never to be shared with anybody. Much like a poet writes poetry.

Did “Once” inspire you to perform on your own?

I think so—to a certain extent. I have always been a performer and always loved playing for people. As for my own personal songwriting, I have never really let people into that. I don’t know if it was “Once” that inspired my songwriting but I think it definitely contributed to it. Also, losing my mother was sort of a big push towards me wanting to take more advantage of the opportunities that I had in life before time ran out and I looked back with regret.

Tell me about your mother.

She was just the most wonderful human being I could ever imagine. She was always an incredibly supportive parent and she was also a dear friend and my confidant. We were partners on so many levels in the sense that we were a team. I felt like my mom and I were always a close knit unit. She just always pushed me to be the best version of myself. I remember she once said to me “I don’t care if you want to dig ditches for the rest of your life, just be the best dig ditcher that is out there.” She always had that sort of idea for me that I had something better in store. When she passed away, I felt it was a fitting tribute to take my talent and share it with people as much as I possibly could. But definitely “Once” was a big contributing factor because it did give me the confidence to play my own music and the story was so parallel to my own life that I did take a lot of inspiration from that.

What do you write about?

I write about a lot of things that a lot of people write about: love, loss and longing. Those are the songs that always stick out for me. The songs that touch me the most are about people who love, who lose, who long for love, the idea of love and necessarily a love song. There is unrequited love, there is love gone wrong, there is love that is obsessive at points, there’s a perfect idea of love, which, in my opinion, is unattainable. If you look through the history of music, everybody is basically writing about love. It’s our way as human beings, like a songbird, in essence. We all have our croon that we do to help people understand our emotions a little better.

Your music has been described as country. Is it informed by your growing up in Ashland?

Sure but I wouldn’t say that it is country. The press release says it is all-country but who even knows what that means? I’m from Kentucky. I grew up playing acoustic guitar. I grew up with a lot of folk influence. On my dad’s side a lot of country music. On my mom’s side a lot of early and late ‘70s rock—­­The Doors, Pink Floyd, a lot of the psychedelic bands, the Beatles—that sort of influence. My dad was more of the George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton world. I think those two worlds blended somewhere inside of me and I just like to write things that have more of an Appalachian feel…they are not pop music by any stretch but it’s not really country either.

What’s happened to your Kentucky accent?

It’s there, because in Los Angeles, everybody always says “where is your southern accent from?” But when I talk to people back home they ask me why I have lost my accent. I am sort of a man without a country these days (laughs).

Indiana has a significant southern influence.

Well listen, this has not been talked about by any press but my dad’s whole family now lives in Indianapolis. This is really a big homecoming show for me. A lot of my friends from home and from high school are coming up to see me, including family members from Ashland. I have all my dad’s family in Indianapolis, my grandfather and an Aunt or two, first, second and third cousins. It’s really nice. I am very much looking forward to it.

How’s Los Angeles?

I lived here for a few years, before I went back to New York to do “Once.” So I came back here after my contract was up with “Once,” and I am currently on the cast of “Shameless,” on Showtime. So I have been filming that. We are in the 5th episode of our 13 episode season and in teh 5th season of our show.

Tell me about “Shameless.”

Oh, it’s been incredible. We just finished filming episode 4 and we start on episode 5 tomorrow. I joined the cast this year as a new cast member. I play the love interest for the lead Emmy Rossum. Her character is Fiona and you have to wait to see where it all goes but it’s been a really incredible experience. That cast is once of the most talented bunch of actors that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Willliam H. Macy and I don’t have any scenes together but he is just an incredible human being, first and foremost. He is wonderful, nice and down to earth and very kind. We met a couple of times in New York before but this is our first time being on the same set together. He is just so gracious and welcoming. The B side of this is that he is just a phenomenal actor to observe working. It has really been incredible. My co-star Emmy Rossum has been giving crazy, wonderful performances since the first season. The fact that I’m getting to share all these episodes and to be welcomed as her new love interest or possible interest has just been really wonderful for me. I am having the time of my life.

You’ve done Broadway, film, television and now cabaret. I take it you want it all?

I want to take all comers. There is nothing I don’t want to do. However, it’s mostly about whether it is the right project or something I feel passionate about. I like television for a lot of different reasons and more so than even film or theater. With television you get a chance to be a character for the course of. a show’s life.“Shameless,” has been on the air for 4 seasons now so they have filmed 13 episodes every season and they get to live the lives of the characters. It changes and grows. Also, you can’t beat the Los Angeles weather,

I can tell you that for or me, right now, my focus in television and film, but if the right Broadway show came along, I would absolutely go back in a heartbeat. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss being in New York and my time on Broadway. It’s just that there is not really anything right now nor has there been anything over the past few years that was appealing to me,. There are been great shows and great performances but nothing I necessarily felt was in my wheelhouse. I’m sure if I am lucky enough to get the opportunity and the role is right I would love to go back to Broadway, but not now.

In the meantime, I am definitely enjoying life in Los Angeles and working on “Shameless” has been a real dream job. It is the kind of job as an actor that you hope and pray you’re going to get at least once in your life and I have been lucky to have it once now with “Shameless.” So for now, Los Angeles will be home but the life of an actor is such, that I could be living in New York City by tomorrow doing another show on Broadway. You just never know.

What was it like winning a Tony?

It was a very satisfying moment for me to be recognized for something I loved doing so dearly. And to be recognized by my peers who I have admired from afar for so long. It was just a wonderful acknowledgement that I made the right choice many years ago when I decided to do this as a career.

What can audiences expect when they come to see your show?

They can expect a very intimate evening between me and them. One thing that happens in all of my shows is I talk to the audience. I don’t stand up there and play 13 songs in a row and say goodnight and go home. It’s more about a shared experience between me and them. I like to get a feel for where my audience is and I may change the show in the middle or add songs in or take songs out if I feel the audience is in a different place. I like to take the temperature of the room a little bit and go from there. I feel very comfortable on stage talking to people, especially in an intimate environment.

Do you like to interact with the audience?

I really do. Sometimes it backfires but I am also capable of handling it when it does. I really do like talking to the audience. My show is a mixture of cabaret, MTV unplugged, storytelling and standup comedy. I enjoy talking to people as much as I enjoy performing. Because that is what it is all about. At the end of the night, it’s a shared experience between the performer and the audience.

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