- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
When I phoned Constantine Maroulis for an OnStage interview one early April morning, he was waiting in line to get a coffee. “Can I call you right back, man?” he said with the cacophony of a busy New Haven café in the background.
After coffee was safely in hand and Maroulis was back on the phone, we talked for a half hour and I quickly understood why that caffeine was so necessary. He’s currently in rehearsal for a brand-new musical at Long Wharf Theatre, is out promoting his original rock single “All About You,” produces shows with his company MarKolTop Productions (they worked on the critically-lauded “Spring Awakening” revival), has a few on-screen roles in the works and, oh yeah, is dad to a young daughter. But even with so much on his plate, Maroulis was energetic, affable and very talkative during out conversation (the large cup of Joe may have contributed). He was eager to chat about "The Most Beautiful Room In New York,” an original musical premiering on May 3rd, which he calls a “very modern musical with a classic sensibility.” Now in rehearsals, Maroulis says the experience has been “incredible” and “every actor’s dream” to be originating a role.
I must admit, though, that beyond his new Long Wharf show, I was excited to speak to him for another reason. Like millions of viewers, I distinctly remember watching him on season 4 of the juggernaut singing competition Maroulis reverentially referred to as “American f*cking Idol.” I’ve been a longtime fan and a one-season reviewer of that show, in which Maroulis came in sixth place (the crown went to a little-known country crooner named Carrie Underwood, by the way). Since then, he’s been Tony-nominated playing Drew in “Rock Of Ages” and, in 2013, headed the Broadway revival of “Jekyll & Hyde.” That’s not to mention the dozens of regional roles, on-screen work and rock concerts Maroulis has done.
Now, he’s tacking a new role and “happier than he’s been in many years.” Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
NG: Can you tell me a bit about your new show at Long Wharf?
CM: It's called "The Most Beautiful Room In New York" by Adam Gopnik and David Shire, directed by Gordon Edelstein. It's myself, Anastasia Barzee, Joe Cassidy, a bunch of great actors from New York. It's a great creative team and an incredible design team. Long Wharf has always been a place I’ve wanted to work at. I'm really excited to be here. I first met Gordon 15 years ago when I was an apprentice at Williamstown [Theatre Festival] and he put me in the ensemble of one of the plays. So, I’ve always looked up to him. The play? Honestly, I think we have a modern classic on our hands. It's beautifully done, it's poetic. I play Sergio, he's a very famous chef who has gone on to great success and he's partnered with David Kaplan, who's the hero of our show. His family owns and operates a restaurant on Union Square called Table that I started with them 20 years ago. But I went on to huge success. I left him, but what David doesn't realize is that, before I left, I might have had some interactions with his future wife. It's an exciting role for me because it's very much not a rock show. The music is beautifully subtle. You're not going to hear over-the-top belting. It's very conversational. You can hear David's Sondheim influences throughout.
NG: You've done some producing recently and tour as a solo artist, as well as being a working actor. What keeps you motivated to be involved in so many different facets of the industry?
CM: I think for me I just was always lucky to grow up in such a diverse home that supported the arts. I feel like I learned early on an admiration for different areas of the medium, whether it’s songwriting, producing, standing up on stage with a rock band, doing front of house kind of things, putting good people together – I think it’s all part of it. For me, the opportunity to produce on Broadway with Deaf West's "Spring Awakening" was a show I was very passionate about. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, to see how the whole machine works from behind the scenes.
NG: You started on "American Idol," which at the time might have been an unorthodox way to begin a theater career. How did you parlay your “Idol” experience into starring on Broadway?
CM: What not everyone knows is that I grow up in New York and New Jersey. Theater and music are my whole life. I graduated with a BFA in acting and musical theater from Boston Conservatory. So "American Idol," which was an incredible opportunity that presented itself, was like a natural progression. I graduated high school, was going to school part-time, I was playing in rock and roll bands, I was hustling, I was auditioning for shows, I got my Equity card and then I went to Boston Conservatory at around age 22. I went to Williamstown and met Michael Greif and then I booked [the national tour of] "Rent." My band would follow me out and we'd play shows. There, I learned my first heartache as a professional actor, which was "sorry, we're not bringing you back next year." Then, BOOM, basically the next day I was on a China Town bus to Washington DC and auditioning for the biggest show in the world, "American Idol." I didn't get just plucked out of the mall and auditioned for "American Idol" out of nowhere, if you know what I mean.
NG: More than any other televised talent show, "Idol" has been the springboard for so many great theater performers. Why do you think that is?
CM: Part of it is, unlike the other shows which are flashy and fun but they're really just a vehicle for the famous judges – I honestly could not name more than one or two people to ever come off some of these shows – "Idol" was literally the search for the next superstar. It was about the journey of the artist. Audiences have a greater emotional investment in the contestants and that's why they've had success long after the show. But I also think a lot of us from "Idol" have grown up in the theater. Doing musical theater, as you know, is huge right now. What's bigger than "Hamilton?” That's one of the biggest brands there is. When Randy [Jackson] used to say, "I don't know, it's a little Broadway," I was like "thank you." That doesn't mean what it used to mean. It's not a term that should be deemed derogatory in any way.
NG: Do you have any advice for young performers who want to follow in your footsteps?
CM: Look, man, just do it. Only do it because you live to do it and there's nothing else. Because it's a long, dirty fight. Put yourself in the position to be successful. Work your ass off and be realistic about your own expectations and where you fit in in the spectrum of theater or film or TV. Be productive. Work with your classmates. Better each other. Create opportunities for each other. Make your own content. Go out there and build your own content. Write your own f*cking shows, write your own songs, play instruments. Find other cool people who do the same thing. Play with them. Do it because you love it.
NG: What are you most looking forward to over the run of the show?
CM: I just love getting to know new people. Us theater people get comfortable with each other real fast. I love that collaborative partnership. I'm looking forward to just showing the world this piece and bettering it every step of the way. We're going to be making tons of changes. Once the show is up we're going to make more changes. It’s just going to happen like that, that's the process and we love it.
“The Most Beautiful Room In New York" runs May 3rd through the 28th at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT. For more information, visit: longwharf.org