Already a stage star with such credits as "The Book of Mormon," "She Loves Me," "Hair" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," Gavin Creel is about to light up Broadway again in four months when he appears with Bette Midler in "Hello Dolly."
"She is incredible," Creel says during a telephone interview. "She's going to blow people out of the water."
Creel will probably dish a little more about working with the Divine Miss M on Dec. 30, when he opens Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Concert Series at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. The concerts pair Broadway stars with pianist Rudetsky, a show-tune savant and SiriusXM Satellite Radio star, in irreverent onstage interviews peppered with performances of songs from the Great White Way shows in which the luminaries have appeared.
"We like to keep this really kind of fly by the seats of our pants," explains Creel, who has also appeared in the revival of "La Cage aux Folles" and in "Mary Poppins" in London's West End. "I just get up, and it's like, 'I'm going to sing this now.' It's a grab bag. I know we'll do some things from shows I've done. I might do an original song or two. I'm not sure yet. It's great, because I just sit in a chair onstage with Seth and talk about my life and then get up and sing a song."
The next show will feature Rudetsky with Matthew Morrison (TV's "Glee" and Broadway's "Light in the Piazza," "Finding Neverland," "Footloose" and "Hairspray") on Feb. 17. The series will conclude on April 1 with Andrea Martin (TV's "SCTV," film's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and Broadway's "Pippin," "Noises Off," "Young Frankenstein).
Here is more from our interview with Creel.
You mentioned you might do an original song. Would that be from one of your three studio albums?
Probably not from one of my albums, but I have a bunch of new songs. I've been working on a new theater piece. I might play one of those. I might give the audience something new. I'm very excited about it.
This new theater piece — is that because you always wanted to direct? I know you got a degree in musical theater from the University of Michigan, but I heard that as far back as high school you wanted to be a director.
I did. I was really excited about telling stories from the auteur's point of view. I've done a lot of teaching in the last 15 years, directing things here and there and in college. I love the theater so much. I might like to direct in theater first.
You'll notice I keep trying to get you to talk about this new theater piece you're working on. What can you tell us about it?
It's in its early days. I've been teaching at my alma mater with, like, 15 students in a five-week course to explore material for myself and explore teaching. We're working on character development and story development and more honest characterization in theater. It was a life-changing experience, getting to meet them and to work with them. I've been writing songs for the last 20 years ... but never had the time to work on [the theater piece]. A month before and the two months I was there, I had time to flesh it out to see if it's something worth exploring. And the answer was a big yes.
Do you have a preference for being onstage in concert or being onstage in a musical?
I really enjoy being myself in front of an audience. Some people find being an actor more empowering. I find being myself more empowering. I always try finding something about me in a character I'm playing, that's more empowering for me. So when I get to [do] concerts with an audience right there ... sharing stories with them and hopefully they are identifying with them, that feels the most honest. Now, having said that, I love dressing up in costumes and running around sets. I love being backstage and, you know, we're all sort of in agreement that we're all going to for the next two hours go out there and try to do something great and send people out of the theater laughing, humming and feeling lighter. I like that collaboration. I like collaborating a lot.
You are one of the co-founders of Broadway Impact [a grassroots group in support of marriage equality]. What are you guys doing now?
I wish I could say that there's nothing to work on, but unfortunately I think there's a lot to work on now. We put on [the play "8," about couples taking on 2008's Proposition 8 in California] in seven different countries with people like Brad Pitt and George Clooney. We marched on Washington. We made letter-writing campaigns to senators for marriage equality. I'm so proud of the work we've done. And now, we're going to hook in with the ACLU and make sure human-rights issues are not shoved aside or something worse than shoved aside, overturned. Or worse. Barack Obama isn't going away. We'll still have him ... to fight the good fight.
Do you know South Florida well? Do you come down here ever?
We're snowbirds down in Naples. I know it's on the other side, but I don't know the East Coast very well. I've spent a little time in Fort Lauderdale for different gigs. My parents are coming over from Naples [to] see the concert. I remember when we did [the national tour of the stage musical] "Fame" all those years go, I had the best time. I hope to get down there more often.
Gavin Creel will open Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Concert Series Friday, Dec. 30 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale (in Holiday Park). Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets cost $37-$123. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.