Aaron Lazar has established himself as one of the Great White Way’s most passionate and dramatic leading men, wooing the heroine in Italiano in The Light in the Piazza, leading a revolution in Les Miserables, and carrying on an obsessive affair in A Little Night Music, among other smoldering roles. Now, Lazar is showing off his comedic side (and a bright yellow spandex suit!) as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s three possible dads, in the long-running hit Mamma Mia! Broadway.com recently chatted with Lazar about starring in the “sexier” cast of the hit ABBA musical, learning lessons from showbiz legends, and headlining on Broadway while raising two sons…on only five hours of sleep a night!
What’s your history with Mamma Mia? When you first saw it, what did you think?
I wrote it off 10 years ago when it first opened. I’ve had so many friends go into it and say that it’s so much fun, but I never got my butt to that theater. I judged it—“Oh, it’s a jukebox musical, it’s not something I’d be interested in”—and that was unfair. When I finally saw it before my audition, I had such a great time. It’s so fun, and so well done, just like a Broadway pop concert. Sometimes with a long-running show the energy starts to dip, but it isn’t the case here at all. Everybody has a great time, and that’s a testament as to why the show has been and continues to be so successful.
Do any of the songs stick with you? I haven’t been able to get “Super Trouper” out of my head for a week now.
Oh my god, dude, you and me! I can’t stop, literally, it’s the one freakin’ song! Random times, like I’ll just be about to fall asleep, or on the subway. It’s completely infected my brain. And it’s always “Super Trouper.” [Laughs.]
You’ve done a lot of serious, dramatic musicals. What made you want to be a part of this lighthearted show?
I’m trying to go with the flow, which is not what I used to do. I used to try to micromanage my career choices. I’ve been developing a solo show that I did at Joe’s Pub and the Kennedy Center [this May] and it went so well. In that exploration, I really found myself onstage, and I’ve found much more of a light and funny and sarcastic energy. There’s parts of it that I connect to—being a father and everything—but Mamma Mia! allows me to go out there and be me and have fun. I’ve never really had the chance to do that with so much freedom.
Sam is usually played by an actor in his 40s or 50s. Isn’t it impossible that you could have fathered Sophie [played by Christy Altomare]?
I was shocked when I got cast. Even though it feels right, there’s something about the charm of watching older people be silly. But then I heard the rest of the cast was young—maybe as young as they’ve ever gone. It’s a younger, sexier group of peeps. I was worried I was gonna be this weirdly out-of-place younger dad. I don’t know how old Christy is, or how much older I am, but it’s cool to go out there and explore that energy. I’m still trying to navigate being a dad to a 20-year-old girl, but they didn’t want to make me look older or [have me] make any acting adjustments to seem older. So I made up my own backstory that works for me. Nobody has complained yet!
What is it like having Judy McLane, the resident Mamma Mia! expert, there to guide you as Donna?
I loved Judy as Tanya when I saw the show, and when I found out she was staying, I was so excited. I was able to be in the rehearsal room with her and get an idea of the pacing and tone of the show. She’s just the coolest ever! She’s got such a contagious energy, and such an open-hearted passion for this show and for life, that it makes it really easy to fall in love with her onstage every night.
You don’t strike me as the kind of guy who listened to ABBA in his bedroom as a kid. What were you rocking out to?
A lot of Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen.
That’s right, you’re from New Jersey. Did you go up to New York to see musicals as a kid?
My mom tells me the first show we saw was The Secret Garden, but I don’t remember that. My memories are from when I was 12, seeing Les Miz with my brother. We were in Cherry Hill, 85 miles south of the city, and my parents thought New York was crazy town. I remember my father cursing Lincoln Tunnel traffic, then getting into Times Square, rushing to make a curtain, spending a fortune on parking and doing the exact same thing on the way out. When I moved here, I was shocked that the city was so different from my chaotic impression of it as a kid. It’s been fun to break my parents in over the years, and now they love New York.
Did you guys do anything fun for Father’s Day?
On Saturday, my parents came up and saw the show with my wife and some friends and we had some dinner, and then Sunday I just spent the day with my wife and the boys. The kids are two years old and seven months now. We don’t ever really get to do that, just have a nice family day, so it was great.
Is raising kids in New York as daunting as you felt when you talked to us last time?
One kid, no. Two kids is insanity! [Laughs.] With one, you get the one stroller and it’s manageable, but two is relentlessly hard work. But I keep going down that path of selflessness and patience, and the more I give of myself, the more the universe goes, “All right, man, even though you’re piecing together five hours of sleep every day for months on end, you’re gonna stay healthy and do the show and be able to play with your kids.” It’s not easy, but it’s doable.
We’re so excited Giant is coming to the Public! Would you like to be a part of it again?
I would love to work with them again, and we’ll see. I guess we’ll be hearing soon as to what’s going on. Before Giant, I had only ever worked with Michael Greif, Michael John LaChiusa and Kate Baldwin in readings. It’s really exciting to be blessed with the opportunity to work with so many I would put in the "genius" book.
You also had the opportunity to work with some legendary ladies in A Little Night Music. What did you learn from them?
It’s a little bit surreal, isn’t it? It wasn’t at the time, because you just go to work and you do it, but wow. Catherine Zeta-Jones represents star power. Elaine Stritch is Mother Courage. Bernadette Peters was a dream come true. And Angela Lansbury is the reason why I’m in show business.
And you’ll be reunited with Angela Lansbury in the upcoming reading of Anastasia.
I love me some Angela Lansbury! We stayed close over the years and as a soul, she is just as good as it gets. I can’t wait to work with her again. I’ve never done an [Lynn] Ahrens and [Stephen] Flaherty show, so come on. I’ve been dying to work with these guys.
You recently made your major motion picture debut in J. Edgar, and you have an intense scene as a prosecutor. How intimidating was that?
Aside from The Light in the Piazza, it was the coolest experience I’ve had. [Director Clint Eastwood] fosters such a calm, simple creative environment that I wasn’t nervous at all. It was weird! I remember walking into this courtroom with 300 extras and Leonardo DiCaprio, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Zach Grenier, Denis O’Hare…a dream lineup of guys sitting right behind me. I thought, "All right, I’m gonna try and own this courtroom." There’s no rehearsal, so you end up literally blocking yourself, which is crazy, ’cause the cameras are rolling. But it’s real in that way—except for the fact I’m not actually a lawyer! [Laughs.] I was a part of something with these actors I’ve admired for years on screens big and small. It was a great honor, and I can’t wait to do another movie.
See Aaron Lazar in Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theatre.