As kids all over America head back to school, Broadway.com decided to ask our favorite Broadway stars to look back at their own years in the classroom—and share a school picture! Before Aaron Lazar was disco dancing in yellow Spandex at Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, he was hitting the books in New Jersey, studying to be both an actor and a doctor. Below, Lazar salutes favorite teachers through the years and remembers an embarrassing moment involving a bird costume, his frat brothers…and a pair of tights.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
In seventh and eighth grade, grammar and vocabulary were not my favorite subjects. But Gayle Cutler and Joe Coppola were two incredible teachers. All these years later Gayle is a fan and comes to see me in shows.
In high school, my English teacher Celeste McMenamin introduced me to the great novels and Shakespeare and taught me how to write. Essays, poetry, critical analysis. Writing is a skill that was painful then but a love of mine now. Celeste is also a huge supporter of mine and she and her 90-year-old mom have become dear family friends.
Christine Bass was my high school music teacher. She took a program on its last legs and within a few years turned into one of the best programs in the country. Our high school dominated national choir competitions all through her 20-plus year tenure. Our musicals were nearly professional quality. She and her husband Martin Bass gave hundreds of kids every year a chance to learn true musicianship skills and the art of working together in harmony to make great music for audiences. Four years singing for her introduced me to the power of music and changed my life. And the Bass family has been close with the Lazar family ever since.
In college, I first learned about show business from lifetime achievement Tony winner Manny Azenberg. My first acting teacher was Jeff Storer, who prodded me to pursue a career in the arts and without whom I'd be a doctor, and professor of voice Wayne Lail, to whom I credit my vocal technique foundation. Three incredible men to whom I am most grateful and proud to still be in touch with.
In graduate school, Aubrey Berg at the Cincinnati Conservatory gave me the chance to perform with the best in the country in Broadway caliber productions. I had two years of invaluable time spent learning the art of musical theater from Bubba. He directed me as Cervantes/Quixote in Man of La Mancha and to this day it's one of the top performances I've given.
Now in New York, I still study, though not as much as I'd like to. For years when I first got here, Joan Rosenfels taught me how to act, Bill Schuman how to sing, and Chloe Wing taught me Alexander Technique and how to be in my body. They are my team and the best team in the business. I thank the Universe for them and love them dearly.
What advice would you give to your school-age self?
You're not gonna end up a doctor, bro, so work a little less, play a little more. :)
What class did you dread and why?
I dreaded history in high school. I found it so dry and boring. Though I have a fond respect for history now, I'm more interested in the present. In college I dreaded statistics. It was the only class I tried to skip as often as possible. Oh, I also took a class on Beeethoven's string quartets—beautiful for 15 minutes then a complete snore.
What is your most embarrassing school moment?
I played Papageno the bird catcher in a scene from The Magic Flute in college opera workshop. My fraternity brothers came to the performance, saw me in tights and a feathered bird costume and lost it! In the middle of the scene they burst out laughing and shouting, "Lazar!!!" It is a go-to laugh for all the boys to this day.