The notes found in CD booklets are often filled with hyperbole, especially when they happen to be written by the producers. But that's not the case with Steven Pasquale's recently released album of standards, Somethin' Like Love. John Pizzarelli, who co-produced the recording with his wife, Jessica Molaskey, is only telling the truth when he writes, "Steve has a lyric baritone that can soar on a big stage or be muted for a late-night ballad, and his intelligence as an actor...makes his phrasing and interpretation of lyrics deeper than most of the current crooners in his age group."
Steven is well known to TV watchers as fireman Sean Garrity on the FX series Rescue Me and to theatergoers for his Off-Broadway roles in Spinning Into Butter, A Man of No Importance, The Spitfire Grill, A Soldier's Play, Beautiful Child, Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, and Neil LaBute's Fat Pig. He also had leads in two noteworthy musicals-in-concert: the Roundabout's January 2009 benefit performance of A Little Night Music, which co-starred Victor Garber, Vanessa Redgrave, and the late Natasha Richardson; and the unforgettable 2005 World AIDS Day concert of The Secret Garden, in which he met his future wife, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti.
Recently, Steven made a smashing Broadway debut as the reprehensible Kent in LaBute's reasons to be pretty. But he'll be back to his charming self on Sunday, June 28 at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, when he offers his first live performance of songs from Somethin' Like Love in the excellent company of the John Pizzarelli Quartet. He and I recently chatted about that gig and other matters.
BROADWAYSTARS: Your album is great! Were you raised on this music?
STEVEN PASQUALE: No, I wasn't. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, where the only thing I had a chance to hear was whatever they played on pop radio stations. It wasn't until later that I fell in love with jazz, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald.
STARS: You sound completely comfortable in so many different styles of music.
STEVEN: Thanks, man. I'm not a trained singer; I've never really studied voice. I think I had one or two lessons over the years just to make sure I was doing everything right. I did national tours of West Side Story and Miss Saigon when I was really young, and I learned a lot as I got out into the world and had a chance to hear all kinds of music. I was always a great mimic, so I would try to sound like singers I heard on the radio or on cast albums or soundtracks.
STARS: Jessica and John have obviously been a great help to you in your latest endeavor.
STEVEN: Yes. Jessica and I have been friends since we did A Man of No Importance together at Lincoln Center. That's when I met John; she invited our cast to see him perform at Birdland one night, and it absolutely blew my mind. Jessica eventually got me together with John to work on an album, and we did the entire thing in, like, 14 hours. That's how fast and brilliant he and his musicians are.
STARS: The version of "Laura" that you do in tribute to your wife is gorgeous. And I'm so glad you included "Maybe" from Annie on the CD.
STEVEN: I loved that song as a kid, and I mentioned it to John and Jessica. She said she loved it too and always wanted to put it on one of her jazz albums, but she never got around to it. So we changed some of the pronouns to give it more of an adult sound, and I gave it a try.
STARS: Every track on the album is a winner, and the song list is going to be perfect for Feinstein's.
STEVEN: I'm really excited it. I've only done one evening of "me" before, at Joe's Pub a few years ago. I'm much more comfortable playing somebody else than playing myself. But I'm looking forward to this show because John Pizzarelli is my favorite musician on the planet, so to have him and his trio playing with me is the fulfillment of my wildest fantasy. I've been trying to steal some more rehearsal time with John, but he's like, "Don't worry about it. You know the songs, I know the songs. We'll be great!"
STARS: It's always a pleasure to hear you sing live or on record. I'll never forget that Secret Garden concert.
STEVEN: We had a great time. It's such a beautiful score. I think the show is ready for a revival.
STARS: I'm sorry reasons to be pretty didn't run longer. Was that the first time you ever played the bad guy?
STEVEN: Yeah, I always play the earnest protagonist. I had worked with Neil on Fat Pig, and I also knew [director] Terry Kinney. When they called me about reasons to be pretty, I thought it would be fun to play such an asshole -- and it was.
STARS: But, with all that anger and angst, didn't it depress you on some level?
STEVEN: Umm, yeah, it took its toll in a way. So many people said, "What's it like to play such a dick? You really went full-dick with that part. You didn't back away from the guy's dickness!" But it's a great play, and it was beautifully directed, so I had a fantastic experience.
STARS: Fat Pig is another great work by LaBute.
STEVEN: Yes. Now there's talk of it being done on Broadway. I hope that happens -- but not with Ashton Kutcher.
STARS: I read that rumor. My first reaction was that he shouldn't play the lead; if anything, he should play the other male role.
STEVEN: Or he shouldn't even be allowed into New York, or at least not within 150 feet of a stage. My God, are you kidding me? Casting him in a Neil LaBute play is like asking an NBA basketball player to play Mozart.
STARS: Well, I have no clue if he could handle LaBute, but I do find him amusing in his movies.
STEVEN: Of course, and I do as well. But I don't like this mentality of "Let's get a super-famous guy to star in a play and see if he'll be good!" I think that mentality is dangerous, and I hope we get away from it soon.
STARS: I didn't see you in Fat Pig; I saw Jeremy Piven. His performance was excellent, but I understand he was behaving badly even then, long before the scandal of his walking out on Speed-the-Plow. Would you care to comment on that situation?
STEVEN: Jeremy handled that about as poorly as anyone could handle anything. His reputation is tainted forever in this town because of what he did. You don't quit a show because a doctor says you're a little sick; you talk to your producers, you ask for some time off. You don't just get on a plane and fly off to California. That sense of entitlement is mind-boggling to me. California can keep him. If he's happy there, we're more than happy not to have him in our city.
STARS: Before I let you go, I have to ask about the fact that you've recently been given the opportunity to sing on Rescue Me.
STEVEN: Yes! Last week, this week, and next week, my character is in three musical sequences. The songs were written by one of the show's co-creators, Peter Tolan, who's a musical theater queen at heart.
STARS: Are you the only one who's going to sing?
STEVEN: Yes. The story is that my character is heavily medicated, so it's easy for us to slide into these fantasy musical sequences.
STARS: Then Denis Leary won't be singing?
STEVEN. No. Not in this lifetime. Maybe the next one.
[For more information or to book tickets to Steven Pasquale's show at Feinstein's, go to feinsteinsattheregency.com]
Published on Monday, June 22, 2009
Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org