WOMEN ON THE VERGE’s Justin Guarini
Each month, Broadway World is shining the spotlight on stage actors making their Broadway debut as part of our “Debut of the Month” series.
This month, Broadway World is showcasing actor and recording artist Justin Guarini, who is making his Broadway debut as Carlos in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, based on the 1988 film of the same title.
Guarini became a household name back in 2002 when he was the runner-up on the first season of “American Idol.” He released his self-titled album one year later, and then co-produced his second album “Stranger Things Have Happened.” Guarini is a host and correspondent for the TV Guide Network, covering red carpet events such as the Oscar, Grammy and Emmy Awards, and is currently at work on his third album.
BroadwayWorld’s Nick Orlando spoke with Guarini about his role, cast mates, and days on “American Idol.”
Congratulations on making your Broadway debut!
Yeah! Thank you very much. It is very exciting, to say the least.
It must be exciting playing the role of Carlos, which was played byAntonio Banderasin the movie. How did this role come about?
Antonio did a great job. It was Pedro’s [Almodóvar, the film's writer and director] first film. It is a great honor and challenge as well.
What kind of research went into your role?
Of course, I watched the movie to see who Pedro intended for Carlos to be, throughAntonio Banderas. I researched a lot of the untold back story of Carlos. He grew up with his grandparents, not his parents.
Carlos is the son of Ivan,Brian Stokes Mitchell’s character, and Lucia,Patti LuPone’s character. Describe the experience playing the son of these two Broadway legends.
Going into it, I knew it would be a great challenge. They are both so kind and generous. They have been a tremendous help to me. Brian and Patti are kind, understanding and patient with the choices I made as an actor.
What crossed your mind when you heard the final casting?
Going into the audition, I saw the caliber of this cast. I knew I had to step up my game to be on stage with this incredible cast and production staff.
Do you pinch yourself every night when you are on a Broadway stage with this all-star cast?
There are times I am out there, upstage, and have no dialogue. Patti is on stage, Laura [Benanti], etc. and I am watching the show. I just cannot believe it. I actually turned down a role in the The Lion King to do “American Idol.” So, now it is coming full circle.
Carlos is caught in a love triangle with Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) and Candela (Laura Benanti). Can you tell us a bit about that?
He is in a relationship that is safe. They are both virgins. Carlos doesn’t want to make waves – he grew up with his grandparents, he has an absent father, and a crazy mother. His mother kicks him out of the house, more or less. These tiny, little events open him up. The turning point for him is when he meets Candela. He sees this beautiful woman who is unlike anybody else he has met. The question is how he can extricate himself from the relationship he is in.
Previews were postponed a couple of times. Was it a relief after you finally got on stage in front of an audience?
Certainly. It was also a relief that previews were postponed! We were all working so hard to create this production. The material, we had. It was the technical aspect (programming the treadmills, the lighting, etc.). It is an artistic vision, in my opinion. Everything has to be precise. We are in a small theatre and we need to store all of these props in a small space. Getting in front of an audience then was nerve-racking. That first performance went well.
Has much changed during previews? Scene changes, etc?
Yes, everyday we are making changes. That’s Bart’s [Sher, the musical's director] biggest desire. Jeffrey Lane’s writing style is so rich, it has so much depth.
What will the audience take away from this musical?
Hopefully, the audience will take away something that helps them answer a significant question in their own lives.
What have you learned as a recording artist that you are taking with you to the Broadway stage?
You’re safe in a recording booth. You can mess up 100 times. On stage, it’s you, the microphone and the audience. There is no going back. What theater is teaching me is that preparation is the key. Bart has taught me that some nights you will do this that you like and this that you don’t. You will take what you like to future performances. It is a continual process.
Can you believe it has been eight years since you were on “American Idol”?
No! The show is entering its tenth season. I was on this very block, 44th Street, auditioning for “Idol” and now I am back here on the other end of the block doing this show. “Idol” has given me so much. I am living my dream.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
Kimberly Caldwell. She has an album coming out soon. We also did some stuff on the TV Guide Network.
Did you think “American Idol” would have this kind of longevity?
Nobody knew. It was just a show. We didn’t know what it was, nor how long it would last.
Your mother is a journalist and your father was Chief of Police in Atlanta and is now a politician. Were your parents open-minded when you told them you wanted to be in the entertainment business?
My parents recognized at a young age that I loved music. They encouraged it. They didn’t put any restrictions on me that I had to become a doctor, lawyer, etc. My mom and stepfather [who is a physicist] let me go to art school.
What advice do you have for someone trying to make it in this industry?
Be prepared. You have to know what it is that you want. Where would you fit – on the radio, in theater? Once you know that, then practice, prepare. If you believe in yourself, then your opportunity will come.
Would you advise people to try out for reality shows, such as “American Idol”?
If that’s what you want. There’s not one path to make it. If you are willing to expose yourself in that way, more power to you. “American Idol” is at least 99% focused on the talent and 1% on the drama. It could be the opposite on some other reality shows, not all, but some.
You are working on a third album. What can fans expect?
Slowly, but surely. It’s been tough. I had to put everything aside for this show. I’ve made mistakes in the past juggling six balls at once and then the product is not as good as it could have been or how I would have liked it.
Hobbies / Special Skills:
I play the guitar. It’s a hobby, but also part of my profession.
Zodiac Sign / Birthday:
Scorpio, my birthday is October 28th.
Happy Belated Birthday!
Thank you. I had dinner with my folks and the night before, a bunch of us from the show went out for dinner.
Doylestown, PA. It’s about an hour northwest of Philly.