In the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s revival of the 1963 musical She Loves Me, Gavin Creel plays Stephen Kodaly, a suave employee at Maraczek’s Parfumerie. Kodaly is a cunning womanizer who is having an affair with fellow employee Ilona played by newly-minted Tony nominee Jane Krakowski.
In a role that has been previously performed by Howard McGillin and Hollywood and Broadway legend Jack Cassidy, Creel has commendably made his own mark on the part. Sporting a fantastic mustache that almost immediately makes it clear that Kodaly is a cad of the highest order.
In addition to She Loves Me, Creel is also working to represent his alma mater, the University of Michigan, along with fellow alum and former roommate Celia Keenan-Bolger in Maize and Blue on Broadway at the August Wilson Theatre on May 16. Other Broadway actors featured in the concert include Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Darren Criss, Jennifer Laura Thompson, and Daniel Reichard. All profits from the show will benefit the Michigan Musical Theatre Ambassador Endowment Fund, which supports UM’s prestigious musical theatre program.
Creel recently spoke with Stage Door Dish to discuss his simultaneously despised and likable character, the importance of supporting causes that you believe in, and which former costar he would like to reunite with on stage.
You’re part of such an amazing cast. How much fun are you guys having?
It’s terrible, I hate every second of it. They’re all awful and not talented and not beautiful. No, I love being on stage with people who are all better than me and make me rise to a better level. Now I can look across the stage and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it’s supposed to be like.’ I feel really lucky.
What do you like most about playing a character who is so likable and, at the same time, unlikable?
It’s funny, a lot of people ask that question, and I have to say I like that he’s going after what he wants. I like knowing that the guy doesn’t see himself as a villain, by any means. He sees himself as somebody who knows how to get what he wants and is very cunning in the process of getting it. As an actor, I like trying not to view him as a villain but as an ambitious, smart, charismatic winner.
Are you going to keep the mustache after the show, or are you ready to get rid of it?
While I have it now, I like it, but hell no. When this show is over, I am getting those clippers out and bye-bye ‘stache.
You and Laura Benanti have known each other for a while, right?
A really, really long time. We met when we first both moved to the city. I was 22 or 23, she was 18 or so, and we met through friends. We reconnected over the years as closer friends, and recently, we have the same circle of pals. I’ve always been a fan of hers from afar, but socially, we both love games and sitting around talking about life and art. I’m so excited we finally get to work together professionally.
What’s been the most fun part of working with her?
Being her friend in this process. Getting to be there for each other off stage is the best. I’ve always admired her work when we weren’t hanging out as much as we do, but it’s nice to know that we have each other’s backs in a way that has history. I think being her friend, and she being mine, in this process has been the absolute best part of it.
Why is now a great time for She Loves Me to come back to Broadway?
Its simplicity is the most necessary part of why I think a 2016 audience needs something like this. It’s a simple story with very human characters in a romantic situation. Who hasn’t felt that desire for love or connection before in their lives? There isn’t an adult with a pulse that hasn’t felt that need to connect with somebody in some way. I know people say this a lot with shows, but the world is such a complicated place with tension and conflict and issues; the theatre is truly a safe space to go and escape for a few hours where you can’t have some electronic device in your hand- well, some people do, but we’ll let Patti Lupone help us with that. You unplug and get to experience something live and in front of you. The score is so brilliant, and the book is so brilliant, and the lyrics are beyond brilliant. It’s nice to have something that is simply classic onstage in New York City amidst all this amazing new theatre, especially with Hamilton leading the charge. There are so many things, and I thought everyone would be staying out of the way because of Hamilton‘s obvious brilliance and inherent success, and it is so inspiring to see how many people are rising to Hamilton’s challenge. Lin [Manuel Miranda] is like ‘Let’s make great theatre together’ and there are like 56 shows opening in the spring, it seems, and many of them are new. It’s exciting that She Loves Me is part of that crowd.
I want to talk about Broadway Impact. It’s still such a volatile time and it’s still so important to champion for equality. What do you think needs to be done for things to keep improving, and why do you think it’s still so important to support causes like Broadway Impact and BCEFA?
I have to be completely honest with you, Broadway Impact is no more. We were a one issue organization. It lasted about seven years, and when it became law that we have federal marriage equality, which I can’t believe we have but I’m so grateful that we do, Rory [O’Malley], Jenny [Kanelos], and I looked at each other and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ We agreed that we were always one issue, we were going to fight until that issue was resolved, and after that was resolved we chose to go our separate ways and we would fold back in some day and fight for something new. There’s plenty of stuff to fight for out there. I think it’s important to support organizations like the Humans Rights Campaign, the Ali Forney Center in town, the LGBT Center in town if gay rights is important to you. No matter how much progress we have in civil rights for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning, and intersex people, there’s going to be a whole lot of push-back, and it’s been obvious in the news lately with bills in Georgia and North Carolina. People are now trying to fight against it in new ways, and we’re just going to have to stay vigilant. I know we’re right, the law now is finally on our side as far as marriage equality goes, but the trans movement is something that affects a whole lot less people, which is all the more reason for us to join together and fight on their behalf. A horrible thing could happen, and their entire identities could be snuffed out if we’re not careful and don’t fight for their rights and make sure they’re seen as equal and valid and law-abiding citizens. I think it’s important to keep vigilant and keep an eye open for when people are trying to oppress or discriminate and say ‘not on our watch.’
What would you say to people who are apathetic towards the current election?
I’m one of them, sadly. I’m going to say go register, make sure you vote in the primaries, and make sure you vote in the general election. I was fired up in 2008 because of Prop 8, and because of the candidate who was soon to be our president, and I still stand by our president and what he’s done for our country. But the vitriol and complication I saw happen during his presidency was so disheartening, and now with the games and the B.S., I’m so disenchanted by the whole political process that I’m trying to find other ways to make a difference in the world that don’t involve me playing the political game as much. I think you can get involved with local politics. Supporting the causes you believe in and giving back to arts, education, homelessness, income inequality, or whatever it is at a local level, seeing where you can help in your communities, I think that’s where lasting change can happen. You can also get the satisfaction that you’ve done something. To get my panties in a twist over which corporation is going to buy the presidency, I’m just like, ‘Oh, go play your game.’ I know it’s probably the wrong attitude to have, but I think I can make a bigger difference in the smaller circle that’s around and and the people I come in contact with and try to spread it from there rather than worrying about which side Donald Trump should part his hair or which blouse Hillary Clinton should wear. Worrying about it in my direct circle is where I can make great change.
I want to change back to something I know you’re passionate about, which is Celia Keenan-Bolger and Michigan. You guys are working on Maize and Blue on Broadway. What can you tell me about that?
Maize and Blue on Broadway is going to be – I’m literally looking at the theatre out my dressing room window – at the August Wilson, and it’s an opportunity for us to come together for the first time in the history of our program to celebrate the man who built the program to what it is. The director of the program, Brent Wagner, is retiring this year, so we’re going to celebrate him and the program. Over 500 graduates are hopefully going to come. The whole thing is a benefit, the evening has been paid for, so every penny we raise goes to fund the first ever Michigan musical theatre ambassador endowment fund. It’s an endowment to help the school grow the program and enhance the opportunities for the musical theatre students that go to the school. It’s a chance for us to give back to where I became a singer, dancer, actor, and where I got an understanding the tiniest minutiae of being an actor, as well as how to be a better artist and citizen of the world. That’s where it all started, and I’ll be forever indebted to the teacher and the program.
You and Celia were roommates at one point. What was she like as a roommate?
We lived in a tenement apartment on the lower east side for a few years, and a friend of mine who was my roommate was moving to LA, and I asked Celia if she wanted to move in. There was a closet with the toilet in my bedroom and a closet in the kitchen with a shower. It was a crazy place. Celia lived in the living room, I lived in the bedroom, the kitchen was between us. It was the most heavenly beginning to our time in New York City. If you’ve ever seen the movie Beaches, it was literally that apartment. The two of them living in that apartment, where she’s banging on the radiator, yelling ‘Send the heat up!’ We had no heat in the apartment in the winter sometimes, so we would turn the oven on really high with the door open. There were roaches and mice, and we could not have been happier. There was one time where Celia and I were laying on the couch, her feet were by my head and my feet were by her head, and we were just talking. She was facing the kitchen, and in the middle of a sentence she just stopped and said, ‘Mouse. Mouse. Mouse.’ I turned around really slowly, and there was a mouse running through our kitchen munching away on crackers. It all has to start somewhere. I was so grateful to have that time with her. It’s amazing to look at us where were are now and think, ‘That actually happened. That was real.’ It’s actually still who we are in a lot of ways.
You have worked and become friends with so many people. Who would you most want to work with again?
The one that comes into mind is Sutton [Foster]. I think it would be really great to play off of Sutton again. I had great chemistry with her, and I had a great time on stage with her. Now that we’re both so much older, it would be great to reunite in that way. I would love to do a new project where we can both play something exciting. To have something written for the two of us to get back together, that would be fun.
I have to ask about your dog Wally, because he’s just so cute. How’s he doing?
He’s great. He’s on Prozac now. He’s a troubled soul. I love him dearly, but he takes drugs now and it levels him out. Dr. Weber at the Riverside Animal Hospital is my savior. She has literally saved my life and Wally’s life, because I was literally at the end of my rope with him because he’s so complicated. She sat me down and said, ‘We need to get him on a different medication and new training.’ She’s changed our lives.
If you were not an actor, what would you want to be?
A chef. I would be a chef with a tiny restaurant in a little lake town, like a beautiful Pacific northwest lake community, where I could live in the mountains. I already know what it would be called, and I know what we would serve, and I would find an amazing chef to move to Oregon with me and I could learn from him or her. It would be called ‘BFD: Breakfast for Dinner’. It would open at 5pm and close at 1am, and it would only serve breakfast.
Brooke Robinson contributed to this story.