Jeremy Kushnier on working with scripted improv, his band Canadian White Bread, and Adam Pascal’s influence

Jeremy-Kushnier

Jeremy Kushnier has almost done it all but he isn’t slowing down his hustle at all.

Currently starring as Eddie Lawrence in Shear Madness,  America’s longest running playKushnier has two albums released and two more on the way. He is in a newly formed band with a group of fellow Broadway actors and has seen the world touring with Jersey Boys, Next to Normal, and Rent. He was also in the original Broadway company of Footloose and recently broke into the world of Shakespeare playing Iago in the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s production of Othello.  

With a resume this versatile, what can’t he do?

Kushnier recently sat down with Stage Door Dish to discuss his passion for music, working with scripted improv, and traveling the world with theatre.

Shear Madness is a hysterical show with such great energy. Since this show includes the audience, how do you keep up with all of the changes? Is the script constantly tweaked?

There is a lot of sitting back and writing in the dressing room and such, we try to keep it as up to date as we can.

Has the show always been like that, up to date with pop culture references?

Yeah it’s always been like that, it started out more of improv and then a script came about. But they discovered that if it is straight improv, it can go down the garden path a little. So I call this scripted improv. It’s great and fun and feels like improv and it feels like you’re seeing it for the first time, and in a lot of ways you are, you’ll never see the exact same show twice.

Have you ever had an audience interaction that threw you off?

People will always surprise you, but at this point we’re fairly well covered, the other thing that we realized that the funniest character in the show is the audience and you just have to let them be funny.  

Is it ever hard to stay in character when you don’t know what is coming your way?

It’s like any other play, you have to know your truth and if you stick to that you will be fine.

Aside from being an actor, you are also a musician. You have two albums out, In Time released in 2002 as well as your self-titled album, Jeremy Kushnier, released in 2006.  They’re so vulnerable and honest. Is it hard for you get to that place of complete openness, or is it therapeutic to take whatever is inside of you and create with it?

I’m working on a new one right now that will be completely different actually. As far as finding that vulnerability, I think it is both. As far as any therapy goes, which I am a huge proponent of, is good for you and it is also hard. If it were easy everyone would do it all the time. I think that it used to be harder for me but recently it has become easier, any piece of great art comes from that bareness.

Can you tell me about what are you working on now?

I’m working on two albums at the same time, one is hard rock and the other is more folk/pop. They’re both in the early stages, lots of writing and all that.

Was music your first love and then theatre fell into that or vice versa? They are complementary careers but do you ever wish that you could spend more time on one than the other?

I think I started theatre first. I always loved singing but theatre was first. I got into music and singing as I was a little older and then they came together in musical theatre. But now I am finding myself coming out the other end with more straight theatre, last year I was Iago at Pittsbrugh Public Theatre. It was my first Shakespeare and an amazing experience. I am sort of going back in that direction now, that as well as tv/film. My brother is a screenwriter and director and we’re about to film his first feature.

You are currently in a band called Canadian White Bread. Where the band name came from? Do you have an album out yet or are you working on one now?

You can say that we’re in a band; we haven’t played together in a while. One day we were trying to come up with a name and I opened up my fridge and Trader Joe’s sells this bread called Canadian White Bread and I said, ‘Guys, we’ve found our name.’ The good thing is that all the guys who play with me are all Broadway actors too. Alex Boniello from Spring Awakening is on guitar, Gerard Canonico from Dear Evan Hansen is on Drums, and Mike Winslow from On The Town plays bass. It’s good because we all understand each other and our schedules are sort of similar and they’re all about 10-15 years younger than me so they are still excited about playing music for the love of it and not for the money.

Shear Madness isn’t a musical- being a musician as well as a musical theatre actor do you miss being able to sing every night or is it nice having a change of pace doing a comedic play?

I love doing plays. I love singing, but I love not having to worry about my voice every morning. It’s fun to just concentrate on acting.

Previous to playing Eddie, you were in Atomic, A New Musical. What was it was like working on that? You received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, right?

Atomic was a very interesting story, a story of a lesser-known scientist who had a huge amount to do with the atomic bomb. There were lots of things that could’ve been different, but it was an interesting piece. There’s always something that could be better, right? It was a really cool moment, I got to work with very talented people, Euan Morton was in it with me and it was really strong group of people.

Tell me about playing Roger, you started on tour, right?

Well, because I did the workshop for Footloose in New York, I actually ended up getting to book Rent in Toronto, I was the swing for Mark and Roger and Gordon. And from there I came and did Footloose and then I went on the road with Rent as Roger and did it here in NYC and in Asia. Rent was awesome, it was a big part of my life and it is cool to see Adam here back in his theatre.

Did your background as a musician help create that role for you?

They all are artists trying to figure out how to circumnavigate the need to live and also be true to what you want to do with your life. That is something that any artist can relate to, really anybody can. But in that way it was very direct for me.

You spent a lot of time with Jersey Boys, first on Broadway, then Chicago, then in Vegas. What made you stick with the show for so long? Did you have a strong connection to Tommy?

All of those things. It was a great job, a great show, I loved that part I think it is the best part in the show, I may be biased but I loved it. I love being the guy that everybody hates to love; you find humanity in these characters. It was a great gig. It’s not bad to be in a hit show. I love touring; I love being paid to see the rest of the country.

You were in the OBC of Footloose.  What was it like to be able to build your own character in comparison to giving a new life to Roger who was already quite renown?

Since so many people knew the movie already, there was a bit of that, but it’s really cool to get to build something from the ground up. At the same time you can come into a show that has been running forever and get to know [your character]. You make it yours and it morphs around you. Most times they’re only going to hire you for stuff that is right for you anyway. I’m never going to be Adam, I’m going to be me, however if it weren’t for Adam, I would have a much smaller resume so I give him full credit.

You have worked with some amazing people over the years; who would you love to work with again if given the chance?

I would do anything with Paul Nolan, I think he is tremendous and amazing and wonderful. I would love to work with my girlfriend again, Robin Abramson, we met doing Othello, she is a tremendous actress. Dear Evan Hansen, which I saw in DC, is fantastic and a good buddy of mine Jennifer Laura Thompson from Footloose is in it. It is such a beautiful piece. Michael Greif is one of the directors I would love to work with again.

Walter Bobbie directed Footloose and he has done so much both on the stage and off. What was it like to work with him?

We haven’t really worked together since then- we keep in touch, try to grab coffee when we can, I would love to work with him again- I would love to work with anyone, not too picky.

I know you are friends with Paul Nolan, so I’m sure you’ve seen Bright Star. What else have you seen lately?

I saw Red Speedo downtown at New York Theatre Workshop, which is amazing. My girlfriend Robin and I love to go and see new plays and discuss them. We saw Kate Middletown, who is also in Shear Madness, in a play called Women Without Men which is amazing. Everyone should see it. It is good and sweet and the acting is amazing. We’re going to see Antlia Pneumatica at Playwright’s Horizons; I know the script because I auditioned for it. The Humans it is really good, Reed Birney is amazing. I am so excited to go see WaitressDrew [Gehling] and I did Jersey Boys together in Chicago and San Francisco.

Lightning round:

Favorite role/production you’ve ever been in?   

Iago in Othello!

Most challenging and/or rewarding experience in the theatre thus far?

I’d have to give the same answer, Iago is second only to Hamlet as far as the amount of lines, just learning it was a mountain.

Artist you look up to/are inspired by the most?

Lately I’ve been enjoying a podcast called Off Camera, and everyone this guy interviews I am in love with. He talks to amazing people. It comes out every few weeks and I love listening to these people not selling anything but just talk about being an actor or director.

Artist you would love to collaborate with- dead or alive?

Joe Siravo, the guy who brought me into Shakespeare, currently he is playing Fred Goldman on the new OJ Simpson series, he is a tremendous actor and person, and we’ve never really worked together except for Jersey Boys.

Go-to sing in the shower song?

Lately it has been Aida, and now we’re back to Adam Pascal, full circle!

You perform a cabaret show- besides your own songs, what would you sing?

Tom Waits. I did a cool reading of a show that has since gone in a different direction; it was a Lanford Wilson called Balm in Gilead that used all his music. So I would love to re-imagine some of his songs.

If I wasn’t an actor/musician I would be…

Broke! Well, I want to direct, that’s something I haven’t done yet.

If I lived anywhere other than NYC it would be…

Wherever it is warm. Hawaii. Maybe I could put a regional theatre in Hawaii…

When I am not working, you can usually find me…

Seeing a play, hanging out, cooking, I’ve been eating healthier.

Something most people wouldn’t guess about me is…

I am a big softie.

If I could ever find the time, I would love to…

Travel more. I would love to see Ukraine.

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About Nicole N.

"Say yes. Show up afraid, show up prepared, but say yes." - Renee Elise Goldsberry

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