Article: Rob Lester ~
Meet a busy guy. He’s immersed in NYC show biz, but somehow….
. …… he finds time to: lend a hand (and feet) with his mom’s Times Square A&S Ballet Studio; practice guitar; write engaging original songs; help judge a talent scholarship contest for free tuition to a kids’ summer theatre program; be spotted at a cabaret spot’s open mic (mic in hand); audition for readings or theatre pieces in the early stages of getting on stage someday; consider material for the solo cabaret show he wants to do (he’s sung in group shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below and will do so there again on August 21); walk his two dogs; stay in touch with the producers of the on-hiatus TV series The Next Step in which he’s been an ongoing character; take voice lessons; and be on time and give generous, attentive time to sit down in person for an interview with this reporter for NiteLifeExchange.com after a full day in his first week on a new job. And not just any job. When we got together for an interview, he’d just begun rehearsals with his castmates –or should I say cats-mates — because he’s in the Broadway revival of the mega-musical hit Cats, that wow of a “meow” that begins performances in mid-July at the Neil Simon Theatre.
His name is Giuseppe Bausilio, this is his fourth Broadway role, and we’ve timed the publication of our recent interview to land on his birthday: June 20. Although he’s had a lot of experience, he hasn’t had a lot of birthdays; so his accomplishments and poise are all the more impressive as we say “Happy 19th birthday.”
As we began to chat one day in early June, there was no obvious evidence that Giuseppe was at all weary from a physically demanding day of developing movement possibilities for his character in Cats: “His name is Carbucketty and he’s very energetic, kind of fearless, and jumps into things.” Likely, the kitten is likeable due to his positive, go-for-it attitude and uses his head and lands on his feet. (Typecasting?) “We’re just getting to know our characters and how we move, trying things.”
“And we’re just meeting the staff and we got to hear the history of the show from Trevor Nunn.” He spoke with a touch of awed appreciation as he describes hearing the details first hand from the man who directed the original production and is doing so again. He’s interested and amused to learn some of the history, like “People told Andrew Lloyd Webber he was crazy when he told them he wanted to make a musical out of T.S. Eliot’s book,” he related, describing how the popular composer had to do some convincing that Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats could be turned into a stage musical. His regular lyricist, Tim Rice (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita), had no interest or confidence. This was just as well, the young actor told me, because of a condition stipulated when the rights were sold. “They were told they could only use T.S. Eliot’s words and weren’t allowed to change them a bit.” Later, they gave in, permitting an opening number, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and “Memory,” becoming the score’s most famous song, with none other than Nunn himself contributing material.
“Memory” (“Midnight/ Not a sound from the pavement…”) is a grand star showpiece for “the glamour cat” Grizabella. Giuseppe wasn’t born when the creators came up with this cat not in Eliot’s book, first played by Elaine Page in London, then Betty Buckley in New York in 1982. He was all of three years old when the “Now and Forever” musical finally closed, so he didn’t get to see her or her successors, such as three performers alternating between theatre roles and cabaret whose first names begin with the letter L—Lillias White, Liz Callaway, and the late Laurie Beechman — although he has performed at the West 42nd Street cabaret venue named after the last-mentioned star. The 2016 Grizabella will be another “L” lady: Leona Lewis, the dazzling British-born pop star he had admired from afar and he was tongue-tied (Cat got your tongue?) when they came face to face. “I saw her at rehearsal and couldn’t speak. I was saying, ‘You’re….You’re…’ and she said, ‘Yes, I am.’”
While Cats marks the recording diva’s Broadway debut, the Great White Way has become a way of life for Giuseppe since before he was even in his teens. T. S. Eliot was not the first Eliot in his Broadway life. The other had a double L: Billy Elliot, the stage musical version of the story about a ballet-dancing boy in a family and tough town where such grace seemed out of place. For dance-drenched Giuseppe, who played the title role in Chicago, on tour, then on Broadway, it wasn’t, pardon the pun, such a leap or stretch.
Growing up in Switzerland with dancer parents who run ballet studios and training as a dancer himself, ballet was a way of life. Discovered as a candidate for the role by a casting scout who spotted him in a prestigious dance competition, playing the high-profile and very demanding part introduced him to the life of a triple-threat performer: singing and acting as well as intense performing intense choreography. He dove in.
“People don’t realize how hard you have to work when you’re on Broadway,” he told me, with a little prodding, since he’s aware that it can sound like someone who has his dream come true and yet complains. “People tell me I’m so lucky—and yes, I know I am. But it’s also a lot of hard work. Almost every day, you’re taking acting class, dance class, going to the gym to stay in shape, singing lessons, rehearsing, and maybe running to an audition on your lunch hour. And then the show at night.” He admits it can be exhausting and the competition at frequent auditions means learning to deal with rejection “and not taking it personally.” Maybe easier said than done. And the road is certainly filled with uncertainties “and all these people who told me, ‘Oh, Giuseppe, you’ll have no problem moving on to adult roles.’” The path hasn’t always been as smooth as his dancing. “But I love it,” he was quick to add. And it shows.
Our conversation was occasionally interrupted by someone else in the room who seemed almost as happy: his little white dog, Billy, named after the role that began his musical theatre career. He seems to have picked up some of his master’s likeability factor and contentment. And, while not a dancer, he “moves well.”
I first saw Giuseppe a few years ago in the world of cabaret. He’d knock the socks off the seen-it-all New Yorkers and the can’t-wait-to-see-it-all tourists at the Olympics of New York City open mics: Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland on Monday nights. And when I sat in on Marilyn Maye’s master class to write about it, he was there with a song or two to work on with the veteran nightclub singer/teacher. “She’s amazing. I learned so much from her,” he remarked with fierce admiration and gratitude. This was obvious when I saw him in cabaret settings again, like when he was part of one of producer Scott Siegel’s many variety shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below: a recent Frank Sinatra tribute singing “The Coffee Song” (“They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil”) and he really, excuse the expression, made the song percolate with the kind of energy and twinkle in the eye and showmanship that are definitely part of the Maye way of entertaining. He picked the novelty number Sinatra did in his early career because he’d just been to Brazil.
********YOUTUBE CLIP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-baKVesKgE
His other appearances at the top New York nightclub in the theatre district (where Broadway definitely meets cabaret for a long-term relationship) include reunions of cast members from the musical Newsies, his second Broadway credit. This was another high-energy, heavy-dance assignment which he realized made the earlier show seem almost easy because, although he played the lead in Billy Elliot, he alternated in the role with the other boys, although they had to be always on call to fill in if the assigned Billy were to become sick or injured. Newsies was almost non-stop athletic movement, doing all the performances. “I’ve never worked harder.” It was a Disney production based on one of their films, like Giuseppe’s next Broadway assignment – joining the cast of Aladdin.
In between these high-profile big productions, he continued his training. “I realized after Billy Elliot that I knew practically nothing about acting and singing – and I’d better do something about that —quickly.” Having been so immersed in dance all his young life, he knew he had to bring up his skills in the other two areas to be a true triple-threat competitor. So, he plunged into classes, coachings, and workshops of all kinds. A disciplined performer, he knows well how important training and early experience is for kids – and that it’s expensive. Thus, he’s pleased to be part of a team of judges choosing talented kids and teens who apply for the full or partial scholarships for the two-week July program at Kid City Theater, where motivated youngsters whose families have limited financial means have the opportunity to join those paying for the skill-building days leading to a fully staged musical production. He’ll be viewing their auditions and the essays they are asked to write about why they want to perform and learn. The program will take place at an off-Broadway venue he has a bit of history with: the historic 13th Street Repertory Theatre. There, he’d impressed me yet again in a charming two-person musical about the life and songs of Irving Berlin (he played the guy who wasn’t Irving Berlin looking back at the end of his 101 years of life), written and directed by Chip Deffaa. Kid City Theater’s programs make sure that enrollees become familiar with the great musical theatre writers like composer-lyricist Berlin. (Students can apply for scholarships or regular enrollment by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org ; the website for the 29-years-and-going-strong group, headed by Wendy Tonken, who has a student, Evie Dolan, in another Andrew Lloyd Webber show now on Broadway in the theatre where his felines long had residence, the Winter Garden (located next to the jazz mecca, Iridium, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where music also flows and rocks): School of Rock. Her program’s website is www.KidCityTheater.com). Giuseppe, covered in brown and yellow fur, expects to be reeling from excitement of the first preview of Cats on July 14, which will be the night the Kid City kids, ages 7 to 14, might have a little trouble sleeping due to excitement themselves: their end-of-workshop production is that next afternoon.
Our talk, naturally, kept coming back to Cats.
He smiled when telling me about the cat puns the quickly bonding company is already making, such as their complimenting each other for “purrrr-fect” work as they start to learn Lloyd Webber’s “mew”-sic of the night. And you can bet they were all happy to see their choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, receive the Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award this month for his work on a little show called Hamilton, repeated the same history he had with In the Heights. Choreography for Cats will follow the inspired work of Gillian Lynne who got the fur flying in all directions all those years ago (and she also was associate director).
Bubbly Bausilio is having a ball now (hopefully not a furball—cough, cough—but just a Jellicle one), but the audition process was no luxurious leisure with time for a cat nap and catnip. There was audition after audition, with the hundreds of males dancing their whiskers and tails off in the early rounds whittled down to about 40 guys in a room at later-round callbacks. “They really worked us hard,” he recalled of the demanding auditions, where the hopefuls being considered would not just be expected to repeat the exact movements of their feline forefathers, but to add their own ideas and distinct movements, and in the first rehearsals they’ve been encouraged even more in improvised movements to think outside the litter box.
At final auditions, he’d been asked to do things more gymnastic as he’d been eyed for the role of a cat whose turns and traveling would be especially athletic. It was far from definite, though. Maybe he wouldn’t make the cat cut as the group got smaller. Then, at last he got the phone call saying he wouldn’t be getting the role they seemed to be grooming him for. Then he heard the words “But we want you to be Carbucketty.” He was thrilled to be definitely cast at last in a show which he knew is very much an ensemble piece where the company members all have lots of stage time and singing. And somewhat relieved not to be the one who’d have perhaps the most physically taxing role. But who was Carbucketty? He didn’t quite know. “He’ll be the youngest cat,” he was told, “and you’ll be doing new things.”
And the first week of rehearsals brought experimentation, with the actors encouraged to try things, improvise, interact, create. Filled with joy and unspoiled zest, he spoke quickly about his costume, colleagues, and a “cat”-alogue of details, leaping into his new stage life set in a junkyard, with barely any “paws” except for the occasional turn to attend to his other animal of concern: Billy, who wanted to go for a walk with the guy whose feet and legs and already had quite a workout that day.
Giuseppe Bausilio wants to do it all— create roles, be in classic musicals, do more TV like “The Next Step,” filmed in Canada, where he’s been playing a prince, dance (of course), get more into film (he’s done a bit in that field), and continue to sing in cabarets, leading up to a solo show. Between the covers he’s got on Youtube, his improving guitar skills, and songs he’s written, he has a fine head start and a good and non-swelled head on his shoulders. “My family keeps me grounded,” he said without hesitation about the close-knit clan.
Whatever he does, Giuseppe gives it his all. His skills include cooking and metalwork. He’s learned seven languages, not counting meowing. I saw him at a benefit for a public school’s arts programs a couple of years ago, singing the big number “Electricity” in an auditorium, dancing up a storm and stopping the show. The kids screamed and cheered like he was a rock star, and if you look at his videos, where he plays to the camera and has a million-dollar smile, the charisma comes through. He’s got undisputable star quality.
There will be more details about this talented fellow in another column, as he had lots to say and share and I know the time leading up to and after the Broadway opening will bring more stories. And encounters backstage with visitors like those he’s met in the past, such as Billy Eliot composer Elton John, Hugh Jackman, and Adam Sandler “who was so cool—just a regular, nice guy.” Kind of like Giuseppe Bausilio whose encounters with fans at the stage door have elicited online comments about just such qualities. And in the future it’s a safe bet that he will have been seen and not just purred, having the professional show business versatility equivalent of a cat’s nine lives.