talks about his Broadway roles in Beauty and the
Beast and Shrek
by Scott Wolf
I wanted to interview John Tartaglia
because I'm a big fan of the fantastic show that he created and stars in
on the Disney Channel, "Johnny and the Sprites," but he's such a
mega-talent and has done so much! Performing in Disney's Beauty and
Beast on Broadway and having his own Emmy nominated Disney series
were not taken for granted by this huge Disney fan. Therefore, it was appropriate that we did the interview at one
of his favorite places and mine, the Disneyland Resort. It's fantastic to have John in the Mouse Clubhouse and to
share his story with you.
Scott Wolf: How did you end up playing Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway?
John Tartaglia: I'm known to be a huge Disney fan and my friend Dusty became the assistant to Thomas Schumacher who's the head of Disney Theatrical Productions. I guess they were trying to figure out what to do with Beauty and the Beast and who would come in. Dusty was our assistant company manager at Avenue Q, Las Vegas. He asked me one day, "What are one of the roles you'd play on Broadway if you could?" I said, "Well, a lot of them I'm not right for, but one of them is Lumiere. I love that music, I love that show, it's one of my favorite shows." He said, "That's really cool."
So he called me one day and said, "Remember that conversation we had two years ago out in Vegas? Remember you said you wanted to be Lumiere?" and I said, "Yeah..." He said, "Would you want to do it?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, I was talking to Tom Schumacher and I mentioned the idea of you doing it and he loved that." I said, "Oh my God! Of course I would love that!" So I got to go meet with Tom and met with the producers and I was basically offered the role which never happens on Broadway.
SW: Were you doing that and your own TV show at the same time?
JT: Yes, that two year span of Johnny and the Sprites and that was an amazing time for me.
I was supposed to actually close Beauty and the Beast but I had to leave early because I just couldn't take it, it was too much.
SW: Was the role of Lumiere a very physical role? You're holding candles the whole time.
JT: It was an exhausting role. It's funny because I wasn't onstage nearly as long as I was at "Avenue Q" but when I was on stage it was very taxing. The show required a lot of energy and "Be Our Guest" was a huge number to do. But, it was really rewarding. I really miss doing that show, the cast was wonderful. The crew and doing that show every night.
Avenue Q was such a fun show to do because it was such a huge hit and sold out and got us a lot of attention and I wouldn't be here right now sitting with you if it weren't for that show, but Beauty was for a family audience so I got to see kids every night, be inspired, and sing this music which I think Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are and were geniuses, so to sing their music every night was an honor… and of course being such a huge Disney fan.
SW: So you were very familiar with the movie?
JT: Oh, I was obsessed with the movie.
SW: Had you seen the Broadway show before you were cast in it?
JT: Yeah, it was actually one of the first shows I saw. I remember when it opened on Broadway just flipping out because it was the perfect combination of everything I love. It was Disney and Broadway. I saw it before I was in it probably six or seven times so to be able to go into it, well I felt like it was an honor to be stepping into their shoes.
SW: How did you get the part as Pinocchio on Broadway with Shrek?
John Tartaglia: We have the same director as Avenue Q, Jason Moore, and he called me last summer when we were doing the second season of Sprites and said, "Would you be interesting in coming and doing a reading for this?" At the time the role wasn't as large as it is now, and also I was so waterlogged with "Sprites" that I said, "There's just no way. I'm so appreciative, but there's no way." So I thought I kissed it goodbye.
Then when the workshop came about and we were just wrapping down Sprites, for the first time in awhile I didn't have anything on my plate at all.
They asked me to come in and do the workshop. Usually, and I say that very lightly, but usually when you do a workshop you're pretty much guaranteed a Broadway show.
SW: I didn't know about workshops before Broadway shows. Is that typical?
JT: It is and it isn't. Like with Avenue Q we didn't. It's kind of a producer's choice. What a workshop tends to be, which I think is great, is basically a really financially easier way to see a show on its feet without actually doing it. So you're able to use a bunch of actors and the composers and everything else for so many weeks and actually not just have a reading, like maybe three days to rehearse or whatever, but really see it on its feet with no books in hand, it's all memorized like you would on Broadway and with very minimal props and some sets and you basically get to see, will this work? So that's what a workshop was.
So they asked me to come in for it and I actually remember the day I went in for the audition which I think is hysterical, I was shooting Johnny and the Sprites and I had all my Johnny makeup on. For TV you have to wear a lot of bronzer and all this stuff. So here I am with all this bronzer and mascara and I get on the subway, run over to wherever the audition place was, I walk in and I knew two or three people in the room. I knew Jason and I knew one of the composers and I said, "Look guys, I'm coming from Sprites so I look a little weird." They were laughing and saying things like, "Oh, you're very George Hamilton."
I just kind of gave a reading of Pinocchio that I thought he was. I knew they wanted to be like the movie where he's got the falsetto voice which I did but I gave this little twisted side to him and for whatever reason it worked. So Jason, the director, called me and said, "We want you to do it," and I said, "Great." I guess because of my work they wrote a lot for me. They put in some extra stuff and made the character a little bigger which was really a compliment, I didn't expect that.
When the workshop ended they said, "Would you like to do it on Broadway?" I said, "Unbelievably so, yes!" So that's how it started.
For me it was really great because I had been doing Sprites for almost two and a half years now and creatively it's just been exhausting. I've never been more tired because I'm the executive producer and Johnny and basically all creative sides in charge. It's not like being a normal actor where maybe you show up at 8:30, get into makeup, maybe you go home at 6, you don't think about it. I was thinking about it 24 hours and not sleeping and having anxiety attacks about things happening or not happening so it was really hard. So to be able to go into Shrek and just be a character and have fun and be allowed to improv and make things up and not have any responsibility of "is it working or is it not" was so fantastic.
Also, honestly just to go in front of a live audience again I'm so excited about it. As much as I really love television and hope to work in it for the rest of my life, I also really miss live audience and theatre, there's nothing like it.
More from John:
The creation of
Johnny and the
His roles on Broadway in
Beauty and the Beast and
See other interviews