With a new production of Cabaret coming just around the corner, I sat down and talked to Will Carlyon. He’s a quadruple threat and swing in the new production, and I spoke to him about what its like to be a quadruple threat, and what it’s like to work with Alan Cumming.
This is your first show since graduating from college, is that overwhelming? To land on Broadway, and with Alan Cumming no less right out of school?
It’s a little overwhelming, yeah, but so far I’ve felt pretty prepared and ready. The rehearsal processes at Northwestern were always very professional and I feel they were great preparation for a process like this one.
Can you talk about your college training?
I studied theatre at Northwestern University and I was in the Music Theatre Certificate program, which is basically like a musical theatre minor. I studied a variety of styles and disciplines with my acting class over a three year period (acting classes don’t start until your sophomore year at NU) in addition to music theatre techniques and voice lessons and some dance classes.
Tell me about your character.
I am a swing which means that whenever any of the actors playing the four Kit Kat boys (Bobby, Victor, Hans, and Herman) have to miss a show for any reason either I or the other male swing do the part in their place. But one of the reasons that Cabaret is very different from most other shows is that all of us swings are onstage during the show and playing instruments, whereas in most productions they are offstage.
Can you tell us a little about this new production of Cabaret?
This production of Cabaret is a remounting of the 1998 revival so the direction and choreography is all basically the same, but for the most part the actors are new. It’s a grungier, sexier, and more in your face take on the show than the original 1966 production. There are also a few songs cut from the original and a few other songs added.
You were recently in an article talking about the quadruple threat. For those who don’t know, can you tell me what that is?
Well the triple threat is someone who can sing, act, and dance, and what is now becoming known as the quadruple threat is someone who can do all of those three things and also play an instrument. Or, as is the case with many of my cast mates, multiple instruments.
What is your other talent?
I play the cello in Cabaret.
In your opinion, should actors aspiring for Broadway cultivate an additional talent to make them a quadruple threat?
I think it’s unnecessary to go out of your way to learn a new talent just so you can theoretically be more useful or more marketable, but if you happen to have a talent that you enjoy doing and you think might be helpful in the future then definitely stick with it. And even if it doesn’t help you with a career in the performing arts it could help you in some other career. When I started playing cello my plan was to become a baseball player and I wasn’t even participating in theater at that point so you really never know what might end up helping you out later in life.
Shows are asking more and more of their actors, from playing instruments in Cabaret to circus tricks in Pippin. Is needing the extra skill something that drew you to this role?
It’s definitely something that excites me. I very actively played cello all through middle school and high school but basically stopped while I was in college to focus on other things so it has been really fun getting back into the groove of playing all the time. It’s a challenge to get back to the quality of playing that a Broadway show requires but I think I have enough time to get there.
Do you see quadruple threats becoming the norm, instead of triple threats?
Personally, I can’t see a world where quadruple threats are the norm. A lot because I think it would be an unfair demand for every single actor to also have some other useful skill that they’ve cultivated for years. Some people are lucky enough to have a background in music or circus or something else but many aren’t and they can’t be faulted for that. Also, actors playing instruments is a great idea and has worked for many shows, but the best idea for one show can be the worst idea for another so I don’t think there will ever be a day when every musical requires some form of quadruple threat.
What’s the rehearsal process been like, being asked to not only sing, act and dance but also to play the cello? Is there a big difference in how rehearsals run?
The biggest difference with this rehearsal process for me is all the extra time the ensemble spends doing music work; we rehearse the music with our music director at least a couple hours a day and we also often have our instruments with us when we have choreography and staging rehearsal.
Thank you to Will so much for taking time out of rehearsal to talk to me. Wishing you all the best in your run of Cabaret as a quadruple threat!