Hollywood comes to Syracuse, New York this spring, as Tony award-winning actor Jason Alexander takes on a new role, directing the musical “The Last Five Years” at Syracuse Stage. Audiences who may remember Alexander for his comedic role as George Costanza in the popular television sitcom Seinfeld will have a chance to see a different side of his work, as he returns to his theatrical roots, exploring the musical love story written and composed by Jason Robert Brown.
“This little musical, if you don’t know it is one of the darlings of musical theatre,” Alexander said in a recent press conference. “Jason Robert Brown is considered one of the – I think it’s fair to say — ‘gods of musical theatre’ these days. He’s given us permission to… do it in a different way, and I feel like we’re in the perfect place to do it.”
Described as a musical about “love gained and love lost,” the tale is told from one lover’s perspective beginning at the start of their five-year relationship, while the other perspective is shown beginning at the end and working backwards in time. What makes this rendition of the play especially unique is the addition of an accompanying dancer with the actors, which allows for more interaction on stage.
Having acted in a number of Broadway productions throughout his illustrious career, Jason Alexander is no stranger to the theatre. After previously working with him in Arkansas, Syracuse Stage artistic director Robert Hupp was looking for the right opportunity to bring Alexander’s insight and experience to Syracuse audiences.
“The reason we added this production is because in my conversations with Jason, Jason thought this would be a great project for us to tackle,” Hupp said. “This is Jason’s first gig at Syracuse Stage. We’re very glad to welcome him.”
On the first day of rehearsals for the show, Alexander talked to StayFamous.Net about his own directorial style and how his approach changes based on a number of factors.
“It shifts from show to show,” he said. “You know, how much time do we have? What are the demands of the material? How large a company? Who needs what attention?”
With decades of experience as an actor, appearing in television roles on Young Sheldon, Two and Half Men, Friends, and The New Adventures of Old Christine (with fellow Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus), as well as film credits that include Pretty Woman, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Wild Card, he has a unique understanding of what it’s like to perform in front of an audience.
“I come to everything through an actor’s window. So I would like to believe I’m actor friendly, and that performance and writing drives everything,” he explained. “The writer delivers the text. That has to be delivered clearly and well. But it is the subtext that is the performer’s job – it’s that whole life of possibility that happens underneath the words. The director’s job, more often than not, is to coordinate the effort and to present that subtext.”
“I work long and hard with the actors about what is every moment about? This is a song cycle, so every scene is basically a stand alone song. What are the events that happen in that song? What is the communication that’s happening within that song that pushes it forward? It’s treating these songs as if they are scenes of a very complex, sophisticated play. It’s a lot of discussion about what’s going on, how do we achieve it, what are we doing? And then the design elements kind of lay in – the same way I work with cameras.”
Whether he is directing a play for an audience or a film, he uses some of the same techniques.
“I know nothing about film,” he said modestly. “I never went to film school. I’ve directed a lot of stuff on film but I always go, ‘Let’s get the performance right. Now let’s put the camera in the best seat in the house.’ So to me, it’s making the production around the performances… it all has to sync together.”
“The Last Five Years” runs from May 29 to June 16. For ticket information visit Syracuse Stage at www.syracusestage.org.
You can also follow Jason Alexander on Twitter at @IJasonAlexander.
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“Jason Alexander Talks About His Directorial Style (Interview)”
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