If You Caught Him in ‘Normal,’ You’d Know of His Talent

Source: NorthJersey.com
Date: 2011 April 03
By: Robert Feldberg

Sometimes, everything in a musical number clicks, and a career takes off.

For Aaron Tveit, the moment happened with “I’m Alive,” in Next to Normal — an electric song, dynamically staged, which he performed with a cool, charismatic intensity.

It got you thumbing through your program in the dark: Who is that actor?

“That show was an incredible experience,” he said. “I really grew up a lot doing it.”

The sense from that off-Broadway performance three years ago that he had the goods has certainly been confirmed.

He now has the starring role in Catch Me If You Can, one of the season’s most anticipated new musicals. Currently in previews, it opens next Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre.

“My ambition is just to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said in an interview last week in the theater’s lounge.

When you can say that at the age of 27, life is good.

Tveit, who’s been with the show — based on the 2002 film of the same name — since its out-of-town debut in Seattle in 2009, plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a (real-life) Bronxville teenager who fell into a life as a con man in the 1960s and discovered he was very good at it.

The young actor, poised and pleasant, with wholesome, boyish good looks, said he’d seen the movie several times before being cast and has no difficulty with knowing the way another actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, played Abagnale.

“That would be something some actors would like to avoid,” he said, “but I don’t have a problem with it. I think I get to have a little more fun than he did.”

Also in the show are Norbert Leo Butz as the FBI agent who relentlessly pursues Abagnale through the years, Kerry Butler as Abagnale’s girlfriend and Tom Wopat as his father.

The musical has been fashioned by many of the same people who created Hairspray, including Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (songs), Jack O’Brien (direction) and Jerry Mitchell (choreography).

In a way, Tveit has been preparing for his career for almost a quarter-century.

“I’ve always been very musical,” he said. “I started playing the violin when I was 4 or 5, and I’ve always sung.”

Growing up in Middletown, N.Y., he performed in his high school’s shows each year and then enrolled at Ithaca College as a voice-performance major.

But, missing acting, he switched to theater as a sophomore.

It was that year that his first big opportunity presented itself.

“An alumnus, who was the musical director for the road tour of Rent, came back to the school and conducted what you might call a master class,” Tveit said. “We had a practice audition. Each of us came with our photos and performed a number.

“When it was over, he told me he liked what I’d done and said he was going to keep my head shot in case anything came up.”

A couple months later, Tveit got the call: They needed someone to play Steve in the Rent tour, and could he come to New York to audition?

He did, got a callback, and won the role.

“I dropped out of school that day,” he said.

Although he later returned to Ithaca to complete his sophomore year, he left school permanently after that, as the jobs kept coming.

He was in both the road company and Broadway production of Hairspray and performed in Wicked on Broadway.

His breakout performance in Next to Normal, which subsequently moved to Broadway for a lengthy run, led to roles in films (Howl) and TV (a continuing guest role as the luxuriously named Tripp Vanderbilt on “Gossip Girl”).

“I’d like to be able to keep doing films and TV work,” said Tveit, “but I really want to have a long career doing theater. There’s nothing like being on a stage.”

Asked to pinpoint a special performing asset he believes he possesses, he mentioned feeling at ease with what he’s doing.

“Performing eight shows a week for almost five years straight gives you a sense of confidence,” he said. “I feel very comfortable onstage, and that lets me just focus on what I’m doing.”

Finally, there’s the name, pronounced “tuh-vayt.” It’s Norwegian. Tveit said he briefly considered changing it, but decided not to.

“I like it,” he said, “and I don’t think you’ll find another actor with that name.”