Fresh Faces: Aaron Tveit

Date: 2008 February 28
By: Kathy Henderson

Age: 24

Hometown: Middletown, New York

Currently: Playing Gabe, the adored son of a manic-depressive mother Alice Ripley and overwhelmed father Brian d’Arcy James in Second Stage’s production of the new musical Next to Normal.

Tveit Is Enough: To pronounce the name of this strong-voiced young leading man, “Think of the number eight,” he says. “It’s ‘Ta-VATE.’ For a split second, when I joined Equity I thought about using my middle name [Kyle] as my last name, but then I said, ‘You know what? I like my name. It’s different than everybody else’s, and keeping it is another way that I can stand out.'”

Jocks Who Rock: Gifted in both music and athletics since childhood, Tveit marvels that he never felt pressure to choose between theater and sports while in high school. “The same kids who were on my soccer team and my basketball team were in show choir and did the school musical with me,” he recalls. “We did West Side Story my junior year, and literally the whole football team were the Sharks and the Jets. I played three varsity sports [golf was the third] and did the play and musical every year, and everyone made the schedule work.”

The Musical Man: With his parents’ blessing, Tveit turned down business school scholarships to major in vocal performance at Ithaca College. By the end of freshman year, he realized that he missed acting and switched to the theater department. Good timing: That fall, the musical director of Rent‘s national tour, an Ithaca alum, returned to campus to conduct a mock audition in Tveit’s musical theater class. “Everyone had to bring in a headshot and resume and dress as if we were auditioning for Rent,” he explains. “After I sang, he pulled me aside and said, ‘I think you’re perfect for this. I’m going to keep your headshot and if anything opens up, I’ll call.'” Three months later, Tveit was summoned to New York to meet Rent and Next to Normal director Michael Greif and quickly hit the road for a year, eventually playing Roger.

Link to Success: After returning to college for a semester, Tveit was tapped to play Link Larkin on Hairspray‘s first national tour. “When you’re young and can just pick up and go, it’s a great way to see the country,” he says of life on the road. “With the two different shows, I went to 45 out of 50 states. Being on my own helped me mature as a person, and it’s invaluable to get to do so many performances of one show.” Oh, and he also found love, with actress Jacqui Polk, now in Broadway’s Hairspray after a stint in Spelling Bee: “We started dating a couple of months after she joined the tour and we’ve been together for more than two years.” Tveit made his Broadway debut as Link in 2006 on the same night starlet Haylie Duff joined Hairspray as Amber—but his cheering section was a lot bigger, consisting of 75 friends and family members who’d descended on the Big Apple by bus. “That was an unbelievable night,” he says now. “The electricity in the audience was amazing. Haylie got a big kick out it, too.”

Normal Life: Because Next to Normal includes a crucial Act One plot twist, Tveit has to tread carefully in describing his role. “Without giving anything away, it’s such a slice of life, this show,” he says. “I’ve had so many people come up to me and say how close to home the show hits and how touched they are by it.” Not surprisingly, he speaks glowingly of playing the son of Alice Ripley and Brian d’Arcy James. “When I was getting familiar with musicals in college, I had been struck by their voices, and they’re equally amazing people—so generous and gracious with everyone in the company.” As for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score, Tveit says, “It’s one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. There are so many different colors and sounds, and it’s so much fun to sing. We were in love with the music when [rehearsing with] just a piano. The day the band showed up, we looked at each other and said, ‘This rocks!'”

Star on the Rise: As a talented and handsome singing actor under 25 who’s in no hurry to decamp for Hollywood, Tveit is in demand. He starred as D’Artagnan last summer in a new musical version of The Three Musketeers at the North Shore Music Theatre and has just been tapped for the Leonardo DiCaprio role of a young con artist in the latest staged reading of Catch Me If You Can. “I’m still pinching myself about working with Nathan Lane,” he says of the Tony-winning star, who’ll play the FBI agent created on film by Tom Hanks in the forthcoming musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Terrence McNally. “I’ve been blessed at my young age to work with people who are at the top of our profession, and I’m trying not to take for granted all the things that have come to me.”