Lorenzo Lamas: The Leader of the Pack
Film and TV star Lorenzo Lamas, known for bad boy roles in the past, cuts a commanding figure as Zach in Ogunquit Playhouse’s 77th season opener of “A Chorus Line” through June 13
Two years ago Hollywood’s Lorenzo Lamas shed his action-adventure image to make his stage debut as the King of Siam in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of The King and I. This summer he returns to the venerable 77-year-old Maine seacoast theatrical institution, stretching himself even further as director-choreographer Zach in the greatest of all backstage musicals, A Chorus Line.
BroadwayWorld.com's Jan Nargi spoke with the star by phone the day after the show opened officially to the press. Sounding tired, happy, and perhaps a little bit relieved that the first night went so well, Lamas shared his thoughts about the role, his castmates, and his future – in and out of musical theater.
BWW: I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me again as you did a couple of years ago. How does it feel being back at Ogunquit?
LL: I love Ogunquit. The community is great. It’s such an idyllic spot in the country. And the playhouse stands alone, I think, in its uniqueness and longevity.
BWW: Yes, 77 years! That’s a long time. So tell me about your approach to the role of Zach. Did you take some dance lessons to prepare for this or have you done dance in the past?
LL: No. I’m not a dancer. But Luis Villabon the director/choreographer worked with me a bit before we started rehearsals just to see what I could and couldn’t do. It was all very evident within half an hour what I couldn’t do. (Laughs) The character of Zach is really – I guess you could say he’s like the captain of the ship, and he has his assistant in the character of Larry, who is really his lieutenant. Luis thought that I should concentrate on the acting part of the role and not so much the dancing part. He felt I should delegate the dancing instructions to the dancers using Larry. So that’s what we did. I do a little bit of dancing here and there. But I personally did not want to attempt to dance more than I did because I didn’t want to upstage the real dancers in the show that know what they’re doing. I didn’t want it to seem like it didn’t fit. My role is really that of the leader – the choreographer that doesn’t really need to do it anymore. He has people to demonstrate for him. So we focused on the character. We focused on his strength, on what his motivation is, and what he wants to get done in this afternoon at a dance audition.
BWW: That’s actually how it was in the original. I was one of the very fortunate people to see the original cast in the original Broadway production. So you’re actually doing it in a way that’s much more in line with the original production than the recent revival.
LL: That’s interesting because I know Luis wanted to do the show more like the original. I mean to the point where every single line, word for word, is from the book. There’s no license taken with any of the movement or the dialog. It’s all being done the way Michael Bennett saw it 35 years ago.
BWW: That is interesting. I did see the national tour of the Broadway revival and while it also recreated every move, it felt kind of sterile. It didn’t feel fresh. It didn’t have the heart.
LL: Why is that, do you think?
BWW: I think they were concentrating so hard on recreating the original and not wanting to do anything different that they didn’t really get to the heart and soul of the characters. It was more mimicry than organic. And so I was very pleased with the Ogunquit production because it was so fresh and honest. I felt like I was seeing something for the first time.
LL: Well that’s wonderful. I’m glad you felt that way. It’s quite an amazing story. Each dancer has a very unique story to tell. And people that have never seen the show before will appreciate that, I think. They are this chorus of dancers, the behind-the-scenes supportive roles who are in so many Broadway productions. They never get their fair due, their moment in the spotlight, so to speak, their 15 minutes. And this is really a tribute to them. So it’s very important that their individuality comes out. I’m sitting in the back of the theater on the mike for the good middle part of the show and I’m watching the show like an audience member. I’m very taken with the performances and the skill and precision of our company. I’m very proud of our company the way we put this thing up in seven days.
BWW: Seven days?
LL: You didn’t know that? Yes, seven days.
BWW: I know a lot of the cast members have had experience in other productions of “A Chorus Line.” So that’s got to help.
LL: I think it helps. But it’s such a monster of a show. The timing, the blocking, the lighting for the show is so involving. I was very proud of us, I must say.
BWW: One of the notes I actually made last night was about how fluid the staging was. The transitions, the lighting cues – it really was polished and very well done.
LL: I think that’s a tribute to several people. You’ve got to give the proper respect to Luis Villabon whose intensive knowledge of the book and the show really serve the company. And also (Executive Artistic Director) Brad Kenney for really putting the right people together. Brad was involved in all of the casting every single step of the process. I think he found a truly unique cast. We all get along. We’re all having a good time although it’s a crazy intensive week. We all support each other. And not being a dancer, I stepped into the role with some apprehension because Zach has to have the respect of the dancers. He’s like a drill sergeant. To come from a non dancing background and to rehearse this last week with these kids that have so much experience, I was a bit intimidated at first. But they really gave me the support that I needed to believe in my own abilities as a leader, and that was my main focus – to come across as their leader, as their boss. And my age helped, I’ll be honest with you. These kids are half my age, so a lot of my maturity came into play in establishing a hierarchy.
BWW: I wonder, too – it occurred to me that – you look like a dancer. I think part of that must be your martial arts training. Do you feel that that helped you in any way to have an instinctual appreciation for what the dancers do?
LL: Absolutely. I absolutely believe that the martial arts have given me a good understanding of my own center of gravity and where my movement comes from. Basically all movement comes from the hips. So if you’re on top of your hips, you’re going to be able to move around. You’ve got to stand up straight, put your shoulders back, fill yourself up with a sense of your balance and your natural stance. I think that is a common denominator that maybe helped me with some of the movement that I have to do. Sure.
BWW: And even beyond that to appreciate the movement of what the dancers are doing.
LL: These dancers are all black belts in my book. They have achieved such a command of their physical beings that they’re no less than experts in movement. I respect that tremendously, because I know how hard they all worked to get to the point where they can perform to this level. I worked very hard to get my black belt and I know that it doesn’t go without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
BWW: So these kids are actually living the lives that they are portraying on stage. It was their truth they were telling.
LL: You have some exceptional standouts. Nadine (Isenegger) and Katie (Cameron), the actresses that play Cassie and Shiela. And Diana (Christine LaDuca) and Thay (Floyd), the guy who plays Richie, the “give me the ball” character. They’re true triple threats. They can do it all. They can act, they can sing, they can dance. I’m so enthusiastic about the future of American musical theater because this is the next generation of folks that are going to be putting on these shows for audiences to enjoy for years to come. I’m just proud of them and I’m grateful to them for their commitment to this particular kind of art form.
BWW: I’m guessing that you’re going to be doing more of this.
LL: Oh, sure. One of my senseis told me years ago that life isn’t worth living if you don’t scare yourself once in a while. (Laughs) This is the way I scare myself. I accept a role like this with all the challenges and I just bite into it and go for it.
BWW: Any other roles that come to mind that you’d like to go for?
LL: Well, I’d love to do (Billy Flynn in) Chicago. I’d love to do (Sky in) Guys and Dolls. And there are also shows that I loved as movies. Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are phenomenal – South Pacific, King and I, Sound of Music – any one of those would be great.
BWW: You’d go back to do “The King and I” again, wouldn’t you?
LL: I probably would, but I hesitate now because it took me two years to grow my hair out! I’m not sure I’d want to shave it again. (Laughs)
BWW: Will you be going back to New York, to Feinstein’s or perhaps the Metropolitan Room, to do your cabaret anytime soon?
LL: Possibly. I may be doing (a club I can’t go public with yet). We’re not signed, sealed and delivered. But I’d like to do that. That would be fun. I am doing my cabaret in LA at the Catalina Room July 21 and 22. And I’m starting a reality show with my oldest daughter Shayne for the E! Channel. We begin filming that July 6.
BWW: What’s the show going to be about?
LL: The show’s called The Lamas Family and it’s about my daughter and her sister struggling in Hollywood to forge careers. My daughter wants to be an actress and her sister Dakota wants to be a singer. The show’s going to follow them around during their audition process and also go out with them at night to the clubs in Hollywood and see that part of what LA is all about in terms of the nightclub scene. I’m going to be on the show as her Dad, kind of as the sounding board for her ideas. I’m also very fortunate to be able to use the show as a platform to promote my own company. I have a motorcycle company I just started with a builder in Arizona, Ralph Randolph, and I’m very excited about our debut at Sturgis. We’re going to the bike rally in August and I am going to be unveiling four of my custom motorcycle models there. The show for me is a chance to promote my company. Kind of what Discovery did for Orange County Choppers on that show American Chopper.
BWW: So will you be riding around on one of your custom models at different times during the show?
LL: Oh, yeah, many times. The show’s also going to follow me. They’re going to tape me singing at my cabaret. There are a lot of different things the show will do – basically follow my daughter and me around in our lives. If they were shooting now they’d be here shooting this. It would have been great but they were not going to start production till July. I’ll be finished A Chorus Line by then.
A Chorus Line continues at the Ogunquit Playhouse, Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine, through June 13. Evening performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Matinees are Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are priced from $43 to $54 and are available by calling the box office at 207-646-5511 or visiting http://www.ogunquitplayhouse.org/.
PHOTO: Lorenzo Lamas
PRODUCTION PHOTOS BY JAY GOLDSMITH: Felipe Quillin as Paul with the company of A Chorus Line; Nadine Isenegger as Cassie; the company of A Chorus Line