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Episode 74: HUGH PANARO

One of the few actors ever to play both male lead roles in The Phantom of the Opera, Hugh Panaro tells the story of how he convinced Hal Prince to give him the titular role, his show mementos, and the release of his first album! Director of Marketing Nella Vera hosts... Read More

43 mins
Mar 2

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One of the few actors ever to play both male lead roles in The Phantom of the Opera, Hugh Panaro tells the story of how he convinced Hal Prince to give him the titular role, his show mementos, and the release of his first album! Director of Marketing Nella Vera hosts.

Watch Hugh perform "Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera here: https://youtu.be/6BKh9HZ6WXk

For more information about Hugh's upcoming show at 54 Below, visit 54below.org/HughPanaro

The 54 Below Podcast is hosted by Nella Vera and Macon Prickett, and produced by Michael Allan Galvez with support from the 54 Below marketing staff.

Original artwork design by Philip Romano.

Follow Nella on Twitter and Instagram at @spinstripes


[00:00:00] Nella: Welcome to the 54 below podcast. I'm Nella Vera, the club's director of marketing. Our guest today is Hugh Pinero. One of the few actors ever to play both the Phantom and Raul in Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera, His many Broadway credits include Marius and Les Mis, a role that he originated in the first national tour, in addition to Lestat, Sideshow, Showboat, and The Red Shoes.

[00:00:27] Nella: On March 6th, he brings us man without a mask, celebrating the release of his first ever album, which was recorded live at 54 below Hugh.

[00:00:36] Nella: Welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:38] Hugh: Thank you. Nella.

[00:00:38] Nella: How are you? Oh, I'm great. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. I'm such a fan of yours, obviously from the old phantom days,

[00:00:47] Hugh: but we're so giving.

[00:00:51] Nella: It's, amazing. And we're so excited to have you back after your last set of sold out shows.

[00:00:57] Hugh: Ah, I'm so excited too.

[00:00:59] Hugh: It's been a long [00:01:00] time coming.

[00:01:01] Nella: Well, I can't believe that that engagement was your 54 Below solo debut. I can't believe that after all that time, you hadn't done a show with us. No, yeah. How

[00:01:10] Hugh: is that possible? It's crazy because, you know, I had been there as a guest. Like, you know, I'm a huge A huge animal and advocate and Bill Berloni and Dorothy Berloni, they asked me to do the benefit for that's right, all the puppies and I got to sing on their forget this Noah, because I was singing With uh, Karen Terrier who was starring, his name is, his real name is Loki.

[00:01:37] Hugh: he's since gone to doggie heaven, but Loki was starring at that time in the Wizard of Oz. And I had to hold Loki in my arms and sing to him and it hit me. I was on stage at 54 Below and it dawned on me. I'm like, Oh my God, I'm unemployed. And this dog has his equity card doing eight shows a [00:02:00] week.

[00:02:00] Hugh: And it was just, it was a very humbling moment.

[00:02:03] Nella: He was the real star that day.

[00:02:07] Hugh: No, but I was there also with Sideshow. We did this reunion kind of thing. I love 54 Below, but I had never gotten myself to together to do, you know, a solo thing. So it was really joyful. Pure. It was pure joy.

[00:02:20] Hugh: I can honestly tell you there was nothing but joy. Oh,

[00:02:23] Nella: they were such great shows. And it's amazing to me because you do so much symphony, orchestral accompaniment, you know, singing and concerts. So it was a surprise that you hadn't done. Have you done a lot of cabaret smaller spaces or no?

[00:02:37] Hugh: Not a ton. No.

[00:02:39] Hugh: And to be honest, Noah my director, Richard J. Alexander kept Telling me in rehearsal and it's something I still have to process, you know, when you're in such an intimate place, you don't have to sing like for back wall. Like I'm so used to belting everything out for symphonies and broadway. And cool thing that I discovered [00:03:00] and I am still discovering with cabaret movie.

[00:03:03] Hugh: Is that it's just such an intimate place. So you can really get small and use your voice, your instrument in subtler ways. And I really just in listening to the two nights and, creating the album, it was a learning lesson for me on how to adapt and it is definitely. An art skill that so many of these amazing cabaret performers have mastered.

[00:03:31] Hugh: And I'm just, I'm just starting out.

[00:03:35] Nella: Well, they were fantastic. And yeah, I mean, your voice is so incredible that small or large space. It's amazing. So our listeners probably know you best from Phantom of the Opera, where you starred as the titular man with a mask for over 2000 performances. My goodness.

[00:03:54] Nella: Well, first tell us how you got the offer to go in. Like, I don't know. Do phantoms have to [00:04:00] audition? I don't even know. It's like the premier role for a male performer in our industry. So I don't even know if it's like offer only, or do they come see you in something? How does that

[00:04:10] Hugh: work? That's a great question because there's a, quite the history with.

[00:04:15] Hugh: Me. So, you know, I, as you said, I had played Raoul, Christine's boyfriend in 1991, I believe. And around, definitely a 90, 90 to 92, somewhere in there. And I left the show to do the red shoes, the ill fated red shoes. And then I ended up doing showboat for Hal Prince in Toronto. And then I did it in.

[00:04:43] Hugh: in New York with Ms. Rebecca Lugar and then Hal asked me to go to London to do it in the West End. So it was right around my closing in London of Showboat. that I got a call [00:05:00] and Hal basically said that the gentleman that was playing the role at that point on Broadway was going to take a leave of absence for some vocal rest.

[00:05:11] Hugh: And would you be interested in playing the Phantom? And to be honest, no, at that time, it really wasn't. On my radar, and I think part of the reason that Hal asked me was because it was twofold. He had just seen me in London and he said, he said, I think you have, I love this word. He said, I think you have the gravitas now to play the role because you're older and you just have more weight behind you.

[00:05:40] Hugh: And the funny thing is when, you know, Phantom was out on the road and there were, I think, three road companies at that point. And a lot of the guys would write letters saying, Hey, I've been on the road for a year. I really want to play the Phantom in New York. And you know, Hal, Hal told me he was inundated [00:06:00] with, you know, requests on Broadway.

[00:06:02] Hugh: So then there's me very content not being the Phantom. It was kind of funny, I think, because I wasn't pestering him. it was kind of a good fit. So he was just like, you want to do this? And I went into rehearsal room with Kristen Blodgett, who's just the best and Peter von Mayerhauser, who was the resident director at that time.

[00:06:24] Hugh: And I sang through music of the night and, we laughed because, you know, once you've done that show, you know, all the blocking. So I kind of played everybody's part and uh, you name it, pretended I was up in the angel. And I think I got hired on the spot that day. So it was, it was again, just fun.

[00:06:45] Hugh: And again, cause it was how, I mean, How could say, do you want to do this? I'd be like, yes, whatever you want. How? Oh my

[00:06:51] Nella: goodness. Right. I got what an experience. I remember Jay Armstrong Johnson said the same thing. , that how Prince asked him if he wanted to be [00:07:00] Raul, this was only just a few years ago.

[00:07:03] Nella: And I just thought to myself, like, how, you know, what an honor, like how friends calls you and says, do you want to be The phantom. I mean, that's incredible.

[00:07:14] Hugh: What's interesting, I always, think I said this to Julie James as well, that Hal was, is not interested in cookie cutters and he always would find something about you specific, like he'd look at Nella and go.

[00:07:27] Hugh: Oh, if I cast her as Christine, this is the quality I think she would bring to the role. So it was always something he would see some quality in you. And I'll never forget it. I mean, in hindsight, it was kind of a left handed compliment. He said, he told me, he told me years later, he said, When you first auditioned for Raoul, he said you, you came off as the biggest spoiled brat I had ever met when it worked really good for the role.

[00:07:58] Hugh: And I, he said that that was his thing, [00:08:00] but you know, that Raoul. would probably be completely different than Jay Armstrong's Raoul. Like he would see, Oh, that guy is, you know, heroic or is a natural protector, all these different qualities. And I loved it too in rehearsals. like, if he didn't like a moment, he'd say Nella, that moment in the graveyard.

[00:08:22] Hugh: You know, I'm not nuts about it. And you would say, well, what do you want me to do? And he said, I'm not going to tell you, I'm just telling you what I didn't like. So next time I come back, just do something different. So he would come back and he'd go, that's the stuff. That's like, that was like my favorite.

[00:08:35] Hugh: His, one of his favorite,

[00:08:36] Nella: that's the stuff. You've answered a question for me. What? About, because as a phantom super fan, which I am, I've seen it so many times, but first of all, it just speaks to. What a legendary, amazing director he was, but also, yeah, I've come out of some phantoms going, why is Raul such a jerk, but not always [00:09:00] you know, or sometimes he's like a little too, too much, too in love or too romantic, or sometimes he's not.

[00:09:08] Nella: And it's like, that answers the question that he was casting. You know, to make it interesting and to use the actors that he had and their qualities. Yeah. It wasn't cookie cutter. You're right. wasn't.

[00:09:20] Hugh: It easily just turned into like a boring leading man part and it never felt like that because he would always, do something a little off center and make it cool and again, in my, look, I'm probably, in my opinion, I don't know that there's anyone like him.

[00:09:37] Hugh: And I got, we all miss him like crazy. It's hard to believe that to me, he and Mr. Sondheim, they were like the last of the Titans. And you know, they don't make them like that anymore.

[00:09:50] Nella: So, you know, what's it like to play a part like that for that many performances and how did you keep it fresh for yourself?

[00:09:58] Hugh: It's interesting [00:10:00] and. It's not a hard question for me to answer as I talk about in my, in my show, you know, my mom and dad took me to the theater when I was 12 and it changed my life. I saw Andrea McCardle and Dorothy Loudon in Annie, the original production, and it was life changing.

[00:10:17] Hugh: And. Every performance, I just think, God, what if there is another 12 year old out there tonight? And I'm going to have maybe some sort of effect on their life. That is such a huge, huge, huge privilege. it was never boring because every single night it's different. And again, with someone like Hal, you were given parameters in which to work of course, you have to wear the same prosthetics and the wigs and the tuxedo and do the same blocking and sing the same songs.

[00:10:49] Hugh: But within that framework, there's always room for something organic. And we would always try to keep it fresh and no, no two performances can [00:11:00] ever. Be the same, nor should they be. I don't think we're not robots. You know, we're, we're living in humans. And to me, that's the joy of live theater is that you get to bring something new every night.

[00:11:11] Hugh: So it's just never been that difficult for me and I'm going to drop a name because I, so I got, I had a really amazing experience. I got to tour Europe with Ms. Barbra Streisand and. I'm literally in the middle of list. I'm doing I did the audio book. So I'm listening to it right now and it blows my mind to hear my idol talk about how eight shows a week was not her enjoyment factor.

[00:11:41] Hugh: She almost felt like it was, I don't know if she uses the word Prison sentence in the book, but something basic was like, when she signed on for funny girl, like another year, she was like, how am I going to do this every single night, eight times a week. And I think you're either built like that or not.

[00:11:58] Hugh: I never [00:12:00] looked at it as a prison sentence or anything. It always just felt like a new opportunity. To do something fresh and actually grow and hopefully be better. I mean, I can tell you, when I started in 1999 as The Phantom, and I was only there for six months before I left to do Martin Guerre on the road, and the person that played The Phantom in 1999, I was not anywhere near the person that I ended up, when I played it later, whether it was 2003 or, or whenever.

[00:12:30] Hugh: Because I had changed as a human being, you go through, you know, things like the death of a parent, a divorce, all of those things that inform the character, whether you want to or not, you are it's like in wicked for good. I have been changed for the better. You know, it's like you, impossible to stay the same.

[00:12:49] Hugh: You are forever changed by every experience that shapes your life. .

[00:12:53] Nella: Yeah, no, that's so true. And it's interesting because you know, you go to a show and sometimes friends [00:13:00] are in, or they're understudies are in and they come out and they say, oh, that show, oh, this was a terrible show. And you're like, no, it was awesome,

[00:13:08] Nella: And you know, there's always like somebody in the audience who it's their first time seeing a Broadway show or they didn't know that you were slightly off your blocking for that scene. You know, they just had that magical, magical feeling. But I love that. Yeah. I mean, I guess, you know, some people are just not, it's not their thing to do eight shows because maybe, you know, they think.

[00:13:30] Nella: They worked for perfection and it's never going to be, HFOs are going to be perfect. And so, it's interesting. I worked with a really, I won't mention the name of it, of kind of a famous director and she had done a lot of films, but she was also directing plays. And at one point. was really hard on the actors because every rehearsal was different.

[00:13:55] Nella: And at one point the leading man, who is an established leading man, just said to her, we're not [00:14:00] robots. This isn't a film. It's not going to be the same every night. And then once that was said, things kind of calmed down a little bit. But, I guess she felt a lot of pressure for it to be exactly the same, you know, or be the best that it could be.

[00:14:15] Nella: But, you know, they were going to react to the audience and there was, it was very complicated, but it's so interesting. I just remember him standing in the stage during rehearsal saying, we're not robots, which I love. That's exactly what you said.

[00:14:30] Hugh: Yeah. And you mentioned understudies, and I was just going to say of my most joyful memories are of understudies and swings going on for the very first time.

[00:14:40] Hugh: You never get that kind of spontaneity again, spontaneity. Let me put my teeth in. Spontaneity again.

[00:14:50] Nella: I love seeing understudies. I mean, I run to the theater. To cease understudies. You know, when Josh Groban was out and everybody was talking about how great the understudy was.

[00:14:59] Nella: So the [00:15:00] next time he was out, I ran and he was fantastic. And he's now the star of jelly's last jam at city center. So he is. A budding star that I can say I saw him do Sweeney Todd. Wow.

[00:15:12] Hugh: That's very cool that

[00:15:13] Nella: you got to see it. He was an understudy, but I mean, you could tell this man is going to be a huge star one day, you know?

[00:15:18] Nella: So, Phantom has been such a cultural phenomenon. What's it like to lead a show that's so entrenched in musical theater landscape and pop culture, even, and is there anything that audiences would be surprised to hear about, being in the show?

[00:15:34] Hugh: You know what, I think biggest surprise that I like to share With people is, I think a lot of people, I think, I hear the word spect.

[00:15:44] Hugh: Oh, it's such a spectacle and that I know what they mean, but it drives me a little bit crazy because actually at the core of it, the story is really profound. And the thing that affected me, the most playing the role were the letters that I [00:16:00] would receive and I actually would talk about this with some of my pals that played Elphaba.

[00:16:07] Hugh: Yeah. In Wicked, because a lot of the green girls got very similar letters like I received about bullying and how they were treated at school and that they really identified with these dis not disenfranchised, but these characters that Society had kind of discarded or written off as freaks and I, I don't know if they still make them.

[00:16:32] Hugh: I used to get my pants at Sears. They were called Husky Plus and they were for little chunky kids. And when you are a chunky kid. You know, kids are mean, they make fun of you. And that inner child was part of my phantom. So when I would get like letters from kids saying I just saw the show and I really understood your character and I'm going through this at school right now.

[00:16:59] Hugh: It's [00:17:00] powerful to hear from, I'm being honest, mostly. I say around between 10 and in their teenage years, you know, puberty on where things are just harder on kids and they see what Elphaba goes through and they see what Eric goes through in this journey think I did an article talking about the Susan Kay novel being my Bible for Phantom and a lot of the backstory in there Resonated with me and really was about his childhood and, you know, how his own mother couldn't stand the sight of him.

[00:17:34] Hugh: So she put a mask on him and that. So I guess my round long, long, long winded answer. It's really. To me, it's so not a and it's got gorgeous music and yes, it's got great effects and everything. But at the core of it is a story. You have Raoul and the Phantom and Christine has is in love with them both.

[00:17:57] Hugh: And it's so hard because one has [00:18:00] been given privilege. Raoul has been you. showered with nothing but privilege since the day he was born with his pretty face. And then Eric was shunned by his own mother and all of society for being born different. So I think Phantom's got a really deep message. So that's my take on it.

[00:18:20] Hugh: Love it.

[00:18:20] Nella: Love it. And I love that you use his name, which, you know, obviously as a fan of the story and the novels, I knew that that's his name, but I don't know if people really, I can't remember if that was in the show that he has an actual name. Does she call him by

[00:18:36] Hugh: his name? You know what? I don't, I'm trying to think there was never a point where we hear his name is Eric with a K by the way.

[00:18:43] Hugh: I

[00:18:43] Nella: know. I love it. I love that you. Well, obviously you would know that, but I love that someone who's not me knows that Phantom has a name.

[00:18:51] Hugh: Noah, these letters that I get from people, they refer to him as Eric and they [00:19:00] know, I mean, when I was in the show, I would always, you know, sign programs with my name and then the letters OG and only the real like.

[00:19:07] Hugh: Phantom fans knew what the O. G. was. And I, I didn't even have to ask. They would see the O. G. And they were like, Oh my God, you signed O. G. And you know, just little things like that kind of insider things. But if you've never read the Susan K novel. I recommend it to any phantom fans. It's magical.

[00:19:25] Nella: Fantastic. Yeah. So in addition to Phantom, you also starred in the first Broadway run and national tour of Les Mis, another iconic British mega musical. You even originated the role on tour after joining the Broadway company. So what was it like coming onto such a hit show and then bringing it across the country?

[00:19:45] Nella: I can't even remember. Like, I remember the mania around Les Mis when I was touring. I saw it in D. C., but I think it was, a couple of years into the tour. What was that

[00:19:55] Hugh: like? Well, I had already seen it on Broadway twice. [00:20:00] In fact, I was there a very famous day that Randy Graff was singing, I Dreamed a Dream.

[00:20:07] Hugh: And Fire alarms were kind of going off and they were evacuating the building and we all had to leave the Broadway theater and stand out on the street. And poor Randy Graff just kept, she kept singing her heart out and people were literally walking out and like, you know, fire, fire. And anyhow, we waited out on the street when we got the all clear sign, we all came back in and thank God.

[00:20:31] Hugh: They started right back where they left off and Randy got to, so I got to hear I Dreamed a Dream twice that day, but I had already been a huge fan of the album from London cause I just thought Michael Ball's voice was just the most beautiful voice I'd ever heard and Frankie Rafael. So I had my eyes on it from before it even came to America.

[00:20:54] Hugh: so I had seen it and twice, I think before I ever auditioned. [00:21:00] And I think that the cool thing for the people that were auditioning for the national tour is that we knew already the magnitude of Les Mis and. we knew we were part of something special on the very first day, I think, I think somebody, I think the first question was like, when can we order show jackets because you wanted to wear that show jacket all over the place, let people know that, that you are in Les Mis and, that first national tour cast was pretty, Darn magical um, yeah, it was, it was again, show

[00:21:36] Nella: jackets.

[00:21:37] Nella: What's happened to show jackets? Are we not cool anymore? Because like, they're not cool anymore to wear because I don't see them

[00:21:45] Hugh: anymore. I don't have, I, my rule of thumb Noah is I've held onto a lot of my stuff for about 10 years. And then after that, I usually sign it and donate it to Broadway cares for the big flea market.

[00:21:57] Hugh: I do have a few prize [00:22:00] possessions left in my, theater trunk that will make it to a Broadway cares eventually. But I have a pair of red point shoes from the red shoes signed by Julie Stein and Stanley Thomas. And Margaret Illman, who was the star of the show and they, I haven't been able to part with them yet.

[00:22:19] Hugh: I've got a Marius coat and some phantom boots and I might just have a mask, but I'm not supposed to say. A mask.

[00:22:27] Nella: How wonderful. Lovely. Oh my goodness. Well, you Valjean. Bye. Bye. At the Muni, right? With, was that with Norm Lewis?

[00:22:39] Hugh: Yeah, the very first time I got to do it was actually a concert version and that was with Brian Stokes Mitchell as Chaver.

[00:22:47] Hugh: That was the first time out. And Michael Arden, Michael Arden was Marius, and Nicola Ferrer was Fantine. And that was a, just a concert version. We know you stand at the mics and you, we, we [00:23:00] were costumed, but then I got to do it at the um, Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, which is my hometown, and my mom and dad were still alive at that time.

[00:23:09] Hugh: So that was a really big deal to see, as they say, you know, Gavroche says, the pup grew up. Well, to see their son that they had seen play Mariath play Jean Valjean, so it was a full circle moment. And then, yeah, one night after Phantom, I was having drinks with Richard J. Alexander, and he's like, I'm directing Full on production at the Muni and I'd love you to play Valjean.

[00:23:32] Hugh: How do you feel about that? And I'm like, are you kidding? Yes. And then he said, and who would you like to be your Javert? And I'm like, you're kidding me, right? I'm like, duh, Norm, my brother from another mother. So it was Norm Lewis and we had the best time.

[00:23:45] Nella: Dream

[00:23:46] Hugh: cast. Oh, my God. We never messed.

[00:23:48] Hugh: We never, even though we're like really good friends, we never broke character. We never messed around when we were on stage. We really, it was all about doing the work and then we'd have fun off stage. But that was, that was great. [00:24:00]

[00:24:00] Nella: Love it. Love it. You were in the U S tour of Martin Tanguerre, which never made it to Broadway, but I, I saw it in the UK.

[00:24:09] Nella: You know, heartbreaking that just that's the business we live in, right? Some shows just don't come in. The show was really notable for powerhouse singing. I mean, that was the show I remember. And they had cast incredible voices, both on the tour and in London. So do you think musical theater has changed since the 80s, mid 90s?

[00:24:33] Nella: I mean, you know, we talked about Phantom, you know, the spectacle or part of it that people talk about, even though the story I think really is, like you said, is what draws people in. But it also people forget that it was the first of its kind. Like, you know, we take that for granted now, but musicals were not the costumes and, you know, the effects that just was so groundbreaking at the time.

[00:24:57] Nella: And I think for a little while, [00:25:00] shows were trying to replicate that success and give the audience what they wanted, which was like these emotional, huge productions. So do you think musical theater has changed? You know, do you think, We're going to see that era come back

[00:25:14] Hugh: or. I hope so. I do think musical theater has changed.

[00:25:18] Hugh: I always describe Les Miserables and the Phantom as the mother and the father of the British mega musical. I guess technically we could say Cats was there first, but Cats was kind of like the, the first step into that and then Les Mis and Phantom just sealed the deal and then of course Miss Saigon.

[00:25:37] Hugh: and Martin Gare and you had Pirate Queen Jane Eyre, all of these other shows that followed but didn't quite do the same thing that, you know, Les Mis and Phantom did. and again, no disrespect, but then you have, like, the jukebox musicals. Which a lot of them, I mean, who doesn't want to go see Stephanie Block and play Cher?

[00:25:58] Hugh: I mean, come on, please. I know. [00:26:00] And or does Stephanie Block do anything? and then in the midst of that you've got light in the Piazza and you know, and then bridges of Madison County. So. Yes, I think, I think musical theater has changed and then you get a Dear Evan Hansen or a Hamilton and these groundbreaking shows, but then amidst that, while all that's going on, you have Sweeney Todd resurrected.

[00:26:21] Hugh: So, I think, I hope, Nella, I hope there's room for everybody and I hope we don't get to that jaded place where we think there's only one way to do it. It's, it's tricky, but finances have changed and corporations are running a lot of things. So it's very hard, to get maybe smaller productions on Broadway.

[00:26:46] Hugh: It's a labor of love Do you think

[00:26:49] singing

[00:26:50] Nella: has changed, like the sound? It's interesting. I was talking to Kate Baldwin and she said, they don't make parts for legit Sopranos anymore. So she, she kept saying, you know, [00:27:00] I don't work as much, which to me is crazy because her voice is so beautiful.

[00:27:04] Nella: But I wonder if that's true for the male voice as well. Interesting.

[00:27:09] Hugh: So I just was singing with Oklahoma City Symphony, which was magnificent. And one of the gentlemen that plays in the orchestra his son. Is a friend of mine and I actually did a show with his son so he's kind of like my adopted child as well and his dad was saying that his son was feeling the same thing that you expressed from Kate that, you know, he's got this beautiful, beautiful, legit tenor.

[00:27:38] Hugh: Baritone, you name, he can sing anything, but it's a very, you know, legit sound. And a lot of times his feeling is that that is not necessarily something that is being cultivated right now in a lot of the shows, whether it's a rock show or just a pop sounding, you know, thing or rap or whatever. So. I think it's valid, [00:28:00] but again, I sure hope, I sure hope that that doesn't mean that it's, done forever.

[00:28:05] Hugh: I'm hoping that there will be a return to, you know, in the Italian, the bel canto, the, the beautiful singing. And the pendulum has swung maybe in a different direction, but hopefully it'll, it'll swing back too. I don't know. my barometer now for seeing a lot of Broadway shows that are new is do I have a friend or loved one in that show?

[00:28:28] Hugh: Because otherwise they're so expensive now it's hard to just, you know. I grew up in Philadelphia and I used to cut class, didn't tell my parents, but I'd cut class, take the train from Philadelphia to New York and go to TKTS and get half price tickets, pay cash. And I'd see dream girls.

[00:28:49] Hugh: I saw cheetah in the rink with Liza and all these amazing shows for like maybe 25, maybe 40 tops. That's [00:29:00] affordable. But you know, I think it was, no, no disrespect, but I think it was the producers that was like that first. It was the first premium bank ticket. Was it not? Yeah. Yeah. Like crazy. And I even remember from playing Raul, like when I used to do house seats for friends and family, I don't think they were more than $50 back then that, of course, that was like 1991.

[00:29:20] Hugh: So yeah. As Christine says, things have changed, Rowell.

[00:29:26] Nella: They have, but they unfortunately outpaced inflation. So it's But, we're in a labor heavy industry, so people want to get paid and we want to pay them, you know, you're on Broadway, you should be at the top of the economic scale across theater, but it's still, and, you know, marketing has changed.

[00:29:43] Nella: Like even, you know, we're in the marketing department. Michael and I, and you still have to do all the stuff you used to do, but now you also have to do a lot of video, a lot of digital not as much of the old stuff, but it, it doesn't mean that digital replaced everything. You're [00:30:00] still having to create out or you're still having to do all of that.

[00:30:02] Nella: But now there's added expense of constantly doing content and video. So yeah, it's, it's even on the marketing side, you know, the costs are much more and you get less for your money. But yeah. somehow musical theater finds a way, right? We've been predicting the death of theater for over decades and oh my gosh, somehow it's still that that can perseveres, that can, because people

[00:30:25] Hugh: want stories.

[00:30:26] Hugh: We need it. And also. It made me happy just again, in Oklahoma, just recently, there were so many young people that came up to where I was signing my CDs, and it gave me hope that, you know, the next generation, they're going to the theater. They're keeping the live arts, you know, alive. And it's so important because it really does.

[00:30:48] Hugh: It sounds like a bad bumper sticker, but it really does change lives.

[00:30:52] Nella: Absolutely. No, totally. Well, let's talk about your upcoming concert. It's celebrating the release of your [00:31:00] album, which was recorded at 54. What inspired you to record and release an album?

[00:31:07] Hugh: Well, I had always wanted to do an album. And again, I spoke with Julie James about this, but for so many years, I think I just felt.

[00:31:17] Hugh: The pressure of, like, what does that mean to do an albums? A lot of my friends would just put, like, random songs on a disc or their audition songs. And, I wanted it to say something, or maybe I was afraid that it wasn't going to be good enough. I don't know. But then, the lady I mentioned before, Nita Whittaker, who was Fontaine in my very first Les Mis when I did it with Stokes she said something really profound when I was agonizing over, you know, like, what do you, what, what was it?

[00:31:45] Hugh: What, what should I say? What does it say? And she so gently just took my hand. She said, baby, all it has to say is that you were here. And that really was the most grounding thing to hear just so [00:32:00] that when we are no longer on this planet, that there's something that someone can listen to and go, Oh, he was here.

[00:32:06] Hugh: this is what he did or what he loved. That's

[00:32:09] Nella: just like the phantom. Oh my God.

[00:32:12] Hugh: If you hear this Thank you, Nita Whitaker. I love you. so when I knew we were When I knew I was performing at 54 Below I personally love live albums. Like, if you listen to Judy Garland live at Carnegie Hall, there's nothing like it.

[00:32:30] Hugh: You hear milk pops and peas and, you know, oh, and all, and, and cracks and things. It's not perfect. And it's very easy nowadays to go into a studio and produce something that's so tweaked and perfect. And I just love the reality of live recording. So we recorded both nights and we were going to see which came out better and use, you know, let's say if music of the night was better on night one, we would use that, let's say.

[00:32:56] Hugh: But we had such a crazy journey [00:33:00] because the hard drive apparently, I don't know how much, do you know this whole story? The hard drive I don't. Well, the hard drive that contained my show, both night's recordings the files became corrupted. I don't, and I don't know tech technical jargon, so I might be misspeaking, but the files became corrupted and they couldn't access them on the hard drive.

[00:33:20] Hugh: So, God bless 54 below. They started working with some tech experts, trying to save the files. And it was not going well. And they, then they tried another person who was attempting to save these corrupted files. And finally, Nella, it took almost a full year. Some computer genius was able to salvage tracks from the second night.

[00:33:47] Hugh: The first night was pretty much ruined still. And It was a miracle because we had hoped to have the album out within like six months of the show and celebrate it. So what was supposed to be maybe six months [00:34:00] took over a year. So it's a small miracle that we were able to give birth to this album.

[00:34:07] Hugh: And then there's a song from Lestat that I do in my show that Elton John wrote for me when we were in production. And I recorded that, and because Lestat has never been released or published, we couldn't get a mechanical license, so we had to rethink that, and we were even going to maybe name the album that, so we had all these hurdles kind of thrown at us, and the final kicker Richard Jay and Nellie Beavers, who are helping, and just magnificent on this album were helping with the final finishing touches, and we were told that we had a release date of February 14th, okay, and Then comes New Year's and I get a phone call.

[00:34:53] Hugh: We don't know what happened, but your album went live. It's on all the streaming platforms. Oh my goodness. So it just was [00:35:00] like this. It's one of those things it's a, it's an, it's a lesson and you can't control anything. And so it's out and finally, we're getting to celebrate 54 below the scene of the crime Where it all started.

[00:35:13] Nella: Oh my goodness. I had no idea about all of this drama. I don't, they don't, I obviously, I don't get involved in, things like that or didn't hear about it or was out of that loop, but I had no idea. So it's a small miracle, but I mean, I've been listening. It sounds amazing. Well, that's

[00:35:32] Hugh: really good.

[00:35:34] Hugh: Michael Moritz, everybody that worked on this. What I love is exactly what we were talking about. You can tell it's live. You can hear The tinkling of China or glassware. You can hear my brother, Norm, yell something at me at one point you hear the audience comments and things and literally hear intakes of breath and.

[00:35:58] Hugh: all the things that make [00:36:00] it exciting. And I just love, look, I'm not going to lie to you. There are a few places that I, if I could have gone back and fix something I would have, but I'm going to tell you what they are because most people that are listening won't know, but I hear it and I go, Oh, wow.

[00:36:15] Hugh: I was a little, I had a little frog in my throat or, Oh, that was a little, that could have been better. But again. What I love is it's truthful and authentic, so it's

[00:36:25] Nella: such a wonderful album. Thank you. Hopefully people will listen to it. Let me just mention your director for the concert and the album was Richard J.

[00:36:33] Nella: Alexander, a Broadway legend himself. Can you tell us like you met him? Early, right? During Les Mis or earlier. I don't, I don't even know how has your collaboration, come

[00:36:44] Hugh: about. So Richard J in conjunction with John Caird were the directors of the first national company. And then I, of course, when I came to Broadway, he was there as well.

[00:36:57] Hugh: And. We've kept in touch over the years, [00:37:00] and he of course directs Barbra Streisand among many other divas, and I got to go to Europe with Barbra, with Michael Arden, and Peter Lockyer, and Sean McDermott, and that was another thing, and then By dumb luck, so I was doing a version, not the show that everyone's going to get at 54 Below on March 6, but I was doing a version of my cabaret show in Palm Springs, and I got a phone call or text saying, Hey, it's Richard Mark Sendroff and I are coming to your last show tonight.

[00:37:35] Hugh: And Noah, I freaked out a little bit. I panicked because he's a really tough critic. And I thought, Oh my God, I hope he doesn't hate this. And I was really nervous. And he came backstage afterward and was so gracious and kind as was Mark Sendroff and said who directed this? I was like, nobody, me. And he said, well, you and Joseph.

[00:37:59] Hugh: [00:38:00] Falcon, my MD, he said, you guys are really magic together. And I would like to direct you if you have any interest. And that is how it all started with Richard J and Mark Sendroff. We went out for hot dogs, had a little dive afterwards, and it started from there. And he doesn't mince words.

[00:38:19] Hugh: There was a song I was doing. And we laugh now, we call it the dog song. I'm not going to tell you which idea, but anyhow, he's like, so why are you doing, why are you doing the dog song? And I was like, well, you know, I love dogs. He goes, okay, not specific enough, not good enough. He said, you have a career.

[00:38:35] Hugh: This has to be tailored to things that are meaningful and relevant. And that's what he helped me do. He trimmed all the fat. so whatever people are seeing again, I want to just go back to the A word is authentic. Yeah,

[00:38:50] Nella: he has such a magic touch to, to know what I love about Richard is when he puts material together and directs that he gives the people what they [00:39:00] want, it's good.

[00:39:02] Nella: He doesn't, you know, lower the bar, but he makes the artists give the people what they want. And then everyone's happy. The artist has beautiful art and, songs that are gorgeous and in a varied repertoire, but also he doesn't forget about the audience. And that's so important, I think, especially, you know, people pay a lot of money to see entertainment and they could be doing anything else.

[00:39:26] Nella: And so, we have artists at 54 that come and they specifically don't want to do their hits or the things that they're known for.

[00:39:34] Nella: But I just can't imagine the riot that would happen at the club. If you or norm. Didn't sing

[00:39:44] Nella: So like, you know Richard is very aware of that he's like, okay We got to give them one thing and then you can sing what you want to sing But we got it like do right by the audience too, and I so appreciate that as the marketing

[00:39:56] Hugh: director oh my god, I could not agree more [00:40:00] and he's very smart and One of the things he suggested to me initially which I kind of raised my eyebrow, I was kind of like, really, I don't think so.

[00:40:10] Hugh: He's like, trust me on this. It is one of, if not my favorite track on my album. Can you guess what it is?

[00:40:18] Nella: Oh gosh, I don't know. They're all so

[00:40:19] Hugh: good. It's something I've never, it's not from a career thing, but it was something that I really thought, how can I sing one of her songs? The Strikes End. Oh yeah, yes.

[00:40:30] Hugh: You Don't Bring Me Flowers. Yes. I love

[00:40:33] Nella: that. I just listened to it a few minutes before we started talking

[00:40:37] Hugh: and I was struggling in work sessions with Joseph Falcon. And I remember getting on a zoom with Richard. I'm like, I'm, I don't think this is going to work. And he directed me and he kept, he kept saying, this is what you need to do and kept stripping stuff away.

[00:40:51] Hugh: and it became, and it's still one of my favorite things. So see, this is what I'm saying. you can learn every time you go out on stage. Yeah. It's a [00:41:00] learning experience. So

[00:41:02] Nella: yeah. Well, congratulations, the show coming up and the gorgeous, gorgeous album, which people have to listen to Hugh, do you want to tell people where they can get the album or

[00:41:12] Hugh: listen?

[00:41:12] Hugh: I would love to thank you Nella for the shameless self promotion. So, okay. So there are no spaces. It's Hugh Panaro dot here now. So H U G H P A N A R O dot H E A R N O W dot com. Awesome,

[00:41:35] Nella: awesome. Well, we won't keep you longer because we know you're singing, you know, later. But thanks so much for your time today.

[00:41:42] Nella: We're so looking forward to having you back. So, in front of everybody. We're so excited. I already have my tickets. So there's not a lot of tickets. If you're listening, please get your tickets now and help you celebrate his brand new album, Man Without a Mask on March 6th at 7 p. m. [00:42:00] It was wonderful talking to you.

[00:42:01] Nella: I'll see you in person soon. Thank you. And everybody listening at home. Thank you so much for listening. We hope to see you soon in Broadway's living room.

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