In the first of a series of interviews with the cast of the new Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey musical If/Then, which is about to open at The National Theatre on November 5th, Jason Tam introduces us to the show, the character he plays, and the songs that have been written for his character.
Joel: How did you first get involved in If Then, and why did you want to be part of this production?
Jason: I was asked to do a developmental lab about a year ago, and said ‘yes’ as quickly as I could take a breath. For one, the creatives behind this show – Brian Yorkey, Tom Kitt, Michael Greif, and David Stone – are a theatrical dream team! Then there’s the all star cast, all of whom I’ve admired and listened to on cast albums for years, and until now only daydreamed of working with. And finally the piece itself excites me! It’s modern, and original, and full of twists and turns.
Introduce us to your character and how you relate to him.
I play David, a pediatric surgeon, who’s yearning to start a family of his own. He’s a very grounded guy, with a great job, and the house of his dreams, but he knows he won’t truly feel complete until he finds someone to share his life with.
What is If/Then about from the point of view of David?
For David, If/Then is about struggling to maneuver his hesitantly romantic partner toward full commitment. It’s also about finding and cultivating unexpected friendships that grow into a beautiful, unexpected kind of family.
What songs have Tom and Brian written for you and what do we learn about your character when you sing these songs?
In “The Best Worst Mistake You Ever Made” the audience gets to see David simultaneously charm and threaten his partner into moving forward in their relationship! The song is born out of feelings that have been brewing for months and is the moment that I think the audience will understand how much having a family means to David.
“What Would You Do” is a bittersweet ballad honoring love, and all the complications that come along with it. The audience gets to learn how David calms a storm.
How would you describe Tom and Brian’s score and lyrics?
There are composers who write complex music that I appreciate, but that’s – shall we say – not the most enjoyable to listen to. Then there are others who write memorable tunes that are easy on the ears, but at the cost of being predictable. Tom’s songs manage to be the best of both worlds – totally unexpected, yet totally hummable!
Brian’s lyrics are sneaky ninja stars of awesomeness! They manage to make huge points about society and human nature, but in a completely unobtrusive way, all while telling the story that needs to be told. They reflect swirling, inner contradictions that make for the most interesting of characters. His words are shockingly honest, and refreshingly unsentimental.
What are some of the challenges you have had and are facing learning your role and how has Director Michael Greif helped you to solve these challenges?
Michael’s great at distilling what a scene or moment is truly about. Like most actors I tend to over think things, and with just a few words, Michael can focus the tumult inside of head and heart into a clear course of action.
David’s a supporting character in this piece, and as an actor that can be tricky sometimes because I don’t have as much text as a main character to work off of, telling me what and who David is. Michael’s great at planting seeds of thought that help me create a fully formed, three dimensional character, while still remaining in service to the beautiful story that Brian wants to tell.
When did you begin rehearsals and what has surprised you or impressed you the most during rehearsals?
We began rehearsing September 9th in New York and on that first day there was a presentation where Mark Wendland showed us a diorama of his set design, and even though it was just a miniature mock up, it still made my heart quicken. The real set that we’re rehearsing on now is obviously even better! It’s a gorgeous, never-been-seen-before work of art in and of itself that I could just sit and stare at for hours.
What other roles that you have played before remind you of your character and other characters in the show that you are not playing?
David is unlike any other character I’ve played before which was one of the many reasons I wanted to do it. Anthony Rapp’s character Lucas is a liberal activist which makes me think of Xander, a character I played last year in Lysistrata Jones.
Why do you think National Theatre and DC are a great venue and theatre town to premiere If/Then?
The list of Broadway shows that have had their out of town trials at the National Theatre is astounding, and I’m honored to be added to that history.
Theatre in DC is flourishing! I think it’s second only to NYC in terms of theatre options. So what better city/venue to premier If/Then!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing If/Then at National Theatre?
I hope audiences leave If/Then feeling excited about their own lives, at peace with the decisions they’ve made, and hopeful about their future yet to come.
If/Then plays from November 5th to December 8, 2013 at The National Theatre – | 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 514-3849 (ETIX), or visit the Box Office, or purchase them online.
Jason Tam’s website.
Introducing the Cast of ‘If/Then’ at The National Theatre-Part 2: Jenn Colella by Joel Markowitz
Introducing the Cast of ‘If/Then’ at The National Theatre-Part 3: James Snyder by Joel Markowitz.
New Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s ‘If/Then’ with Idina Menzel to Stop at National Theatre on DCMetroTheaterArts.
‘If/Then’ Video Released-Begins at National Theatre on November 5th on DCMetroTheaterArts.
DCMetroTheaterArts coverage of If/Then.