In Part 3 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, James Snyder introduces us to 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?
James: I came late into the whole process; most of the leads had done a reading or a workshop over the few years the project has been around. I was supposed to do the last workshop, but my wife was so pregnant I couldn’t be away from her (we live in LA the workshop was in NY). I thought that that was the end of me being a part of this amazing project, sure enough they had me audition when it came around to the DC and Broadway production. The audition went well, and here we are!
Introduce us to your character and how you relate to him.
My character is Josh. I’m an Army surgeon who has just returned from his second tour in Iraq and is ready to have the next part of his life begin. He’s spent so much of his life managing what he doesn’t want, now that he’s met Elizabeth he knows exactly what he does want, and that is a life with her.
It’s funny the parallels to my life; Josh is from a small town in Nebraska, and I grew up in a small town outside of Sacramento (south of Folsom Prison by about 15 miles). Even the women we love are kind of similar in some ways – my wife is from LA and like Elizabeth (Idina’s character) is much more Cosmopolitan. The things he loves about her, her drive, her intelligence, and her vulnerability under a strong exterior are just a few of the many things I love about my wife.
What is If/Then about from Josh’s point of view?
It’s about destiny and true love. It’s about accepting the gifts that fate puts in front of us. For Josh, It’s also about healing. He wants to love his family the way he was never loved as the son of an abusive alcoholic.
What songs have Tom and Brian written for you and what do we learn about Josh when you sing these songs?
I think we learn in my first song “You Never Know” that Josh is not a guy with pretense. He is honest and straightforward, and not in a simple one-dimensional way. He is just a guy who has seen some horrible things in his life and is clear about who he is and what he wants. My other favorite song of Josh’s is one that we get to take with him as he approaches having a child and all the fears and hopes that he has. Having a 9-month old myself it was pretty easy to recall all of those feelings and fears.
How would you describe Tom and Brian’s score and lyrics?
They have written some amazing songs in this show. I just shake my head at this score and how honest and heartfelt this score is. It’s contemporary musical theater at its finest.
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?
Josh is so grounded and straightforward – it’s been fun exploring how his honesty can disarm Elizabeth. It has been a challenge though to find his affability without feeling like he was henpecked. I think we found that balance in a quiet and unconditional understanding for Elizabeth and her ever busy mind.
When did you begin rehearsals and what has surprised you or impressed you the most during rehearsals?
We started a few weeks ago and I have to say Idina has been the most impressive thing in this process. She is not only carrying this show, she is a mother. She has been awesome to work with, down to earth, super sweet, thoughtful, and such a raw and honest actor. I’m a huge fan. I mean I was before, but to see her work in person is an absolute treat.
What other roles that you have played before remind you of your character and other characters in the show that you are not playing?
The song I sing “Hey, Kid” reminds me of Billy’s Soliloquy moment in Carousel, which I just played at the Goodspeed Opera house in Connecticut, but Josh’s similarities end there. I don’t know if I’ve played any characters like the others in the show. They are so rich and specific, it’s really hard to say that I’ve played these types of people. A lot of the characters are in their late 30s, which is a category I’m a little new to.
Why do you think National Theatre and DC are a great venue and theatre town to premiere If/Then?
DC has such a great reputation as a theater town. So many great things come through here and out of the scene here that as far as new ground-breaking musicals go, DC is a perfect fit. As far as The National Theatre goes, this show seems like an intimate musical but the set design, lighting, and technical elements have so much impact that it takes a space like the National to make that vision possible before we head to Broadway.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing If/Then at National Theatre?
If/Then is a musical about possibilities, choices, and love. If the audience takes something with them I would hope it would be that this life is what you make it, and there is power in that. We are always just one twist or turn away from a whole new set of possibilities we never knew existed, and in the face of mediocrity or even worse – tragedy. If we are listening, and sometimes even if we are not, an immense love will always be there waiting.
JAMES SNYDER (Josh) has been seen on stage and screen, notably in Broadway’s Cry-Baby, for which he received a Drama League Award nomination, and recently as Billy Bigelow in Goodspeed Opera House’s production of Carousel. His additional theatre credits include Johnny Baseball at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Fanny at New York City Center, Broadway: Three Generations at The Kennedy Center, Rock of Ages (Los Angeles, Las Vegas), Oedipus the King, Mama (Troubadour Theater Co.), Happy Days, The Fantasticks (Sacramento Music Circus), Hamlet, Sneaux, Oklahoma!, and Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes. On television, he has appeared in Blue Bloods, Drop Dead Diva, CSI, Without a Trace, Cold Case, Gilmore Girls, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, among others. James’ film credits include She’s The Man, An American in China, Anderson’s Cross, Shuttle, Pretty Persuasion (Sundance Film Festival), and the upcoming indie film, Meth Head. His solo album, L.A. Curse, is available on iTunes and www.jamessnyder.com.
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.
James Snyder’s website.
Introducing the Cast of ‘If/Then’ at The National Theatre-Part 1: Jason Tam by Joel Markowitz.
Jason Tam’s website.
Introducing the Cast of ‘If/Then’ at The National Theatre-Part 2: Jenn Colella by Joel Markowitz.
Jenn Colella’s website.
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.