In a series of interviews with the cast of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s (GMCW) production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, meet Michael Aylward.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers how long you have been in the Chorus and what the Chorus has meant to you. Also, tell us about one of the most moving experiences you have had since becoming a member of the Chorus.
Hello. Michael Aylward here. For the past 8 years, I’ve been making the trek from my home in Baltimore to Washington, DC to sing with this wonderful group. During those years, I’ve met some incredibly talented and devoted gentlemen. And what brings me back every year is the opportunity to perform with and more importantly, become friends with a unique group of individuals. Looking back, perhaps the most moving experience I’ve had with GMCW occurred on a performance trip to Cuba. The trip itself was fascinating because of the political climate at the time. But stepping outside of the politics, we had to the opportunity to meet and sing for, sometimes with some kind, beautiful souls. I’ll never forget signing at a senior retirement community to folks who remember life before the embargo and who look forward to a renewed relationship with the U.S. Needless to say, tears were shed from both groups.
Why did you want to appear in the GMCW’s production of How to Succeed? What did you perform at your audition?
Because of work conflicts, I’ve never had the opportunity to perform in one of our fully-staged musicals. But with a job change, this year was my chance. I’ve seen the show several times and was really curious how we would shift the focus to a gay production. For my audition, I sang “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls, hoping that the mix of tempos and range of the song would highlight what I can do.
Have you appeared in any other productions of How to Succeed, and if so, who did you play and how is this production similar and different?
While I’ve seen the show, this is my first production. In fact, I haven’t appeared in a musical since college, a long, long time ago.
How do you relate to your character? What do you admire about him or her? What do you despise about him or her?
J.B. Biggley is not a particularly nice man, I think, because he is inherently unhappy. He’s straight/closeted, white and entitled, and honestly, I remember what that was like before I came out. I wasn’t particularly happy then either, so I relate to who he is and have some sympathy for him.
How would you describe Frank Loesser’s score?
To me, the music in this show has a distinctive 1960’s Broadway feel, probably a little edgy for it’s time. While there are some beautiful melodies, there are also some songs that evoke the turmoil of the time. At least that’s what I hear.
What do we learn about your character when you sing your solos or duets?
Both of the songs Biggley sings are pretty revealing. I learned that his happiest moments are from the past and that while he wants to be happy in the present, he isn’t willing to take the risk necessary to make that happen.
Tell us about working with Co-Directors Thea Kano and Eric Peterson. What was their vision of the show and their vision of your character when you first began rehearsals? Has it changed? And was there something new about their vision that surprised you? or thrilled you?
What I’ve enjoyed most about working with Thea and Eric is their desire to allow us to collectively create the vision for this show. They certainly have ideas sketched out detailing their views, but they’ve also allowed us to express our own visions. I love their partnership in this process. As Thea looks at the forest, Eric sees the trees. And both views are so important for a successful show. Perhaps, that was what surprised me the most. As far as my character, they’ve helped me realize that Biggley has a heart, but it’s buried under years of unhappiness.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer-while working on How to Succeed?
Mostly I’ve learned that theater is hard work. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this and it’s harder than I remember. But I’m relearning the process and getting better at understanding the reasons behind the lines. I’m also reminded of how much I love doing this.
How has Musical Director Jason Sherlock helped you with your performance and vocally?
Jason is a truly gifted accompanist and now, I’m seeing what a great ear he has. He quietly listens throughout the rehearsal process and finds the little things that need to be fixed. With as many as 50 men signing some songs, I’m not sure how he does that exactly.
Why do you think How to Succeed is still so popular? What does the show have to say today’s audiences?
While this show is rooted in the past, the struggles of the characters, the secretaries, for instance, still exist today and speak across gender to sexual identity, race, and economic status. While it’s very tongue in cheek, the message is there.
How would you describe Craig Cipollini’s choreography and what dance was a bitch to learn, and why?
Luckily for me and for the audience, my character doesn’t really dance, although I do have some silly moves I hope the audience enjoys. I’m always a fan of Craig’s work. We have a core group of very talented dancers who carry the load, but Craig always manages to add movement for the general chorus that is manageable and effective. I suppose I always see a bit of Fosse in Craig’s work, maybe because I know he loves himself some Fosse.
What would you say to a young actor who is preparing to play your role in his or her school or university production?
Having watched our auditions for this show, I would say that anyone auditioning for a show needs to do their research. Know the show. Know the characters. Find an audition song that shows your talent but that also reflects a song/character whom you’d like to play.
If you could write a different ending for your character what would it be?
During the show, one of the characters gets demoted and transferred to Venezuela. I’d be okay with Biggley getting demoted and sent off to Venezuela with that other guy.
Sell the show in 15 words or less…
Imagine working in a very gay office. Come find out if any work actually gets done.
The Gay Men’s Chorus performs How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays March 10-12, 2017 at The Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (877) 435-9849, or purchase them online.