Since originating the role of Michael Mell in Be More Chill, wowing fans in the regional, Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions of the show, and garnering millions of hits for his deeply felt and profoundly affecting rendition of “Michael in the Bathroom” on YouTube, George Salazar has been a constant, and very welcome, presence on the stage, screen, and digital media, as well as in the recording studio.
In addition to his famous award-winning role in Be More Chill, Salazar’s musical theater credits include the 2011 revival of Godspell (his Broadway debut), Off-Broadway’s Drama Desk Award-nominated revival of tick, tick . . . BOOM! and The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical (for which he received a Drama Desk nomination), the second national tour of Spring Awakening, and regional productions of Broadway Bounty Hunter (in its premiere at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA) and Little Shop of Horrors (at California’s Pasadena Playhouse in 2019), and more. His rich and expressive voice can be heard on a number of those cast recordings, as well as on the albums of The Jonathan Larson Project and Two-Player Game, which he performed in sold-out cabaret acts at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Among the actor’s notable TV appearances was his recent recurrent role as Eric Sosa on the NBC comedy series Superstore, and during the pandemic closure of live venues, his virtual presence was felt through his digital series Sundays on the Couch with George, as agent Maxwell Fernsby in the Broadway Podcast Network’s hilarious soap-opera podcast As the Curtain Rises, and in a number of online special guest appearances, including The Seth Concert Series with Seth Rudetsky and The Stonewall Inn Safe Space Concert earlier this week.
Later this month, he and long-time friend and collaborator Joe Iconis will reopen Feinstein’s/54 Below after the fifteen-month pandemic shutdown, with a new incarnation of their popular cabaret concert Two-Player Game, playing six in-demand shows from June 17-24, at 7 pm. I was delighted to get to catch up with George (on the phone, not in the bathroom) from LA, prior to his return to NYC for rehearsals and the highly anticipated run.
- What was your reaction when you saw that tickets for Two-Player Game were selling out immediately?
George: That was a bit of really nice news after fourteen months of being trapped in my home, wondering if anyone would even remember us! It was a kiss on the cheek and a hug that we haven’t had for a long time.
- What do you love most about returning to your home-away-from-home at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
Being in a really intimate space; sharing art in such a close space. With the ticket price and the food and drink minimum, we know that everyone spending the money really wants to be there, and I’m thrilled to be looking them in the eye.
- What’s the most fabulous thing about working with the fabulous Joe Iconis?
Joe is one of the most trusting collaborators I’ve ever worked with, and I think I’m trusting, too. We almost read each other’s minds and look out for each other, so I always feel safe and taken care of with him. When artists feel safe, they do their best work.
- What’s the most memorable response you’ve ever gotten from an audience member?
After the show in our initial run of Two-Player Game, we would do a two-hour meet-and-greet out in the elevator bank with the audience. A kid came up and said they had a lot to say, so they would move to the back of the line rather than delay the others. When they got up to us again, with their parents, they asked them to leave while we talked. They told us about their mental health journey, in and out of the hospital for instances of self-harm, but then discovered the Be More Chill album, which made them feel okay with who they are and being unapologetically themselves. What more could you ask for as an artist? It helped me to find my purpose: to create and to empower.
- Since you got to perform your dream role of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, is there another role or show that now tops your must-do list?
Yes! I want to do Sunday in the Park with George so badly! I did it in my senior year of college and I had no business doing it at that age, but now I’m older and I have experience in the theater and with the complexities of juggling art and life.
- Are you more like Seymour, Michael Mell, or Maxwell Fernsby in real life?
I think I’m a nice blend of Seymour and Michael. I’m nothing like Maxwell, which is why I had so much fun playing him, but I’m a healthy blend of the other two.
- What’s your all-time favorite song to perform – the one that you never tire of singing?
“Song of the Brown Buffalo” by Joe Iconis, from The Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical. It’s an out-of-body experience; when I sing it, I feel like I’m possessed by Oscar Acosta, who the song is about.
- What’s your all-time favorite song to listen to – one that someone else performs?
Jason SweetTooth Williams doing “The Goodbye Song” from Be More Chill. I literally could listen to it every day and never get tired of it.
- Now that you’re living in LA, what do you miss most about NYC?
I miss being able to sing anywhere and anytime with Joe Iconis and the Family. In 2019, he did a Lincoln Center American Songbook concert and I couldn’t make it back to sing with him. I watched it online and cried through the whole thing – so that Family is what I miss the most.
- How would you describe yourself in three words?
Organized, tidy/neat, and driven.
- If you had a carnivorous plant, what would you name it?
Audrey III. I drive a black Jeep and I named it Audrey.
- Do you always have your pants on when doing podcasts and no one can see you?
Yes! Hahahahahahaha. From the beginning of the pandemic, I refused to be a meme.
- If someone wrote a sit-com about your life, what would it be called?
Left Turn, because my whole life and career have been a series of not making the right turn – they’ve been one happy accident!
- What is it about live theater?
Spontaneity, magic; yeah. As an audience member and an actor, it’s the honor and privilege of being a part of that one night that will never happen again. You could try to recreate it, but why? It’s forever just that moment; it’s special.
- What do you love most about being famous?
I really don’t consider myself famous; Beyoncé is famous. But I will say that I’m happy when people like my work. It makes my parents proud; they sacrificed so much. My Dad works at a theme park in Florida, and we have the same name. When people hear that, they ask if he’s related to me, and he says proudly, “He’s my son.” It makes him happy, and it makes me happy that he’s so proud of me.
Thanks, George, for taking the time to talk, and mostly for your amazing talent and all of the outstanding entertainment and compassion you provide. It’s always a pleasure.