You may recognize Olivier Award-nominee Jared Gertner from his role as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon, since he was in the show on Broadway, in the First National tour and in London. Perhaps you know him from one of his many other theatre roles, or from his guest appearances on shows like Supernatural or Marvel’s Agent Carter. Even if his face doesn’t ring a bell, you’d probably recognize his voice from extensive voice acting in things like American Dad and Family Guy. In any medium, Jared is a consummate pro, so it’s no surprise that the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) asked him to lead their latest “Performing with the Pros” event.
This weekend Jared, along with students from OCSA’s Musical Theatre Conservatory, will present an autobiographical “evening of music, stories and fun.” Before reliving the highlights of his career on stage at Santa Ana’s Margaret A. Webb Theatre, Jared made time to talk to us about the show and the life that inspired it.
Leona Laurie: How did OCSA lure a big Broadway star like you to Orange County?
Jared Gertner: Oh, that’s a very nice thing for you to say. Well, I live in Los Angeles now, and I’ve known about OCSA for quite some time. I had a lot of friends at NYU who had gone to OCSA, and I have a lot of friends from the Broadway community who graduated from OCSA, because OCSA turns out little Broadway babies.
LL: That’s definitely what they’re trying to do!
JG: They’re amazing, so I’ve always known of their reputation. And last year, Scott Barnhardt started as the director of their musical theatre program, and Scott is one of my best friends in the world. We’ve done five shows together, including The Book of Mormon. We were both in the original company.
Last year, when OCSA was doing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is a show I had done on Broadway, Scott asked me if I would be willing to come down and work with the students, do a workshop and tell them about my experiences with the show. I got to see the show also, which was really exciting, and I fell in love with the school and with the students. So this year, when Scott told me about Performing with the Pros and asked me if I would ever be interested in being a part of it, I said yes without a minute’s hesitation.
LL: What do you have planned for the show?
JG: The way they sort of pitch it to you when you’re the pro is that you’ll use the show to tell the story of your life, of your career, how you got where you’re going. So many of these kids want to walk the same path that we walked, so we all tell them sort of how we did that.
Rather than just go through my professional career, I start all the way back in childhood, because I was like the students at OCSA. I was a kid with a very sure focus of what I wanted to be. I started performing when I was six. A lot of the first act is actually getting to Broadway, and then at the end of Act One, I do a number from Spelling Bee, which was my first Broadway show. Act Two is my life since being on Broadway the first time, and how that changed my career, and what it allowed me to do.
LL: Very cool.
JG: It’s been a really nostalgic experience. I didn’t realize that that would be so much a part of what this would be for me. Teaching songs and dances from shows that I’ve been in, some that I was in 10 years ago, to these students has been really exciting. It’s been like a really beautiful trip down memory lane.
LL: I don’t want you to give away all of your material, but would you be willing to tell me what your path from high school to Broadway was?
JG: Yes. I graduated high school, and I went to NYU, to Tisch School of the Arts, and studied theatre. When I graduated I started working pretty quickly, which was really nice. I was able to join the stage actors’ union within a few months of graduating college.
I bounced around all over the country doing tours and regional theatre, and finally in 2005 I auditioned for Spelling Bee. This was when I was at a time in my life when I was just auditioning for every single thing, so if they were looking for Latina girls who could twirl the baton, I was like, “I’ll go give it a shot.”
For Spelling Bee it said they wanted young, energetic, funny people, and I thought, “Okay.” And I went in, I auditioned and it took seven callbacks and six months, and I finally booked it to go out of town. I did the First National company of Spelling Bee for a year on the road before they asked me to come take over on Broadway, and then I got to do the Broadway show for just over a year, playing William Barfée, the role that Dan Fogler had won a Tony for.
The Book of Mormon came into my life in 2010, and that was the thing that launched me forward, so that was the big moment.
LL: What are you doing when you’re not working on the OCSA show?
JG: I just finished a play in Pasadena that’s part of the Lythgoe Family Panto, which is Nigel Lythgoe‘s family. They are bringing British panto to the United States, so I’ve been working with them the last two winter seasons doing British pantos in an American style.
I’m also teaching a lot. I teach vocal performance and song interpretation, mostly for kids 14 to 22, so right in that pocket of these OCSA kids.
And then T.V.’s been really fun. I did an episode of Mom last year. Supernatural, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Two Broke Girls, Modern Family… I’ve been doing a lot of that. I was in the movie Smallfoot, which came out not long ago, and I have a film coming out called Nightmare Cinema, with Mickey Rourke.
LL: Oh, golly. Did you actually work with him?
JG: I did not.
LL: If you’re already teaching workshops on acting, coming to OCSA must feel very natural. What did you want the experience to be for the kids involved?
JG: I didn’t want to do a show of just me singing a bunch of solos and the kids oohing and ahhing behind me. I put a lot of duets and trios and quartets in from shows I’ve done that require us all to be together singing. That was important to me, because I wanted to look them in the eyes on stage and act with them, not just have them as my backup.
What I see in these kids at OCSA is a pretty amazing ability to learn very quickly, make big choices and retain information. Because this is something that they’re doing in addition to their regular schoolwork, their regular shows and things they have to get done for school and scenes they’re working on in class, their attention blows my mind. I was talking to one of the students the other day, who’s about to start at NYU in the fall, and I told her she’s so far and away past where I was at that point, because she’s already working at a professional level at OCSA.
LL: What do you especially hope people will get when they see the show?
JG: If they enjoy what I do, that’s great, but I am featuring a lot of these students very prominently. I’ve given out a lot of solos, even whole songs to a couple of them, and I would really love it for those kids to have an amazing, supportive audience out there to see what they’re doing, because they’re making magic.
I’m also doing some numbers from shows that are not as popular as Spelling Bee or The Book of Mormon. I’m doing several numbers from Ordinary Days, a show I did Off-Broadway, which is probably the thing I’m most proud of in my whole career. (There’s a cast album available for that show.) I would love for people to come learn about that. I’m doing some songs from a show called Band Geeks that was Broadway-bound but never quite made it there. So there’s a chance to learn new music– it’s not just going to be a run through of songs that you already know. There’s going to be chances to learn musicals that maybe you haven’t heard of before.
Performing with the Pros with Jared Gertner has two performances at the Margaret A. Webb Theatre in Santa Ana, CA, this Friday, February 1, and Saturday, February 2, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available now at BoxOffice.OCSARTS.net.