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Paul Pilcz - Marlboro's Gleek
06/27/2010 - By Teja Anderson
Photo by McKay Imaging (mkayimaging.com)
Paul Pilcz is wowing them on the Great White Way
It’s hard to pinpoint where it started. Was it with the huge success of Disney’s High School Musical or was it with the growing popularity of hit reality TV shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars? Whatever the reason, America is singing and dancing again and our country’s youth is experiencing a renewed passion for musical expression and storytelling. One of the hottest shows on TV is FOX’s GLEE, a musical comedy for the aspiring underdog in all of us where a teacher takes a high school Glee Club from obscurity to fame, while helping a group of awkward students realize their true star potential. Parents are spending more money than ever on dance, voice and drama classes to satisfy their children’s stage-lust. Here in New Jersey and throughout our country it couldn’t have come at a better time, as school budget cuts are slashing away at our already floundering music and art departments. Broadway also is seeing a surge in numbers from that elusive younger demographic, the teen and pre-teen audience, as children drag their parents into the city to see musicals, many with former reality TV stars showing up in lead roles.
Living in Marlboro sat down with our very own teenage and Broadway star, Paul Pilcz (pronounced Piltz) over lunch at the SaladWorks on Route 9 in Marlboro to learn about his life and his musical theater career. Paul, who will be turning twenty this October, is the son of Betty and Fred Pilcz of Marlboro. This delightfully sunny, cherub-faced young man credits his parents, his years with the Marlboro Players, his education at both Howell High School and Montclair University and his time spent auditioning in New York City with helping him realize his childhood dream of debuting on Broadway in the role of “Harvey Johnson” in the 2009-2010 revival of Bye Bye Birdie. Not only did he get to work alongside one of his childhood idols, John Stamos, but he had Gina Gershon as his “Secret Santa!”
LIM: Are you in fact a Marlboro native?
PP: Actually, I was born in Brooklyn and lived there until I was four. I don’t really remember it except that I had a tiny bedroom and a walk-in closet. But it feels like I’ve lived in Marlboro my whole life and I am happy here.
LIM: Do you have siblings?
PP: I have an older sister, Stephanie who is 24 and she just got engaged. I can’t wait for the wedding. He’s a really cool guy and he’s going to be good for her. They live in Jersey City now which is beautiful! They really built the place up nice. And I have a younger sister Shari who is 18 and she goes to Montclair State University.
LIM: That’s where you are going…
PP: That’s where I went for the 2008-2009 school year. Then I took the fall of 2009 off to do Birdie.” Then this past semester I was at Brookdale, but I’m going back to Montclair in the fall; I’m all registered and everything. I’m in the BFA Musical Theater program there. That’s scary - just going back to school.
LIM: So was it good to take a year off?
PP: Oh my God, yes! But it’s great there, I love it. They focus a lot on dancing, which is what I need most. I need singing and acting lessons as well but I never took dance classes when I was growing up because there was the whole ‘boys don’t dance’ thing.
LIM: Is your strongest point singing?
PP: I would say so - my singing and acting. The high school I went to - Howell High School and the FPAC program there - had a phenomenal acting curriculum. Stephen Kazakoff was our acting teacher and I will never forget the training and the things I learned from his classes. I still use things now on auditions.
LIM: Can you give us an example?
PP: In scene work, and I have to say they didn’t even do this in college, but in high school we did this thing called “four column analysis” where you take every line and then put it in the four columns which are, your objective, what you want, what you are doing, and you write it out. It helps you so much in scene because you know exactly what you want and why you are saying each line. You learn how to make a choice. My teachers in college also say that - make a choice, make a strong choice and stay with it. If it doesn’t work and you fall on your face that’s okay. At least you made a choice.
LIM: When did you make the choice to become an actor?
PP: When I was eight I played Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at my Hebrew school. My Mom was like, “Do you want to do this?” and I was like, “Sure! Why not?” I did the show and fell in love with theater. My fourth grade teacher at Frank J. Dugan Elementary School in Marlboro, Donna Ogle, came to see me in that show and encouraged me to do community theater with the Marlboro Players. I did Charlie Brown and Gypsy with them when I was a little kid and then kept going…took voice lessons, went to Howell High School…got all my training there. I started auditioning professionally when I was pretty young.
LIM: What sort of things were you auditioning for?
PP: A lot of commercials, TV, not a lot of Broadway at first. The first thing I ever booked was for Nickelodeon; it was for this watch that farted, snored, coughed and sneezed! The whole commercial was, we were these kids in school and the teacher bends over and someone hits the fart button and we all start laughing…
LIM: Did kids at school recognize you from that commercial?
PP: Not really. After Birdie I’ve gotten recognized on the street. It’s like so cool. Once I was standing outside a diner with my best friend Joey and this woman comes up and says, “Oh my God, were you guys in ‘Birdie’?” My friend says; “I wasn’t. but he was...” and she just started gushing and was so happy to meet me and that felt really cool.
LIM: Did she want a picture with you?
PP: Yeah. People don’t really even want autographs anymore; they just want pictures with their cell phones mostly.
LIM: Tell us about Bye Bye Birdie…what was it like working with John Stamos and Gina Gershon?
PP: I loved them! I loved them so much; they are such nice people.
LIM: And Bill Erwin; he is quite talented as well?
PP: He is a really nice guy. He can move his body in ways you can’t imagine. I mean, he is a certified clown. Between shows for the last three Saturdays we would all come back and hour early from lunch and we did this thing called “work light follies” which was sort of like a coffee house for the cast. Anyone in the cast that wanted to get up and do something could and Bill would normally do a comedy routine and he was just so funny, classic funny.
LIM: What about you? Would you ever get up and do something?
PP: Yeah, I did a couple things. I performed one of my original songs; I like to write music and I play a little piano and guitar. Then, as part of “Team Boys” we put together an arrangement of “Imagine” and for the very last one before the show closed we did N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Except we turned it into “Birdie Bye Bye” and made it about the show closing because it was sad and we tried to make it happy at the end.
LIM: Why do you think the show had to close after only a year?
PP: Ticket sales. They just weren’t what they had hoped. With John and Gina leaving ticket sales just dropped. We had a really big cast and the theater was all brand new; it was the Henry Miller which is now the Sondheim Theater. They spent so much money on the theater. I was the first one to use that dressing room, me and the five other guys. Apparently the only thing from the original theater there was the facade. The seats and bathrooms were brand new, the backstage, the fly space...everything was digital and automated and done with a push of the button.
LIM: Did anything ever malfunction?
PP: Yes. The way the stage was set up, there was a big treadmill to move people and scenery off and at the end of the ‘telephone hour’ number we are all inside these telephone booths and they were lined up on the treadmill and during one of the previews one of them must have gotten caught and they all started backing up and I almost got crushed! I had to jump out of my booth and run off back stage. But there was this one little girl, like tiny little girl in pigtails who was like 14, and she was trying to hold up all the phone booths until the stage crew got there and swooped her out before they all fell on her. It was scary.
LIM: Did the audience know what was going on?
PP: Yeah, they knew, they saw it. Afterward when I walked outside the stage door that day this one guy was like; (Paul uses a Southern accent) “Oh my God! Was that ‘pposed to happen? I saw you! You were just like I’m not even gonna help the ladies, I’m just gonna save myself!” [Laughs] He totally called me out on it.
LIM: It’s a good thing your parents weren’t there for that one…or were they?
PP: No, thank God. But my mom saw the show about 14 times and my dad saw it four or five times and my sisters saw it a bunch of times too. Luckily they all missed that show!
LIM: Is it different when someone you know is in the audience?
PP: No and yes. When you know someone is there you maybe try a little harder. When my high school came, in the middle of a big dance number the pack for my microphone clip must have broken or come off when I did this big turn move and the pack is orbiting around me, hanging off my hair, pulling on my hair, but I managed to grab it and tuck it back in. It was kind of cool that they got to see me troubleshoot, you know, deal with it.
LIM: Some pretty big names have come out of Howell High School; it has an impressive reputation. Have any of them ever come back to visit?
PP: Once I walked into rehearsal my freshman year for Lost in Yonkers and Kal Penn was sitting there in the acting room answering questions. That was pretty cool; I get really star-struck in front of anyone. You know Miranda from the YouTube sensation, “Miranda Sings”? She puts on this act where she sings flat, and really sucks but she’s actually really good…she came to see the show one night because she was in town doing a comedy show at Birdland. A bunch of the guys spotted her in the audience. It happened a couple times. John Goodman was there; I got to meet him. Kevin Spacey was just randomly in the audience, Kristen Chenoweth, Stephanie J. Block. The whole cast of Full House except for the Olsen twins. Bob Saget was super funny; I wish I had gotten more time to hang out with him. John (Stamos) is a really cool guy. I got really close to him during the show.
LIM: He was a regular guy? He didn’t demand any star treatment during his run?
PP: No! He is just a really nice, genuine man and he loves what he does. I mean the man probably doesn’t have to work a day in his life but he loves it so much. He did Cabaret and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Nine. People are always all surprised that he is on Broadway, but he can dance, he can sing; even on Full House, he sang, he was in a group. He loves it.
LIM: So you had a good time with him?
PP: He was a funny guy; he, Gina (Gershon) Dee, Neil, this crew guy Johnny would mess around on us during the show. Like this one big dance number they were always waiting in the wings and they would do something to make me laugh.
LIM: Like what?
PP: Like picking their noses…making random gestures…mooning me…
LIM: John Stamos mooned you?
PP: John Stamos might have mooned me once…I don’t know. I can’t say...
LIM: Did they succeed in making you laugh?
PP: Yes, plenty of times. I told him that I was going to get him back one day. So I found this photo on Google of these two cats…doing it. I put John’s face on the one cat that was…getting it and I put it in the prop book that they look at on stage in the first scene. Gina opens it for him like she is supposed to and she sees it but she didn’t break character, she never did for anything. She was always stone cold; you could never break her. But John sees it and starts laughing for a few seconds and then he gets right back into the scene. It was a whole debacle for a minute; it was really funny. We were all back stage watching and waiting for it. (Giggles)
LIM: It makes it more fun for the audience when bloopers happen…
PP: Exactly! It makes it original. They get to see something that didn’t happen last week, that won’t happen again next week. It’s unique to that performance, that they got to see. One of the characters, Nolan (in the role of Conrad Birdie) had a bunch of costume changes and he never had enough time so he would be running out on stage sometimes with only one shoe or his uniform not on quite right and there was nothing you could do but the audience loved it when that happened.
LIM: Did the audience - other than by being famous - ever distract you with ringing cell phones or what not?
PP: Not really. I’m just so used to it. I mean, it’s rude and everything but cell phones ringing at inappropriate times is such a part of life now. It happens in class, it happens during movies; I guess I am just used to it. But there was this one show when this woman was in the front row with this big, red fur coat and this huge red poof hat thing on her head. I walked off stage and was like, “I think this woman in the front row skinned Clifford and made him into a hat and coat!” I wanted to ask her after the show what she was all about but she didn’t stop by.
LIM: What is that like after the show at the stage door with all the fans waiting?
PP: It is so cool. You feel like a celebrity! Straight up, you feel so great. Everyone is there because they love you and they want your autograph and a photo with you. It’s all the theater groupies and I understand that. I’ve been one myself, I still am. I love seeing all the shows.
LIM: What was the first Broadway show you remember seeing? Did your parents take you into the city to see many when you were younger?
PP: Yes, we came in to see shows all the time. The first one I saw was 42nd Street. I was so young I barely remember seeing it. My mom took me in a lot. We are a big theater family. My sisters both used to dance growing up and all throughout high school. It’s something we always liked to do together. I just saw Mary Poppins with my sister a few weeks ago.
LIM: Is it different now that you have been on Broadway when you see a Broadway show; is some of the magic gone?
PP: Yes, it’s much different. Before I was just seeing the show. Now, I know everything that is going on back there. I know there are people back there doing their jobs and other people are maybe goofing around. It takes the magic out, but in a good way. I think about it now with movies, too. I’m thinking; how many takes did they need to get that shot? Or was that wall there the whole time? I haven’t done that much film and TV but I asked John, “Straight up what is the biggest difference between film and TV?” He told me it’s the process of film. You do a scene and then you wait for an hour while they break down the wall so they can get the same shot from a different angle. You have to keep everything the same, it has to match. That’s the good thing about theater. You don’t have to do it exactly the same every night; you can change it up. But in film you can’t change it. Plus there is nothing like working with a live orchestra. There is nothing compared to that in film. The money is a little different, too.
LIM: Still, you must have enjoyed that weekly paycheck from Birdie…
PP: Yes, I saved a lot of it. I did get myself a nice pair of headphones. I went to the Jay Z concert at Madison Square Garden. For my dad’s Father’s Day gift I’m chipping in for a trip to Baltimore with my Dad and my best friend and his Dad to see first the Yankees and then the Mets play the Orioles. Me and my Dad are big Mets fans and Joey and his Dad are big Yankees fans so it’s going to be a big rivalry. I’m trying not to spend the Birdie money; I’m renting a house off campus next year in Montclair so I will need to budget that money.
LIM: Besides college, any other big things in the works acting-wise?
PP: I just signed with a new agent, new management and I actually just booked two episodes on an HBO miniseries. I’m under contract so I am not allowed to talk about it. But I’m excited about doing that! I was on set for a day already but I didn’t really do anything yet.
LIM: What do you do for fun in the city?
PP: We go to the AMC movie theater a lot. Me and my friends we like to go to open mic night, coffee houses…stuff like that. This place Birdland on 46th Street on Mondays you can just walk in, pay your $10 cover and then you find the MC for the night and tell them you want to sing and when you get up there you give your music to the pianist and they can play it no matter what it is. I just did “Shiksta Goddess” which is a really hard song and they all knew it - the bassist, the drummer…I had a full band by myself at Birdland and it was so cool. What a cool thing to do on a Monday night in New York City! I have to do more of that!
LIM: Do you have a favorite song you use for auditions?
PP: Yeah. I’ve been using “Momma Says” from Footloose foreeeeever, like since I was 13, and it works! You just always need to know all the songs in your book when you audition, so I have a bunch of them ready.
LIM: Ever thought of going up for American Idol?
PP: Yeah, I would love to do American Idol. I went up for it two years ago and they told me I wasn’t good enough! But one of my friends, Nathan, got up pretty far. He got to go in front of Simon, Paula and Randy. A lot of the people do end up getting on Broadway even if they only make it part of the way and the people on So You Think You Can Dance end up in Broadway choruses. Even MySpace and YouTube can be a way to get famous and live the dream now.
LIM: What is the last website you visited?
PP: Probably StumbleUpon.com…it’s so cool. You click the ‘Stumble’ button and it brings up random cool stuff!
LIM: Have you lent your time and name to any charities yet?
PP: Yes, I perform cabarets with “Cabaret For Life” at the Shore. They raise money for lots of things, but mostly for people with HIV and AIDS.
LIM: That is wonderful! We wish you the best and break a leg again soon!
PP: Ha Ha! Thank you!
Follow Paul on Twitter, “Paul Pilcz” or check out his music on MySpace: www.myspace.com/paulpilcz
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