A lot has happened for Great Neck native Adam Kantor in the past five years. So it seems apt that he's starring in a new, sleek, Off-Broadway revival of -- yes -- "The Last Five Years," a two-person musical that opened Tuesday at the Second Stage Theatre, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (who also directed).
The show is a humorous, heart-wrenching pop opera inspired by Brown's failed first marriage, with Kantor as Jamie, a novelist who finds fame too fast, and "Drood's" Betsy Wolfe as Cathy, his wife.
Kantor, 26, who now lives in Manhattan, also found success early. In 2008, he went straight from Northwestern University to starring on Broadway in "Rent." He's also appeared in "Next to Normal" and "Avenue Q" Off-Broadway.
Were you just visiting your folks in Great Neck?
Yes. It's lucky I grew up so close. I can get fresh air, some home-cooked food. See my family. The city can be suffocating sometimes.
I heard your first day of rehearsal was rather... interesting.
It was an unusual first meeting. Betsy and I auditioned separately, so our first day of rehearsal, we show up, and it's a photo shoot for the ads -- all of a sudden, we're thrust into these intimate poses, kissing, hugging, after literally first having met.
Not a bad first day.
Yeah. It's funny -- we have little stage time together. It almost feels like two one-person shows, and then we meet at one point. The concept is . . . we're singing or speaking to the other person -- they're just not there. They're imagined. We rehearsed everything with each other, so we'd know how the other person would react. It starts to feel like there are two people onstage. And Betsy is such a wonderful, nuanced actress. She gave me so much to work with.
What's been toughest so far?
Ironically, the most challenging part is what's closest to me -- there's a song, "Moving Too Fast," about early success. Jamie's a novelist with a book deal. He's trying not to get cocky. And in my case. . . .
You were shot out of a cannon right from Northwestern.
Yeah. I'd never acted professionally before. All of a sudden, I'm starring in "Rent," in this legendary show at the end of its 12-year run.
Is that why this is hard -- did you get cocky with "Rent?"
I think I stayed relatively grounded. No... with "Rent," I became a bit disillusioned. After it closed, I didn't work for a while. I was like... what's going on? Don't I get a movie now? I didn't understand how this industry works. How starring in this huge Broadway show is still just one gig. I had to work and work to get that next job. I'm glad I went through that. Now I'm grateful for any opportunity.
Tell me about Jason Robert Brown.
His music is so rich... I have an anecdote: At Northwestern, you're required to work a crew freshman year -- so I was on the costume crew for a production of "Parade," which he wrote. My job was to wash the cast's underwear after the show. Jason came to see it and talked to the cast. I was standing in the back of the house, holding everyone's underwear... thinking... "One day, one day I'll work with him." And now here we are.
What do you miss about Great Neck?
My friends and I loved this restaurant Café Classico -- they had this killer salad with grilled chicken. It closed. We say, "Aww, man, Classico, where'd it go?"
What was your first big role?
In community theater in sixth grade I was Mr. Mushnick in "Little Shop of Horrors," and I followed that with a legendary Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." I had great teachers -- Laura Stern, my high school drama teacher, and Jeffrey Gilden, who helms a program called STAGES, where you create a full-length musical from scratch. I soon began taking the train into the city, taking classes at Stella Adler. At 16, I became serious about it. I wanted to hone my craft.
Pretty cool of your folks to let you go into the city.
By the time I was 13, they were so open-minded. They let me take the train in by myself for classes and student rush tickets to shows. Other parents were saying to them, "Are you crazy? He's too young." But my parents let me do it. That was enormously influential.
And now here you are on the train again, en route to star in a show.
I know -- on the very train I'd take every weekend when I was 13.