American singer-guitarist-actor Michael Cerveris (b. Bethesda, MD, 6 November 1960) has demonstrated extraordinary versatility as a performer, with parts ranging from Shakespeare’s Romeo to homicidal madmen in Assassins and Sweeney Todd, and from The Who’s Tommy to the German transsexual rock diva Hedwig in Hedwig & the Angry Inch. Cerveris himself has described his career as “schizophrenic.” He has gleaned many honors for his work on Broadway since 1993: the Theatre World for The Who’s Tommy (1993); Tony® nominations for the same performance (1993), the title role in Sweeney Todd (2006), the role of Kurt Weill in LoveMusik (2007), and the role of Juan Perón in Evita (2012); Drama Desk nominations for Sweeney Todd, LoveMusik, and Evita; and the Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his John Wilkes Booth in Assassins (2004). Although born in Maryland, Cerveris was raised in Huntington, West Virginia. Both his parents were musicians; his mother a dancer and his father a pianist and professor of music at Marshall University. They had met while attending Juilliard. Michael appeared in a university production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle when he was eight years old, studied the violin for a short time, and switched to the guitar at age ten, aiming for rock-’n’-roll fame. His last two years of high school (1977–79) were spent at the Phillips Exeter Academy, where he started a rock band and took a small part in a school production of The Comedy of Errors. In 1983 he graduated cum laude from Yale, where he had studied voice with Blake Stern. After graduation, he immersed himself in off-Broadway and regional theatre. In the course of ten years he appeared in nearly as many off-Broadway productions: Macbeth (1983), Life Is a Dream (1984), The Games (1984), Green Fields (1985), Total Eclipse (1985), Blood Sports (1986), Abingdon Square (1986), and Eastern Standard (1988). He visited various cities across the country, performing lead roles in repertory theater productions of classics like Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as contemporary plays like Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime. In 1986 he played a British rocker in the television series Fame, and later had guest roles on Quantum Leap, The Equalizer, 21 Jump Street, and Dream On. He also appeared in movies: Strangers (1990), Steel and Lace (a horror flick, 1991), Rock-’n’-Roll High School Forever (1991), and A Woman, Her Men, and Her Futon (1992). In 1992 Cerveris played the leading role in the premiere of the musical The Who’s Tommy at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. (Creator Pete Townshend was pleased enough to ask him to perform with him on his Psychoderelict concert tour). After 110 performances in La Jolla, Cerveris reprised the role at the St. James Theater for his Broadway debut in 1993 and again in the European Premiere in Germany, ultimately performing the role of Tommy 1404 times worldwide. Aside from a Tony® nomination and a Theatre World Award for Cerveris, the show won five more Tonys® and the cast recording won a Grammy for Best Original Cast Album. Cerveris’s next appearance on Broadway was as Thomas Andrews in Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s musical Titanic (1997), which won the Tony Award® for Best Musical (plus four more for book, score, scene design, and orchestration), and played for 804 performances. Taking a hiatus from acting, he played guitar with Bob Mould on the punk rock icon’s 1998 tour of the US and UK, documented on the singer’s 1998 Last Dogs CD. Returning to New York and the theater, Cerveris became the first person to play Hedwig after its creator John Cameron Mitchell in Mitchell and Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He then premiered Hedwig in Los Angeles before making his West End debut at the Playhouse Theater with Hedwig’s London Premiere in 2000. Back on Broadway in 2004, Michael Cerveris played John Wilkes Booth in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, and won the Outer Critics Circle Award as well as the Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. In the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, he not only appeared in the title role, but also played the guitar. He received the Drama Critics Circle Award and was nominated for the Tony®, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Drama League Award. He earned the very same nominations for his next Broadway appearance, as Kurt Weill in the musical LoveMusik (2007), concocted by playwright Alfred Uhry and director Hal Prince from the letters of Weill and Lotte Lenya. Over the next few years Cerveris focused more on “straight” plays, playing the Earl of Kent in King Lear opposite Kevin Klein in 2007, and making Broadway appearances in Cymbeline (2007), Hedda Gabler with Mary Louise Parker (2009), and In the Next Room (or, The Vibrator Play) (2009). He is back in a Broadway musical now as Juan Perón in Evita (2012), earning a nomination for the 2012 Tony Award®: Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, and for the equivalent Drama Desk Award. Among the many other venues in which Michael Cerveris has displayed his remarkable versatility and talent are New York’s Public Theatre (Sondheim’s Road Show, 2008), the New York City Center Encores! series (The Apple Tree, 2005), and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (A Little Night Music, 2003). In a March 2005 television broadcast Live from Lincoln Center he took the part of Giorgio in Sondheim’s Passion, a role he had sung at the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration in 2002 and at Ravinia in Chicago in 2003. His more recent films include Lulu on the Bridge (1998), The Mexican (2001), Temptation (2004), Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009), Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009), Meskada (2010), and Stake Land (2010). Still in production is Leaving Circadia (2012). On television, he has a recurring role as The Observer (“September”) in the FOX science fiction series Fringe (2008–2012). His mysterious character has appeared regularly in pivotal episodes of the series, and sometimes in actual events like the NFC championship game at the Meadowlands, a NASCAR race in Dallas and an episode of American Idol as part of a first season marketing campaign by FOX for the Fringe series. He also has a recurring role as music manager Mervin Frey in seasons 2 and 3 of HBO’s Treme in 2011 and 2012. Inevitably, he has been on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2001) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2007). Cerveris has performed extensively also as a musician and singer, without the (stated) acting component of musical theatre: he has played concerts at Carnegie Hall, the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (JazzFest), and Preservation Hall, New Orleans; he created and performed An Idea of South for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook, played the Broadway Cabaret Festival at Town Hall, and has toured the U.S. and the United Kingdom playing guitar with punk icon Bob Mould (The Last Dog and Pony Show, BobMouldBand: LiveDog98). His solo debut rock album, Dog Eared (2004) is on Low Heat Records, and a new Americana album, tentatively titled Leave The Light On…, was recently recorded in New Orleans. His country band, Loose Cattle, occasionally stampede about the country. He is no stranger to experimental theatre: Cerveris took part in a workshop production of the rock musical Futurity at Joe’s Pub, was one of the 48 actors who played “Father,” each in a different performance of an oak tree (2006), and early in his career was in Ping Chong’s The Games at BAM (Next Wave, 1984). He has also been a reader for the Selected Shorts series at Symphony Space.
– Lucy E. Cross, Michael Cerveris