Let's be real, you either love or hate Broadway shows. There is nothing in between. If you are in the former it's likely that you have heard of Norm Lewis. He has taken on roles in Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago. Now he is touring as a cabaret singer and swinging by the Columbia Club this weekend. We had a quick phone chat before.
NUVO: How did you get started singing?
Norm Lewis: I started in the church … it was just a right of passage basically. My dad was a deacon. My grandfather was a preacher so I kind of had to be in church. Being in the choir was a social thing anyway. In my particular church there wasn’t an audition or anything like that. If you wanted to sing you got up and did it. Some people could and some people couldn’t, but we tried to make a joyful noise every Sunday.
Lewis: It’s been a really great transition. It’s different skill sets. It’s the same intention but it’s a different skill set as far as execution. So I love going back and forth. When I did Scandal I was very lucky because I was still doing Porgy and Bess on Broadway, so I was going back and forth. I would go and shoot what I needed to shoot in Los Angeles and do the rest of week at Porgy and Bess. So I would fly to L.A. on a Sunday night, stay as long as they needed my then fly back and do Porgy and Bess.
NUVO: How do you recreate classical characters as your own or do you try and be as true as possible?
Lewis: I do both of those things. … There are a lot of times when things can almost be robotic and you can still get away with it. In the case of Javert in Les Mis the music is so staccatoo and he is a very stern character. If I just got up there and sang the music it would still work because it’s written so beautifully. The way the music moves it tells the story anyway. But I wanted to actually delve deeper and study the words and find out more information about who this character was. … I would try and use it as a monologue instead of sining it. In fact that was one of my exercises. … from there I found a new depth to it. It gave me a lot of subtext.
NUVO: Any dream characters that are on your acting bucket list?
Lewis: I have been lucky. I have gotten to play a lot of guys that I wanted to play. One that comes to mind is I would love to do Harold Hill in The Music Man. And maybe one of these days I will get to explore that one. I am looking forward to seeing some new projects out there that would fit who I am and who I can fit into.
NUVO: What is the hardest part of Broadway?
Lewis: The hardest part is making sure that it is fresh 8 times a week. You being able to physically handle all of that material in that amount of time. You want to make that first show and that last show be just a good because it’s a new audience every time. So there is discipline with that. Phantom was actually the most challenging show I think I have ever done. And physically, vocally, emotionally I was pretty diciplined for 9 months. I just did the show and went home. I didn’t do much talking during the day. I watched what I ate. Not that I am a big drinker, but I didn't drink at all for 9 months.
NUVO: If I were to pull out your iPod (do people still use iPods?) what would you be listening to?
Lewis: I have a slight crush on Beyonce right now.
NUVO: Don’t we all.
Lewis: The new Michael Jackson album. I also go back to the classics and listen to Johnny Mathis, who is my favorite singer of all time. I will listen to Renee Flemming. I love some DJs in the house music reealm. I am across the board. It depends on the mood I am in at that time. Whitney Houston is one of my favorite singers. … You could find anything up in there.
NUVO: When was the last time you were in Indy?
Lewis: I think I stopped by on my way to Kentucky. We stopped to visit some friends that lived here. It wasn't long at all.
Where: The Cabaret at the Columbia Club
Aug. 28 8 p.m. Aug. 29: 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m.