A Broadway star-studded happy hour hosted by The Glass House Tavern was held on Sunday, August 3, with special guest bartenders Erik Altemus and Colin Cunliffe of Pippin the Musical. For one hour all tips received were donated to the Broadway charity Equity Fights Aids. The rest of the cast came as patrons to support the cause and their leading men, and amazingly were joined by the entire cast of Once the Musical, who gathered to bid a farewell to their own Brandon McGibbon, who gave his final performance with the musical that afternoon. “It’s time to go back to Canada,” he said. I’ve been away from home for too long.”
Cunliffe arrived ready to sling cocktails, wearing an unbuttoned, open shirt with Pippin-burlesque-style makeup and a top hat with a large feather on it. “What’s the best cocktail you make?” his first costumer asked him. “Beer,” he answered. The man ordered a margarita, which was made by the waitress—though in Colin’s defense he did hand it to the customer, but not before taking a large drink of it first. “Oh yeah, don’t worry—it’s good,” he said.
Altemus came in a few minutes later, running in and around behind the bar frantically, wearing normal clothes with a top hat that looked about two sizes too big, making him look like a 6-year-old playing dress-up. “Is this hat ok?” he asked Cunliffe, who then took it off him and threw it under the bar. “I’ve never bartended before,” he warned the crowd. He was acting a bit nervous, and more than once I found him biting his hands.
It’s hard to believe that someone as good looking, talented and accomplished as this man could have insecurities about anything, especially having just come off stage playing the lead role of Pippin, standing in for Kyle Dean Massey. Altemus’ usual role of Lewis was portrayed by Cunliffe that afternoon. Erik, now clean-shaving for the role, once told me it takes him three days to grow the full mustache his character is now famous for, and in between he has to wear a fake one, which he says he hates because it makes it harder to sing and talk. But he does it, and he does it fantastically. I was lucky to get a few words with him, even in the crowded bar.
What’s one thing no one knows about you, that you want people to know?
Altemus: Let me ask my best friend. Hold on. [He goes to the end of the bar and speaks with a gentlemen, then runs back to me excitedly.] Oh yeah, I eat a lot.
Can you clarify?
Altemus: A lot.
Like junk food?
Altemus: Not junk food, but I mean I eat a lot. I devour food! I’m like an animal. No, try to understand, when I say a lot, I mean A LOT!
For those who have not seen the musical, Pippin is a show within a show, and essentially the actors are playing actors, playing a character. As such, every actor in the revival was asked by the production team to create a character’s name and back story.
What’s your actor’s name?
Altemus: Clyde. Like Bonnie and Clyde.
Though it is not said in the show, Altemus more or less is playing a character named Clyde who is playing the role of Lewis in “The Life and Times of Pippin,” the story within Pippin.
What’s the back story to Clyde?
Altemus: He watched his family burn to death in his house.
I was not prepared for such a dark answer. But Altemus explains that he needed something very strong to justify the acting exercise.
When you say family, who do you mean?
Altemus: His mother, father and sister. And he just watched them burn in the house, and there was nothing he could do.
How old was he?
Altemus: 16. Then he joined the circus, and the leading player took him in. That’s why he follows her.
She’s a mother figure.
I found his passion for this unknown character quite thrilling and awe-inspiring. He went on to say:
Altemus: It really justifies the ending, which can seem so vicious otherwise. But with all he’s been through and all he’s seen, it’s really not. And he’s only following the lead player.
These powerful statements will forever change the way I view the grand finally of the show, and certainly Altemus’ portral of Lewis.
This being your first Broadway show, what would you say is the biggest life lesson you’ve learned since the time you started?
Altemus: Biggest life lesson? Wow, let me think. There’s been so many great ones. Life lessons, life lessons…
He’s suddenly distracted by Cunliffe taking a drink from his margarita. “That’s mine, bitch!” he screams. “Sorry, bitch!” Colin screams back. I found this playful back-and-forth between the two hilarious, especially being right in the middle of such a serious moment with Altemus philosophizing his life and how much he’s grown. “Sorry, where was I?” he asks.
Biggest life lesson.
Altemus: Discipline. Just for what it takes to be in a show, and being an understudy, having to always be ready to go on at any moment. It’s great.
Admittedly, after a few margaritas and everyone buying shots for the house every five minutes, things got a little silly. Cunliffe started teasing Altemus about having had to teach him how to pour a beer properly, and after Altemus was finished making a few funny faces, Cunliffe thanked him for being there with him and give him a kiss on the cheek.
“Oh, hey, that’s cute,” I said. “Let me get a picture of you giving him a kiss!”
“For $5,” Cunliffe said.
“I already gave $5.”
“Give another! It’s for charity!”
You call kissing Altemus a charity? Oh, wait, that’s right, I suddenly remembered it was for Equity Fights AIDS.
“Fine, but then you’ve gotta make it a really good photo,” I said. “Something my readers want to see. Kiss on the lips.”
“$10,” Cunliffe negotiated. I throw my money on the bar like it was burning my fingers. Altemus kept quiet through this whole transaction, but went along with it no problem – until after they kissed, and then he screamed, “COLIN, WHAT IS ALL OVER MY FACE?” having forgotten that Cunliffe was wearing about half a pound of makeup.
“Don’t feel bad,” I said. “I made the two jocks from Heathers the Musical kiss on the cheek and cuddle when I interviewed them. And they did it for free.”
This was never my intent, but boys will be boys, and I have to give the readers what they want. “You have a way with men, Rene,” Cunliffe said.
Thanks for noticing. And for that we shall end with some wise and sage advise from the clown himself: “GO SEE-PIPPIN!”
See Pippin the Musical at Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. in Manhattan.