Tanglewood: Sunday in The Shed with George (Jason Alexander)
LENOX -- When Jason Alexander makes his first-ever Tanglewood appearance Sunday afternoon at 2 with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra, the occasion promises to be more than the mere crossover of an off-the-wall television character actor experimenting with a little song and dance on a leisurely summer day.
Career fame has its imbalances, and, of course, everyone of a certain wide age span is well acquainted with Alexander as the neurotic, esteem-deprived George Costanza, longtime pal of Jerry Seinfeld on the mega-hit "Seinfeld" television series.
Who: Jason Alexander with the Boston Pops. Keith Lockhart, conductor
Where: Tanglewood, The Shed, West Street (Route 182), Lenox
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $22 (lawn)-$121
Info: (888) 266-1200; tanglewood.org
But the pre-"Seinfeld" Alexander, né Jason Scott Greenspan, was a performer-in-waiting with a dream, who began his training to become a Broadway song-and-dance man long, long before television's biggest opportunity bloomed for him.
Rumor has it that as a lad, Alexander cajoled his parents into giving him voice lessons so that, as he put it, "I can train for my bar mitzvah," a notion of sneaky intention he corroborated in a telephone conversation one afternoon last week during a rehearsal break for a show he is directing in Los Angeles.
His first acting steps were taken in school, he also affirmed.
And the voice was carefully trained, it is obvious to anyone consulting the few YouTubes available with Alexander performances. Among the best is an even, well-placed, baritone timbre, heard on David Freedman's fervent ballad "We Live on Borrowed Times" intoned by Alexander at one of Jerry Lewis' muscular dystrophy fund raisers. Alexander delivers the message securely and persuasively along with the notes.
Alexander was a theater major at Boston University where he said he received extensive vocal training, but he departed after two years to act in what he described as a "B" movie and in a made-for- television film, "Senior Trip." But thereafter what appeared to be a big career break occurred when he landed the leading role in the Broadway production of the Stephen Sondheim / George Furth musical, "Merrily We Roll Along."
Sadly, the show closed after two weeks, but, on the bright side, provided him with visibility, and his stage reputation grew as he portrayed Tevye in a Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" and Pseudolus in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." In 1989, his proudest moment arrived when he was awarded a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in "Jerome Robbins' Broadway."
Alexander noted that although he is a classically-trained singer, he generally has not been called upon to use all the carefully developed and nurtured technique. "That's the interesting thing about my theater music career: I was always asked to play a rougher character; always in my Broadway career I had to alter my voice to do character voices."
With the Pops, Alexander said he has developed a program over two previous appearances elsewhere. "They do their thing for the first act, I do the second act, and then they close out the performance. My part of the show has a concept of all songs from the theater that have some sort of relationship to me, things I was influenced by.
"I tell a story about my fantasy of going back to Broadway after ‘Seinfeld' was over to play all the roles I missed. I am told by the producers that ‘these roles are not right for you' -- so absolutely wrong for me becomes a comical extravaganza."
With all matters finally settled the shows from which Alexander will deliver excerpts are "Merrily We Roll Along," along with "Pippin" and "The Music Man," a show he has never sung, along with a few surprises he refused to disclose in the interests of preserving the element of suspense.
The role of George Costanza on "Seinfeld" seems almost indelible in an individual. Alexander agrees, and said he has never tried to shake it away.
"Some people are going to spend the afternoon with George -- George has staying power, and that's very flattering," he said. "Maybe they say ‘I'm going to see George,' and it makes them equally happy."
Alexander is spending more times these days, he said, in cabaret settings and with symphony orchestras across the country. "It's joyous," he said. "There's nothing more joyous than singing when suddenly given 86 players."
Asked if any role might usher him back on the Broadway stage, Alexander mentioned "Sweeney Todd."
He appeared at Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday party in 2005, hosted by Barbra Streisand and Warren Beatty at Hollywood Bowl, joining Angela Lansbury for selections from the show.
"If they offered me ‘Sweeney Todd,' yes; ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,' not so much."
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