Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

An Actor and His Musical Move in Parallel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

An Actor and His Musical Move in Parallel

Article excerpt

Actors needn't be showy to make a vivid impression.

For the last decade, Michael Esper has quietly been getting noticed, mostly off-Broadway, in an impressive range of roles: envious aspiring playwright, debonair Hungarian journalist, lonely gay son, rock-and-roll star.

The slender, boyish-looking performer typically grabs your attention through the sense he gives that there's more to his character than what you see, that there's a depth of intelligence, thoughtfulness, sensitivity.

Even as his visibility has been growing, though, the plum role he's gotten this season is a surprise: He's the leading man in a major Broadway musical, "The Last Ship." (Now in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre, the show opens Oct. 26.)

"It's really thrilling," said the 37-year-old Esper, who grew up in Montclair. "I always sang; I sang in bands. Music was always a huge part of my life. I never thought I was suited for musicals, though. But a lot [of what producers and directors are looking for] has changed over the years; [singing] styles have changed."

This is actually Esper's second Broadway musical. In 2010, he co- starred in the rock-score "American Idiot," but that was as one member of an ensemble cast.

In "The Last Ship" it's his spotlight, as he plays a character based on the show's creator, Sting, who also wrote the music and lyrics.

Esper portrays Gideon Fletcher, a man who left his home, a shipbuilding center in the northeast of England, at the age of 15, and has returned at 30 - amid a time of economic upheaval -- for his father's funeral.

"Gideon's a dreamer and a fighter," said Esper.

"He left to make something of himself, but when he comes back, he rediscovers his home, and what he left behind.

"I didn't grow up in a town with a shipyard, but I can relate to a lot of what he experiences."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Esper experienced his own kind of round-trip journey. …

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