George Salazar has, at the time of writing, approximately 176,000 followers on Instagram. Not that the size of an online following necessarily has any bearing on someone’s talent. In Salazar’s case, however, what has become his signature song, ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ from Be More Chill, gained a reputation on social media strong enough to propel the musical to the off-Broadway stage and then Broadway itself. Representation matters greatly to Salazar, who repeatedly referenced shows he had been in as well as those he had seen that were heavy on multicultural and diverse casting.
It’s relatively rare to see someone in concert quite so invested into each and every song: Salazar sings anything and everything from ‘Beautiful City’ from Godspell to the musical theatre concert favourite ‘She Used To Be Mine’ from Waitress as if his life depended on him giving it his all. He does this without coming across as overdoing it, trying too hard, or being too hammy – it’s the right balance between being highly expressive, stamping his own authority on showtunes, and retaining an aura of familiarity with which musical theatre audiences can latch onto.
Not that he wants everything done conventionally: a 2019 production of Little Shop of Horrors in Pasadena, California, was significantly reimagined. Bizarrely, when he was auditioning for the 2011-12 Broadway production of Godspell, he was told he would not be called back but then later received a callback, and ended up in the show after several gruelling rounds of auditions. This concert’s host, Seth Rudetsky, thought the audition process for that production was beyond ridiculous, with Salazar (as well as others) being asked to come up with a parable (Godspell being full of them, being based on St Matthew’s Gospel) amongst other things that did not appear to be directly related to making a judgement call on who would be the most appropriate actors to be cast in a show.
Regular viewers of The Seth Concert Series might have reason to think they have heard almost all there is to hear about on-stage mishaps, but Salazar freezing up during Godspell on Broadway is on another level. As he was sweating profusely, the microphone attached to his body stopped working, and so he was quickly supplied with a handheld microphone to get him through to the interval. The subsequent scene required some choreography changes he wasn’t prepared for (as one arm was effectively out of commission, being used to hold a microphone), and having lost his place in the show, he faked a heart attack. The performance went on without a show stop as the stage manager was sharp enough to have figured out what was going on.
Salazar’s original career ambition was to go into medicine, his mother having worked as a nurse. At some point during high school, he decided he would rather study musical theatre, and therefore did so, at the University of Florida. He felt his ethnicity went against him when it came to casting for student productions. Perhaps inevitably he feels the theatre industry still has a lot of work to do “to make theatre more accessible”, and on a more positive note, he opens the new season in June 2021 at 54 Below, a famed New York cabaret venue. A broad and varied set from an earnest and enthusiastic performer.
Review by Chris Omaweng
George Salazar (performing May 30) is best known for playing Michael Mell in Be More Chill (garnering a Lucille Lortel Award, two Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards, and Drama Desk & Outer Critics Circle Award nominations). He was most recently seen as Seymour in the critically-acclaimed Pasadena Playhouse production of Little Shop of Horrors. Other NY theater credits include Godspell (2011 Bway revival), The Lightning Thief (Drama Desk nom.); tick, tick…BOOM!; Here Lies Love. TV: Superstore; Nancy Drew; Bull; Divorce. Albums: Two-Player Game, Be More Chill, The Lightning Thief, The Jonathan Larson Project, Godspell.