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Concert preview: Broadway star to play 'Mountain Stage'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the chance to play the storied theater of your hometown pops up, Michael Cerveris says you just do it.

Sunday night at the Keith-Albee, Broadway star, musician, film and television actor and former Huntington resident Michael Cerveris returns to Huntington to play "Mountain Stage."

Outside of New York theater, the 51-year-old is probably best known as The Observer, a character on Fox's "Fringe." He's also appeared in several films, including "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," "The Mexican" and "The Vampire's Assistant."

In theater circles, the Tony Award winner is known for his extensive work on the New York stage, including starring roles in "The Who's Tommy," "LoveMusik," and Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and "Assassins." He currently appears as Juan Peron in the revival of "Evita," opposite Argentinean actress Elena Roger and Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin.

Cerveris himself is pretty amazed by his professional journey, which sometimes takes him all over the world, but he still sees West Virginia, where he grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, as home -- more so now, maybe, because of New Orleans.

During the filming of "Cirque du Freak," Cerveris began spending a lot more time there. After the film was shot, Cerveris began dividing his time between New York and New Orleans.

"Once I left West Virginia, I spent most of my time in the Northeast or London or Germany," he said. "But I really hadn't been back down south for any substantial amount of time until I started going to New Orleans."

Being along the Mississippi delta and driving back and forth from New Orleans to New York, Cerveris said he was exposed to music and culture like he hadn't been before.

"The road trips back and forth sort of reminded me of growing up in Huntington," he said.

Cerveris said he'd been looking for a reason to come back for a visit, and the "Mountain Stage" show was a perfect fit. Not only was it the right show in the right place, it happened to come at exactly the right time.

"We just happened to have the day off from 'Evita,'" he said. "I just jumped at it."

But Cerveris said he wasn't really expecting to perform selections from his Broadway career, which might be a little disappointing to theater fanatics. Instead, he'll mostly be sticking to his own music, which will probably sound very different than a Broadway show tune.

Beyond his numerous stage and screen acting credits, Cerveris is also a musician on the side. Not only does he sing, but he plays guitar and has performed in several bands, including alt-rocker Bob Mould's (Hüsker Dü) band. He also released a CD of his own, "Dog Eared," in 2004.

A follow-up is in the works.

"I've been recording at a studio in New Orleans with a bunch of my friends down there," he said. "We'll finish sometime in early May. We don't have a release date, but hopefully in the summer."

Cerveris said his music is a kind of alt-rock/alt-country blend or Americana.

"We do a lot of country covers and countrified versions of noncountry songs," he said. "My stuff is kind of an American South version of Nick Drake with a little Elliot Smith thrown in. It's more mellow, less rocking."

They also do plenty of his material.

"And we try to not take ourselves too seriously."

Cerveris added he'd been in bands where everyone was very, very serious.

"In some of those bands, we worked very hard and took it all so seriously," he said. "And it was fun, but sometimes all the effort of getting to the gig got to be so tiring that when we finally played the show, it wasn't so much fun anymore."

His current band, he said, is called Loose Cattle. The name is taken from a road sign Cerveris saw hanging on the wall of a barbecue restaurant in New York.

"The place is decorated with road signs from the South and Southwest," Cerveris said. "And this one sign advised people to watch for loose livestock, but I kept misremembering it as 'loose cattle.'"

Either way, he thought it was funny.

"It nicely captures the vibe of our slightly shambolic kind of way we rehearse and play."

Cerveris is looking forward to bringing a version of this band with him to "Mountain Stage" to play for his hometown.

Unfortunately, he acknowledged that he wouldn't have much of a chance to look around, revisit old stomping grounds or check up on former classmates -- he has only Sunday off and members of his band have other jobs. His fiddle player, he said, is with The Red Stick Ramblers from Louisiana, and it's going to be kind of a rush getting everybody into Huntington and slapping together a quick rehearsal Sunday afternoon before the show.

There just won't be time to show anybody where he went to junior high or where he used to get a "frost top."

"Well," he added, finally, "there's always time for a Stewart's hot dog."

Want to go?

WHAT: 'Mountain Stage' with Arlo Guthrie & Boys Night Out, Paul Thorn, Michael Cerveris and Delta Rae

WHERE: Keith Albee Theater, 925 Fourth Avenue, Huntington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 29

TICKETS: Advance tickets $35

INFO: 304-696-6656 or www.mountainstage.org

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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