Jarrod Zimmerman | Performer of the week
Sweet Charity is the type of dance-heavy musical that's a tight fit for Writers’ Theatre’s intimate Glencoe space, but Michael Halberstam’s revival is a dazzling success that doesn’t shy from the darker elements of the script. As Oscar Lindquist, the anxious everyman who finds the girl of his dreams in a broken elevator, Jarrod Zimmerman gives a performance that beautifully transitions from puppy love to engagement uncertainty. Raised in Marysville, Ohio, Zimmerman began performing in community theater as a child, the son of two fans of the arts who were fully supportive of their son pursuing a career as a performer. Zimmerman wanted to become a computer scientist after high school, but his parents convinced him that it was probably not a life he would enjoy. He studied theater at Northwestern University, and has since become a fixture on the Chicago stage, particularly in musicals. Zimmerman tells us about working with Writers’, the difficulty of performing a musical in a smaller space, and the ways in which he and Oscar are alike.
Were you familiar with Sweet Charity before auditioning for Writers’ production? Had you seen the movie or the stage show?
I did. I saw the Drury Lane production a few years ago, which is actually where I saw my now fiancée for the first time. She played Rosie in that production, and I remember seeing her on stage and saying, “Who is that?” And we started dating a few years later, so it’s always been kind of a special show for me and I’m now glad that I’m able to do it. I’ve always enjoyed the part of Oscar, I’m honored and thrilled to be bringing him to life.
This is your first show at Writers’ Theatre. How is it working there?
I’ve seen several shows there and I’ve always loved it, and I really like the community surrounding Writers’ Theatre. There just seems to be so much support for the arts, so I’ve enjoyed not only the Writers’ shows but the Writers’ experience. There’s something about Glencoe and the attention that theater gets there that I really enjoy. But I like the space a lot because it really—Michael Halberstam would just always talk about the words and what the playwright is saying, and I think in a space like that you really can focus on the nitty-gritty and focus on how does this sentence play to a house of 100-some people, or how does it play to a very small room? So I enjoy that because you really can find small choices and the small choices become big choices in that space, which I also like a lot.
Have you ever done a musical in a space this contained? Was there anything difficult about that?
Yeah, I didin Highland Park with the Music Theatre Company a couple years back, and that was my first chance of doing kind of a bigger show, although I guess Merrily can be done in many different ways, doing a big musical in such a small space. So I had that experience behind me. I’ve worked at some of the larger theater houses in town like Drury Lane and Marriott and I very much enjoy that experience as well, but I guess I’m enjoying going back to a smaller space because it really focuses what we as actors and storytellers are doing.
I was surprised at how dark the show is at times. How did you work with Michael to balance the drama and the comedy of the script?
It was always about truth, you know? What’s the truth of this moment? We cut out a lot of the shtick that’s written into the book, a lot of the Bob Fosse-inspired, Gwen Verdon-inspired stuff. Like for instance the closet scene where she’s with Vittorio. There’s a lot of classic bits where she’s smoking a cigarette and she blows it into a garment bag. And a lot of those larger bits we cut out because it just seemed too big, and I think what’s left are these story beats and some of them can be dark—the show certainly ends in a darker place. I don’t know if it was a conscious choice on [Michael’s] part to really focus on the dark elements, but maybe that’s what was left after we cut some of the other stuff out? I don’t know, I guess I’m stating this more as a question because I’m not sure. I find it intriguing that that’s what you took away. I definitely think it’s there.
It wasn’t extremely dark, but a little more melancholy than I was expecting.
Yeah, and it got darker than I think Sweet Charity is usually done. It was about just bringing Neil Simon’s words to life as truthfully as possible, and there’s obviously a lot of great humor in there but if you look at just the story itself, I think that’s where the drama is. And maybe it’s successful because that’s what’s coming through.
How has it been working with Tiffany Topol as Charity?
Tiffany’s great. She’s one of the best scene partners I’ve ever had. She’s an actress that I trust and I know that whatever we find on stage, it’s going to be truthful, and if something’s different I know that we’ll still be able to find our way. So I very much trust her and she’s been very fun as a comedian and for all the darker stuff as well.
Do you see any of yourself in Oscar? What is it that draws you to his character?
Oh yes, I see a lot of myself in Oscar [laughs], maybe unfortunately. I think at my worst I am Oscar Lindquist. He’s a very anxious individual, and I think where we differ is I think his anxiety gets the best of him, whereas I at least try to have a little more control over how it enters into my life. But I definitely connect with his anxieties; I don’t have claustrophobia like he does but there are certain things in my life that I feel like can take over sometimes, so I definitely connected to that aspect of him. I can be shy like he can be shy sometimes, but I think it was his anxiety that I really connected to. And as I was reading it, as we were preparing for rehearsals, I was able to say, “Okay, this guy’s not as far away from me as I think he is,” and that was both scary and reassuring.