Meet Paramour’s Jeremy Kushnier

ParamourLyric Theatre

Paramour, Cirque du Soleil’s first venture on Broadway, finds a cast of actors, singers and acrobats filling the voluminous Lyric Theatre with that old-fashioned razzle-dazzle, catchy songs and high-flying theatrics. At the center of the narrative is Jeremy Kushnier’s character of AJ Golden, a man who presents a few obstacles to the leading lady’s meteoric rise in Golden Age Hollywood.

Kushnier is not new to Broadway. The leading man is best known for his roles as Ren in Footloose, Roger in Rent and Tommy Devito in Jersey Boys. However, the actor is new to the unique family of Cirque du Soleil, a Canada-based company that has revitalized and revolutionized circus performances throughout the world.

For Kushnier, his entry into this strange and fascinating world began like so many other theatrical jobs: with an audition. “I guess it’s the same way that anybody gets attached to a show,” the actor said recently in a phone interview. “I auditioned and came into it. It was kind of a fast-paced, hectic start. … I came in about two weeks before we started previews to join the company.”

The role of AJ Golden is a unique one. On stage, he come across sometimes as the “bad guy” of the musical, but deep down there’s something different and redemptive about the character.

“No one ever casts themselves as the villain in their own life story, so I kind of figured out the reason this guy acts the way that he does,” Kushnier said. “Why is he the way that he is? I guess that’s sort of the first way that I approach any character, and I think … at the beginning of the show [he’s] this guy in an art vs. life competition that art always wins. And I think by the end, he sort of changes his tune a little bit. He sees true love exists, and it exists outside film. And I think he walks away a little bit changed.”

When first signing up for Paramour, which is in an open run at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street, Kushnier was excited rather than hesitant. He admitted that he’s probably past the point of performing any death-defying acrobatics, so he leaves those high-flying routines to the professional circus performers. But the promise of molding theater with circus inspired him.

“I think there are certain things that I’m really excited about,” he said. “I’m really excited about the inspiration, the sort of the storytelling through circus. … My very first entrance is about as circus-y as I get physically in the show. Spoiler alert: I get shot out of the floor on this thing called the toaster lift, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically this telephone booth sort of thing that they stick me into underneath the stage and then shoot me out of the stage pretty fast.”

Because of the added circus elements, the rehearsal process for Paramour was complex and extensive. That allowed Kushnier and the cast, which also includes Ruby Lewis and Ryan Vona, to dig deeper into their characters.

“A lot of these acts came out of nothing,” he said. “Then you sort of get into a room, and you start playing around. And you see what people are good at what things, and you start [to go], ‘OK, let’s make this.’ Some of the acts come not premade, but they have an idea of the kind of things they’re going to do. … There’s these twins that do an aerial act, and they have been involved with Cirque. So they sort of knew generally that they were going to do this aerial act, but then there’s some stuff that just gets created on the spot. … It was three months before they even hit the stage, and then they had another two months of rehearsals on the stage. And that’s way longer than any Broadway show, but that’s purely because you’re creating new things. Then once you create an acrobatic act, then you have to make sure it’s safe.”

The company of Paramour seems to be more like an extended family. They hold one another up — sometimes literally — for every performance, and Kushnier said he’s so happy to be part of the team. “We have such a great group of people both on and off stage,” he said. “It’s a real pleasure to go to work every day. When it comes to the acrobats, I’ve never seen a group of people that are harder working, that have less ego, that just enjoy being there and quite honestly put their lives at risk everyday. It really is a lesson, and it also makes coming to work so exciting and so fun. Then at the same time, there’s no lack of playing around that goes on backstage, before the show and after the show. We’re definitely a group of people that like to have fun.”

Much like Kushnier’s toaster-jump entrance on the Paramour stage, his career on Broadway began with a quick, showy entrance. His role of Ren in Footloose is a highlight of his resume and a memory that sticks with him this many years later.

“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “It was the thing that brought me to New York. It was my first starring role anywhere, especially creating a role. It was my introduction to Broadway, so it’s pretty exciting. It also raised the bar a little bit. I definitely created a false sense of security as far as what I should assume the rest of my career would be like immediately. You know what I mean, as a 23-year-old going, ‘Well, OK, you got the lead on Broadway, and then you just keep going that way.’ It doesn’t really work that way, but that being said, I feel so lucky and so blessed to have had that moment in my life. And now looking back on it, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Kushnier has always enjoyed the project-to-project, character-to-character nature of the theatrical life. The variety and ability and to create a role from scratch sustains him creatively. “Getting a chance to open up that script for the first time, and sitting down with other actors, and talking about what this means and really finding it is incredible,” he said. “I think the thing that attracts me to it is just that that’s what I love to do. I love making something. I love finding these characters.”

On the horizon are several other projects, in addition to his demanding schedule at Paramour. He recently completed a movie with his brother, who is a filmmaker. The Idea of Manhood is in the editing stage right now and will hopefully make the festival circuit in a few months.

Kushnier also writes his own music and is working on two new albums; this is in addition to releasing his most recent albums. “I’m also working with some friends, and we’re trying to make/produce some more classical theater,” he said. “Just this past year I got to do my first Shakespeare, and just fell in love with it and sort of Jonesing to do the next one. So got together with a couple of friends that are very talented and definitely know more about classical theater than I do, and we’re sort of in the process, very early, early stages of maybe mounting some interesting things in the city.”

Paramour was also keeping him busy these past few weeks with a “refresh” on the show. This might be somewhat new to Broadway musicals, but it’s a tradition of Cirque shows around the nation, especially with their residencies in Las Vegas. After opening night, a Broadway musical is typically set in stone and made permanent. However, Cirque likes to evolve their shows, and Kushnier has been involved in the process.

“I think it’s a great thing,” the actor said.

But he also conceded: “It’s a lot of hard work.”

{ SOURCE: Hollywood Soapbox | }