Michael Cerveris
Michael Cerveris

Michael Cerveris Gets Ready to Set Sail on the Broadway Cruise

Michael Cerveris has been a staple on Broadway for more than two decades, from 1993’s The Who’s Tommy to 2015’s Fun Home. And he’s currently a series regular on the hit HBO Max series The Gilded Age, with a cast jam-packed with his fellow Broadway luminaries.

Little do theatergoers know that he is the lead singer of a band called Loose Cattle. Soon, he’s bringing the group on board the Broadway Cruise that sails from New York City to Bermuda March 31 to April 5, 2023. Laura Benanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Sierra Boggess, Lena Hall, Joshua Henry, Alan Cumming, Randy Rainbow, and Jeremy Jordan are also part of the excursion.

“It just sort of happened that I’ve managed to have a career and make a living as an actor. The music side of things has always been a passion of mine that I was equally invested in, but that’s not the thing that as many people know me for,” Cerveris told Broadway Direct of his music background that started when he was growing up in West Virginia.

Loose Cattle formed in 2011 with his friend Kimberly Kaye. There are now five musicians in the band, which started by covering country songs and has evolved to Southern-rock influences. The name “Loose Cattle” comes from a sign Cerveris saw at an album launch party for country singer Laura Cantrell. There was a big photograph on the wall inside the restaurant that read “Loose Livestock.” Cerveris thought it described his band, a “motley crew of people,” but he had misremembered the sign as “Loose Cattle.”

“We’re really hoping to reach a new bunch of fans and followers through this cruise by sharing the music that we are really passionate about playing and have a lot to say with,” Cerveris said. “People hopefully will discover that they enjoy the music that I make outside of the theater as much as the music I’ve made inside the theater.”

On the cruise, he will be performing in two concerts: One will be dedicated to Loose Cattle songs and the other will have more traditional musical-theater selection from prior roles, including Titanic “if I can figure out how not to freak people out,” Cerveris quipped.

Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone in Sweeney Todd. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone in Sweeney Todd. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Of course, his act will also pay homage to Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, a role Cerveris played opposite Patti LuPone in 2005. The original version of Sweeney Todd, starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, was the first Broadway show he ever saw. He initially thought he wanted to pursue a serious acting career, but after seeing the musical, he changed his course.

“Len Cariou was giving this Shakespearean-sized performance of Sweeney,” he recalled. “And Angela Lansbury was giving this incredibly smart, funny, and unnerving performance as Mrs. Lovett. I suddenly saw in these two actors the kind of acting that I wanted to do. I realized, for the first time, that there were actually musicals that required that.”

On the heels of Dame Lansbury’s passing at the age of 96, Cerveris paid tribute to his idol on Instagram, writing, “You’re a bloody wonder. Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always. As you’ve said repeatedly there’s little point in dwelling on the past.”

“She was always the kindest and most supportive. She was so classy and elegant. She treated me like an equal, which did not feel right at all to me when I was a young actor growing up. I didn’t feel like I deserved to consider myself in her league at all. But she was always really very complimentary and kind and that way,” he told Broadway Direct.

While Cerveris never got to speak with Lansbury about Sweeney Todd specifically, he did go out to dinner with Cariou when the actor came to see Cerveris’s interpretation, and they talked about the show. Cerveris now plans to do the same thing as Josh Groban steps into the title role next spring at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre opposite Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett. Previews begin February 26. He’s already told Groban that therapy is going to be important as he takes on such a dark role as the demon barber on Fleet Street, citing “dark places that you need to go to for that.”

Douglas Sills, Michael Cerveris, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Kelley Curran in HBO's The Gilded Age. Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO.
Douglas Sills, Michael Cerveris, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Kelley Curran in HBO’s The Gilded Age. Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO.

While it’s been a few years since Cerveris’s last Broadway show, most recently he has been seen as the Russell family servant Watson on The Gilded Age. In season one, his character had been seen lurking around trees. “I’m happy to say that a lot of the mystery surrounding Watson gets revealed at last and you get to see a lot more of his story, which explains all of his strange lurking around trees,” he teased. “Everything that was sort of in motion by the end of the first season gets kicked into high gear starting at the beginning of the second season. There’s a little bit of a time jump of a few months.”

He said when the cameras aren’t rolling, theater stories are traded constantly among the theater-vet cast, along with a verse or two of the chorus of a musical-theater song. Though when pressed, Cerveris couldn’t recall from what show specifically. “I can’t say that a full-scale musical number has broken out. I think it’s more that everybody knows that that could happen at any time. So it’s more likely that one of the non-musical-theater [actors], like Carrie Coon or Louisa Jacobs, would be more likely to sing than Audra [McDonald], Christine [Baranksi], or me.”

The good news is, if the series gets to season five, “we have been promised, unofficially, that they’re going to start looking into a musical episode,” Cerveris said with a chuckle.