James Snyder Takes on Seven Questions About Grand Hotel, Epic Tony Clips, & Revivals vs. New Musicals in NYC
James Snyder (star of Broadway’s Cry-Baby, If/Then, and In Transit) thrills Encores! audiences this week as handsome and dashing Baron Felix Von Gaigern in the City Center revival of Grand Hotel. Director/choreographer Josh Rhodes reimagines the stylish Tommy Tune musical, and gives New York a fresh hotel you’d be a fool not to check into. You just can’t miss hearing Snyder’s beautiful voice soar on "Love Can't Happen" or seeing his joy performing “We’ll Take a Glass Together” with co-star Brandon Uranowitz.
BroadwayBox caught up with James to talk about his Grand Hotel experience, paying homage to the original, and the opportunity to show NYC all he can do in a big revival.
1. Which old Hollywood movie star are you serving us a bit of as the Baron?
For me, looking at the original  movie with John Barrymore. Film was such weird thing at that time too—they didn’t have over the shoulder shots. There wasn’t a visual vocabulary there is now. It’s all two shots and faces on a screen. It’s fun to visit that. There’s also a touch of Clark Gable. I grew up watching so many classic films. For me, there’s a grandeur that gets to happen.
2. Tell me about the first time you saw the Grand Hotel’s epic Tony performance.
I hopped on YouTube and there’s a clip that has that Tony performance into Michael Jeter’s acceptance speech. You could feel the energy in the room—you could feel the audience on the edge of their seat. I’ve known Brent Barrett for a while personally and always looked up to him. Then watching Michael Jeter, I was blown away. I watched it thinking, ‘This is electric!’
3. How does it feel then to perform that number now with Brandon?
Brandon I’ve known for a really long time. We did a workshop of Diner The Musical right before it was supposed to go to Broadway, the first time. It was one of those forever bonding experiences for us, so to be there with someone I care about so deeply. Josh [Rhodes] set it up. He said, ‘We have to have this bar and we have to have our little homage to what it is.’ I think he got to put his own little spin on it and I get to Charleston for three minutes. It’s just a blast. When you get to the heart of it so much of this show is a happy/sad. There’s always this undertone—I’m here lifting a glass with someone who is probably not going to be here in a month (little do I know I’m going first).
4. Having opened three original musicals on Broadway, do you think New York looks at an actor differently when they are in a revival? Is it somehow easier to show your talents when critics and audiences already know the material better and can just see the performance?
There is and for me it’s mostly approach. I’ve had an extreme advantage working with so many talented people creating actually I think three beautiful pieces. It’s interesting because new musicals don’t always have that sweeping size [of score].
I did Carousel at Goodspeed Opera House and I got to break out my big boy voice and show people what I can do. This is another chance. Things aren’t always written for the voice the way they were. I feel I’m built to sing Tom Kitt’s music, but, for me, I look at it as an opportunity to say, ‘Look what else I can do!’
I felt like I was jonesing for a revival and then this popped up. I get to feel the orchestra behind me and I get to sing with everything I’ve got. It’s fun, and I’m lucky, and I hope this introduces me to New York again (for the fourth time!). I feel like I have so much to offer and I hope people like what I’m serving up and want some more.
5. The Baron is a thief. What’s the coolest or most sentimental thing you’ve taken from a gig?
Two things. I took my boots from Cry-Baby. The boots I performed on the Tonys with and that were on the deck the entire show. They are really nice Frye motorcycle boots. I occasionally break out those boots but in all honestly, they just take up a lot of room in the closet. Then from If/Then, I kept the dog tags Josh wore. It says Josh Barton and has his blood type. Those two things are very special to me.
6. You sound incredible on this score. How do you care for your voice when you have a huge sing like this or Carousel or In Transit?
Oh boy. It’s technique, technique, technique. I’m very fortunate to have found an amazing voice teacher in Los Angeles, Edward Sayegh. Same approach to the voice as Vicki Clark actually. For me, it’s about trying to eat right, warm up properly, and I would say sleep but I have two kids, so I’m up at 6:30 every morning. I think I’ll take a nap in a little bit. It’s rest and eating impeccably.
This process is such a beast. It’s a runaway train. Even last night, it was the third time performing onstage with that orchestra. I’m still finding it. Tuesday was quite a hard day for me, so I went to the ENT (Dr. Dahl) and everything was a little angry with me and I took an anti-inflammatory. Then it’s just steam, warm up, and the adrenaline took care of the rest.
7. When one day Encores does Cry-Baby and tries to get NYC to see it anew, which young Broadway actor would you want to see step into your skinny jeans and those license plate tap shoes?
I don’t know. I would say by the time it gets done, it will probably be some wide-eyed kid from wherever. I’m a huge Derek Klena fan. I think he’s great but by the time it happens at Encores, he’ll be my age. He’s not too far behind me. There are rumblings of it heading over to London in a little bit. Exciting none the less that it’s getting done.
See James Snyder in Grand Hotel at New York City Center through March 25.