Gavin Creel: Hair Raiser

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com March 30 2009 12:00 AM ET

Following a wildly successful run last summer at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, Hair has returned to Broadway for the first time in more than 30 years. Electrifying and enlightening a whole new generation at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, the 1967 "American tribal love-rock musical" stars 32-year-old Ohio native Gavin Creel, a Tony nominee for his 2002 Broadway debut in Thoroughly Modern Millie, as Claude, the conflicted apex of a bisexual love triangle within Hair's tribe of Vietnam-era bohemians. Inspired by the passing of Prop. 8, Creel also cofounded Broadway Impact, a grassroots movement led by the theater community to promote marriage equality, and his affection for activism is evident in his Playbill bio: "Gavin has no patience for people who perpetuate inequality in the guise of 'religious belief.'" Creel's passion for gay rights may be obvious, but his own sexuality has remained ambiguous — until now.

Advocate.com: Because you weren't involved in this past summer's incarnation of the show in Central Park, you joined the Hair tribe pretty late in the game. What was it like being the new kid?
Gavin Creel: It was a little daunting at first, but the cast made me feel totally welcome. There was work to be done, so there wasn't a whole lot of time for touchy-feely worrying about how I could feel better. I had to get down to business, learn these crazy words, and start figuring out who my character is.

Did you see Jonathan Groff or Christopher J. Hanke play Claude in the Central Park production?
No, and I'm glad I didn't see them, because I would've just stolen everything they did. [Laughs] It's like if I'm going to do a play based on a movie, I don't like to see the movie first, because then I get too in my head. And doing a revival, it's hard enough playing a character that so many people think they know how it should be done. If people are like, "Jonathan was this way," or, "Chris was this way," I'm not really concerned. They're both amazing actors and what they do is awesome, but what I do is too.

GAVIN CREEL HAIR X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

Does the orgy of fun you have onstage spill over off-stage?
Yes, it's unbelievable. I've never been in a cast like this before. What people see going on onstage is true to form with what's going on off-stage. It's a lovefest that I hope sustains itself for as long as the run goes.

Claude has sexual chemistry with tribe members of both sexes, Berger and Sheila. How did you approach Claude's sexuality?
Well, there's that great line in the show about how "Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger." The connection I have with Will Swenson [who plays Berger] onstage is electric, and I feel very safe. And the connection I have with Caissie Levy [who plays Sheila] is also rock-solid and beautiful. It's something Diane [Paulus], our director, is very cognizant of. For a while I was working really hard on developing my relationship with Berger, making sure it was authentic and came from a place that wasn't just about free love and fucking; it was about a deep, unspoken connection between these two really expressive guys. But then halfway through rehearsal, Diane was like, "Now we need to work on you and Sheila." We thought about what it was about Sheila that makes me horny, excited, and passionate. Again, it wasn't just about sex; it was about political activism, staying up late at night, smoking a joint, and talking about what it is to be a patriot and an American. I love thinking about what it is that draws me to both of those people. I don't think it's about sexuality, necessarily, as much as it is about energy and being present with these two amazing creatures.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently attended the show during previews. Do you think President Obama might attend?
He and Michelle are going to come, and I'm going to meet them. I just know it. I'm putting that on my Secret wish board.

Who else would be your dream audience members?
I'd like to meet Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, and I'd love if the Clintons came back; they came this summer, but I wasn't in the show. And Beyoncé. That would be awesome.

In January, Perez Hilton posted a picture of you from a New York Times event on his blog and adorned it with little hearts. Was that a thrill?
It was horrible. I got a Facebook message from a friend who was like, "Guess who's on PerezHilton!" So I clicked the link, and it wasn't the greatest picture of me, but I didn't think it was that bad. But Perez wrote that I was a "hottie," so in the comments people decided to have a field day with how ugly I was, and how could Perez ever think that I was hot? People are vicious. It was like being back in junior high all over again.

GAVIN CREEL HAIR WILL SWENSON X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

Perez asked in that post, so I'll ask: Do you get naked in the show?
Nope. I'm singing the song "Where Do I Go?" while everyone's getting naked, and it's about me not being able to decide what to do. It wouldn't really make sense for me to take it all off, but I told the director that I would.

Why didn't you participate in the recent nude Hair cast photo shoot for Time Out New York magazine?
Since I don't get naked in the show, it wouldn't have made sense to be naked on the cover of a magazine. That would be like someone singing a song that they don't actually sing in the show just for press. And I definitely don't think the masses need to see me naked anyway.

Yet you were ranked one of AfterElton.com's "37 Hottest Guys in Theater" earlier this year. Are you comfortable being a sex symbol of the Broadway community?
I am not a sex symbol of the Broadway community. I know guys who are, and I say, "Rock it out." But I'm more comfortable in a different land. I don't know what land it is, but not that one.

I've had the opportunity to interview other openly gay Broadway stars like Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Sieber, and John Tartaglia for The Advocate, but like Hollywood, the theater community's closet is far from empty. Was there a moment you consciously chose to be out in your professional life?
Yeah, about a month and a half ago. I was like, I'm too old for this shit. I love my life, I love my friends, and I love my family, so I decided it didn't really matter. I'll give you that information, but that's as much as I'd give anybody; the private stuff is private. I also want to be able to get married legally, and it doesn't make any sense for me to parade around trying to get marriage equality while not being open about who I am. It doesn't inspire young men and women struggling with their own sexuality to be confident in who they are if I'm not confident in who I am. And if I whisper about it, then I give other people the power to whisper about it, and there's nothing wrong with it. I definitely want to get louder. I was totally inspired by people like Cheyenne, Christopher, and John.

GAVIN CREEL XLARGE (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Did your hesitance to come out officially have anything to do with fear that the admission might negatively affect your transition to film and television?
Truthfully, yeah, because that's what everyone tells you. You grow up with people telling you that you're going to hell. Then you realize you're not going to hell, but now you're going to showbiz hell to be blacklisted. Now I don't give a shit about that. So you're not going to put me in the next 7th Heaven? Well, fuck you. Whatever. It doesn't matter. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want to do a TV show or movie, but life comes first, and then there's business. If this business doesn't allow me to have my life, then I'll do something else and be a happier man.

You last appeared on Broadway in the 2004 revival of La Cage aux Folles as Georges's son Jean-Michel, one of the few straight characters in the show. Were you secretly jealous of the drag queens?
Fuck, yes. They were having a blast, and I was pretty much playing a villain who asks his parents to deny their existence for his own benefit. Those Cagelles were the stars of that show, and they were incredible.

You also performed on Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell's very first R Family Vacations cruise in 2004. How was that experience?
That's what really changed my life as far as loving and accepting myself for who I am. It's one of the things I'm most proud to have participated in, and I continue to be a part of and an advocate for R Family. It's an incredible opportunity for people who live their lives with their shoulders held back to just be — and maybe have a piña colada while they watch their kids splash around in the pool. It's like that speech Margaret Mead gives in our show: "Be who you want to be. Go home and tell your kids to be free." If I ever win any award, I'm using that in my acceptance speech.