Knit One, Pearl Two: Gem for ‘Tale of Two Cities’ Star

It was the best of times, it was the …

Wait, wait, wait: It is the best of times for Aaron Lazar, whose tale of two cities spans the Jersey Turnpike from Cherry Hill, N.J., to New York, N.Y., with a cherished cherry on top — Broadway — where the acclaimed actor is starring as Charles Darnay in a swashbuckling swagger of a musical "A Tale of Two Cities."

They give a Dickens — and a damn good one, too: This production of the Charles Dickens classic — opening on Sept. 18 with a score and book by Jill Santoriello and direction/choreography by Warren Carlyle, also starring James Barbour and Gregg Edelman — is as revolutionary as they come for Broadway, where les misérables of the proletariat gets a prophetic siege of gallows humor, as "Two Cities" twins the French Revolution and the universal ardor of the heart to stunning effect on stage.

It is a far better thing that Lazar has done than … well, that's quite a bulging bio of accomplishments he's got to compete against considering that the Jewish kid who was once played Grumpy in Cherry Hill community theater is now the prince charming of players on Broadway, where he's starred in "Les Misérables," "Oklahoma!" "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "On the Town" and "The Light in the Piazza."

That the light in this latest piazza comes from the glint of the guillotine in a town square in which peasants circle the doomed French aristocracy proves that every day is Bastille Day for the bustling and talented actor/singer who's been on the right track since … well, since he was one of the best disc and javelin athletes to ever suit up for Cherry Hill West.

But as great as Lazar was at track, he proved more suited for music, earning a scholarship at Duke University.

Duking it out on Broadway had him pulling no punches years later, where his gorgeous voice and good looks attracted a mob scene for his understudy-becomes-a-star turn in "Phantom."

Of course, that mob happened to be made up of family and friends, who formed a caravan of buses to court their Cherry Hill champ as he ruled as Raoul with music of the night that had him matinee idol idolized.

Lazar's is a closely-knit group — with a decidedly warmer heart than that of Madame Defarge, who sizes up Darnay for damnation darning his way to condemnation in the yin-yang years of "Two Cities."

But who knew that the erstwhile med student — Lazar had at one time considered being a surgeon; he had made the cut with some of the nation's top schools after flooring them with medical boards so high he could have stitched together any career option he wanted — would at first greet Dickens' yarn with a yawn.

Hit the road, Jacques: "When I was younger, I bought a copy on the street in New York and just couldn't get through it," he says of the voluminous nearly 150-year-old page-turner that turned him off.

He likes what he reads into the character now, as Darnay turns from arid aristocrat to ardent adventurer, and "a really complicated guy," an honorable guy.

But in all honesty, that doesn't make him "an easy guy" to unravel, acknowledges Lazar of the fully-fleshed-out character he assays on stage at the theater named after the late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

Sedition and the "Cities": Keep the sweater folded, Madame Defarge; he's got more heart than you've got hate.

And as far as his fate at the Parisian chopping block; Darnay proves to be more cardigan than V-neck.

"There are so many layers to him."

Much like the actor himself, whose early performance at the bimah had family beaming.

Flower Child

Of course, they had the good seats, and watching their son flower was easy enough: Adam's Bar Mitzvah was held at the Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park, where he was the locus amid the lotus.

They could have made a movie out of it, but, no, the film "300" was a different group — although it's possible that King Leonidas was among the 300 invited to what Lazar calls "one of the top three parties of my life. My opening-night party for 'Light' couldn't even compare."

Thermopylae it wasn't; thoroughly memorable it was.

From reign of Torah to the currently staged French reign of terror, there has been little to scare Lazar off. But then, culling incredible crowds is what Lazar lights on to: His wedding drew considerably more than that.

Let them eat … kugel?

When he and his fiancée, LeAnn Garris, wed four years ago, the event took the cake — and the audience.

Winners of the Food Network "Caters Your Wedding," the newlyweds took more than a march down the aisle — they took a dance into the living rooms of innumerable viewers who checked the couple out without having to send them checks.

It's a Living

But the money hasn't been chopped liver over the years. Lazar loves doing concerts — including the one he gave not that far from his Bar Mitzvah site two summers ago at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, pairing with another Broadway baby, Kelli O'Hara, for a performance "From Broadway to Hollywood."

Surely, the Hollywood hills must be calling this handsome Cherry Hill native son. But no matter the travels, and whether this "Tale of Two Cities" entangles a third, Lazar laces his ambitions with hearth and heart.

The one-time surgical hopeful has never cut ties with the past. And when it comes to family, it is indeed a far, far better thing he does to place things in perspective. Yes, the Broadway lights are bright, but nothing's brighter than the marquee dazzle of the mazel that comes from forging a family.

Off with his head?

No, Lazar's is firmly on his shoulders. "What I do is my career and job," says the ever-grateful star Lazar. "But my family is my life."


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