Lazar Tag: He’s It!

He is the Jewish Jersey Boy, with a voice too good to be true; but a true treat it is, at once operatic and opulently contemporary.

Indeed, while other Jersey Boys hit the heights with falsettos, there isn't a false note in the lyrical lexicon that belongs to Cherry Hill's Aaron Lazar.

So, how did a guy who started out so Grumpy get to be someone with so much to smile about?

"Oh, that. That was in a community theater," laughs Lazar of that once-upon-a-time time when his snow white of a career was a long way off from taking a bite out of the Big Apple and Broadway.

Besides, he says, he was dwarfed by other talent in the cast: "My uncle was Prince Charming."

Broadway baby? "At 8 or 9, it was a good way to meet girls."

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work he goes — in a far different venue these days. The 28-year-old star of "The Light in the Piazza," which recently ended a long run on Broadway, is alighting locally Thursday, Aug. 10, when he joins another Broadway babe — Kelli O'Hara of "The Pajama Game" — for a musical romp in the park when the duo does "From Broadway to Hollywood" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops at the Mann Center, in W. Fairmount Park.

After winning the coveted role of the fiery Fabrizio in the Italian-set "Piazza," in which his character wooed a woefully unprepared young American girl swept up in a Roman holiday far afield of any one Audrey Hepburn experienced, Lazar was touted as one of the show's leading "Light."

Lazar tag: He's it! But the track to theatrical triumph wasn't always at his feet; track was.

Before he hurdled auditions and theater call-backs, it was field and track that called out to him — enough to lure Lazar to become one of the most dynamic of Jersey's disc and javelin throwers, earning him the rank of 12th in the state while at Cherry Hill High West.

Go South, young man — Lazar segued with a starring role at Duke University. But his interest in musical tracks was obvious early on; after all was said and done — and run — he won a music scholarship at the school known as the Harvard of the South.

But his real career track took a turn south when Lazar lassoed an understudy role in a tour of "The Scarlet Pimpernel." Until then, he says, he had planned not on cutting any records, which he has since done, but cutting … "I was studying to be a surgeon," he recalls.

Indeed, he had scored off the tracks in his med school exams and had been invited to attend some of the nation's premiere universities.

But that M.D. came up empty when compared to where he really wanted to operate. Music or medicine? What's up, Doc — or doctoral path?

Lazar opted for a two-year master's program at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Lazar surgery — or singing: "It was at a time when my med school exam [scores] eligibility were about to expire," that he renewed his love with theater, by scoring that understudy part with "Pimpernel."

The show proved a "Scarlet" letter of intent, but nobody ever said enter laughing could preclude exiting … grumpily. "It's not really a meritocracy," says Lazar of the business.

Complaints? He's had a few, but far too few to mention. Indeed, "six years in New York and I'm moving right along."

"Movin' On" was a Broadway hit; Lazar's "moving right along" has been a phenomenon. "I don't know if you ever have a 'lock' on a part," he says of his audition for "Light."

"But after I finished, I knew I had nailed it."

Come on board, said the producers. "I felt it was bashert to get that part," says Lazar. Fame may be elusive and ephemeral, but "Phantom" was a forever memory of the music of the night: Lazar made his Broadway debut four years ago as Raoul in "The Phantom of the Opera," the longest running show in Broadway history.

One night the real show was in the audience; his parents brought along some 200 fans and family — even some buds from the old Bar Mitzvah days — to attend opening night, all bedecked with special shirts emblazoned with Lazar's image, providing a giddy gondola ride of gilded memories. From the Paris Opera House it was on to "Oklahoma!" where Lazar's evident talent was bustin' out all over for a three-month run as Curly.

Then straight on to "Light," where Lazar's piece of the "Piazza" was met with prolific praise.

If he's blossoming now, maybe it was all predetermined from the time he turned 13. After all, how many kids celebrate their Bar Mitzvah at the Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park?

"It was one of top three parties of my life," remembers Lazar with love and affection of a celebration that was a morning glory all its own — for him and the 300 other people who attended.

After the ceremony in which he became a man, did he become a musical star? "For me to put on a show," he chuckles of the post-ritual party, "would have been redundant."

Indeed, laughs Lazar, "my opening night party for 'Light' couldn't even compare."

Incomparable, too, was the experience he had on another show, although Barry Manilow's vision for a musical based on a legendary German a capella group, some of whose members were Jewish, during the rise of Nazism, was not all peace and "Harmony."

"Harmony" closed right before its pre-Broadway premiere three years ago at the Forrest Theatre, in Center City, just a bridge toll toss from Lazar's Cherry Hill roots.

"It was heartbreaking," recalls Lazar.

Heartbreaking, too, was the closing of "Piazza," but "in the most beautiful way," notes Lazar of his tenure with that scintillating musical.

In many ways he took his role of Fabrizio to a fabulous new level — including TV. "Two-and-a-half-million people saw that on PBS that one night; it would have taken more than three years at Lincoln Center to perform in front of as many people."

Sure, Lazar's "Light" faded from view, but he isn't about to man the unemployment barricades; Lazar has been signed to star in the upcoming Broadway revival of "Les Miserables," as Enjolras.

Bring him home — that's what the Mann concert will do. Or at least, close to it. "I was there when my brother [Chad] sang with the Voices of the Pops last season," recalls Aaron, guilty of sibling revelry.

With "Les Miz" so near in his future, how appropriate that when he dreams a dream, Lazar is reaching it at the Mann: "It is a dream. I would love to do concerts everywhere."

After all, an artist's got to eat. But then, Lazar knows from food networking. He and his bride, LeAnn Garris, a model, had the Jewish wedding of their dreams in 2004 after entering — and winning — the Food Network "Caters Your Wedding" contest.

Chupah and hoopla; this was a TV starring role he'll long remember. But then again, the honeymoon — personally and theatrically — continues on stage and at home. 



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