I first encountered actor/singer Cortes Alexander when he performed his show Swell - also the title of his solo CD - at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal in August. The man is a whirlwind of talent as a musician/singer. When I heard he was doing a play entitled Dangerous Corner at Crown City Theatre - opening September 27 - I immediately sought him out for an interview. In our chat he talks about the challenges of doing this play and his musical work, including how his group The Tonics skyrocketed to fame.
Tell me about Dangerous Corner.
Oh boy...well, it's a play that was written by J.B. Priestley in the early 30s in England. It's a murder mystery whodunit. Gary (Lamb, director) has updated it to the early 60s. The whole play revolves around my character, who, in the original production physically is never seen.
So you are written in.
He wrote me in. Now, I...I lurk. I'm the one that is the catalyst for all the action in the play. I can't give away anything else.
How are rehearsals going?
Well. Gary, I have to say, is really talented. He really does know what he's doing. I've worked with a lot of different kinds of directors and seen a lot of different styles, and every day, I see a different thing that he does that is really smart. What he's done with my character is, he's musicalized it. So it's really fun. There are little snippets of music in there, I don't want to say too much, but...
Do you get a chance to sing?
...Maybe. (we laugh) The cast is wonderful, so talented. Matt Williamson plays my brother; he's fantastic. They're all great; it's fun to see how everyone works. Gary gets what he needs out of different actors. It's a hard role for me, though, I have to say, because there's no dialogue, there's a lot of blocking and you really have to pay attention to who's saying what to whom throughout the whole piece. I'm onstage almost the entire time. I've never done anything like this before. It's a challenge for me.
What other roles have you played?
I did a play some years ago with RoBert Reed and Florence Henderson. It was his last play. Alone Together at La Mirada that Glen Casale directed. I played their youngest son going off to college. We got extended and were supposed to move to the Westwood Playhouse, but unfortunately Robert got sick, and that was the end of that.
I love Florence.
She's amazing. Gorgeous and smart. Raunchy and fun, in the best possible way.
Any real dramatic plays?
As a kid I did Equus and... Amadeus and was able to play my own piano in that. Now later in life, the music thing is rearing its ugly head, so I've been getting full opportunities to do more music stuff.
Was it your dream to be a musical star?
Not really. I saw myself as just a straight up actor, but I got into Juilliard when I was a kid. I took a left turn there...I was thirteen when I got in and I say it lasted about thirteen minutes because it was not the right place for me. I was born here in Los Angeles and my whole family moved to New York so that I could do this. It just wasn't the place for me at all; it took all the joy of music right out of me, but I went to a professional children's school. A lot of kids were in the arts: actors, athletes, kids that couldn't attend school on a regular basis, so academics were arranged around your touring or whatever you had going on. A lot of kids were auditioning for Broadway shows, and I found myself playing and arranging songs for their auditions.
You studied piano, correct?