From “American Idol” to Evita, the fascinating career of Constantine Maroulis
It is not uncommon to see one of the scores of “American Idol” alums trying their hand at the theater. Since the show premiered in 2002, Broadway musicals in particular have frequently drawn from the pool of talent featured on “Idol” to try to revive an anemic box office or to replace a departing star. And it makes sense: at its prime, “Idol” was playing to an audience of almost 40 million.
Season Three winner Fantasia Barrino was out-of-this-world good when she replaced LaChanze in The Color Purple, but—by and large—the “Idol” alums have always proved kind of awkward in the acting department. (Even Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson is not immune to that characterization.) But there is one “Idol” star that defies this generalization in every conceivable way.
Constantine Maroulis, the charming, over the top, long haired rocker from Season Four, is the real deal. And while that should not be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last decade, you’d be forgiven for looking at former “Idol” contestants trying to make it on the stage with a bit of skepticism.
Maroulis, who graduated from Boston Conservatory with a BFA in musical theater, has returned to his old stomping grounds to play Che in North Shore Music Theatre’s current production of Evita, which will run through Oct 8. There has been a deserved amount of controversy surrounding the casting of mostly white actors in the production, and I have made my thoughts well-known on that front here.
But Maroulis has always been a performer that I have admired: first from “Idol” and secondly as a Broadway star with two Tony nominations under his belt. And while his trajectory hasn’t been wildly unconventional, it is, nevertheless, a fascinating one characterized by undeniable raw talent and good old fashioned hustle.
Born in Brooklyn but raised in a New Jersey suburb, Maroulis grew up with the best of both worlds. He was a self-proclaimed theater geek but was taught early the wonders of classic rock, new wave, jazz, and pop music thanks to hand me down records passed down to him from his brother and sister. His knack for performing was clear, and even still, he seems to exist at the very alluring crossroads of drama and rock.
He already had some college credit and his Equity card by the time he transferred into Boston Conservatory in his early twenties, but he arrived with a game plan: he was going to line up a great summer job in summer stock or regional theater, he was going to play gigs around Boston, he was going to take extra classes at Berklee, and—being that he had to put himself through school—he was going to work full-time.
“I think it’s safe to say that Boston is a mecca for the arts and an incredible place for young artists to thrive and compete,” Maroulis said. “I like competition, so I wanted to train with people better than me. And I think that’s what I got to do in my time in Boston.”
Despite his musical prowess, however, he actually didn’t do many musicals during his time at the Conservatory, instead starring in things like The Kentucky Cycle and The Grapes of Wrath. Outside of school, he played Malcolm in Boston Theatre Works’ production of Macbeth that played the Wilbur. Things were going according to plan.
In early September 2001, the summer before his senior year at Boston Conservatory, Maroulis was starring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in New Hampshire as he prepared for the school year to come. In true Maroulis fashion, he had a clear game plan: participate in his school’s big agent showcase, apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and book the national tour of Rent.
But on September 11, Maroulis lost his first cousin, and—for once—things didn’t seem so clear to him. “Everything sort of changed for me,” he said. “I barely got through my last year at school. I started to think, ‘Is what I’m doing here even important?’ It wasn’t clear to me what my path was after that.”
Thanks to the strength and support of his friends and teachers, he got through his last year. While he ended up not doing the showcase, he did score that apprenticeship in Williamstown that he had his eye on, something that would end up changing his life. His fellow apprentices that summer included people like Chris Pine, Liz Meriwether, and Michael Arden. (Arden would go on to direct the 2015 Broadway revival of Spring Awakening with Maroulis as a producer, which would earn him his second Tony nomination.)
Maroulis’ big break came when director Michael Greif heard him sing at a cabaret one evening. And just as he had planned, Greif cast him as Roger in the national tour of Rent.
After about two years on the road with Rent, his ascent reached a career-high with American Idol in 2005. “Carrie Underwood was never not going to win that show,” Maroulis said. “The word was that I was never out of first, second, or third [place] in the voting. But, I think, one week they just had me freefall off the show. I had never been in the bottom three and all of the sudden it was the biggest news story of those couple weeks, me getting thrown off the show. The competitor in me would have loved to have at least had a shot at [Underwood] in the finals, but the businessman in me understood it. I understood that me falling off the show in a surprise way only made it more endearing to my fans and their support of me.”
He may not have triumphed, but he made a lasting impression. Not long after returning home, Maroulis got a call from Kelsey Grammer, who was developing new shows for ABC and wanted Maroulis to develop a series loosely based on his life. Maroulis signed a big production deal and spent the next year working on the show, Brooklyn, which never materialized.
Then Broadway came calling. In 2006 he was cast in The Wedding Singer, and a year later in a brilliant Off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He even did some soap opera work, appearing for a time on The Bold and the Beautiful.
“I’ve had a pretty interesting path since ‘American Idol,’” said Maroulis. “I’ve built a great, very diverse body of work. I’m not a huge star but I’m someone you can look at and be like, ‘that’s one way to do it.’ I think I was probably too old to be a pop star anyhow, so I had to take that opportunity and turn it into something. Even with all those fans and sold out tours, before you knew it, it was Season Five and there was a new long haired guy in the mix. In a way it was more of a progression in my training. “Idol” was sort of my MFA, in a way.”
Then came the role that would define Maroulis as a bonafide Broadway leading man.
Not long after “American Idol,” Maroulis was approached about starring in a new jukebox musical strung together using the music of bands like Bon Jovi, Journey, Whitesnake, and Foreigner. There had been a small production in Los Angeles and a failed run in Las Vegas, yet producers still saw promise in the show, and so did Maroulis.
Rock of Ages opened Off-Broadway in 2008, but it hardly made a splash. In fact, it was virtually ignored. “Nobody gave a shit. Nobody cared,” recalls Maroulis. “Nobody even reviewed it.” Regardless, they worked steadily on building word of mouth and making the show as tight as possible. Maroulis was in for the long haul, even if all the signs were pointing towards flop. He even turned down a $10,000 per week offer to play Kenickie in the new Broadway revival of Grease.
Then in 2009, Rock of Ages made the big—and very risky—leap to Broadway. Audiences adored the show, and much to the surprise of almost everyone, so did the critics. That year, the show would earn five Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical and one for Best Actor, for Maroulis.
“It will be hard to replicate that kind of experience again,” said Maroulis. “It was like a big hit record for me. I got to play that underdog that you rooted for that wasn’t 20 years old and cute. He was 30, still pushing a broom, still trying to make it. In a way, that was me.”
Rock of Ages would go on to play to capacity for nearly all of its seven year run and spawned productions all over the world. Maroulis reprised his performance in the show’s first national tour. At the time that the show closed in 2015, it was the 29th longest running Broadway show of all time. Not bad for a little musical that, just a few years earlier, no one gave a shit about.
“Although we’re not together, I met my daughter’s mother through that experience and my daughter is my life, so it worked out pretty good,” said Maroulis.
In 2012, Maroulis returned to Broadway in Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde opposite Deborah Cox after spending a year on the road touring the show. The production was problematic, but Maroulis was—unsurprisingly—brilliant. 2015 brought his second Tony nomination as a producer of Spring Awakening, and earlier this year he played Judas in an acclaimed production of Jesus Christ Superstar at The Muny in St. Louis that he hopes might find its way out on tour or even back on Broadway.
And although Evita marks his North Shore Music Theatre debut, Maroulis already has his eye on a return. With Jekyll & Hyde having already been announced for next season, he’s not ruling out the possibility that he will revive his performance.
As for right now? He’s currently trying to raise funds to record a new album and he has a couple of new exciting theatre prospects. “I hope all these answers will be revealed in the coming weeks,” Maroulis said. “I’m in a very happy place right now.”
Catch Maroulis in Evita through Oct 8 only.
EVITA. THROUGH 10.8 AT NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATRE, 62 DUNHAM RD., BEVERLY. NSMT.ORG
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.