From a young age, Gerard Canonico knew he wanted to be in front of a camera. Theater wasn’t on his radar, but then he was cast in Les Misérables and made his Broadway debut at only ten years old. Since then, Gerard has had a busy career in shows like Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and Groundhog Day. He is currently playing Rich in Be More Chill and is starring in the movie musical, Stuck.
When did you first become interested in theater and decide to pursue it as a career?
When I was 7 years old I noticed a friend of mine was in an ad for the Gap or Old Navy or something. And I thought to myself “huh, I could do that”. So my mom arranged meetings with managers and we found one who started sending me out for auditions. First for print and then for commercials. Within 4 weeks I booked my first national network commercial for Burger King. I turned 8 on that shoot. Then my manager sent me out for the tour of Les Misérables. I had never auditioned for musicals or sung professionally, so it was a bit scary for my parents. I, however, was fearless and I believe I sang “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” for my first audition. They called me back and gave me specific Gavroche material. It went well. Six months later I got a phone call saying they didn’t want me on the tour but instead, I was going to replace the current actor on Broadway and make my Broadway debut with Les Misérables in the summer of 1999. Needless to say, I was hooked and I haven’t stopped performing in theater since!
Are there any shows that have had a big impact on you?
The shows that started my obsession with the type of musical theater I pursue would be Footloose and Rent. They showed me that you don’t have to stick to convention in order to make good musical theater. You can rock belt in a musical!!! It sort of changed my perspective on what was “allowed”.
You list Groundhog Day as your favorite credit, what was it about that show that made it so special to you?
Groundhog Day was quite the experience! When I say “favorite” it’s because I can’t put all my credits for certain categories in my bio or it’ll be hundreds of words long. It’s up there as one of the greatest shows I’ve ever been in. The experience backstage was the polar opposite of the experience onstage. It was kind of brutal backstage and the creative team was very hard on us. We were all character actors, however we were being treated like principal dancers. Very different ways of working. My all time favorite Broadway show that I’ve gotten to do night after night was American Idiot. I never got tired of doing that show. It was like a rocket exploded from start to finish and you’re either on the ride or you’ll fall off. It was thrilling.
Stuck is a very different kind of movie musical, can you tell us more about it?
Stuck is a movie about six people of different ethnicities and backgrounds who all get stuck and locked into their 1 train car underground in NYC. Throughout the movie, you get a peek at each of our outside worlds through song. The songs sort of transport us to different times and places in these characters lives. It’s as if we take a trip into their brains and memories and the words they are singing become vibrantly alive in front of you and then when the song is over, it’s back to the train car. They all grapple with assumptions about each other. Mostly unfair ones. We get to really “see” each character through the journey of the movie. Keeping things interesting in a tight space like that proved to be the biggest challenge but we all made it work!
What was it that drew you to the role?
Well, this was a last minute booking. I wasn’t working on much at the time but I just switched agencies. They called me one day and said I have a last minute feature film audition for a musical movie. I said “okay sure”. Not expecting anything, I listened to the song and it reminded me of a U2 song and I immediately was like “ohhhhhh I have to sing this in this movie.” Then I read the script and I was sold. The character is very misunderstood. He’s pre-judged. He’s made out to be something he’s not at all. I feel that we as a society do that to people all the time. I’ve had it happen to me my whole life. I’m just some punk and I’m probably stealing something or not paying my tab or whatever. I felt immediately connected to that idea. So I auditioned on a Tuesday. Read with my co-star on Wednesday for a call back and by Thursday I was on set. Apparently they had to fire the person they hired originally because he couldn’t handle the workload. The director (Michael Berry) begged the producers to let him hire a theater kid cuz we get sh
it done fast. Low and behold, I was making my principal debut in a film in my mid twenties. Four years later and the movie is finally seeing the light of day. I’m so thrilled!
Have you ever been stuck on the subway?
Regularly. So regularly in fact, that I can no longer rely on it in my life to get me anywhere on time without leaving a ridiculous amount of extra travel time. It’s becoming a real problem.
What’s the strangest or funniest experience you have ever had on the NYC subways?
Too many to count really. I don’t enjoy those guys who do “showtime.” But there is a quartet of older gentlemen that always sing barbershop style through the train cars and their harmonies are great! Their spirits are high! It’s always a delight to see them.
Be More Chill had a lot of fans before it even opened on Broadway. What is it like to be part of a popular show like that?
Totally surreal. Yet, we are so separated from the mania of it because we created it. It feels incredible to have people see themselves in this show and attach themselves to certain characters. It gives me ease to know that we are doing our jobs to convey these characters with hyper detail and people are responding so positively to that.
I wouldn’t say “cool” but I was respected. In middle school, I was bullied relentlessly. Every single day. Verbally and physically. I’ve had to literally fight my whole childhood for respect. Kids would always call me gay (but the meaner and more offensive word) regularly because I did theater. Which honestly, if you think I’m gay and that’s affecting you negatively, then DAMN you got issues. Once I got to high school, I had an opportunity to start fresh and be boldly myself at that time. People definitely respected me for singing solos very early on in freshman year during church (I went to Catholic school, it was a nightmare), but there were still those odd three or four jocks who hadn’t fully evolved yet so they used their insecurities to create anger to try to intimidate me. But I didn’t care, I was fourteen with a savings account, haha.
What message do you want fans to take away from Be More Chill?
Be yourself. Loudly and proudly. Have opinions. Have conflicting thoughts. Have moments of doubt. Have sadness. Have all of it and receive it to move forward. Don’t try to change yourself for anyone else. You are absolutely enough.
If you could revisit any previous role, which would it be?
Moritz in Spring Awakening
If you could switch places with anyone on Broadway right now and play their role for one show, who would you choose?
Andrew Feldman as Evan in Dear Evan Hansen. I’m a dinosaur now, but I never got to go on when I covered all the guys at Second Stage, so it would feel full circle.
If there were a book or play about your like, what would the title be?
Too Blunt for Broadway.
STUCK is a modern pop musical set almost entirely on the New York City subway. Through the power of music, six commuters who get stuck together on a New York City subway learn about each others very different lives, and, in turn, have a profound effect on one another, becoming a day they will never forget. IN SELECT THEATERS NATIONWIDE APRIL 19th