Yes, “Rescue Me” fans, that was really Steven Pasquale on last night’s episode – in his role as New York firefighter Sean Garrity – singing in a sweet tenor, dressed in suit and tie, at least until Kevin Chapman, as Garrity’s brother, Terrance, interrupted the tune by making fun of him.
“I’m sure there will be fans who think it’s not me,” Pasquale says, backstage at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater, after one of the final performances of Neil Labute’s Tony-nominated harsh comedy, “Reasons to Be Pretty.” “You know, it’ll be ‘Why is Michael Buble doing the voice for Sean?’”
In fact, for the 32-year-old actor, song-and-dance is a more natural milieu than the rough-and-tumble comedy of “Rescue Me.”
“I’d never done comedy,” Pasquale says. “Now people think I’m a comedian. Stand-up would be my worst nightmare. But here, if the material is funny, it’s great fun.”
As he spoke, Pasquale was in the final week of performances of “Reasons to Be Pretty.” The dark comedy, which closed this past Sunday, is about a relationship break-up that continues to haunt both the guy and the girl. Pasquale played the main character’s best friend, a guy with an amplified id whose friendship winds up to be surprisingly conditional.
“I think of Garrity as being a sweetheart, so this is a departure for me,” he says. “I more often play the other guy, the earnest do-gooder.
“I had worked with Neil Labute on ‘Fat Pig’ and I’d worked with (director) Terry Kinney before, too. So I had a great relationship with both of them. They always had me in the back of their mind for this role but I couldn’t do it downtown because of ‘Rescue Me.’ But we were able to make this work.”
On “Rescue Me,” his character, Sean Garrity, is not the brightest of bulbs: “You have to be really smart to play someone that dumb,” Pasquale says. “There’s a little bit of Woody from ‘Cheers,’ some of Lowell from ‘Wings’ – and then my own special brand of dumbness.”
In the show, Garrity is recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. In a coma following the operation, last night he fantasized himself as a Fred Astaire-like character in a black-and-white musical number. There will be two more musical interludes in coming episodes. None ever quite go from start-to-finish without incident – usually a darkly comic incident, at that.
“Denis (Leary) and Peter (Tolan, the show’s cocreators) and I all had the idea,” Pasquale says. “It was such a departure. Denis and Peter are giant fans of the American musical, something most people wouldn’t figure. The fact that I’m a musical guy gave them the chance to explore this.
“Peter wrote the songs. I get asked to do a lot of musicals and I never can because I’m doing ‘Rescue Me.’ So this was a chance to explore it. It works because it’s so zany and out there. It was the perfect way to do it, in this drug-induced, coma-induced fantasy. It’s crazy.”
A native of Hershey, Pa., Pasquale went to Southern Methodist University “for a hot minute,” then landed a role in a national touring production of “West Side Story,” followed by a tour with “Miss Saigon.” He ended up in New York, working in plays and, eventually, in “Rescue Me.”
“I’m ready to do a musical again,” he says. “I’ve never done a stereotypical Broadway musical. I will when ‘Rescue Me’ is over. I’d like to do ‘Brigadoon’ or ‘Passion’ or ‘Carousel.’ I’ve got a lot of ideas percolating.”
In April, Pasquale released a CD of songs, ”Something Like Love,” that focuses on show tunes and classic songs, from “My Funny Valentine” to “If I Were a Bell” from “Guys and Dolls.” The album was produced by John Pizzarelli; Pasquale, accompanied by Pizzarelli and his combo, will perform those songs and other material for his cabaret debut June 28 at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in Manhattan.
“I’m a huge fan of the genre,” Pasquale says. “I fell in love with theater. I’m a fan of Richard Rogers and Cole Porter and Cy Coleman. By the age of 25, the people I was hanging out with were the ones with Ella Fitzgerald on their turntable. I like that old-fashioned element.
“I’ve always had favorite songs and many of the ones on the CD came from them. I chose ‘Laura,’ because my wife’s name is Laura. John Pizzarelli was very integral in this. It wouldn’t have happened without him. I don’t get nervous about something like the cabaret show. With John as my band leader for the night, it will be like an adrenaline rush.”
Pasquale’s Broadway dream will have to be deferred a while longer. “Rescue Me” just finished shooting its fifth season. In the coming year, Pasquale says, they’ll film seasons 6 and 7 back to back and wrap things up. Despite Garrity’s encounter with cancer during the current season, Pasquale believes the character will survive to the end.
“I knew the cancer wouldn’t kill Sean because they know where their comic bread is buttered,” he says. “Once we got into it, there was a sprinkling of drama and a song. They’re these fanciful musical fantasies that lean heavily to comedy.”
The success of the show itself surprises Pasquale – mostly because its seasons have been interrupted by long hiatuses, including one of 18 months that encompassed last year’s writers’ strike.
“We do this weird thing where we’re off the air for long stretches of time,” he says. “But the audience keeps growing. People have discovered the show through Netflix and online. The fan base has grown. I think it’s a testimony to the quality of the writing. Denis and Peter and Evan Reilly write all the shows – and they’re really smart, really funny guys.”