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The Smith Center:

Q+A: ‘Cabaret’ star Randy Harrison talks touring, nudity, Orlando massacre, ‘Queer As Folk’

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Joan Marcus

“Cabaret,” starring Randy Harrison as the MC, is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas.

‘Cabaret’ at Smith Center

“Cabaret” is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

“Cabaret,” starring Randy Harrison as the MC, is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

“Cabaret,” starring Randy Harrison as the MC at right, is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

This Jan. 8, 2016, photo shows Randy Harrison, who plays the MC role made famous by award winners Joel Grey and Alan Cumming, during a rehearsal in New York for the “Cabaret” tour. The musical, about the world of the indulgent Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, lands at the Smith Center on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, for a limited run.

Youthful-looking actor Randy Harrison is best known for his role as young, blond Justin Taylor on Showtime’s “Queer As Folk” from 2000-2005, but the 38-year-old has an extensive theater background (“The Who’s Tommy,” “Amadeus,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Equus,” “Wicked”) and graduated from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

So how did the adult role on the Showtime series come about?

“It was a fluke! I had just graduated from theater school and was deciding on moving to L.A. or New York,” Harrison said. “I was comfortable with adult content. I fit the archetype of Justin Taylor — young and blond. I represented Justin physically. I got the role on the second callback.”

Harrison talked over the phone Wednesday, the afternoon after opening night of “Cabaret” at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. He stars as the MC in the award-winning musical through Sunday and discussed adult roles, touring, the Orlando massacre and “Queer As Folk.”

How is the tour of “Cabaret” going so far for you?

It’s great. I’m loving it. I love the show. I’m super happy to perform it every night. I was scared about touring at first because I’m a bit of a homebody, but it’s an incredible way to see the country — to get to know different cities and meet people.

How did you feel about your performance after opening night Tuesday night?

It was really good, really fun. It’s a beautiful theater. The audience was responsive and really great. This run is after a week off, so it was great to get back onstage.

My reporter Robin Leach said that your performance opening night as the MC was magnificent and that you should stand proud alongside Joel Grey and Alan Cumming.

Wow, that’s incredible. I’m very honored and flattered. I’m deeply indebted to them, especially to Alan, but also to Joel. It’s really incredible to be part of a lineage like this.

(Editor’s Note: I saw “Cabaret” on Thursday night, and Harrison was incredible — I was blown away. The cast deservedly received a standing ovation at show’s end.)

How did the role come about for you?

I auditioned for the role. I grew up with the film and saw the original Broadway incarnation three times in the 1990s. It was during and after college. I saw Alan in the role twice.

When it was first released, I was too young to play the MC. I was playing mostly ingénues (laughs). For the tour, it’s been 15 to 20 years. I’m a character actor now, and I’ve grown ready for this role.

What do you bring to the role of the MC that is different than Joel and Alan?

I mean myself. This is the version that Alan created. It’s different than the Joel version in the film. The MC isn’t just in the Kit Kat Club like in the film, but in the entire show. The more that I could fill it with my sexuality, rage, political engagement and point-of-view, the better. The role is personal to me.

You’re comfortable performing half-naked onstage?

(Laughs) comfortable? You just have to do it. I’m actually a shy person. But sexuality and nudity have been an aspect of my career. I enjoy the provocative nature of roles.

Watching you as Justin Taylor on Showtime’s “Queer As Folk,” I had no idea that you could sing and are a theater actor, but you attended college for musical theater and have an extensive theatrical resume. How did “Queer As Folk” come about?

It was a fluke! I had just graduated from theater school and was deciding on moving to L.A. or New York. I was doing summer stock in St. Louis. A freelance agent in New York told me about the role and asked me if I was comfortable with the content.

I’d done “Shopping and F*cking” and “Hello Again,” so I was comfortable with adult content. I fit the archetype of Justin Taylor — young and blond. I represented Justin physically. I got the role on the second callback.

Any plans for more television or film work, aside from “Mr. Robot” on the USA Network?

I’m on the road with “Cabaret” for another six months, so everything else is on hold. “Mr. Robot” was a lot of fun. I just shot a web series. We’re finishing post-production, so I was behind the camera. But everything is on the backburner for now.

You’re 38 years old now and could still play a teenager. What is your secret to looking so young, Justin?

It is totally, totally my parents — genetics! I mean I exercise, but I’ve had my fun in my life. It’s my parents.

What is your favorite musical, and what is your dream role — in theater, film or television?

It’s hard to say. I love Stephen Sondheim, and I’ve never done a professional Sondheim production. I love “Sunday in the Park” and “Assassins.” I want to do “Uncle Vanya” and “Waiting for Godot,” but I have to wait. I think that in my 50s and 60s, I’ll be in my prime as an actor (laughs). I think that I’ll be thriving at that age.

I’ve been an openly gay journalist for nearly 20 years, and you’re an openly gay actor. Can I ask you how the Orlando shootings have affected you?

Yes. I’m still devastated, horrified, angry, angry, angry. I’m in mourning. It took me a few days to process. I was numb at first, then became obsessed with reading and sharing stories, donating money to stop feeling helpless and effect change about gun laws and offer relief and help to the victims, families and Orlando.

I’m really upset, but I’m so grateful to have the job that I have. The show is as politically relevant as ever, and, in some capacity, I’m making an impact. Last night, at the end of the show, walking to the slaughter, to the concentration camp, it was our first show since Orlando. It’s about being targeted because you’re queer, Jewish, a minority for death. It felt very real.

Let’s end on a happier note. You’re in Las Vegas for the week while “Cabaret” is at the Smith Center. What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I try to dine out and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine. I unfortunately won’t have very much time in Las Vegas. I try to explore the city and see shows and walk around and find a good restaurant. Lunch is my big meal.

What is on your must-do list while you are in Las Vegas this time around?

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Las Vegas and hope to return soon when I’m in L.A. or there is a layoff. When the run is only one week, there usually isn’t a full day off. It’s Monday to Monday with shows every day, and I have to be very careful about not overextending myself.

“Cabaret” is at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.

Don Chareunsy is the Las Vegas Sun’s entertainment and luxury senior editor and has been a journalist for nearly two decades.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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