Jesse Tyler Ferguson might have been little known until starring in ABC’s monster hit Modern Family, but he has used that fame to catapult him into the highest-profile stage role of his career: Ferguson will star as Leo Bloom in the three-night run of The Producers at the famed Hollywood Bowl. He talks to The Los Angeles Times about his history with theater and why he’s still nervous about the upcoming shows.
It’s a long way for Ferguson from his New Mexico upbringing to his role in one of Broadway’s biggest hits in front of a nightly audience of 17,000+. He explains, “The people I idolized I saw once a year on the Tony Awards. I would buy the cassette tapes of the various Broadway shows and scour the photos inside the recording package. That’s how I exposed myself to the arts — New York and professional theater felt like a very distant thing.”
Luckily, when he finally made it to New York (Ferguson attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy) Broadway was moving away from the type of booming singing found in Phantom of the Opera and similar musicals. He reveals, “I don’t have that kind of voice, the big baritone or rousing tenor sound. My wheelhouse was in the frothier pieces. So my appreciation for those older musicals and revivals grew.”
As a result, his Broadway debut — The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2005 — was a perfect fit, as Ferguson portrayed the timid Leaf Coneybear who even sings a song titled “I’m Not That Smart.” He points out, “Me being a shy kid, very closed off, showing vulnerability in a character was sort of a safe space on stage. It’s always been in my toolbox, there for me when I need it.”
But don’t assume that seven years later Ferguson has gotten over his nervousness: he admits that The Producers will be daunting, confessing, “Singing and dancing at the Bowl, in front of 18,000 people at a place where Kelly Clarkson will be singing the night after we close — my gut reaction was, this is kind of terrifying and that’s good. Basically, I [need to] go for roles that scare the crap out of me.”
The Producers runs July 27-29 at the Hollywood Bowl