- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

Playing a stage role in which the character ages backward growing younger by more than 20 years at each performance is no easy feat even with cosmetic aids. Doing it without much makeup, as Michael Hayden does in the current run of "Merrily We Roll Along" at the Kennedy Center, gives an actor little to go on but body language and subtle personality changes.
Mr. Hayden, a Juilliard School graduate, takes the challenge in stride, "I try to embrace the role mentally and emotionally," he says. "Life is simpler when you are younger, and you don't necessarily see its complexities. The scenes open up more and more as the characters get younger. There is an expansiveness you are more open when you are young and more guarded as you age.
"We made a conscious choice [of little or no makeup]," he says. 'I've got a relatively boyish face anyway . It's not that I don't care, but there is nothing I can do about it."
A handsome movie-star face is not necessarily an easy facade for showing inner complexity. The feat is further complicated by having to play a character an attractive, ambitious composer of musicals named Franklin Shepard whose life choices are less than admirable. He cheats on his wives; he betrays his best friend; he sells out to Hollywood. An audience is likely to have a love-hate relationship with the man at the outset, which doesn't guarantee an actor much sympathy.
"I don't think much about people liking or disliking him," Mr. Hayden remonstrates. "I saw an obvious challenge when I read the script the need to create a fellow people could relate to. We hurt the people we love more than anyone. I just hoped I could create the life of a man who was human. Art and money is always the conflict, as any artist knows."
Still, he must realize the difficulty?
"I can identify with Franklin," he says. "[With] his idealism. I can understand completely making choices that are mistakes. Spend any time in Los Angeles, and you see in our culture there is not a lot of encouragement to make choices on behalf of family or friendship or spiritual development. It's very much about a charismatic, wealthy picture we can put across. Frank is someone who loses his way and hurts people very badly. There are so many people who say, 'Why am I not happy? Why is my life not working out?'
"My biggest goal with Frank was to make him so people could not distance themselves from him I see him as incredibly human and flawed. He has a good heart, but he lets people make decisions for him. He doesn't take responsibility. I don't think he likes conflict, and he isn't willing to have any in his life."
The age issue clearly bothers Mr. Hayden personally in some way. He is reluctant at first "for business reasons," he says to tell in an interview how old he is. A minute later, he relents, admitting, "I was born in July 1963."
On July 28, when he will be 39, he has both matinee and evening performances in a show that has him onstage for nearly every scene, which means he hardly has time to change clothes, much less worry about his makeup.
Christopher Ashley, director of "Merrily," wasn't bothered by Mr. Hayden's youngish mien when he invited the actor to audition for the part. He had seen Mr. Hayden in his award-winning role as Billy Bigalow in the Royal National Theatre/Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" and in several straight dramatic roles, one of them being Pete Gurney's "Far East" at Lincoln Center, and in "Judgment at Nuremburg," which won Mr. Hayden a Tony Award nomination.
"He was superlatively prepared," Mr. Ashley recalls, adding that an audience's ambivalence about a character doesn't rule out the fact that "it's so much Frank's show. He is the lead character, after all, whose music is heard throughout."
A greater frustration, in Mr. Hayden's opinion, is the show's relatively brief Kennedy Center run of 14 performances in view of the lengthy preparation and rehearsal time that at one point involved three days of 12 hours each for technical run-throughs.
"Normally," he says, "you have got a couple of weeks at least to work out the kinks. Two shows on top of tech here and, bam, you are right into it."
He had never seen any previous productions of "Merrily" it was judged a bomb when it debuted on Broadway in 1981 and deliberately did not listen to any recordings of the music before he auditioned. Nor did composer Stephen Sondheim confide any details about the inspiration for the show. A notably private man, Mr. Sondheim who came down from New York for rehearsals is also notably upfront about the way his work is performed.
A break in the performance schedule this week gave Mr. Hayden a chance to spend time in Spain with his family. His wife, actress Elizabeth Sastre, is English with Spanish relatives on her mother's side, he explains. The couple's home is in New Jersey, where they raise a daughter, Hannah, 6. Only twice have they found themselves working identical schedules and once recently they starred together in a show, a new musical called "Camila." His wife's parents came over to help out both times.
"We never have had a nanny or day care. Hannah knows what we do. We keep it really separate," he says.
Mr. Hayden grew up in Connecticut and attended St. John's University in Minnesota before going on to Juilliard, where he was taught by Michael Kahn. Mr. Kahn, now the head of Juilliard's drama department and the artistic director of Washington's Shakespeare Theatre, chose Mr. Hayden four years ago to star opposite Elizabeth Ashley in that theatre's production of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth."
Mr. Hayden also has put in time performing for television, but after "Merrily," the future is open. "The only thing that is hard about my job is getting work getting a job you want to do to pay the bills," he says.
Art and money, money and art. A familiar refrain in several of Mr. Sondheim's musicals.

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