A Chicago native and star of more than 100 films, Billy Zane is making his Lyric debut leading a powerhouse cast as Captain von Trapp in Lyric's all-new production of The Sound of Music, opening on April 25.
Though he's known for his blockbuster film roles—including Titanic, Back to the Future, and a memorable cameo in Zoolander—Zane has theater in his DNA. His parents were active in regional theater, so he grew up watching them perform, as well as attending Harand Theatre Camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
His first stage memory was "being one of five kids playing Curly in a production of Oklahoma! at Harand Theatre Camp, age 10." But he points to watching the legendary Len Cariou in the title role of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd as the definitive moment that made him decide to pursue acting as a career.
When asked if he's nervous about singing on the same stage as opera greats such as Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti, Zane quips, "No pressure!" But he goes on to say that of all the storied places he's performed-including the Shubert Theater in New York and Haymarket Theater in London's West End—"Lyric takes the cake! I am most thrilled to experience the aesthetics and acoustics of the world-renowned Lyric in a way only so few ever get the chance to, from the footlights. A rare privilege indeed."
Zane was lauded by critics as "dazzlingly handsome and effortlessly magnetic" when he portrayed scheming lawyer Billy Flynn in the smash-hit musical Chicago on Broadway in 2002. However, he is quick to share credit with his fellow actors. "Any success that I had was merely a reflection of the strength of the well-seasoned ensemble I had the pleasure of working with," says Zane. "When you work with professionals at the top of their game—as is the caliber of the company assembled for The Sound of Music—then they only raise yours."
While preparing for his Lyric debut as Captain von Trapp, Zane has found a bit of himself in the role, as they both share what he calls "a wicked sense of humor." He elaborates that von Trapp acts as a bit of a foil for the delightful exuberance of Maria: “Those diametrically opposed perspectives are tantalizing and exciting to watch, because much like in love—opposites attract.”
In creating the role of the Captain, Zane will of course draw some inspiration from his own experiences with fatherhood, but jokes that it will be "in only the best ways, I imagine!" However, as a father, he recognizes von Trapp's unconditional love for his children. "From the first act, there's no question that his love for his children and his sense of structure and order carried over from the Navy are not mutually exclusive," notes Zane. "His love doesn't waver; it's just a question of his public displays of affection."
Photo credits: Billy Zane, photo credit Azabra; Billy Zane in Titanic, photo courtesy 20th Century Fox; Billy Zane in Chicago on Broadway, photo courtesy Chicago the Musical.