Mr. Versatility: an interview with David Pevsner
Thu. September 22, 2016 by Gregg Shapiro
Nothing expresses a broken heart or the revenge of a cheating spouse or the joy of life more than a country tune.
Gay actor/singer/songwriter David Pevsner really is versatile.
David Pevsner and I go way back. To high school, in fact, where we were both “theater jocks” in a suburb directly northwest of Chicago. We didn’t have a GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) back then. The theater department was the closest thing. To say that David was one of the shining stars is no exaggeration. He landed the lead in practically every production, musical and non-musical alike. This is all to say that it’s not the least bit surprising that David made acting and singing his profession. A familiar face on stage (Pevsner appeared opposite Topol in a Broadway revival of Fiddler On The Roof as well as in the off-Broadway sensation Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly), on television (his credits include NYPD Blue, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family, as well as the TV movie Liz and Dick), and in movies (including the popular gay films Adam & Steve, Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean Scrooge & Marley, and Role/Play). With the release of his solo debut album Most Versatile (davidpevsner.com), he can add recording artist to his résumé. I spoke with David about the album and more in September 2016, shortly after its release.
Gregg Shapiro: David, I’d like to begin talking about your new album Most Versatile with the cover, an inspired homage to Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA. What can you tell me about the cover design?
David Pevsner: Originally, we were going to call the album Shameless after my Tumblr blog and we were going to go for something with a little skin. But I really wanted to call the CD Most Versatile, because in that survey that all high schools do where kids are named "Most Talented" or "Best Looking" or whatever, I was voted, yep, "Most Versatile". Little did they know [laughs]. I have a wonderfully talented friend named Hank Hudson who designed the poster for my second one-man-musical Musical Comedy Whore and I love the way he thinks. When I sent him the title and the cuts to listen to, he came back with exactly two perfect ideas. One that used the original 1977 photo from that survey (which will be on the inner panels of the physical CDs) and the one that's on the cover. How could we not go with that [laughs]? It works on two levels and it gets a laugh every time I show it to someone. That's good enough for me. Thanks to Hank and the wonderful photographer Gabriel Goldberg for that image.
GS: Most Versatile includes “The Perky Little Porn Star” and “The Naked Maid,” two songs from the hit musical Naked Boys Singing. Why was it important for you to include those songs on the album?
DP: Those are the first two songs I ever wrote. I was in When Pigs Fly off-Broadway, and I thought the songs were so smart and funny and I wanted to try my hand, but with a bit more sexuality. I had such a desire to express my experience. "The Naked Maid," yes, I was one [laughs] and my fantasy ("The Perky Little Porn Star") in musical comedy, that in some way they're the most organic of anything I've ever written. I've always loved the audacity of both of them, so of course, I had to go with them.
GS: Are there other songs from that period or before?
DP: Not on the album. I had two other songs. One, "Fight the Urge," a trio that I wrote with Rayme Sciaroni, is in Naked Boys Singing. The other, "A Shoelace Kind of Day", became the opening number for my first one man show, To Bitter and Back. I started writing more after NBS became a hit. I found that very encouraging.
GS: Were any of the other songs on the album also written for shows?
DP: None of the songs except "I Gotta Give It Up to Love" were written specifically for my shows/films. What I have found putting my shows together is that so much of what I write comes out of my own experience, so when I put together my one-man-shows, they naturally had found their ways as offshoots of the stories I tell. There's really no “shoehorning” songs in just for the sake of it. But they were almost all written as individual pieces over the years.
GS: Most Versatile includes a pair of country songs, “Straight Guy” and “Pain In The Butt.”
DP: I have always loved country music, and I feel it's kind of the only popular music today that depends on strong melody, lyrics, and storytelling. Nothing expresses a broken heart or the revenge of a cheating spouse or the joy of life more than a country tune. Plus at the time, there were maybe two other out gay guys writing or singing country stuff. I’m a musical comedy guy though, so I was able to really use my dirty little mind to turn it all on its ear. Plus I love guitar and country harmony, so with those songs and “Shoot Me,” I got to really play with it and make my own kind of country. And may I say that my doctor told me he almost ran off the road from laughing so hard after playing my demo of “Pain in the Butt” in his car [laughs]. I think that’s my fave of all my songs.
GS: “The Best Part” sounds like an homage to “You Gotta Have A Gimmick.” Am I on the right track?
DP: It's a pretty blatant ripoff...er...homage [laughs]...I'm actually proud to say. What if the strippers were guys?
GS: Exactly, what if? Please tell me about the inspiration for “The Best Part”?
DP: That song came about because I loved going to the Gaiety Theatre in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was a male burlesque house where each guy would do two numbers, one clothed and one fully nude, in front of a Mylar curtain. So fun and seedy. I fantasized about being a stripper when I was a skinny guy filled with body shame, I wanted so badly to do what they did, to feel that freedom. With my love of musicals and desire to take it all off for an audience, I realized there was a direct connection to Gypsy. That music is brilliant so I thought I'd try my hand at something narrative.
Seasoned strippers teach a newbie all about the wonders of taking it off for a crowd. I think it's a ball but I also love it's these absolutely shameless guys sharing their words of wisdom and how they came to feel free.
GS: “The Best Part” features guest vocals by Maxwell Caulfield, who readers will remember from Grease 2 and Dynasty, among others. How did that come about?
DP: I wanted a Brit or an Aussie for that role. I have been doing a production of the play Corpus Christi on and off for almost 10 years, and his daughter Melissa is in it with me. He and his wife Juliet Mills (Nanny and the Professor) have come to many of the shows, even when we performed in Edinburgh. They are two of the loveliest people I've ever met, so very much in love, and when I asked Max to do it, I think he had some hesitations, but he liked the song so he was all in and he was fab. He’s so fun, so kind of crazy, and really a great sport. I think one of my crowning achievements in life is to get Maxwell Caulfield to say "The best part's my dick!" [laughs]. I'm so thrilled he said yes.
GS: Jim J. Bullock, of Too Close For Comfort fame joins you on “Accoutrements.” How did that duet come about?
DP: Jimmy J. is one of my best pals in LA. We did the LA production of When Pigs Fly together and have remained close every since. He was in my show The Fancy Boys Follies, a kind of burlesque/vaudeville show – a vaudelesque [laughs]! – and he did that number in it and was awesome. I wanted him on record and he is hilarious. Plus, he's one of the best people I know.
GS: For the most part, Most Versatile is a humorous affair, but you get serious on “Ballad.” What can you tell me about that song and why did you choose to include it?
DP: For a couple of years I went about writing funny, dirty little ditties because that's all I thought I had in me. One night I went to see Ann Hampton Callaway and Amanda McBroom perform together at UCLA, and they both had written such beautiful original ballads (Amanda wrote "The Rose"). As much as I loved them, I went home kind of down because I didn't feel like I could write a ballad. So I poured a Scotch, sat on my balcony, stayed up all night, and gave birth to "Ballad," a song about a guy who can't write a ballad because he feels he always loves so much stronger than he's ever felt it back. I thought that was kind of personal yet universal and real, and I'm really proud of the song. I think it's a nice change of pace on the CD.
GS: “The Book of Lust” is another clever song. Do you think you have a book in you?
DP: I don't know if I have an actual autobiography in me because my memory sucks, but my two one man shows are a pretty good record of a portion of my life. I've been asked to put them into book form, so we'll see. Meanwhile the book that the song "The Book of Lust" is based on is sitting on a shelf. It's the record of everyone I'd ever slept with up until about 20 years ago, but I stopped adding to it when I started going to sex parties back in the ‘90s. How the hell was I going to get everyone's name [laughs]? That song is based in truth, but there are a few flights of fantasy within. No, I did not actually sleep with Tom Cruise. But I find that so many people relate to that song and the “list”…especially women.
GS: What can you tell me about “I Gotta Give It up to Love,” the song that closes the album?
DP: Michael (Skloff) and I wrote it for the screenplay that Musical Comedy Whore is based on. Michael and I were at Carnegie-Mellon together and I knew I needed a pop song for this moment in the film, kind of a gay Partridge Family song. I do not write pop, so when I moved to LA, I looked him up because he wrote the music to "I'll Be There For You" from Friends, and after reading the script, he agreed to do the music. He really challenged me to make the lyrics less show tune-y, more pop, and he really pushed me to find my inner David Cassidy when I sang on it. He sang all the back ups, did the arrangement, played all the instruments. Oh my God, I was so lucky he said yes! The original demo is what's on the CD, and especially when you know that it's a Partridge Family homage, there's a bunch of fun to be had. From the harpsichord to the Shirley Jones-esque backups at the end, it sounds like a goddamn gay Partridge Family song! Their first few albums have some really great stuff on them, with arrangements played by some of the best (musicians) Hollywood had to offer.
GS: In addition to being a songwriter and a singer, you are also an actor. Do you have any upcoming film or television roles for which we should be on the lookout?
DP: Besides looking to do Musical Comedy Whore wherever they’ll have me, I have a “blink and you'll miss me” scene in Spa Night which is out right now. A film that just came out on DVD called Confessions, a series of monologues, was originally going to be in two parts, but they decided to put the first film out and then have all the other monologues as DVD extras, so I'm in that. I'm also in two films that are in post-production. A gay romantic comedy called Open and a film about the world of Remote Cars called Flying Cars. They're planning a fourth and final season of the web series I’m on, Old Dogs and New Tricks. I'm also trying to get a film made that I wrote called My GFF (My Gay Film Festival). It's ten short films to be directed by ten different directors starring all the great gay and gay-friendly actors we see in all the festival films – comedies, musicals, animated, documentary, porn – it's going to feel like you've been to a whole festival in 90 minutes. I have a bunch of folks who want to be a part of it, so as soon as we find the funding – Help! Please! – we're moving on with it.
Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.