Intrepid Tyler Michaels emerges as musical theater star

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2014 - 7:17 AM

Tyler Michaels has flown to the top of Twin Cities musical theater circles with an eagerness to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Michaels screwed up his courage and the descent did not kill him. In fact, it made him the straw that stirred the stiff drink of this naughty, Tony-winning musical. For 21 performances, Michaels dazzled theatergoers with his audacious and spectacular entrance and continued to woo them through the show with his cunning and sly presence.

“Fearlessness is the No. 1 thing that sets him apart,” said director Peter Rothstein, who put Michaels up to the stunt. “He’s willing to try anything.”

Michaels is more than just a daredevil, though. His skills, charisma and determined ambition have propelled him into the forefront of Twin Cities musical theater. His Emcee in “Cabaret” slapped anyone who hadn’t noticed his previous work in “Spring Awakening” (in which he leapt from the stage and grabbed a light standard on the balcony at Rarig Center), “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Oklahoma!”

He currently performs as Prince Eric in “Disney’s Little Mermaid” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, which he will leave at the end of May for “My Fair Lady” at the Guthrie. A year from now, he’ll play the title role in Children’s Theatre Company’s “Peter Pan.”

“The dude wants the stage, the lights, the work; he wants the experience,” said Tod Petersen, who created a Fringe Festival show with Michaels last August. “I was always aware that Tyler has golden fairy dust sprinkled all over him, and that I was the lucky one to be working with him.”

Michaels is a lanky whip of a kid, with a face like a stretched-out blueberry pancake — two big eyes on a pale canvas. He’s a curious combination of giddy naif and constant hustler. He’s happy that his career has snowballed and hates it when he doesn’t get a role (that doesn’t happen much anymore). As amused and charmed as he is by the attention, he understands the obligations of climbing the ladder. Yet, he loves to hang out like any 25-year-old, do improv with buddies, play board games with his girlfriend at their apartment, goof off and have fun.

As he surfs this wave of success, Michaels is keenly aware that people are wondering: Is he going to try New York?

Former Denver actor Josh Stenseth, now trying to make it in the big city himself, was asked if he had any advice for his college best friend.

“Yeah, don’t wait,” Stenseth said. “It only gets harder the older you get. And he should make sure he wants it.”

Destined for the stage

“Apples! Apples, two for a nickel!”

Michaels had just those two lines in a middle school production of “Annie” and that was enough to get him off the ball fields of Bloomington (“my dad wanted me to be the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball”) and onto the stage.

“We all knew he was going to go off and do theater,” said Megan Myhre, who sang and acted with Michaels at Jefferson High School. “I don’t remember him ever not having that for a goal.”

Michaels was a goofball — charismatic, friendly and “never known for being quiet,” Myhre said.

That boundless bundle of joy could get to be too much on occasion. Upon winning the role of the Prince in “Cinderella,” Michaels irritated friends by singing over and over, “The Prince is going to the mall!” on a night out at the Mall of America.

“They said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to stop, that’s really annoying,’ ” Michaels recalled recently.

It was a small incident, perhaps, in the greater scheme of things, but Michaels tells it on himself as a reminder to stay humble.

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