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'The Voice' winner Josh Kaufman on his acrobatic Broadway debut in 'Pippin'

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Pippin
Joan Marcus

One of the easiest victories to predict on The Voice was season six winner Josh Kaufman, who pulled out a full season’s worth of impressive performances on the show that ushered him into the winner’s circle with few bumps on the road. After winning the competition in May 2014, Kaufman has taken a decidedly different path in his latest gig: playing the title role in Broadway’s Tony-winning revival of Pippin.

Reality talents have never shied from the Broadway stage, but Kaufman’s casting in the circus-inspired revival is particularly of note thanks to the acrobatic demands of the Diane Paulus-directed production. Before Pippin packs up the tent on January 4, 2015, EW chatted witih Kaufman to find out what went into his decision to head under the big top and onto the big stage.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your relationship with musical theater?

JOSH KAUFMAN: I did some stuff in high school. Honestly, where I have the most experience doing that stuff is growing up in church doing big productions there. That’s where I did a lot of my performing, but I never did it on that big of a scale. I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s something I’ve had an interest in, but it’s not something that I pursued later on when I started focusing on my own music. You make your choices—what avenues you’re going to pursue—and you can’t always do everything. But the fact that this opportunity came up so many years later is amazing, especially since I’m being able to expand on what I’ve been doing. Do something a little bit different, take on a new challenge.

So how did Broadway come about for you, then?

When I was on the Voice tour this summer, the guy who runs my website contacted me and said, ‘I just got a message through the website from a casting company and they want you to do a Broadway show, and I think it’s for real. You might want to look into it!’ And I ended up contacting them and they had me come out in August to do a little work session and see the show, and then I came out again in September for another work session where [director] Diane Paulus was there. We ran through more scenes, and then they called me back, and here I am.

What was it like to tap back into your theatrical past?

It didn’t feel foreign to start trying to perform like that again. It was definitely something I hadn’t really focused on, but it didn’t feel like I was out of place. It felt fairly comfortable. And of course, the more I do it, the more comfortable I get with it.

Your voice really lends itself well to that old school Broadway sound, which is really interesting because not every reality winner has that.

That’s always been something that I’ve really focused on. I guess it comes a little natural to me. I like switching in and out of styles. Years ago, I had a kind of arty rock band that was doing Radiohead, Jeff Buckley type stuff. I’ve sung in a straight-up jazz group, in a quartet, doing old standards Chet Baker style. So I love that. I assume this style as well. I felt fairly good going into it that I wasn’t going to be so out of place, and again, it lends itself to that idea that I don’t always want to be doing the same thing. I like putting a different spin on how I’m singing and not doing it the same way. Even though I went down that classic soul sound on The Voice.

Bob Fosse-inspired dance class is probably not reminiscent of your past, though.

I was definitely happy to find out that there was only one song that Pippin has to do that’s fully choreographed. I thought, if I can just focus on “On the Right Track” and repeat it over and over again, surely I can get that down. But it’s definitely something I had to work on. Before I came out here to start rehearsals, back when I was still in Indianapolis, they actually set me up with some of the instructors at the dance school where my six-year-old daughter takes ballet. Just to get everything in my body.

Did you bring your family to New York with you for the run of Pippin?

Because of my daughter being in first grade, it’s hard to just up and pull her out. We probably could have made that work somehow, but it would have been really difficult. My family came out and visited for several days while I was rehearsing, and they’ll come back out over the holidays when school is out.

So your wife hasn’t seen the show yet?

She’ll wait to go with the kids.

What’s surprised you so far about the Broadway experience versus your expectations?

This is specific to this show and this role, but I’m surprised how physically taxing it is. I’m climbing poles and flipping over guys and falling down five times and jumping all over the place and running…it’s a really physical role. But it’s been super fun to work on the acrobatics.

I can only imagine your wife in Indiana hearing about all these stunts you do but not exactly knowing what you’re actually doing until she sees it.

I’ve told her all about it! This whole time, she’s been so encouraging for me to not turn down the opportunity. You’ve got to go do it and figure it all out. She’s definitely been supportive but I’m sure she’ll be surprised.

The Voice has yet to have a major breakout winner. Do you feel like the show has given you that platform for future success?

It’s a huge platform. There are obviously still a lot of questions as to how far you can take that, but a year and a half ago, I was playing during lunchtime at a little sandwich shop downtown in Indianapolis a couple days a week. Since The Voice, I’ve been able to sing the National Anthem on Monday Night Football. I was the Grand Marshal at the Indianapolis 500. I got to sit courtside at the Indiana Pacers basketball game. I’ve done a lot bigger shows. I played at the Indianapolis Jazzfest before I started Pippin. Had I not done The Voice, naturally this would not have come about, so yeah, it’s provided a lot of opportunities and I’m just trying to capitalize on those and keep it going and make the most of it as much as I can.

There are a lot of different ways you can take a victory on a show like The Voice.

Exactly. To me, it’s more about just doing it and then you see what doors open and try to make the right decisions.

Having now done Broadway, what doors are you hoping will open?

I love the acting aspect of it and would be totally interested in doing more of that if the opportunity came up. I always tell people I have the kind of personality where I get bored if I’m just doing the same thing all the time. So to be able to go down different avenues and try different things, I feel like that keeps me interested and excited and keeps me going.

And are you still watching The Voice now with the new coaching panel?

I haven’t watched the whole season, but I’ve watched when I had the chance. I really like the new coaches, but I feel like that’s always the case. Every season, you have a couple judges who change up and it gives it a different energy. You’re not just seeing new contestants but you’re also seeing a new vibe between the coaches and how they relate to each other. I think Pharrell and Gwen are a great addition to the show.