Since he was a pre-teen, Ricky Martin has been in the spotlight — first with the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, then as a solo artist who broke through in both the English- and Spanish-language pop worlds. He's also been an actor on both sides of that divide, appearing on the telenovela Alcanzar una estrella and the American soap opera General Hospital.
This year, Martin has combined those two passions, playing the role of Ché in the Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita. Before his final performances this coming January, he spoke with NPR's Guy Raz about his long career and why he still gets nervous on stage.
On getting involved with Evita
"My agent came to me and asked me, 'What do you think about going back to Broadway?' I said, you know what, this is exactly what I need at this point in my life. I need the audience, I need to be on stage, I need to allow myself to feel emotions like the ones I go through every day on stage as I'm portraying Ché. It's amazing. This character is really intense: He goes from love to hate to anger to joy in the same scene."
On dealing with nerves
"I'm nervous every night. Getting ready, going over the lines, the melodies, the harmonies, the dialogue... Before I walk on stage for every scene, I feel this shot of adrenaline, and it's really intense. I cannot say that I am completely comfortable yet. People don't notice, but I'm going through a lot every time I walk on stage, which is part of doing theater. That's why it's so addictive."
On the differences between acting and music
"When I'm onstage during my tours, I don't have choreography and I don't follow a schedule. [In the theater], if you do something wrong, the domino effect is chaotic, and you must not allow yourself to make [any] mistakes whatsoever. In that case, theater is fascinating because of the discipline that you need."
On publicly coming out of the closet
"I wish I'd had the courage to do it way [sooner], to be honest. I feel so much better with myself. I look at myself in the mirror and I say, 'Hey buddy, good job, congratulations!' Apparently it's been not only good for me, but great for many people around the world. I've received letters, emails and tweets from parents, brothers, sisters and members of the LGBT community, thanking me for sharing my story. It's been a very, very beautiful journey, not only for me but for my entire family."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' LA VIDA LOCA")
RICKY MARTIN: (Singing) Upside, inside out, livin' la vida loca...
RAZ: Since the age of 12, Ricky Martin has been one of the biggest pop stars in the world. But this year, he took a break from the studio to work on stage as the character Che in the Broadway production of "Evita."
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "EVITA")
MARTIN: (as Che) (Singing) And the money kept rolling in from every side...
RAZ: It's the first time Ricky Martin's performed on Broadway since 1996 when he was in "Les Miserables." And since that time, he says, he's been thinking of a way to get back into the theater.
MARTIN: Oh, man. I've been talking about "Evita" for maybe five years now. My agent, he came to me, and he told me: What do you think about, you know, going back to Broadway? And I said, you know what, this is exactly what I need at this point of my life. I need the audience. I need to be on stage. I need to allow myself to feel emotions, like the ones that I go through every day stage onstage as I'm portraying Che.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "EVITA")
MARTIN: (as Che) (Singing) Tell me before I walk out of your life, before turning my back on the past. Forgive my impertinent behavior, but how long do you think this pantomime can last?
It's amazing. This character is really intense. He goes from love to hate to anger to joy in the same scene. So it's been very healthy for me as an actor.
RAZ: What did you want to do differently with your portrayal of Che?
MARTIN: Well, first of all, the Che that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote was Che Guevara. And I felt I was going to be a little bit limited. Instead of being just Che Guevara, why can't I be the voice of the people? And people loved her - Evita - people hated her, people didn't know what to do every time she showed up. She was - she still is - a big phenomenon.
So I said: Can I just play someone that can really just judge her every minute or feel in love with her the next? And I was very lucky that he allowed me to go there. So I'm not wearing the hat. I'm not wearing the beard. I'm just the voice of the people.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "EVITA")
MARTIN: (as Che) (Singing) Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show. Argentina has gone to town over the decimate actress called Eva Peron? We've all gone crazy, mourning all day and mourning all night, falling over ourselves to get off of the misery right.
RAZ: You said that when this opportunity came up, you felt like it was the perfect time. Like - you said you needed this for yourself.
RAZ: Why did you need it?
MARTIN: Well, I think what I learned doing "Les Mis" many years ago did so much for me as an actor, as an entertainer that I wanted to feel the stage of the theater again. It's just a completely different monster. I'm used to being on the road all the time and performing every night in a different city. And it's very different. It's very challenging. And this is what I needed to do.
RAZ: That's the thing. I mean, you are - how can I put this simply - you're one of the biggest stars in the world, right? I mean, you play...
MARTIN: Thank you, man.
RAZ: You can play stadiums and arenas and fill them night after night, and here you are, you're part of an ensemble cast. I mean, you're one of the stars. And obviously, a lot of people are coming to see you, but it's not just you on the stage. There are many people...
MARTIN: I'm on stage every night with Tony winners. And all I have to say is that I know nothing. Every night, it's a different feeling, a different vibe. The audience brings in a completely different energy every night. A lot of people ask me: You've been doing this for so long, for eight months, the same show every night. Aren't you tired? And I'm like: Not at all. It's very refreshing every night.
RAZ: Have you ever felt nervous about doing this?
MARTIN: I'm nervous every night, my friend - getting ready, going over the lines, the melodies, the harmonies, the dialogue. Before I walk on stage for every scene, I feel this shot of adrenaline. And it's really intense. I cannot say that I am completely comfortable yet. People don't know this, but I'm going through a lot every time I walk on stage, which is part of doing theater. That's why it's so addictive, I must say.
RAZ: How is the applause in that theater different from the applause you receive when you're singing?
MARTIN: It's very competitive. I mean, every night, you fight for that standing ovation at the end of the night. And if you do something wrong, the domino effect is chaotic. And you must not allow yourself to make mistakes whatsoever. So in that case, theater, it's fascinating because of the discipline that you need.
RAZ: You have essentially been on the stage or in the public eye more or less since you were 12, since you were really a little kid.
MARTIN: Yeah. That's true. 1984.
RAZ: I mean, you really didn't ever have a normal childhood. You weren't able to do that, I guess.
MARTIN: What's normal? It's all relative, I guess. This is what I was supposed to live, what I was supposed to go through. I guess that, yes - it's not that I guess. It made me who I am. And I would do it all over again. I met fascinating people along the way. I travel the world several times and - it's one of those things.
Why am I in the music business? Well, you know, I go to different countries, like Thailand or Haiti, and I talk about human trafficking or I talk about AIDS and people listen. And that's when everything clicks. Oh, this is why I'm doing this. This is why I had to leave my house at the age of 12. And, you know, that's where everything makes sense.
RAZ: I'm speaking with pop superstar Ricky Martin. He's currently starring as Che in the Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita." I'm curious to ask you about, obviously, a very public change in your life when in 2010 you publicly acknowledged that you are gay. Did it substantially change your life or the way people react to you?
MARTIN: Oh, my God. I wish I had the courage to do it way before, to be honest. I feel so much better with myself. I look at myself in the mirror, and I say: Hey, buddy, you know what, good job. Congratulations. And apparently, it's been not only good for me but great for many people around the world. I have received letters, emails, tweets from parents, from members of the LGBT community thanking me for sharing my story.
And it's been a very, very beautiful journey, not only for me, but for my entire family. I became a father three years ago, and I just wanted my kids to know who I am and what I've been through and the decisions that I had to make in order for me to decide to even become a father. And it was very beautiful.
RAZ: How has being a father changed the way you think about your career? In other words, can you imagine going on a grueling tour around the world with your boys and doing that like you did before they were born?
MARTIN: Oh, my God. You know, my kids were born on the road. I take them with me everywhere. And, obviously, yes, now, my decisions are based on their well-being. Now, they're going to school. Now, we live in New York City. Now, we have more of a schedule routine. But they're with me all the time. They were - they go to sound checks every day. And because of it, you know what, they're playing drums at the age of 4. So I find it fantastic.
RAZ: Ricky, I should mention that you're talking to us right now from your dressing room. In just a few hours, you are going to be onstage once again as Che in "Evita." And your last performance will be on January 26 next year. What are you going to miss most about it?
MARTIN: Oh, my God. Everyone that I work with. Not only the people onstage. We're like - we're 130 people working in - for this show, from technicians, to producers, to choreographers, lighting engineers, sound engineers. It's a big family. We live in a bubble. We've been in this theater for the last nine months, and we spend here most of the day. And I'm really going to miss them. We've bonded in a very beautiful way. And this is a new family that I've found.
RAZ: That's international superstar Ricky Martin. He's currently starring as Che in the Broadway revival of "Evita." And you have until the end of January to see him in that role. Ricky Martin, thank you so much. And congratulations.
MARTIN: Much peace. And thanks for allowing me to talk to your audience.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on programs, scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great Saturday night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.