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Actor Jason Alexander brings his first love -- Broadway tunes -- to the Meyerhoff

Jason Alexander will be forever known for "Seinfeld," but he's bringing is first love, Broadway, to Baltimore.

Jason Alexander fully understands that he will always be most widely known as George Costanza, the highly neurotic, easily angered friend of Jerry Seinfeld on the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld."

That's life when you're part of one of the most successful series in the history of television. And he's just fine with that.

But while sitcom fame and money are wonderful things, the 55-year-old actor's heart has always been in the theater, specifically musical theater, he said. And that's the Jason Alexander who will be front and center in his symphony shows at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall at 8 tonight and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

"I never thought I would leave the theater," Alexander said in a recent telephone interview. "All my fantasies about a career when I was growing up were about the New York theater. And that's exactly what I was doing, and I couldn't ever have imagined leaving it. And then, that pesky 'Seinfeld' show pulled me in the other direction."

And he was doing rather well in theater when the call from "Seinfeld" came.

In 1989, the year the sitcom began its celebrated run, he won a Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Tony Award as best musical actor for his work in "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." He played 14 roles nightly in that production for which he also wrote the book.

His Broadway resume had already included Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" (1981), "The Rink," from John Kander and Fred Ebb (1984), and Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" (1986).

And unlike many other TV performers, he has not allowed himself to be frozen in rerun time since the end of his prime-time glory.

He served as artistic director — from 2007 to its closure in 2013 — of the Reprise Theater in Los Angeles, a venue that was dedicated to bringing the best of musical theater to the West Coast. He directed "Damn Yankees" and "Sunday in the Park with George" there in 2007 and 2008, respectively. He also staged showcase performances featuring Patti LuPone, Ben Vereen and Carol Burnett.

All of that history and experience will inform his performances with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra SuperPops, Alexander said.

"I won't reveal the entire the program to you, because I love it being a little bit of a surprise to the people who are coming," he said. "But what I can tell you is that it is all theater music. I don't have a signature song; people don't know me as a pop singer, but those who do know me know me from the legit musical theater. So, I incorporate a lot of that."

The songs are "cobbled together" to tell what Alexander termed a "somewhat autobiographical story in chronological order," though, he promised it would not be, "… and then I was in this," and "… and then I sang that."

The difference between his symphony show and those done by many of his fellow theater actors: "For the most part, mine has a bunch more laughter in it. Some of it is purely comedic music, some of it is comedic banter. But there's comedic interaction with the audience," he said.

Alexander said he "rejects the quasi-formality of a symphony stage" in his performances.

"I love throwing that formality out the window and really engaging with the audience with pop orchestras, because they do tend to embrace the more familiar fare," he added. "There's also a little bit of on-stage audience involvement in my show. And there may be some people from the audience making their Baltimore Symphony debut."

Think of it ultimately, he said, as, "Not quite cabaret. It's a little more of a twist on a musical theater event. It's like having a wonderful musical theater performer coming out and walking through some interesting stories about theater and musicals, how I've lived them and how I've fantasized about them."

As committed as he is to musical theater, Alexander said his musical tastes run beyond songs of the stage.

"If you looked at my musical collection of the stuff I own, there is a preponderance of musical theater stuff. But you would also find that I tend to gravitate toward singer-songwriters who tell stories," Alexander said.

"I'm a huge fan — I'm going back to my generation — of the Billy Joels, the James Taylors, the Elton Johns, the Carole Kings, the Paul Simons. When they created a song, they had a story to tell," he added.

One of the singer-songwriters Alexander has collaborated with is country performer Brad Paisley. After becoming friends with Paisley through a writer partner in Los Angeles, Alexander wound up performing in one of Paisley's music videos, "Celebrity," and directing and performing in another, "Online."

The latter, which included William Shatner, Taylor Swift and Estelle Harris (who played George Constanza's mother on "Seinfeld"), won a video of the year award at the Country Music Association telecast in 2007.

"I had no idea they gave awards for country music videos, but it was a real thrill to go up there and get it," he said.

"I gave Taylor Swift her first video," Alexander added. "She owes me. We needed to shoot Brad in concert and she was one of the opening acts along with [singer] Kellie Pickler. And they were just sitting around and I said, 'Hey Brad, why don't we bring them up onstage and get some girls in the video.' I think she was like 17 at the time. She was like, 'Oh, you want me in the video? Really?' And I was like, 'Yeah, come on up.'"

Alexander is playing it close to the vest about a project he thinks might bring him back to the New York stage this summer. He says he isn't free to discuss the details, but he might be ready to make the major commitment of time and energy it takes to play in the big league of Broadway.

After "Seinfeld," he said, he "put the theater at arm's length" to help raise his children, who are now grown.

"We had the success of 'Seinfeld.' God bless it, I don't have to work any more," Alexander said.

"But when 'Seinfeld' ended, I really thought about coming back to New York and getting back into the theater. But my kids at the time weren't even teenagers; they were younger," he explained.

"And I just knew the eight-show-a-week schedule is the antipathy of a parent's schedule. Every time your kids come home, you're heading out the door. And I didn't want to miss those years. Now that they're in college and out of college, it's time to get back in."

It does not get easier as an actor ages, he acknowledged. Eight performances a week is a daunting physical challenge at 35 — let alone at 55.

"The wear and tear for the actor of doing eight shows a week is hard," he said. "And if it's a musical [with singing and dancing], it becomes exponentially more difficult."

And in some ways, a symphony show is even harder yet, he said.

"Unlike theater where I tend to be able to go off stage and I'm not the only one talking, when I go out for a symphony show, it's 70 minutes of me," he said. "When I come off the stage from the symphony show, I have to tell you, I'm ready for a nap."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

If you go

"An Evening With Jason Alexander" is at 8 tonight and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore. Tickets are $40-$95. Information: bsomusic.org or 410-783-8000.

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