In a short four years, Daniel Tatar has established himself as one of L.A.’s best and busiest musical theater leading men, but this boy from the suburbs of Chicago  has built a wide-ranging career in stage, television, and voiceover. 

At the age of twelve, Daniel started what he refers to as the “lesser-known” group, The Four Dreidels, with his cousin Ben and Straight No Chaser’s Dan Ponce, singing at the Bar Mitzvah of every eighth grader in their junior high.

Since then, Daniel’s career has grown to encompass just about every field of show business, though it is his musical theater roles in The Last Five Years, Kiss Of A Spider Woman, and Life Could Be A Dream that have captured the attention of L.A. theatergoers.

Daniel is about to undertake his latest challenge, the role of William Barfee (pronounced Bar-FAY) in William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, opening this week at the La Mirada Theater For The Performing Arts.

StageSceneLA has seen most of Daniel’s stage work since his 2006 starring role in Over The River And Through The Woods, also at La Mirada. We finally got the chance to catch up with the multi-talented performer and ask him all the questions we’ve been dying to find out the answers to. Here’s what Mr. Tatar (rhymes with Vader and Raider) had to say.

Hi Daniel. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview!

Thanks for asking me!  And thank you for your support of so many shows each year.  I don’t know how you do it. I know I couldn’t!

That’s because you’re too busy performing! Believe me, Daniel, it’s no trouble to be able to see as much great theater as I do!  So, so tell me, is it really true that you started your musical career as a member of the preteen Chicago boy band The Four Dreidels? 

Your brief description makes us sound bigger than we ever were. We only sang at the Bar Mitzvahs we were invited to by our classmates. And never even Chicago, but the suburbs. After a while, we started getting invited by people we weren’t even close with, because they wanted the Four Dreidels to sing.

What made you guys so popular?

We would take well-known songs and change the words to create a personalized ditty for the Bar Mitzvah kid.   It started off with just my cousin and I, then we “expanded,” transforming songs like the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” in to “Bar(Mitz) Vah.” Once eighth grade rolled around, Bar Mitzvah season was over, and so were the Four Dreidels.

But at least you had your moment in the sun! I’m curious, when you started off as an actor, how did you see your career developing, as a musical theater performer, a dramatic actor, a romantic comedy lead…?  

When I went to college to study acting, I had no intention of being a “Musical Theater person.” At the time, I was a chorus singer at best.  My BFA Program was for acting only—no musical theater department. In auditioning for summer stock, I saw there were more professional opportunities in musical theater, so I started taking voice lessons.  But starting off, I saw myself as a dramatic actor. That’s what I did in college productions.

Have things gone “according to plan?”  

Well, the plan was to work consistently on challenging projects. The goals I set were to work with a certain theater company, or to do a certain type of role, or show, or voiceover, etc. Fortunately, each of those goals has been met. Do I always strive for more?  Of course.  I’d love to do more straight plays and more TV, but musicals are wonderful.

Chicago is one of the great theater cities in the U.S., yet you made the move to L.A. How long ago was that, and what prompted the choice of a West Coast career base?

I love Chicago, and miss it. It is a great theater city!  Every move I made—Chicago, New York, Los Angeles—was because a job took me there. I was in New York six months after college graduation, got my Equity card, and I thought I’d stay there.  So many of the Broadway shows running at the time featured recognizable TV stars, to sell tickets. Some bigger names, some not as big. But I kept thinking that having TV and film credits didn’t make these people better actors than someone without.  I saw that getting more TV credits could boost my marketability for stage work, for better or worse.

Then job offers took me back to Chicago, eventually opening up the Chicago company of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change with director Joel Bishoff.  Later on, Joel directed A Tale of the Allergist’s Wife in Laguna and the play Over the River and through the Woods for McCoy-Rigby, both bringing me out here.  So I stayed. That’s the Reader’s Digest version.


Daniel with Chad Borden and Terra C. MacLeod in Kiss Of The Spider Woman
(Photos: Michael Lamont)

You’ve been lucky enough to have had starring roles in some of the most exciting musicals in recent memory, including your stellar work in The Last Five Years, Paradise Lost: Shadows And Wings, and Kiss Of The Spider Woman. If you had to pick one of these projects as your favorite, which would it be and why?

Daniel in Paradise Lost: Shadows And Wings

First, thanks. I always appreciate your support, Steven.  And I loved each of those shows. The Last Five Years was a great role to sing, and the Pasadena Playhouse was a great place to work. Paradise Lost remains extremely innovative, and I really hope to stay involved with it.  And Nick DeGruccio, who directed Last Five and Kiss, is great!

Daniel and Misty Cotton in The Last Five Years (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

The three shows you mentioned are all very different in type of show, character, music styling, etc.  If I had to choose one, I would say The Last Five Years, because aside from getting to sing that material and work with David O and Nick, it was really my first big entrance in to the L.A. theater community. It introduced me to other directors, songwriters, agents, etc., and led directly to other jobs, such as the Reprise concert of Elegies, directed by David Lee.

Daniel in Elegies
Daniel with Jim Holdridge, Ryan Castellino, and Doug Carpenter
in Life Could Be A Drream (Photos: Michael Lamont)

Your most recent project was Life Could Be A Dream, still going strong in its seventh month. How did it feel playing Denny in a long-running hit after so many shorter runs? 

Well, I did I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, for about 9 months in Chicago, and then about 3 months in San Francisco, so I was excited at the prospect of maintaining a long-running show again. With Life Could Be a Dream, though, we were creating these characters from the start, which influenced some rewrites, and allowed the “original cast” to leave our creative mark on the creation of these characters.  I love working on new pieces—it’s a very creative experience, bringing these characters and situations to life.

I hear you’ve assumed some additional duties in Life Could Be A Dream. Fill me in!

I’m very excited to be the Associate Director of Life now, and help maintain the show with new people coming in.  I’m still discovering things about the characters, and love to see what other people find in the roles. The show is going strong, and has already announced another extension for at least two more months!

L.A. theater audiences have gotten to know you from a string of memorable (and mostly) musical roles, but you’ve had a lot of success in TV commercials. 

Steven, you should be my publicity agent, with the way you word things.  Yes, I’ve been able to work on television shows, commercials, voiceover, and stage. I’m thrilled for that diversity.

How did you get into commercial work, and which commercial or commercials do you get recognized the most from having done?

I started doing commercials in Chicago.  I would say my first commercial was what I was recognized for most often at the time.  It was for a design institute with schools nationwide. In the spot, I was playing a video game while talking to a cartoon monkey.  It played in the middle of the day and very late at night, so I always knew who was sitting at home watching television.

What got you into commercials in the first place?

My real start with commercials came right after I finished playing Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Chicago. I had a strict diet throughout the show. So closing night, I let loose a little, and suffered a terrible hangover the next morning. My agent woke me up that morning for a last minute audition, a national U.S. Cellular spot opposite Joan Cusack. I was sure I didn’t book it.

I take it you did!

Yes. Maybe I should drink heavily before every audition!

You guested on the season finale of 90210. Were you a big fan of the original series? 

Every girl in my school loved The Backstreet Boys and the original Beverly Hills 90210 series.  And I loved every girl. So I learned the lyrics to “Cover Girl” and watched some Beverly Hills.

Your website says you got “up close” to your teenage fantasy, Kelly. Explain!

When I booked the new 90210, the only character I knew much about was Kelly, played by Jennie Garth.  She was in my scenes and was in the makeup trailer with me, but the story stops there. I should make up a good story, shouldn’t I?  “She crept in to my trailer…”

Daniel and his “grandparents” in Over The River And Through The Woods
Photo: Michael Lamont

That would be one for the National Inquirer! The first time I saw you on stage, you were appearing in a wonderful straight play, Over The River And Through The Woods, in which you sang not a word … and since then I haven’t seen you in a single show that wasn’t a musical. Any plans to do another play, or are you just too hooked on musicals?

I would love to do more plays. My theater agent signed me while I was in the play A Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at Laguna Playhouse. I went back to Chicago, and moved permanently to L.A. right before starting Over the River.  My agents signed me and knew me as a straight-play guy.  Then I came in to sing for my agents, and now that’s what I get sent out on. I can’t complain, as there’s more consistent employment in musicals.

Daniel in Ray Charles Live (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

I also look at certain shows as “plays with music.”  I think in many ways Kiss of the Spider Woman was like that.  And my role of Ahmet Ertegun in Ray Charles Live at Pasadena Playhouse was largely a “non-musical” character.  Even some of the other actors in the show didn’t know I was a singer until they saw Kiss. But I would love to do more straight plays, and keep it diverse.

And what about your solo cabaret debut, “Boy Band Wannabe!” at Sterling’s Upstairs At Vitello’s? How was that night for song-stylist Daniel Tatar? 

“Song-stylist?”  You’re reading the reviews, too, huh? We missed you there, Steven.  You know, I have never been a big fan of cabarets.  I love to support people, and I enjoy the Upright Cabaret series.  But a solo cabaret wasn’t my thing. Since Kiss of the Spider Woman closed, Michael Sterling asked me persistently if I would do a cabaret there.  Finally, I decided to try something new.  Again, keeping a “diverse portfolio.”  I enjoyed it, yes.  I learned a lot from it, what worked, and how to make it better next time. And I had no idea it would be reviewed!

Is this the beginning of a career as a pop star? Any more cabaret in your future?

I haven’t ruled out a “next time,” and would probably be more inclined to do it sooner if it was with someone else or as a fundraiser. I’m not actively planning a cabaret right now, but I had a great time entertaining.  I think people got to see more of my personality.

So now it’s playing a kid in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Were you surprised when they asked you to audition for William Barfee?

I was initially called in for the role of Chip.  When they called me back to read for Barfee, two things went through my head. The first was the actor insecurity, “Am I really that overweight?” And the second was also an actor insecurity, “I’m not going to get the role, I’m not enough of a Barfee.”  But I went in making my own choices and being as truthful as possible, avoiding being a cartoon. I’m thrilled that Jeff went with me on it.

You’re a very different physical type from those who’ve played it before you!  

When people hear I’m playing that role, they think Dan Fogler. And he was excellent in it. But I’m not Dan Fogler, nor should I try to be.  While he clearly did an excellent job with the role, earning the Tony Award, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to play it. So, I’m having fun finding those other characteristics in him.

This may be a tangent, but go with me on it, okay? I saw Gary Sinise play Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire at Steppenwolf in Chicago.  Everyone can hear in their heads Marlon Brando screaming “Stellaaaa!” The script calls for Stanley to bellow her name.  But Gary Sinise is different from Marlon Brando, and he found his own way to do it. It shared a lot of similarities, but still unique and different. That’s how I’m approaching Barfee.

This is the kind of role that wins actors awards.  

We open in a week and you lay “this is the kind of role that wins actors awards” on me? Fortunately, that doesn’t phase me.  It can’t. I’ve never been that guy that wins individual awards, or even gets nominated. Which is fine. I just want to work with good people, on good roles, good projects. To be challenged.  And with Barfee, playing against type provides a great challenge.

How is Spelling Bee different from shows you’ve done before?

I’ve been lucky in L.A. that these challenges keep presenting themselves.  Looking back at the three you mentioned—Jamie in The Last Five Years, Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman, now Barfee—they are extremely different in character, in style. I love that.   Barfee is the most “character role” I’ve played yet. And making it my own, finding various elements to the character, has been wonderful. It’s too bad this is one of those short runs, because I know I’ll be discovering new things well past closing.

I believe it’s just a matter of time before you’re starring in your own TV show. How does that sound to you? 

Oh, Steven, I love how that sounds! One of several current goals is to get that TV show. My number one choice would be to do a sitcom.  It shares many similarities to theater.  You know anyone who’s looking for a “Paul Rudd meets Eric Bana” guy?

Since the answer is “not really,” let’s just hope that person is reading this interview! It’s been a real thrill getting to follow your work over the past three and a half years and getting to know you a bit. You’re a sensational actor and one of the nicest guys in the biz. Can’t wait to see Spelling Bee!

I really, genuinely appreciate that, Steven. I genuinely enjoy connecting with people, staying connected, and I value the opportunities to work.  But it’s the kind of person I am while doing it that’s most important to me.  My dad used to coach my Little League.  Other dads would draft the best individuals.  My dad would draft the best attitudes and best team players.  And it was that “ensemble,” lending from the theater, that led us to Division champs over the other teams.

Thanks again – looking forward to seeing you after Spelling Bee!

I think I should interview you now.  Hmm?

I’m very busy writing reviews, you know. But perhaps I can make time for you!

You can support Daniel’s favorite charities (and spread his name far and wide) by visiting

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