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Why 'Seinfeld's' Jason Alexander keeps coming back to Utah Valley University

OREM — Jason Alexander is best known for playing the “disturbed, depressed, inadequate” George Costanza on the TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” but he didn’t come to Utah Valley University to talk about that.

In fact, during his one-man show at UVU’s Noorda Center for the Performing Arts, which opened to the public yesterday, Alexander made only one reference to “Seinfeld”: “I did this little TV show for nine years … ‘Frasier.’”

But leaving “Seinfeld” out of his performance wasn’t at all a slight.

“It has a Broadway theme and ‘Seinfeld’ doesn’t play into it very well,” Alexander told the Deseret News. “Unless the fact that George sang ‘Master of the House’ (from 'Les Miserables') — that’s about as close as I could get (on the show).”

But even if many in the packed, 500-seat theater Monday night were attending for their love of “Seinfeld,” it would’ve been hard for them to be disappointed. Alexander, who was a Broadway baby well before his nine-year stint as George Costanza, injected a concert full of show tunes with that self-deprecating humor “Seinfeld” fans have come to love.

The actor kicked off the inaugural performance in UVU’s Scott and Karen Smith Theatre singing a tune with the refrain, “I am here, and that’s so exciting for you!” He called it “the world’s most obnoxious song,” and, as it turns out, he wrote it. After prancing across the stage to the rhythm of his tune, the “Seinfeld” star quipped, “At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I’m still a short bald man.”

Based on the crowd’s enthusiastic response, UVU was wise to have Alexander as the first performer in the theater, which is one of seven performance venues in the Noorda — the university’s new $59 million performing arts center. But according to Traci Hainsworth, UVU’s events manager, the school wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Monday-night concert marked Alexander’s fourth visit to UVU. Thanks to Hainsworth — who met Alexander more than 10 years ago in Hollywood, where she worked as an artistic director at AIA Actors Studio — the university has had a relationship with the actor since 2012. In addition to leading acting workshops with UVU students, Alexander has also played a part in bringing the university’s new performing arts center to fruition, Hainsworth said.

“All three times (Alexander's) been here he’s done something outstanding for us to help raise money for the building," Hainsworth said. "That’s something he did not have to do; he did it because he wanted to. And so when it came time for the ribbon-cutting … our new (school of the arts) dean, Stephen Pullen, came to me and said, ‘We have got to have him here. We wouldn’t have this building if it wasn’t for him.”

The new venue, which has been a long time coming for the university, cost just over $59 million — about $27 million of that sum came from raised funds, UVU officials told the Deseret News. But Alexander isn’t as brazen when it comes to his contributions to the performing arts center.

“I think they’re overstating it,” he said with a laugh. “I know that when I first came here, I was instantly very enthusiastic about (UVU) because … the level of ability that the kids had was surprising. … I got to talk to the faculty, who were like little sponges. It was not an entrenched program, it wasn’t filled with tradition.”

While Alexander has led acting workshops with a handful of universities over the years, he always seems to return to UVU — and it’s not just because visiting the school gives him a chance to hit the slopes.

“What is wonderful about (UVU) is how open the faculty (and) the administration … is to having someone come in and perhaps rock the boat and say things that are not exactly in line with the philosophy of the school,” he said. “They’re just open to ideas; they’re open to exposing the students to a variety of ways of looking at how to become proficient as an artist, and that is something that you don’t get this fully everywhere else.”

This time around, Alexander’s busy schedule keeps him in Utah for only a couple of days, but that’s plenty of time for the actor to get his skiing in and eat the cronuts at Provo's Bianca's La Petite French Bakery he often dreams about.

“Right next to my hotel there is a cronut bakery that really should be removed from the planet because my girlish figure cannot handle it,” he said. “I have no resistance. I think I had two this morning before the (UVU acting workshop) and I think they are 9,000 calories each. That’s why I'm going to have to go ski and try to burn some of that off.”

But skiing and cronuts aside, the best part about returning to UVU for the fourth time was seeing the university’s new performing arts center — a manifestation of the school expanding an arts program Alexander has been impressed with ever since his first visit in 2012.

Broadway star, actor and comedian Jason Alexander performs at the new Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley  University in Orem on Monday, March 25, 2019.
Broadway star, actor and comedian Jason Alexander performs at the new Noorda Center for the Performing Arts at Utah Valley University in Orem on Monday, March 25, 2019.
Jay Drowns, UVU Marketing

“It’s beautifully, beautifully done. Each individual space is really gorgeously imagined and thoughtfully imagined,” he said. “The nice thing about this is that I know enough of the people who worked their butts off to make this place happen that it was nice to be part of their first celebration.”