Monday, June 6, 2011

The Gypsy in Me


Lord Evelyn is one of those thankless roles, the stuffed-shirt Englishman, but Beaman gradually soars with it to comic heights, eventually tearing his shirt open and doing a Douglas Fairbanks set of leaps, waving a big sword and singing "The Gypsy in Me." ~SYRACUSE.COM

I am not certain I agree with this reviewer that Evelyn is a thankless role, but I will say that the part presents some seductive traps for the actor. It would be all too easy to put on a funny accent and a bunch of tics and mannerisms and call it a day with this thinly written caricature of an Englishman. Adam Godley, in his Tony-nominated turn in the role in the current Broadway revival, circumvents this by giving a somewhat understated performance, by being actually British, and by being so funny looking (tall, gangly, with a long face and outrageously large ears). In my case, I saw Evelyn as being as iconic a figure in this classic show as the brassy Reno, or the gangster Moonface Martin in his signature disguise as a Christian missionary, so I knew he had to fit in with the writers' conception of a foppish Englishman. But the challenge to me was to make the character attractive enough and lovable enough that the audience would accept that he winds up with Reno, the leading lady of the piece.

My first instinct was to drawn upon the qualities of British actors who I saw as personifying the type of English archetype Lord Evelyn represents. First actor who came to mind was the great Terry-Thomas, whose gap-toothed grin and over-articulated speech made him one of the most popular comedic actors of the '50s and '60s.
This was a good starting place, but even though Terry-Thomas made a career out of being a womanzing 'bounder' I still wanted to evoke a slightly more refined quality. For this I looked to ultra suave and elegant English actor Ronald Colman, whose thin mustache and gentle ways gave him a profound dignity in films like "The Prisoner of Zenda" and "A Double Life." Toying with these two icons as inspiration, I found a way to give Evelyn the guffawing laugh and absurd upper crust accent, but also provide him with a refinement befitting his station and an understated sex appeal that would get Reno's attention.
My last film icon inspiration informed Evelyn's private fantasies of who he'd prefer to be--the swashbuckling rake Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I had two opportunities to expose Evelyn's secret yearning to be a man of panache--one is the scene where Evelyn is alone in his underwear in his stateroom fencing with himself in the mirror; the other is his big Act Two number, "The Gypsy in Me," where he lets his hair down and finally declares his passion for Reno. By incorporating all these inspirations, I was able, I hope, to make Evelyn more than a stock character, a man of propriety who secretly wants to be a part of the modern world of jazz and fun that was the early 1930s. The other notable quality I drew from the script was the fact that, unlike any of the other characters in the story, Evelyn has no agenda. He is guileless and rather innocent, while Billy employs tricks and deceptions to steal Hope away for himself, while Reno schemes with Moonface to break up the engagement, and while Hope herself carries on a secret amour with Billy as her mother manipulates her into a loveless marriage with the wealthy but hapless Evelyn. I think that the sweet innocence I bring to Evelyn gives the audience one more reason to fall for him.

"Anything Goes" is a classic of the musical theatre. As a classically trained actor, I know that when I approach a character from a Shakespeare play that has been done many thousands of times over the past 400 years, it is my duty not only to give the audience some of the qualities they expect from the character and his story, but also to infuse him with new life and a sense of freshness. This is part of the fun of being an interpretive artist. The material has stood the test of time, so how do I bring myself and my own imagination into play in bringing the character to life? My hope is that while the audience gets to enjoy the familiar tunes and outrageous gags of this iconic musical, they may also make some discoveries they didn't expect along the way. We have just over two more weeks to romp about on the S.S. American. More to come!

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