Monday, December 1, 2014

My Holiday Letter 2014

2014:  A Rogue's Gallery!


What a year it has been.  I think every actor of ambition dreams of success--success on the scale of a Broadway show, or a feature film, or a starring role in a series.  It is these dreams of fame and fortune that sometimes propel us into the business in the first place.  As we live and learn within the business, many of us realize that what we really want is to WORK.  To do the thing we love with great people and have the chance to explore roles that excite, challenge and transform us.  2014 has been, for me, an embarrassment of riches.  Two plays.  Two musicals.  Two ultimate dream roles.  Reunions with favorite directors and musical directors, and thrilling new collaborations.


My year started with one of the busiest and most adrenaline-driven audition seasons I have ever known.  Between January and the end of February I did over 30 auditions, showing up in line for open calls and chorus calls, attending appointments and callbacks.  My first offer was from Flat Rock Playhouse, where I had the delight of playing Milt Fields, a Jewish comedy writer bringing the one-liners in Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."  Not only was this one of the most loving and delightful casts I have ever worked with, but I had the gift of forging a friendship and brilliant working relationship with director Michael Kostroff.  He has become one of my favorite people.

Summer brought the chance to play the role at the top of my musical theatre dream role list, John Adams in "1776."  Having chased the part for several years through audition after audition, the perfect opportunity arrived to play the role at Cape Playhouse, under the direction of the wondrous Jimmy Brennan.  If you've watched my video blog "Becoming John Adams" or follow me on Facebook, you know just how over the moon I was to play this iconic leading part.  I will never forget it as long as I live.

Wonder of wonders, hot on the heels of this dream come true, another came along.  The ultimate comic villain, Thénardier, in the blockbuster musical "Les Misérables," at Orlando Shakespeare Theater.  Again I was in the loving and trusted hands of director DJ Salisbury and musical director Ken Clifton, two of my favorite collaborators.  The production broke box office records at the theatre; the flash mob our cast performed of "One Day More" in an Orlando mall went viral; and as of this writing I have been nominated for a BroadwayWorld Orlando Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.

As I write this, I am in production week for my latest endeavor, "Peter and the Starcatcher," a sublime mix of theatrical magic and pure storytelling, at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I am tickled to be playing the ever-industrious, if somewhat dim, pirate sidekick Smee, in a fabulous collaboration with Leo Ash Evens as the vainglorious Black Stache.  It is such a thrill to work on a show that is so fresh and innovative, with a director and choreographer who have brought incredible heart and imagination to the production.  Jenn Thompson and Patti Wilcox have collaborated brilliantly, and have called upon all the talents of our 12 actor ensemble to bring this show to life.  It will be the perfect holiday confection for Salt Lake audiences.

Four amazing roles.  Four regional theatre debuts.  And the fifth will begin just as 2014 comes to a close!  When "Peter and the Starcatcher" ends here in Utah, I will have a brief two days in Massachusetts to celebrate the holidays with my family before flying off to sunny Florida the day after Christmas to begin rehearsals at Riverside Theatre.  The show is the glittering Gershwin musical, "Crazy For You," and my role--Hungarian theatrical impresario Bela Zangler.  Zangler is a jewel of a character part which earned for its originator, Bruce Adler, a Tony Award nomination.  "Crazy For You" brings me back together with director Jimmy Brennan and musical director Ken Clifton--truly, the best gift Santa could have possibly given me!

Show business is a feast or famine deal, so I am giving daily thanks to the theatrical gods for this run of good fortune, and enjoying every moment of being a working actor.  Many blessings abound.  Being on the road so much makes a personal life a challenge, but I am buoyed by good friends and family.  Tragedy struck our family this year with the death of my father, but the loss brought me closer to my extended Beaman family and helped me to realize the true gift they are.  Losing my Dad has also given me a chance to reflect on the lifetime of artistry and excellence he lived and how profoundly it has influenced me.  Grieving is a long process, I find.  Dad passed only a brief three months ago and every day I have feelings and thoughts that I need to process and cope with.

My New Year's wish for all of you is that you pursue your passion and find ways of living your dreams.  Gather those you love close to you and whenever you have even the smallest impulse to call one of your loved ones, or reach out and say, 'I am thinking of you and love you'--DO IT.  It takes so little to keep the flow of love going.  And what goes out, comes back.  I am grateful that I will begin 2015 engaged in my craft in a warm and sunny place.  This new year marks my 25th year as a professional actor, and will also bring my 50th birthday.  Phew!  Am I grateful?  You betcha.  Do I still have the hunger to realize more ambitions?  Damn straight!  I continue to reach for more opportunity as an actor.  I continue to invest in my work as a teacher and coach for performers in New York and wherever I perform around the country.  I continue to hope for someone special to share the next chapter of my life with, but I have plenty of love to go around to friends new and old, and my beautiful family.  Have a wondrous holiday season, one and all, and a happy and healthy new year!!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Family Business

"Peter Pan" has beguiled children for over a hundred years, but the play holds a special place for those of us who grew up in the theatre.  It is a magical spectacle that features kids as the stars, and many an actor has fallen in love with theatre by performing in it as one of the Darling children, or lost boys.  My first exposure to "Peter Pan" was at Boston University where my Dad designed a student production.  I got to sit in out in the house in wide-eyed wonder as I watched pirate ships glide on stage, a dancer in a crocodile costume with glowing eyes slither about, and best of all, kids only a little older than I soaring through the air in flying harnesses.  Oh, how I wanted to be one of them.

Jenn Thompson, my director on "Peter and the Starcatcher," was.  And several other members of the cast have also shared their stories of the thrill of being a child actor and entering the magic world of make believe that J.M. Barrie created.  The childhood of a 'theatre brat' is something truly special because we get to see behind the curtain and learn how the magic is made... you might think this would spoil our illusions, but on the contrary--those experiences as a young actor instill the dreamer in us, and we are propelled into our careers by them.  My parents met in theatre school and I grew up with my father in scene shops and theaters, while my Mom created her own company and training facility where I had all my early training and experience as a performer.

Jenn Thompson with husband Stephen Kunken
Jenn Thompson had a similar growing up.  Her father, Evan Thompson, is a veteran actor and director and her brother Owen is also a performer.  Jenn grew up performing children's theatre with her family, in plays her Dad wrote.  She is married to respected New York actor Stephen Kunken, whose work I greatly admire.  Jenn's life has been steeped in the traditions of theatre.  I feel a real kinship with her; there is something about being 'born in a trunk' as my Mom calls it.  We share the same references, we know the legends and lore of the theatre.  This makes Jenn an ideal director for "Peter and the Starcatcher."  It is a piece that seeks to get to the root of the theatre tradition--pure storytelling-- with a minimum of stagecraft, where the actors create the world, becoming pirates, mermaids, birds, corridors, doors... whatever is required to bring the story to life.  Jenn brings incredible detail and imagination to this process, as well as the special wonder of an artist who saw the magic of theatre through a child's eyes... and still does.


Karen Azenberg on stage at Pioneer Theatre Company
Our producer, Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, is also a child of the theatre, and part of what I would consider a legacy of Broadway royalty.  Her father, Emanuel Azenberg, a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame, has produced theatre on Broadway for decades, and his association with Neil Simon has brought most of that prolific writer's most successful plays to the stage.  Karen grew up in the Broadway theatre, and has worn many hats--director, choreographer, stage manager, and now she brings that wealth of experience to her role as producer with taste, sense, and a love of the family business she came up in.  She related to some of us during a break in rehearsals the story of her bat mitzvah, and the reception after at--where else?--Sardi's!  Now, that's a theatre kid!  I feel blessed to work under Karen's leadership and to observe the way theatre is done here at Pioneer due to her vision.


Performing as a young 'ham' of thirteen!
You don't have to have grown up a 'theatre brat' to cherish its traditions, but I speak from experience when I say that having that childhood makes it impossible for you not to!  Theatre artists like me, and Jenn, and Karen absorbed all things theatre at that vulnerable time when we were 'sponges,' our senses alive and our imaginations boundless.  I feel like "Peter and the Starcatcher" calls on that childhood wonder, those memories tinged with the smell of sawdust and greasepaint, the dreams of kids who wanted to fly--not just in fairy tales, but in real life, suspended from a wire, soaring over a stage with colored lights in our eyes, seeing the wide eyed wonder of other kids from their seats in the audience. 

As of this writing we are well into our second week of demanding, exhausting, but thrilling staging rehearsals for the show and it is coming together, thanks to Jenn and our brilliant choreographer Patti Wilcox, as well as all the creative forces at work behind the scenes at Pioneer Theatre Company.  I look forward to stepping out onto that stage in a couple weeks and bringing the magic to a new generation of dreamers.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Won't Grow Up

Have you noticed how Peter Pan seems to be everywhere in our culture right now?  A major live NBC broadcast of the classic musical in the works; a new musical based on "Finding Neverland;" and a big screen feature starring Hugh Jackman, "Pan,"slated for release in 2015.  But perhaps the most original, disarming and artful interpretation of J.M. Barrie's classic story came rollicking on to Broadway a couple years ago: "Peter and the Starcatcher," based on the best selling novels by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  Like Gregory Maguire's "Wicked,"  which imagines what happened before the action of "The Wizard of Oz," "Peter and the Starcatcher" weaves the tale of the adventures that made Peter Pan Peter Pan!  This piece is so fresh, so magical... and the tour is still on the road, so it's a great gift to be able to do one of the few licensed regional theatre productions that are happening now: this one at Pioneer Theatre Company.


As a classical actor, I am never happier with Shakespeare than when it is performed simply, on a bare stage, with the focus on the actors and the words.  "Peter and the Starcatcher" is a true ensemble piece, a clever and imaginative adventure in which the players move in and out of narrating and performing numerous memorable characters.  My role is the pirate first mate, Smee, sidekick to the show's comic villain, Black Stache (who eventually becomes Captain Hook), the role that won Christian Borle the Tony Award.  Smee gives me many opportunities for hilarity and fun, including a potentially show stealing moment as a rather homely mermaid!
George Shelton, the original Smee, 1904

The legend of Peter Pan is so deeply a part of our collective consciousness, and the idea of 'the boy who never grew up' has beguiled generations with dreams of eternal youth, adventure and magic.  "Peter and the Starcatcher" enchants with all of this, while being decidedly a smart, sassy, sometimes shameless fairy tale for grownups!  I look forward to jumping into the work and sharing my adventures in Salt Lake City.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Even the Darkest Night Will End, and the Sun Will Rise…

At this writing, I am in my final week of “Les Misérables.”  What a fulfilling journey it has been, creating my own creepy, boorish Thénardier.  It’s a vastly satisfying part, shameless, dynamic—enhanced by the special relationship I forge with each audience—as repulsed as they may be, they can’t help but love me!  Who wouldn’t love that?

I am also proud of the fact that this has been the most successful production in Orlando Shakespeare Theater history.  Ticket sales at 96% capacity, excellent reviews, and the amazing reach we have had via the flash mob we performed of “One Day More” at the Mall at Millennia.  The major network morning shows featured the flash mob on Labor Day weekend, reaching millions of viewers, and the video has had nearly half a million views on YouTube.  If you haven't seen it yet, you can view it by clicking here!  Additionally, our participation in the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund drive has raised over $10,000 for people living with HIV and AIDS.  In every respect it has been a success.

I have made good friends amongst this positive and talented company of artists, and forged a new relationship with a new theatre.  OST gave me an opportunity to work with their interns and MFA students by teaching a Shakespeare text master class, and we had the opportunity to do talk backs and discussions with high school groups and musical theatre majors at University of Central Florida.  “Les Misérables” inspired me immeasurably when I was a college student, and I feel great pride in paying that forward.



Despite all the triumph and artistic satisfaction, this time in Orlando was shadowed by the death of my beloved father during our rehearsal period in August.  Donald G. Beaman died of complications from surgery at the age of 81.  A brilliant artist and set designer, he taught generations of theatre artists over his nearly three decades at Boston University.  He was also a scholar of ancient civilizations and universal symbolism, writing volumes on the subject, as well as designing and publishing his own Tarot card deck, The Tarot of Saqqara.  The inspiration he brought to my life and my work as an artist cannot be adequately measured.  I was helped so much in my time of loss by the kindness and generosity of my fellow artists here in this production, and the work itself was a source of solace in the midst of grief.  My father would have loved my performance in this role, and he would have approved of my turning to the work of theatre as a way through the process of coping with his passing.  And so, life moves forward.  If “Les Misérables” teaches us anything, it is about the endurance of the human spirit to survive and to find redemption.

For me, it is on to my next project!  For my final role in 2014, I will have the delight of playing Smee in the Pioneer Theatre Company production of the magical theatrical adventure, “Peter and the Starcatcher.”  This Tony-winning blend of theatre, music, and storytelling imagines how Peter Pan became Peter Pan, and how ‘Black Stache’ became the memorable villain we know as Captain Hook.  I am excited to do this fabulous piece, and to proudly make my fourth regional theatre debut of the year with this great company in Salt Lake City.  There is truly nothing like working at the holidays, enhancing the joy of the season and creating family memories for festive audiences.  Stay tuned for casting news and more as I venture into Neverland in November and December!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Dreamed a Dream...

In 1985, when I was a sophomore in college, I received as a holiday gift the original London cast recording of Les Misérables.  This album came to the States long before the show ever did, and I became instantly obsessed with it.  I was a serious acting student in a theatre program and to me this show represented a bridge between my two favorite theatre genres, classical theatre and musical theatre.  Imagine-- an epic pop opera based on great literature produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company!  I was in heaven.  

Sometime over the next year or so, the tour of the show came through Boston and I went.  I can still remember the impact the original production had on me... it was so sweeping, so impassioned, with such spectacular stagecraft.  The finale literally lifted me out of my seat.  So great was my appreciation of the show, I did the Marius/Eponine duet, "A Little Fall of Rain" for my senior showcase presentation.

I moved to New York right after graduating college, and was here less than a year before I returned to Boston to get more experience and be better prepared for the demands of life in NYC.  But during that brief time I was here, I went to every single audition for the Broadway production of Les Misérables I could get into.  I was 22 years old, ambitious and in love with the idea of being one of those guys on the barricade.  After several calls where I got 'typed out' each time, the casting director, Vinnie Liff, took me aside, put his arm around me and, after praising my singing and my audition, told me I was simply too short for the show.  I was disappointed but am to this day grateful to Mr. Liff (may he rest in peace) for being so generous to tell me why this coveted show was out of my reach.

Well, fast forward over 25 years and I am now a character actor, with a new goal: to play the show-stealing, shameless, hilarious and villainous Thénardier.  Over the past few years I have done numerous auditions for the role for regional theatre productions and for the recent 25th anniversary tour... chasing the part with the same determination with which I chased John Adams in 1776.  It always seemed I was losing the role to an actor who, without the aid of makeup or costume, looked more 'charactery.'  But I knew that I had the stuff to bring both the comedy and the chilling evil of the character and the transformative ability to look the part as well.


Fortunately, director DJ Salisbury and Orlando Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Jim Helsinger 'got it' this season, and have cast me in what will be the most ambitious production in the theatre's history, amidst a company that includes Broadway greats like Davis Gaines, and dear friends like the sublime Lianne Marie Dobbs, whose successful debut cabaret act I directed here in New York.  In just a couple weeks I will become the 'master of the house' and finally get to be a part of this fabulous piece of musical theatre, fulfilling an ambition I've cherished for nearly 30 years!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

'My Dearest Friend'

"As founding father John Adams, actor James Beaman has incredible chemistry with Christiane Noll, who plays his wife, Abigail." ~Cape Cod Times

More gushing from beautiful Cape Cod, this time about my leading lady, the lovely Christiane Noll.  The touching glimpses of the relationship between John and Abigail Adams in 1776 are all based upon the immortal letters the couple exchanged during their many separations.  These interludes serve to humanize Adams and to give a strong female voice to the male dominated action of the play.  I could not have a more masterful Abby than the one brought to the stage by Christiane.

There's no denying I was intimidated when I learned that this Tony-nominated, accomplished singer-actress was to play my wife in my long awaited debut in this show.  Christiane not only has given unforgettable performances on Broadway in shows like Jekyll and Hyde and Ragtime, but she is also an international concert artist and has recorded a half dozen solo CDs.  While I am confident in my abilities, I was daunted by the idea of having to sing duets with Christiane and somehow meet her level of artistry and proficiency.

Christiane Noll as Abigail. Photo: Seacia Pavao
Christiane put me at ease with her professionalism, clarity and no nonsense attitude from day one.  And she's a superb actress, connecting with me from the get-go with the warmth and intimacy our director wanted us to find.  The result has been, I think, touching and memorable.  Christiane makes Abigail strong and witty, and of course, her vocals are unsurpassed.

There's no doubt that I have had vocal struggles with this role.  It is a very demanding part vocally, with Adams shouting and haranguing his fellow congressmen almost continually for over 2 and a half hours, in between singing about two thirds of all the musical material in the show.  I approached our two week rehearsal period having done voice work on the sung material, but I never anticipated that my attack on the book scenes would exhaust my voice so thoroughly!  And the quick turnaround process here at Cape Playhouse (after a week of run through rehearsals in New York, we arrived here with about 36 hours to tech and open the show) leading into a full eight show week... well, we had no day off, and very little rest.  All of this led to a vocal fatigue that has made this first week of shows a struggle for me.

I mention this only to highlight the generosity and advice Christiane Noll offered me.  She has been very encouraging and has offered remedies and tips for recovering my vocal health.  Not only has she been lovely and helpful, but so has her talented husband Jamie LaVerdiere (who is giving a chilling and masterful performance in the show as Rutledge) and her mother, an accomplished opera singer who has come to the Cape with the couple to help with their gorgeous 5 year old daughter who is here as well.  It's quite a family.


Actors of any ambition want to do their 100% best at all times in their work and careers.  And we also dream of working with people who have achieved the kinds of things in the business that we aspire to.  It's a bonus when they are also kind and lovely people.  I have been blessed in so many ways on this show, and working opposite Christiane is one of those blessings.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Is Anybody There?"

If you've been a follower of my blog, you know I love to gush over things and people that I admire.  I feel like genuine appreciation and enthusiasm make life richer and fuller and I never hold back when I am inspired to gush.  And few collaborators I have worked with in recent years deserve appreciation the way director James Brennan does.

I first worked with Jimmy last season in The Sound of Music at North Shore Music Theatre.  Max Detweiler was a role I had coveted for a while and I was so fortunate Jimmy cast me in his production, which was not only the best Sound of Music I have ever seen, but was peopled with extraordinary actors, led by Lisa O'Hare as Maria (Lisa is now playing the lead in the Tony winning blockbuster A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder).  Jimmy has a way of not only attracting the best talent to his projects, but a gift for assembling an extraordinary cast.  He has done just that with 1776.  It is a piece that requires truly unique and memorable performers, as each character has his or her special moment.  Our ensemble, from veteran Broadway actors like George Lee Andrews, to Tony nominee Christiane Noll... to actors like Ric Stoneback, who has a long history with this show... to gifted up and comers like the exquisite Stephanie Rothenberg... it's a treasure trove of talent.

James Brennan (R) as Adams in the Geva production
For me, this experience is enhanced by the fact that James Brennan has played John Adams four times in his career--twice at Sacramento Music Circus, at Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY, and at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.  This is the second time this season that I have been directed by a fine actor who has played the part I am undertaking.  And just as with Michael Kostroff in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, I have been blessed to have Jimmy's incredible insights without ever feeling that he is imposing his performance on me.  

Jimmy's acting career has been astonishing... his range mind-blowing.  To meet him, you'd never expect that this thoughtful, gentlemanly, understated man has done some of the most challenging song and dance parts in the repertoire, from Crazy For You to Me and My Girl; he has assayed some of the most hilarious comic leads from Pseudolus in Forum to Horace in Hello, Dolly!.  In short, he is the kind of actor I aspire to be.  And then add to this his enormous gifts as a director...??  Wow.

James Brennan directing
The climactic moment for John Adams in 1776 is his big solo toward the end of the show--his 'eleventh hour' number--"Is Anybody There?"  It is a big, soaring aria expressing Adams's determination to achieve American independence against impossible odds, and his vision of glory for generations of Americans to come. Jimmy has shared with me the images and choices he has used to bring this challenging piece to life--an act of generosity that has cracked open the song for me and taken me to another level.  Such specific directives in the hands of a less skillful director might have gotten in the way, but I can't express enough gratitude for the way Jimmy has shared his inner actor's mind in this huge role and helped me to find a deeper connection to it.

As of this writing, we are finishing our first week of rehearsals in New York, which means this precious four week adventure is one quarter over!  It's impossible to describe the mix of exhaustion, exhilaration and even sadness I feel as I go into my day off.  But I truly feel supported by this wonderful cast, and especially by my gentleman director, the great James Brennan.  

If you have missed any of my vlog, "Becoming John Adams," I have created a playlist on YouTube so you can binge watch to your hearts content.  To enjoy the video blog, click here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Les Miz" Preview!

Next week, I begin rehearsal for 1776.  So much anticipation and buildup since my being cast back in March, and of course I have been busy doing my research and preparation and capturing it in my video blog, "Becoming John Adams."  If you haven't seen the vlog yet, I have created a playlist so you can view all the posts in order.  Click here to view and subscribe on YouTube!

Even as the adventure of 1776 gets underway in earnest, Orlando Shakespeare Theater is sending out excited news items on the casting of the central roles in this season's Les Misérables, in which I will be playing the comic villain Thénardier.  Florida audiences will be delighted that the two leading men of this production are Florida boys!

Michael Hunsaker
The lead role of Jean Valjean will be undertaken by Michael Hunsaker, whose career has taken him from Broadway to national tours (he was in the first national of Ragtime), to an extensive regional theatre career at most of our finest musical theatre companies.  He's a recording artist, a writer who was part of the famous BMI workshop, and is currently pursuing his master's degree in film production.  Quite an accomplished man!


The ruthless zealot Javert will be played by Davis Gaines, the Broadway powerhouse beloved for his portrayal of the Phantom of the Opera, a role which he performed over 2000 times.  His extraordinary career includes co-starring with such greats as Carol Channing, Richard Burton, and Patti Lupone, and performances with every symphony orchestra in the United States.  His accomplishments are many, and his voice is considered one of the greatest ever heard on Broadway.
Davis Gaines


With talents such as these leading the charge to the 'barricade' I have no doubt this, my first Les Misérables, will be something to remember.   I feel very blessed to have the chance to work alongside these distinguished artists!  For now, I begin my adventure as John Adams, leading a cast peopled by equally accomplished and extraordinary performers.  I think I am beginning to understand what people mean by 'living the dream!'

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

1776: More Broadway Memories!

Ric Stoneback has made something of a career out of playing Samuel Chase in 1776, and the Cape Playhouse production will be his sixth!  I am anticipating that I will learn a great deal from him about the show, and I look forward to working with him.  In this post, Ric shares his stories about his experiences in the 1997 Broadway revival.
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I’ve always been a history dork. 1776 is the perfect meld for me of profession and avocation, which is good because I’m about to embark on my sixth production of the show! Each time I have played Samuel Chase, from Maryland. The first time, I was cast was in the 1990 production at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. Gordon Hunt was the director, brother of Peter Hunt, the original 1776 Broadway and film director. Gordon had directed the first tour after the Broadway production. Onna White, the original choreographer, did the Long Beach production as well, and Peter Howard, the original musical director, stopped by from time to time too. It was nice to have some direct connections with the Broadway production. Dean Jones played Adams. 

Seven years later, I got a call from my friend Scott Ellis who was about to direct the Broadway revival. At the time I was living in LA.  Scott knew how much I loved the show, and asked if I’d be interested in doing the revival. Of course I was. But the problem remained that I no longer had my apartment in NYC, and the Roundabout Theatre paid much less than a standard Broadway contract in those days. I had no idea if I could afford to do it. I asked Scott if anyone had signed on yet to do the show. He told me only one person, Tom Aldredge, was signed to do Stephen Hopkins. I responded, “You got Tom Aldredge to play Stephen Hopkins?? I’ll do it. I don’t know how, but I’ll do it!”.   Tom Aldredge is one of the greats who ever walked a Broadway stage and I became his close friend until his passing a few years ago. I was also lucky to do another Broadway show with him a few years later.

So I moved back to New York. Our first day of rehearsal was extraordinary. Looking around at the talent that was assembled in that room was overwhelming. Everyone was grinning at each other, because we already could tell it was going to be a great show. And it was. We had a staff historian from Hunter College to answer any questions about the revolutionary period, and also to historically vet every prop and set piece in the show. Wedding rings on men? Never. Removing coats in the oppressive heat? No gentleman would do that in public. Why couldn’t they open the windows? British spies were everywhere in Philadelphia, attempting to eavesdrop on the Continental Congress. We had a library in one of the rehearsal studios of books written about the Declaration, the signers, and the period. We were encouraged to check them out and read them. We also received an enormous amount of historical reference material. Our first musical rehearsal began with the great Paul Gemignani telling us, “You all can sing or you wouldn’t be here. Don’t feel like you have to prove anything. Mark if you want to and save it for performance.” The pressure was off!

The rehearsal period was luxuriously long, being a Broadway production. Scott Ellis believed that the Continental Congress would have based their behavior on that of Parliament, their only role model. We watched video of Parliament, and were amazed at how much shouting down and cheering went on during sessions. We adapted that to 1776. We were encouraged to move around throughout the congressional scenes, and to be very vocal with our reactions to what was said by others. As we progressed, Scott fine tuned all the action so that the focus of the audience always remained in the right place. But the final result was the book scenes were always fluid, exciting, passionate, and never stagnant. Peter Stone was at rehearsal often. I got a chance to grill him a lot about the show. Even he was in awe of the power of 1776. He once told me, “Ric, of the 12 or so Broadway shows I’ve written, this is the only one that after I see it I ask ‘Who wrote that show?’"
Ric (second from right) on stage on closing night at the Roundabout

The 1776 revival opened in August of 1997 to stellar reviews. The audiences loved it too, and we quickly sold out our Roundabout run and its extensions. We were so blessed to have the best designers and support team in the business. William Ivy Long designed the costumes, Tony Walton the set, Brian Nason the lights, Brian Ronan the sound, and David Brian Brown the wigs. The cast bonded like no other cast I’ve been a part of. We loved each other, were there for each other, and competed with each other. Going into it, I thought a close to year run in a show would bore me to tears, but the energy was so fresh and slightly different for every performance, I couldn’t wait to get to work. Sharing a stage with terrific actors at the top of their game keeps you sharp. The way Brent Spiner, as Adams, drove that show always with his agenda present, and the way Pat Hingle, as Franklin, transfixed me with his piercing blue eyes filled with wisdom, kindness, and truth, will never leave me. 

Many politicians, celebrities, and countless students came to see us. Watching Bob Dole giving us a standing ovation with tears rolling down his cheeks was a sight. Probably our biggest fans were Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and their family. They came to see the show five times. When we closed at the Roundabout, the Newmans sent the cast a gift basket the size of Cleveland to thank us for helping to preserve history in such an exciting way. When Pat Hingle decided to leave the show, Paul Newman seriously considered taking over the role of Franklin. Wouldn’t THAT have been interesting?

Every production of 1776 I’ve done has been a unique and rewarding experience, which is the sole reason why I continue do the show. It’s a history/musical theatre dork’s dream!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Blog Post About Blogging!

To celebrate and share my adventure in my dream role of John Adams in 1776 this summer, I had the crazy idea of doing a video blog.  I recently did some work with a brilliant social media consultant, Tony Howell, whose company Creative Social Media teaches creative artists how to harness the power of such things as Facebook and Twitter to enhance their careers.  Tony advised me that people are more likely to look at what he calls 'rich content' than to read written blogs or other material (since you are reading this, you can consider yourself in an educated minority, ha ha!).  Rich content means photos and video.  So, this old dog decided to learn a few new tricks and I pitched the idea of "Becoming John Adams" to Cape Playhouse, where the idea was met with great enthusiasm.

I use the term 'becoming' with a double meaning:  the obvious one of transformation into the character of John Adams, but also the sense of wanting to honor him and provide a positive view.  The video blog will capture my process of researching the part, including field trips to Philadelphia, Boston, and Quincy, MA where the John Adams homes are preserved as a National Park.  I'll also share wig and costume fittings, voice lessons, some rehearsal and back stage footage, all leading up to our opening night on the Cape July 7.

The project has presented some considerable challenges.  First I had to find a good digital camera and tripod, and I was lucky to have a generous friend who loaned me her equipment.  Then I had to learn how to use it!  To edit and produce the video blog segments I had to teach myself iMovie, which was a painstaking but exhilarating process.  Then I had to enlist the help of kind folks who'd agree to operate the camera, including, while I was in Massachusetts, my Mom!  The biggest challenge--aside from keeping my verbosity to a minimum in order to bring the running time of each post in at a maximum of 3 minutes--was to find the right tone for the project.  John Adams is one of the great men of American history; the subject matter of 1776 is monumental.  But just as the musical brings a sense of whimsy and humanity to the subject, I wanted to avoid any sort of professorial (i.e., boring) stance and make the whole thing more lighthearted.  The key, of course, was to be myself and to infuse the blog with the enthusiasm I feel for the show, the role, and my obsession with research.  I think, so far, the results strike a good balance, although I won't deny it is difficult not to be critical of how I appear on video-- does anyone NOT find watching themselves on video excruciating?!

I am posting the blog to youtube and sharing it on my website; I have also been invited to be a guest blogger on BroadwayWorld.com, which I am thrilled about.  So, come along for the ride and many thanks for your support!  Here's the first post of "Becoming John Adams."  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Broadway Memories of "1776:" Gary Beach Remembers

Gary and I during the "Spamalot" tour
I could fill an entire post gushing over Gary Beach.  This extraordinary actor has long been one of my idols; I love his work and am so inspired by his career and the many roles he has created and performed.  I was so lucky to get to do "Spamalot" with Gary during my time on the national tour. He is a superb actor and such a kind and generous man, and I am fortunate to be able to call him my friend.  Gary made his Broadway debut in the original production of "1776" so of course, as I am immersing myself in everything and anything having to do with the show, I wanted to chat with him about it and hear his stories and memories.  And how cool that Gary enthusiastically gave me permission to share them with you!



So tell me, how did you find yourself in "1776?"  You were in the first national tour, right?

I was in college at the time, at North Carolina School for the Arts.  I went to New York on Easter break to see shows.  "1776"  had just opened and it got great reviews; people didn’t expect that.  It was a musical based on history cast with actors no one had ever heard of.  Stuart Ostrow produced it and he produced things no one else would.  No one had expected it to be the success it was.  Anyway, I wandered into it.  Saw all these actors I didn’t even know.  There was so much that impressed me.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the actor playing Edward Rutledge in his ‘peacock’ costume.  In Act one the character probably had three lines, but then the second act rolled around and all of a sudden he became the whole show, with the song "Molasses To Rum."  I went back to school in North Carolina and my speech teacher saw that I was so caught up by this show.  The national tour was being cast, and she asked me who the casting director was.  I didn't know.  I went to the school library and I picked up Back Stage.  Michael Shurtleff was the casting director (Shurtleff wrote the definitive book on auditioning, "Audition").  My teacher called him, but she didn’t know anything about the show.  She was British and knew nothing about American history.  She suggested me for Thomas Jefferson, because he was the only name she knew from history!  I was not right for that part, obviously; they only ever saw actors over 6'3" for the role.  But I auditioned for the show; I drove to NY on three separate occasions.  The auditions were held on the 46th Street Theatre stage (now the Richard Rodgers).  I was offered the role of Josiah Bartlett in the tour, and understudied Rutledge.  I still had a year left in college and had to leave in order to take the job.  I went to all my teachers, and asked them to graduate me a year early.  No one in my family had ever graduated college and it was important for me to have my degree.  Since I had already earned liberal arts credits elsewhere before entering the theater program, and because this was such an important opportunity, the school agreed to graduate me early with my degree.

Two months into the tour, the man who was playing Rutledge had a breakdown on stage.  He was unable to continue in the role.  The company manager came to my dressing room after the show asking if I knew the part.  In those days there were no rules about rehearsing understudies… I knew the part but hadn’t been rehearsed.  I took over the role of Rutledge the next day.  Now, "Molasses To Rum" in those days had an electrifying effect on the audiences.  A song dealing with slavery was about as rare as hen’s teeth.  One night, during the applause at the end of the number,  a man came down the aisle and to the edge of the stage and was whistling and cheering.  Turned out it was Sherman Edwards, the writer of the show.  I was shaking like a leaf.  Reid Shelton, who was in the show with me, turned to me and said, 'Well, if you never do it again, you did it tonight.'  I was 24 years old. 

When the guys in the original cast went to make the movie in Hollywood I was put into it on Broadway, where I played Rutledge for about eight months.  it was such an ensemble, that everyone knew everyone else's role.  Guys went in and out of different parts all the time. 

Did you have any historians come and talk to you guys about the actual events in 1776?

We weren't visited by any scholars or dramaturges; it wasn't done back then.  I did research on my own and had conversations with the director about my character’s place in history.  There were actually two Rutledges, Edward and John.  While I was in the show, there was a Sotheby’s auction of Revolutionary War documents... letters of George Washington and various papers from the signers of the Declaration.  I went to the auction and bid on a document signed by Edward Rutledge and I bought it.  I still have it, framed so you can see both sides of the letter.  Boring document, but it was in Rutledge's hand.  Playing the role was thrilling.  Audiences responded so strongly to the show and in particular to "Molasses To Rum."  The song made your life better… it was a very rare song about a rarely explored subject.  The show has such a feeling of immediacy, the audience gets caught up in the drama. Even though we all know how it turns out, you start doubting whether or not the Declaration is going to happen.  The founding fathers had a kind of blind genius.  People like Adams knew where we were going but had no idea how or if we'd get there.

Since you love the show so much, would you like to do it again?  I think you'd be an amazing Ben Franklin!

I’d love to play Franklin.  I love the part of Adams but never wanted to play it.  Mainly because I knew I wasn't short enough!  But it works for the part for him to be a small man; he's a little bantam rooster.  Adams is the driving force; he’s the motor of the show.   I worked with William Daniels in the show years later.  He embraced the fact that Adams is 'obnoxious and disliked.'  It was important to the character and the story that he not care about that... and of course the audience finds him obnoxious and disliked but at the end find themselves in tears and loving the man.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"1776": Revival Remembrances

I am a total geek about things I love, and "1776" is one of those things.  Now that I will be doing the show I am eagerly immersing myself in every conceivable kind of research, both about John Adams and historical events and about the production history of the show itself. I am fortunate to be friends with David Lowenstein, an actor I have known for twenty years (he was in the first show I ever did in New York), who was in the Broadway revival of "1776" in 1997.  I asked him to share his memories about that amazing adventure, and here they are!  Thank you, David, for sharing your piece of Broadway history.

David Lowenstein
"It was the character actor’s dream job that season.  The great Paul Gemingani, with whom I did Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and A Christmas Carol, assured me I was on his list to be seen.  And yet I received no call for an audition.  I hadn’t worked with Scott Ellis or The Roundabout before.  Nor had I been cast by Jim Carnahan.  Finally Gemingani told me he schooled the Carnahan office, “If I put a name on a list you call them, period!”  And so I sang and was cast as Joseph Hewes from North Carolina. 

The cast included Tom Aldredge, Pat Hingle, Jerry Lanning, Brent Spiner, Macintyre Dixon, Michael McCormick, and the list goes on.  It was, imho, the greatest collection of character actors on Broadway, including some leading men like Gregg Edelman, Paul  Michael Valley, Michael Cumpsty, and Merwin Foard.  It was unlike any rehearsal period I had experienced to date.  We were instructed as to where our seat in Congress was and then given free rein to move about as we saw fit; filing papers, conferring with our fellow congressmen, getting on with the business of government, all the while trying to avoid the discussion of this ridiculous and radical notion of “independence.”  I learned a valuable lesson from Scott that I carry with me today: casting is 90% of a director’s job.

We spent days working with, and learning from, a revolutionary scholar... Her knowledge and insight were extremely valuable in understanding the reality of this mythic and iconic situation, putting a real face on these historical figures.  Having the best book ever written for a musical, we relished the details of the scene work.  It also has the longest book scene without a song in any musical.  The genius of the writing became evident as each audience sat on the edge of their seats in suspense, waiting for the outcome they all knew, from elementary school American History, was inevitable.


Broadway Revival Cast.  David is in the right of the frame in white wig.
One anecdote:  Joseph Hewes is written to constantly “yield” to South Carolina whenever a vote is taken.  It’s a running gag in the show.  I created a vivid back story based on research and played each “yield” with growing frustration.  When it came to the final vote for independence my subtext was “yeah” but I was bound by our agreement with SC and had to “yield.”  One night my subtext got the better of me and I popped up and voted “Yeah!”  The entire Congress sat up, necks snapping in my direction.  Changing the course of history, the show, and tipping the scales, making it unnecessary to continue the vote, I instantly realized my mistake.  I quickly followed with “Yields!  Mr. Secretary, I….uh…..I beg your pardon.  North Carolina respectfully yields to South Carolina.”  Sitting down in a flop sweat, the show went on.  There were countless hilarious moments with that group of actors,  forcing many of us to face upstage trying to control ourselves.  It was the most joyous 10 months-- proven by the fact that on both of our closing nights, first at The Roundabout, and then at The Gershwin, the entire company--every one of those seasoned character actors--bawled like babies on stage during the signing and through curtain calls."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014: The Bucket List Season

I think all actors have a wish list, a dream lineup of great parts in the repertoire that he or she hopes to  tackle at least once in a career.  I have been chasing a couple of them for the past several years, preparing and performing audition after audition, coming just so close... and never quite getting there.   So imagine my elation that I suddenly get to do two of those cherished parts in one season; in fact, back to back!

1776



There are few roles I identify with as much as I do with John Adams.  I feel like I can get inside this guy's skin.  I relate strongly to his passion, his outspokenness, his commitment to what he believes is right.  We're both from Massachusetts, and both of shorter stature... how many heroic leading roles are there for shortish, middle aged guys?  Adams is for me one of the greatest in musical theatre, a real actor's role... akin, in my view, to roles like King Arthur in Camelot and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.  The show is a true ensemble piece with an incredible book, and Adams anchors the show.

I am thrilled and honored to be playing the part at Cape Playhouse, America's oldest summer theatre, on gorgeous Cape Cod,  and to have Tony nominee Christiane Noll as Abigail.  Add to this the fact that James Brennan, one of my favorite directors, is at the helm.  To share the experience of preparing this cherished part, I am doing a video blog series, "Becoming John Adams," which will be posted on my website and as a guest blog on BroadwayWorld.com.  In it, I will capture the process of preparing for, rehearsing and performing John Adams, as well as some research trips to Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Adams birthplace and farm in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Les Misérables



From the American Revolution to a French Revolution....

If there is one thing I love playing, it's a deliciously evil villain.  And there are some gems that I have been hankering after, with Thénardier right at the top of the list.  Les Misérables has been a part of my consciousness since I saw the show in Boston in the mid-80s.  I became obsessed with it even before that when I got the London cast album.  It had an electricity that I hadn't experienced before.  I did a scene, as Marius, for my senior showcase in college!  Now that I am at the right stage of my career to play that scheming immoral bottom feeder, Monsieur Thénardier, I have done numerous auditions for the role.  I am extremely thrilled that my first production of Les Misérables will be at a Shakespeare festival, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, and it will be directed by my Buddy Holly Story director D.J. Salisbury.  More news on Les Misérables as casting is announced etc.  Stay tuned.

Whereas Adams's character is rooted in morality and a sense of his country's good, Thénardier is completely immoral, a nihilist who only looks out for number one.  Whereas Adams is a true hero, Thénardier, for all the comedy in the role, is a repulsive villain.  Playing these kinds of contrasting parts is what I got into acting for!  Two epic roles in two of the finest shows in the repertoire.  I am so excited and extremely grateful.  I am keenly aware that so many actors don't get the chance to play their dream roles,  and how fortunate I am to do two of them back to back!  Watch this space for posts about both productions, and be sure to subscribe on youtube to follow all the segments of "Becoming John Adams," launching in early June.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" Opens at Flat Rock Playhouse!

"James Beaman as Milt shines… Although each gets to stand out, the show’s strength lies in togetherness, when the jokes skip from actor to actor like a smooth stone on a placid lake, and ripples of laughter dispel the sadness in our lives, including the loss in February of Sid Caesar, one great funnyman who continues to teach us about laughter and love." --BlueRidgeNow.com

After a joyous two week rehearsal period, we opened this Neil Simon classic to enthusiastic audiences here at Flat Rock Playhouse.  I have to say this is one of the most uniformly talented and lovely casts I have ever been a part of and the result is a show that is a true ensemble effort.  The credit, of course, for the assembling of this terrific group of comedians goes to our director Michael Kostroff.  

In this first professional directing effort, Michael has already proven his considerable gifts. He is a born leader, inspiring great work by bringing encouragement, appreciation and kindness to his keen eye for detail and mastery of what is funny.  Michael is an accomplished actor, having proven himself with his extensive stage work and his unforgettable stint on HBO's "The Wire."  I was already a fan before I landed this job, but now that I have been directed by Michael, my respect and admiration for him is magnified thousandfold.

One of the special things for me about this production is that I am playing the role Michael himself played a couple times, including in a production at San Jose Rep, where he met his wife, Jenny.  This just makes it all the more meaningful to me that Michael entrusted me with the part of Milt.  I am having such fun with this sardonic jokester, a truly authentic New York character, through whom I get moments of brilliant hilarity and touching pathos.  

Spring has sprung here in this lovely part of North Carolina and when I am not performing on our stunning set in the playhouse, I have been hiking in the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site park.  It's such a gorgeous place.  There have also been jaunts to nearby Asheville, a funky and welcoming little city with great food and lots of fun shops and galleries.  Two more weeks of fun in this show, and I plan to savor every moment!

In the midst of this gig, I am also making plans for my highly anticipated engagement at Cape Playhouse, where I will play my dream role of John Adams in "1776" later this summer.  As part of the journey, I am going to be doing a video blog which will capture the process of researching, preparing, rehearsing and performing this iconic character.  BroadwayWorld.com has invited me to be a guest blogger as well!  Looking forward to sharing the adventure with you all!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Neil Simon Comedy and an American Classic! 2014 Begins!

On March 17, I will fly out to Flat Rock, North Carolina to begin rehearsals for the hilarious Neil Simon play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, at Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina.  This will be my first time at the theatre and my first non-musical play in years.  Laughter on the 23rd Floor is drawn from Neil Simon's memories of being a young writer in the 50s on Sid Caesar's "Show of Shows," one of the pioneering television comedy programs.  The play is populated by hysterical, one of a kind characters including the manic genius, Max Prince, based on Sid Caesar himself.  I will play the part of Milt Fields, a dry, down to earth jokesmith who gets to deliver many of the play's best punch lines.  I am excited to bring to the part my love of classic comedy and the flavor of my Jewish heritage, so much a part of this character and the piece itself.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor will be directed by Michael Kostroff, a talented actor whose work I have admired for many years now and who is best known to audiences as lawyer Maurice Levy on HBO's "The Wire."  Michael has played Milt Fields in a few productions of this play, so it will be a really special thing to be directed by him and I am greatly looking forward to digging in!  Laughter on the 23rd Floor plays from April 5th through the 19th.

I am also excited to announce that I will get to play one of my dream roles this summer.  I don't think there is an actor alive who doesn't hold in his heart a list of parts he dearly wishes to play before his career is over.  For me, John Adams in the Tony winning musical 1776 tops the list.

In 2007, while working at Alabama Shakespeare Festival doing a repertory of the War of the Roses plays, I was offered an audition for the role of Adams for Goodspeed Musical's production of 1776. I flew myself home and threw myself into the audition process with abandon.  I have so much in common with Adams, as depicted in the play: small of stature, from Massachusetts, with a bellyful of passion and determination, this central part just speaks to me in a way that few roles do.  The part was originally played by the great William Daniels, an actor I have always admired.  Needless to say, I had high hopes for the Goodspeed production, but alas, they 'went another way.'  In love with the part as I was, I pursued every production I could get seen for, from Ford's Theatre to American Conservatory Theatre, from Pittsburgh Public to Paper Mill Playhouse.

This year, the legendary Cape Playhouse is producing the show, under the direction of James Brennan, who was the wonderful director of North Shore Music Theatre's The Sound of Music last season, for which I have been nominated for an IRNE Award for my performance as Max Detweiler (another role on the bucket list).  I feel so incredibly lucky to have won the part of John Adams at last for this production, and to be guided by Jimmy Brennan, who has had his own considerable success playing the part.  The Cape Playhouse production of 1776 runs from July 7-19 and I intend to savor every performance!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

2014 Starts With Honors!

Audition season is in full swing, and I am hard at work securing work for the spring and summer seasons.  In the midst of all this activity I was delighted to receive two honors in January and February!

Last month, I was informed by the Beaux Arts Society that I have been chosen as one of a list of Distinguished Artists honored by the society; a list that includes such luminaries as Charles Busch, Donna McKechnie, and Bruce Vilanch.  So thrilling to be included in these ranks!  For a complete list of the honorees, click here.

The IRNE Awards are presented each year by the Independent Reviewers of New England for the best in theatre in the Boston area and throughout New England.  I was delighted to learn that I was nominated for an IRNE Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical (Large Theatre) for my performance as Max Detweiler in The Sound of Music last season at North Shore Music Theatre.  Also nominated, in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories are my cast mates Lisa O'Hare and Jacquelynne Fontaine.  This production was truly exceptional and it is an honor to be recognized with this nomination and to represent the theatre and the show in this way!  For all the IRNE nominees, click here.

Stay tuned to this space for an announcement of my first role of 2014, still under negotiation!  A terrific role in a wonderful play, opening in April!