Monday, December 28, 2015

Hello, Rudy!

2015 gets Wilder-- and Wilder... 



With Giselle Wolf in "The Long Christmas Dinner"
As our run of "A Wilder Christmas" progresses, audiences and critics alike are praising the production and it is extremely gratifying.  These two Thornton Wilder one acts are challenging pieces that not only break many theatrical conventions but also present powerful ideas that shake our habitual perceptions of life and living.  It's really inspiring to see the way people are being touched by our work.  As of this writing, the production has been extended through January 10!


"Miniature masterpieces, at once poetic and profound, and I doubt you’ll ever see either one done better."
~The Wall Street Journal


In an interesting turn of events, Santa brought me an early Christmas present in the form of my first role of 2016, ironically in a show based upon--yes--a play by Thornton Wilder!  "Hello, Dolly!," one of the most iconic and beloved classics of American musical theatre, is based on Wilder's "The Matchmaker."  Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida is producing "Hello Dolly!" and has invited me to play the delicious cameo part of Rudolph, the majordomo of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant.  This is something of a full circle moment for me, as this time last year I was rehearsing "Crazy For You" at Riverside; I am delighted by the prospect of returning to beautiful sunny Vero and working again with one of my favorite directors, James Brennan, with whom this will be my fourth production.


David Hurst, center, as Rudolph in the film of "Hello, Dolly!"
My history with Jerry Herman has been a happy one.  I have done three productions of "La Cage Aux Folles"--twice as a Cagelle, and then as Albin, opposite Maxwell Caulfield at Ogunquit Playhouse.  I also played Lindsay Woolsey in "Mame," starring Louise Pitre, at Goodspeed Opera House.  "Hello, Dolly!" is arguably Herman's most beloved and well known show and Rudolph is one of the best cameo parts in the musical theatre repertoire.  The role was immortalized in the film version by David Hurst.  Hurst was a German-born actor and a Jew who escaped Nazi Germany as a child via the Kindertransport and settled in Ireland, where he became an actor; eventually he came to Broadway in the original production of "Camelot," playing Merlin opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews.  His turn as Rudolph in "Hello, Dolly!" is what he is best known for, and he's delightful in the part.

As always, I am inspired by the character men of the past and the traditions that make shows like "Hello, Dolly!" perennial classics that audiences love.  The show runs March 8-27 on Riverside's Stark Stage.  It will be fun to be a part of this show as a way to 'gallop' into the new year, as it were!  More on this, and other things simmering for 2016, to come.  Have a safe and happy New Year!


Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Annual Holiday Letter 2015

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.
~Hal Borland

With Drew Nellessen in "Crazy For You"
My year began in the warm and sunny embrace of lovely Vero Beach, Florida where I romped gleefully through the role of Bela Zangler in the Gershwin musical "Crazy For You." Riverside Theatre is a superb venue, producing terrific work under the auspices of Artistic Director Allen Cornell, and I was reunited with two of my favorite collaborators, director Jimmy Brennan and musical director Ken Clifton, and introduced to the wonderful choreographer Deanna Dys.  Truly, I'd return to Riverside at the drop of a hat.

With Sally Struthers
I returned to wintry NYC and embarked upon an arduous audition season, coming close but no cigar to so many plum jobs, including two exciting tours.  Just as I was beginning to lose heart I was given the chance to audition for another Gershwin romp, "Nice Work If You Can Get It," a co-production of The Gateway and Ogunquit Playhouse.  Director Larry Raben and choreographer Peggy Hickey invited me to play the shamelessly fabulous comic lead of Cookie McGee.  I strapped on tap shoes for the first time in a quarter century, and had the gift of co-starring with the irrepressible Sally Struthers, with whom I have become good friends; we enjoyed a summer full of laughter and SRO audiences giving standing ovations. I even got to meet the show's author, Tony winner Joe DiPietro, who embraced our production in the most gratifying way.


With Eve Plumb
With Brenda Vaccaro

Actually, 2015 seemed to be my year for working with 1970s TV and film legends-- stars of three of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and an Oscar nominee!   In addition to dear Sally, "Nice Work" also gave me the thrill of working with guest stars Valerie Harper and Brenda Vaccaro, and "Crazy For You" guest starred Eve Plumb, known to all as Jan Brady.  Strong, vibrant women all.  Many 'pinch me' moments this year.

With Valerie Harper
Between the Gateway and Ogunquit runs, I had the unexpected joy of being invited to play a  great part in a workshop of a powerful new musical by Marcus Gardley and Justin Ellington, "Loving v. Virginia," at New York Stage and Film's Powerhouse Theatre season at Vassar College.  Director Patricia McGregor is an inspiring leader and a great collaborator and I immersed myself eagerly in the process of developing this fascinating new work in a company of simply thrilling actors.

This fall, I made my film debut in a small role which I shot last spring.  "Till We Meet Again," created by and starring my two beautiful friends Linnea Larsdotter and Johan Matton, had a rapturous reception on the festival circuit, garnering numerous awards, and was given its premiere at the Long Beach International Film Festival.  I'm proud of my friends, of the film, and my cameo in it.

"Ivanov" Cast, Crew and Director Inés Braun
As the leaves turned color and that autumn snap came to the air, I found myself hot on the audition trail once more, and landed a place in the great ensemble cast for "A Wilder Christmas," two one act plays by Thornton Wilder at Peccadillo Theatre Company, in residence at the Theatre at St. Clement's.  Simultaneously, I played Lebedev in Chekhov's "Ivanov," at Columbia University, for MFA directing candidate Inés Braun.  Doing double duty on these challenging pieces has been enormously gratifying and has also proven to be a blessing in the wake of the sudden death of my younger sister, Clea.  The work is a place to put all those feelings and to find communion with my fellow artists and the audience.

Right, as Roderick in "The Long Christmas Dinner"


Finally, 2015 marked two milestones.  My fiftieth birthday, and my twenty-fifth year in the acting profession.  Overwhelming in many ways, but also a source of pride and accomplishment.  I am grateful to subsist in this most difficult but exciting of cities, and to be free to pursue my craft and my dreams.  Oh, Broadway... perhaps 2016 will bring us together.  Wishing you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons full of love and a new year full of possibilities! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Every, Every Minute

"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning". ~Thornton Wilder

As I write this, Thanksgiving is upon us here in New York City.  It may be the Macy's parade, or the Rockettes, or the tree at Rockefeller Center, but all American eyes seem to turn to our city to launch the holiday season.  It's a time to gather family close, to stampede the department stores, and to deal with the expense and heightened security measures of this year's holiday travel woes.  Hard, perhaps, to see the forest for the Christmas trees.  But, working on two plays by Thornton Wilder while experiencing a major loss in my family has been a mixed blessing: both sobering and inspiring.


Most of us think Thornton Wilder, and think "Our Town."  There's a reason for this.  It's a masterpiece, an American masterpiece, and a play that speaks to the heart and soul of what life is about.  But so often people get the message wrong.  It's not a play about nostalgia or sentimentality; it's a play by an existentialist writer who offers a stinging indictment of human folly.  Wilder felt that human beings only experience life superficially; that we don't fully bring our awareness and our appreciation to all the moments of life, and that we don't truly understand our folly until we experience a loss, such as the death of a loved one.  It's a 'tough love' message.

With Clea at my brother's wedding, 1989
It is just this kind of realization, this seismic shock, that I am in the midst of now, as I grapple with the sudden passing of my sister, Clea.  After a series of medical crises, and a life crowded with challenge and hardship, she died at the too young age of 46, leaving three kids behind, whom we now embrace and support as a family and, with whom, through tear-filled eyes, we contemplate the future.  Having lost my Dad only 15 months ago, I am now familiar with the process of grieving, one that progresses in unexpected ways over a long period of time.  Right now, it's still a shock, but inevitably, my work as an actor in "A Wilder Christmas" at Peccadillo Theatre Company offers the solace of work but the challenge of embracing the human struggle as embodied in the two one acts that make up the evening.

My sister was not an easy lady; life was hard on her and she could be hard on those around her who most wanted to help and support her.  But at the same time, she had an innate sweetness, a kindness and a sentimental heart that endeared her to everyone.  It is difficult for me not to have regrets about what I might have done, or said, while she was living; it is a struggle not to beat up on myself for not reaching out more, letting her know I loved her and was here for her.  And of course, it is regrets such as these that permeate the human stories of "The Long Christmas Dinner" and "Pullman Car Hiawatha."  Wilder understood that the most  profound and painful reality of life is that we don't embrace it and engage in it as deeply as we should.  He also knew that these lessons have to be learned and relearned throughout our lives, because, after all, we are only human.

Mom, my brother Alex, me and Clea
I share my grief with my Mom and my older brother, Alex, my nieces Katy and Keira, and my nephew Daniel, and all our family and extended family.  This holiday season will be one of coming together, holding each other tight, and remembering Clea.  I will also have the gift of the work of theatre, a place of great comfort for me, amidst fine actors bringing to the stage Thornton Wilder's urgent message to love each other, appreciate each other, and savor life for the all too brief time we are on this earth.  Join us at the Theatre at St. Clement's and commune with us at "A Wilder Christmas."  

Happy Thanksgiving.  Hold your loved ones close.  Appreciate every, every minute.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Great Authors For the Holidays!

It's been a long time since I have spent the holidays in New York.  We actors go where the work takes us; this year, it keeps me at home in Manhattan!  After a hectic audition season this fall, I was offered two productions simultaneously, both early works by two great playwrights.

Anton Chekhov
An actor friend put me in touch with Columbia MFA directing candidate Inés Braun, who was casting her project of Anton Chekhov's "Ivanov."  Inés, a dynamic creative force from Argentina, cast me in the role of Lébedev, the alcoholic but well-meaning father of Sasha, who falls in love with the manic-depressive, 'Hamlet-esque' Ivanov.  It's an interesting play, definitely an early effort for Chekhov, but a fascinating glimpse into his gift for characterization and his uncanny perception of human foibles.  "Ivanov" will have three presentations, November 20-22, and I am excited to be a part of Inés' growth as a director and to share the work with her esteemed teachers, directors Anne Bogart and Brian Kulick.  It's also so nice to dig into some classic dramatic material after a pretty steady diet of frothy musical comedy!  Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

Simultaneous with rehearsals for "Ivanov" I am working on the holiday offering of The Peccadillo Theatre Company, the company in residence at the Theatre at St. Clement's.  Peccadillo's mission is the presentation of great American plays, and they have chosen two early one acts by Thornton Wilder, "The Long Christmas Dinner" and "Pullman Car Hiawatha" to present as "A Wilder Christmas."  Just as with the Chekhov, this is a stunning look at the developing voice of one of the great playwrights.

Thornton Wilder
Thornton Wilder plumbed the depths of human experience from an existentialist's point of view, and presented his stories in highly theatrical ways.  "The Long Christmas Dinner" tells the story of 90 years in the history of an American family, played out in front of the audience's very eyes; "Pullman Car Hiawatha" is an early experiment in the conventions and devices Wilder perfected in "Our Town"--including a narrator called 'The Stage Manager' and the use of simple props and chairs to establish the world of the play.  These plays are the essence of ensemble acting, and I am thrilled to be a part of an extremely talented cast under the meticulous direction of Artistic Director Dan Wackerman.  "A Wilder Christmas" plays December 3 through January 3 at the Theatre at St. Clement's in the heart of the theatre district.


Various kinds of theatre challenge different sets of actor muscles and as much as I love doing the dynamic work of musical theatre, I am having a great time using my more classical actor talents to bring these Chekhov and Wilder characters to life.  I am also enjoying being a part of the visions of two passionate directors, one well established and the other beginning her training at one of the great directing programs.  In the process, I get to learn more about myself and my work.  A pretty great Christmas gift.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Twenty-Five Years in the Biz

My 50th birthday is days away.  As I write that I immediately start thinking like an actor.  Hmm, maybe you shouldn't admit that.  You can still play early 40s!  Insert 'LOL' here.  Oh well, authenticity is part of my deal and besides, I often say that as a character actor my best years are always ahead of me.

As Paul in "My Three Angels," 1990
The Big 5-0 feels very significant to me, and has given me occasion for a great deal of stock taking and reflection.  This year also marks my 25th year in the acting profession.  I have been in theatre since birth-- it was the family business; but I joined Actors' Equity during the holiday season of 1990.  I was doing a play called "My Three Angels" at the Worcester Foothills Theatre in Worcester, MA and was offered my card.  Three years later, I moved to NYC with my very first Off Broadway gig, understudying all nine actors and serving as assistant stage manager for "Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo!" at the Actors Playhouse in Greenwich Village.  For a fun blast from the past, check out this public access cable show piece about "Whoop-Dee-Doo!" from '93.

With Goldie Dver in "Crazy World," 2002
I've spent most of my professional career in New York, and what a fascinating and circuitous  journey it has been!  I spent eight years deeply entrenched in the cabaret community, creating four acts as a female impersonator and one, "Crazy World: Songs of Leslie Bricusse" as a vehicle for myself and my friend Goldie Dver, winner of the 2002 MAC Award for Revue of the Year.  All along the way, I did regional theatre and off-off-Broadway; when I retired my cabaret work I went back to grad school for classical acting, reinventing myself and launching a career as a Shakespearean.  Amazing plot twists brought me the life changing opportunity to play Sir Robin in the First National Tour of "Spamalot" in 2007 and a series of incredible musical theatre adventures have followed, including realizing more than a handful of my all time dream parts.

But enough of my resume!  My point is, this birthday has made me feel a real sense of accomplishment looking back on my journey, and I also marvel at how much New York City has changed over my 22 years here.  Virtually every great cabaret I played 'back in the day'--Eighty Eights, Helen's, Judy's, The Firebird, to name a few--are gone; Off-Broadway theaters where I cut my teeth have disappeared as well--places like Actors Playhouse and the Douglas Fairbanks.  Contemplating such losses to the cultural landscape of the city doesn't make me feel old; on the contrary, I just feel lucky to have been a part of the vibrant nightlife and Off Broadway scene of the 90s.  

The legendary 'back room' at Don't Tell Mama
So, thinking 'full circle', as it were, I decided to return to the very first stage I ever appeared on in New York, at legendary Don't Tell Mama, on 46th Street.  Impresario Sidney Myer, probably the most beloved man in New York cabaret, gave me my first chance like so many others, and he has made the club available to me to hold my 50th birthday party.  I am bringing in my chum John McMahon, great pianist and composer who used to hold court at the keys in the lively piano bar at Mama's (oh the many sing-a-longs and gin and tonics I enjoyed in that crazy space) to tickle the ivories, and have made it an open mic, inviting performer friends to get up and offer the greatest gift they bring to my life, next to their friendship--their talent.

What will the next half century bring?  Ha ha!!  Well, you know the old saying--"if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."  My story thus far in show biz has been equal parts creating my own opportunities and miraculous strokes of luck.  I am able to announce my next gig!  I will be playing roles in a double bill of two Thornton Wilder one acts, "The Long Christmas Dinner" and "Pullman Car Hiawatha," the holiday offering at Peccadillo Theater Company, at the theatre at St. Clement's-- a space which, as fate would have it, is just a block away from my first NYC stage, Don't Tell Mama, on 46th Street, and--cue the Twilight Zone theme-- directly behind the old tenement building where I had my first New York apartment in 1993.  Perhaps, after all, there is a sort of magical order in the chaos of a life in this biz--or life in general.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sweet and Lowdown

Cookie McGee kicks up his heels
Beaman shines as the oily bootlegger turned savvy, problem-solving butler who beams at his new-found respectability and finds – as do many others in the piece – unlikely love. ~On Boston Stages

The supporting players are out of the same barrel, especially James Beaman, who does the best Buddy Hackett since Buddy Hackett... ~Wall Street Journal

In 2007 Beaman was devastatingly good as Albin in "La Cage Aux Folles" at the Playhouse, and his Cookie characterization is also one for the ages. ~Talkin' Broadway


I haven't blogged in a while, folks, because to be honest--I have been having too much fun!  "Nice Work If You Can Get It" burst on to the Ogunquit Playhouse stage a month ago and has been enjoying a rapturous sold out run!  The audiences here have embraced the screwball antics of this bubble of a show with such love and hilarity that I have been on a high for weeks.  Truly, this has been one of the most joyful and gratifying things I have ever done.


As Cookie, with Sally Struthers as the Duchess
It helps to have a wonderfully crafted role: Cookie McGee is a clown in the grand tradition of the Marx Brothers and every classic comedian we know.  Joe DiPietro has infused him with the attributes of the great comics that he loves from classic film and I share that love and know how those guys tick.  Add to my advantages the fearless comedic genius of my partner in crime, Sally Struthers, and the expert hand and wholehearted permission of our director, Larry Raben, and I have simply been allowed to soar with this part.  The audiences have rewarded me with huge laughs and the biggest ovations I have ever received in any role in my 25 year career.


With Valerie Harper
Our company has been steady, strong and upbeat through some difficult challenges up here in beautiful Ogunquit.  The production was thrust into the national spotlight when our guest star, the wonderful Valerie Harper, who came on board to play the cameo role of Millicent Winter, was taken ill backstage during our second week and had to withdraw from the show.  Ogunquit Playhouse, led by our gentleman producer, Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney, handled the media storm with grace and with Valerie's privacy and well being as the paramount concern.  But the press was pretty aggressive, obtaining the private phone numbers of everyone in the cast, haranguing us on Facebook and pumping us in person for information about Valerie's condition.  I was so proud of the way everyone maintained their silence out of respect for dear Valerie, and got a real glimpse of the ruthlessness of the press and the cost of fame.  The best thing is that Valerie is recovering well and in the arms of her loving family.


Back Stage with Brenda Vaccaro
I watched one of our ensemble members, Heather Stinson, who had covered the role of Millicent on the national tour (at only 23 years of age) step in literally at the last moment and give a confident and winning performance; I saw our Millicent from the Gateway run of our production, Leslie Alexander, jump in and nail the part for a few shows, garnering a glowing mention in the Wall Street Journal's review; and then lo and behold, we were joined by Oscar nominee and TV and Broadway veteran Brenda Vaccaro, who has taken on the part with gusto.  What an extraordinary thing to witness in the course of a brief month long run here at Ogunquit!


Opening night, with Sally Struthers
Irregardless of the challenges, this company has shone brightly and the Playhouse has mounted a superb and glittering production that I think measures up to, if not surpasses, the original Broadway production of this delicious musical farce.  I feel blessed to have been a part of this and to have been given the chance to craft a performance that I know is delighting audiences each and every night.  I am so sad to see this one go.  I adore Sally, and our partnership on stage, and burgeoning friendship off stage, are beyond price.  I'll miss that lady.

Ogunquit is a stunningly beautiful place to be in July and August, and as it is not only a place where I have performed now in three productions, but a place my family has come to annually since I was a child, I feel I have been at home again here.  The joy of the familiar has been matched by the excitement of new collaborators like our director Larry and our choreographer, the great Peggy Hickey, and this stellar cast led by the remarkable Joey Sorge and Amanda Lea LaVergne.  I am as proud of this work as of anything I have ever done.  Not sure what's next but right now I am finishing out the run here glowing with pride and joy--nice work, in spades.


Friday, July 3, 2015

The More Things Stay the Same

While I was rehearsing Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Gateway, I received an interesting and unexpected offer: to take on a role in a workshop of a new musical at the highly respected Powerhouse Theater festival produced by Vassar College and New York Stage and Film.  For over thirty years, this summer 'incubator' on the Vassar campus has brought together artists to collaborate and develop new works for the theatre.  Some important and successful plays and musicals have found their genesis there, including two works that are slated for the upcoming Broadway season, Bright Star and the wildly acclaimed Hamilton.

So of course I am thrilled to be a part of Loving v. Virginia, a musical by Marcus Gardley with music by Justin Ellington, conceived and directed by Patricia McGregor. The piece had a first workshop at Williamstown Theatre Festival and will have its next incarnation at Vassar.  And the true story it is based upon, its themes and message, could not be more timely in 2015.

Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving in 1958
The historic Supreme Court case of Mildred and Richard Loving--an interracial couple married legally in the District of Columbia in the late 1950s--against the State of Virginia essentially made interracial marriage legal in every state in the U.S.  The couple, Virginia natives who returned to Caroline County to live and raise their family, were awakened one morning in 1958 by Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks and his deputies, intent on enforcing their state's law against interracial marriage.  They arrested the couple, dismissing their DC marriage certificate, separated them, and imprisoned them. They were tried and convicted to a year in jail by a circuit county judge.  The judge offered them a deal, however: that they stay out of the state of Virginia for the next 25 years.  Eventually this courageous couple challenged Virginia's statute, and the Supreme Court's unanimous decision struck the last remaining racist anti-miscegenation laws off the country's books.  Marriage Equality.  Sound familiar?

Anti-Marriage Equality protesters, 2015
Anti-Interracial Marriage protesters, 1968

An astonishing story that I knew nothing about until being invited to work on this piece.  And how incredibly relevant and important it is today for 2015, on so many levels.  The very recent Supreme Court ruling which has made same sex marriage legal in all states, despite protest and threatened resistance by several states (predictably mainly Southern ones) could not have happened without the Loving case.  

With a distinctly virulent rise in our country of racism and Southern white conservative backlash, including a wave of blatant, racially motivated police brutality events; a movement to preserve the Confederate flag; and conservative southern states fighting to uphold states' rights regarding the retention of discriminatory laws, cloaking their motives in religious liberty arguments... all these themes are represented in the Loving's story and in the musical Loving v. Virginia, a provocative moment to show how far we have come as a country and how so much is mired in the same bigotry the Lovings faced.



R. Garnett Brooks, late in life
My challenge is perhaps one of the biggest I have faced as an actor, undertaking the role of R. Garnett Brooks, the bigoted sheriff who chose to enforce the law and to  humiliate and bring to heel this interracial couple he felt deserved punishment.  Brooks, both in his life and as depicted in the play, is the epitome of the narrow minded, racist, small town redneck local despot, who uses his authority to perpetrate his persecution of African-Americans.  Appallingly, but perhaps not unpredictably, Brooks defended until the day he died the justness of his actions and his belief that races shouldn't mix and that black people are an inferior race undeserving of equality with whites. 

My work as an actor has long been chameleonic, if you will; I have sought out every opportunity to transform myself as an actor, immersing myself in a wild variety of characters, stretching my physical and imaginative limits.  Sheriff Brooks could not be further from who I am, my beliefs, and my background.  I'm an openly gay man, raised Jewish in an interfaith household in the northeast, by parents whose views and beliefs were liberal and progressive.  My adopted sister is interracial, and she and I dealt with our own experience of persecution in our Massachusetts community in the 1970s. I staunchly support equality for all people, I believe in the diversity of American culture, and I passionately repudiate racism, bigotry and persecution, especially where it is enforced by law.  So to play this man who is the polar opposite of all I stand for will be an incredible opportunity to find what humanity he has, to get into his head, and to play him with commitment as I join with the creators of this piece and everyone at Powerhouse Theater bringing this new work to life.  For information and tickets, visit the festival website.  I head up to Vassar next week, and am excited to get to work!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Question of Character

We are into our second week of rehearsals out here at the Gateway, whipping "Nice Work If You Can Get It" together in true summer stock style.  I can't deny I am having a ball playing the comic lead, bootlegger-turned-butler Cookie McGee, in this bubble of a musical comedy. The show hearkens back to the classic Broadway farce musicals of the 1920s and 30s and calls to mind the great performers of the stage of that time, many of whom came from vaudeville, and who also found their way into motion pictures.

Being the classic cinema fanatic that I am, when faced with bringing to life a character like the wise cracking Cookie, I go looking at the performances of the great Hollywood character actors.  Since these actors had illustrious Broadway careers, their film performances give a taste of what the style might have been in those early stage musicals.  For Cookie, my two inspirations have been Sam Levene and Victor Moore.


Victor Moore actually played the role of 'Shorty' McGee in the Gershwin musical "Oh, Kay!" upon which "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is based.  He was also the original Moonface Martin in Cole Porter's classic "Anything Goes," and appeared in 21 Broadway shows before embarking on a fruitful silent film career with such directors as Cecil B. DeMille, and then a sound film career that included Astaire/Rogers vehicles like "Swing Time," and perhaps his most memorable film role, that of a lovable hobo in "It Happened on 5th Avenue."  Moore was known for his cuddly but easily riled characters and his strident vocal quality.  There is more than a little of him still alive and well in Shorty McGee's kissing cousin, Cookie.  You can get a taste of Moore's genius in this comedy short he made with Edward Arnold.

Sam Levene is best known as the original Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," a role with which his name will forever be associated.  It is, in my opinion, a tragedy that he wasn't allowed to recreate his performance in the film (sadly Frank Sinatra was miscast in this great comedic character part); how I wish I could step back in time and see his Nathan!  Nevertheless, he did have a film career, recreating his stage role in "Three Men on a Horse" and going on to play smart talking New York City types like detectives and cab drivers in films like "Shadow of the Thin Man" and "Golden Boy."  To me, he epitomized that street smart, savvy New York Jewish comic type... and his Nathan Detroit crystallized the concept of the lovable comic gangster.  I am even growing a little Sam Levene mustache for Cookie, in tribute.  Levene's persona comes through in this trailer for "Three Men on a Horse."

So, if Nathan Detroit and Moonface Martin had a love child, I think it would be Cookie McGee.  Like Moonface, the low level gangster disguised, absurdly, as a clergyman, Cookie is the low level bootlegger trying to pass himself off as a butler in a Long Island mansion.  This makes for all kinds of fabulous Victor Moore-esque anxiety and befuddlement.  Like Nathan Detroit, Cookie is street smart, a guy who works the angles, and who isn't afraid to express himself with a stinging wisecrack.  But underneath the tough exterior, he's got a heart of gold and is really a big softie.  These influences from yesteryear help me immeasurably to bring authenticity to my performance which I hope will help sweep the audience away into the improbable, fast-paced, Charleston-high-kicking world of "Nice Work If You Can Get It."  


Our show opens at The Gateway on June 10 and plays through June 27, and after a brief hiatus, reopens at Ogunquit Playhouse July 22 and runs through August 15.  I am beyond honored and delighted to be playing opposite television and Broadway star Sally Struthers, who is bringing her brilliant comedic gifts to the role of Temperance crusader Duchess Estonia Dulworth!  We are having a ball together and our duet of "By Strauss" and "Sweet and Lowdown" in the second act is not to be missed.  Grab your tickets now!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Shades of Gray

To dye, or not to dye?  That is the question...




Nothing heralds the transition from youth to middle age and beyond than the appearance of those first gray hairs.  Unless of course you are one of us who are genetically predisposed to premature gray.  It is a Beaman trait amongst the males of the family, and my own father was graying by the time he was in his late 20s; I don't remember him without silver hair.  I was a late bloomer, actually, and didn't begin to really see the salt mix in with the pepper until I was in my early 40s.  I look at photos of myself when I came out of grad school in 2004, and I still had dark hair and beard.  The change really began shortly thereafter.

Head shot with dyed locks, 2005
Having a somewhat youthful face and knowing the connotations that gray hair has to those casting roles in show business, I chose to start coloring my hair.  Dark brown dye covered those telltale grays and, I thought, kept me in that late 30s-early 40s market; having gone to graduate school later in life I wanted to maximize my castability.  The color was never quite my natural shade; always looked a little too dark, but it seemed the right thing to do.  I didn't stop with the hair color for a few years... until I was on a lengthy tour with Spamalot and was being wigged in the show.  It seemed silly to keep up with the hair dye so I let it go and let the gray grow in.  The response from people was rapturous.  Apparently salt and pepper hair on a man is sexy, dignified, irresistible.  The names of all the leading silver foxes--Clooney, Cooper, Slattery-- got bandied about me.  I thought, hey, maybe I am on to something here!

At 22, playing Ebenezer Scrooge


And thus began my journey as a silver fox.  As the years have passed, and I approach 50, the salt has begun to overwhelm the pepper and the politics of THE GRAY have changed.  Show business is a vehicle for cultural and societal views and attitudes, particularly in a youth obsessed culture such as ours.  And as 'hot' as many may consider graying temples, nevertheless they are the heralds of age.  And in show business an actor who chooses not to dye his silvering locks (irregardless of the fact that there are such things as wigs and hair color) can see the door close on an array of roles, while another opens. You are just seen differently. This brings with it mixed emotions.  I still have a fairly youthful face and spirit, am still in pretty decent shape and can pass for a youngish dad in his early 40s.  But suddenly I find myself in the over 50 group (I ain't there quite yet!), and it can be a little depressing at times, even though some of the roles are pretty fantastic.  I was a character actor even at the tender age of 21 (when I looked 16) and would plaster my face with painted on wrinkles and spray the silver into my hair in college to play almost always middle aged and old men.  Now that I have arrived into my career 'sweet spot'--I often say "my best years as an actor are ahead of me"--it still brings a rather powerful sense that not only am I cresting 'over that hill' but I can see it in my rear view mirror!

Imagine how we'd think about Tom Cruise if he stopped dying his hair?  Would he still be an action hero? Tom Hanks would be playing grandfathers if he stopped artificially extending middle age.  We consider George Clooney and Richard Gere still sexy and desirable, and they are handsome, virile guys.  If we saw them in a role where they dyed their hair dark it might actually make them suddenly appear older, wouldn't it?  Oh, the politics of gray hair are complex... they are rooted (pardon the pun) in a societal fear of aging, they signal a passage from which one never can return.  What's the answer?  For most women it has rarely been a question--you keep on dying that hair, avoiding the feelings of looking 'washed out' and old.  For men, it's trickier.  Women can balance an artificial hair color with makeup, bringing the whole thing together.  For men, well... look at James Lipton.  I rest my case.  Let it go, Mr. Lipton.

New head shot, 2015
Why do I muse at such length on this subject of the connotations of letting the gray grow?  I think I still look good and I have a great full head of hair (which my balding brethren admonish me not to complain about), and I am told all the time how sexy and elegant my silver is on me.  And of course, the choice being made to go natural, it is my job to own it and revel in my silver foxiness.  Life is about adjusting to change, isn't it?  Show business magnifies this because it forces us actors to think about ourselves in terms of new archetypes and traditional roles.  Nevertheless, I still think my best years are ahead of me. And the most attractive thing about a person is that they own themselves.  Nothing is quite as powerful as someone who is comfortable in his or her own skin.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fascinatin' Rhythm

Every audition season is different.  Last season, I was run off my feet with auditions and callbacks, and blessed with the enviable task of juggling multiple offers, deciding which great parts I wanted to play...which generally translated as: how many of these offers could I accept that wouldn't overlap with each other?  The summer season is all too short, and it can be a real challenge to line up work, and maximize the opportunities to perform; the kind of problem all of us actors wish for!

I faced such a dilemma this season as I tried to stay on with a brief remounting of the superb production of Peter and the Starcatcher that I was in last fall at Pioneer Theatre Company.  We were given a chance to reunite for one week of performances at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH, taking over dates that had been abandoned by the national tour of the show which closed before being able to fulfill them.  Alas, it proved a real battle to reserve these dates in June and still find work that would sustain me through the summer season.  And so, I won't be joining my fellow starcatchers in Dayton, and I will miss making magic with them again.  If you are in the Dayton area, run, don't walk, to the Victoria Theatre to experience this splendid production!

My summer will be spent in the roaring 20's world of Nice Work If You Can Get It to the tunes of George and Ira Gershwin.  This rollicking musical comedy played on Broadway with stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara, and is a reworking of an early Gershwin musical called Oh, Kay!.  I will be playing Cookie McGee, a bootlegger who disguises himself as a butler in order to hide 400 cases of hooch in a swanky mansion.  The role was created by Michael McGrath, who won the Tony Award for his performance.

Nice Work If You Can Get It will be a co-production of The Gateway in lovely Bellport, NY and Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, one of my favorite summer spots, where I appeared previously in Buddy (also a co-production with Gateway) and as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles.  I will also have the pleasure and privilege of playing opposite Sally Struthers, who has become the first lady of Ogunquit Playhouse, and a real audience favorite.  I am excited to work with this veteran comedienne!  The show will be directed by Larry Raben, and choreographed by Peggy Hickey, whose work can be seen in the Tony winning Best Musical, A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder.

The Gateway dates are June 10-June 27, and at Ogunquit Playhouse July 22-August 15.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Letter To Isobel

My talented niece, Isobel, is in the thick of auditioning for college theatre programs and conservatories.  She has been the star of her high school, demonstrating guts, showmanship and above all, confidence, as she has nurtured her love of performing.

As Izzy's closest relative in the business, and also someone who has coached dozens of young hopefuls for their college auditions as a private coach, and in my capacity as leader of the Goodspeed Musicals Audition Intensive, I have sort of stood silently in the wings, available to help when called upon.  Isobel is aided of course by the support of her family, especially her Mom, Patricia, who trained as a performer at one of the nation's top schools, Boston Conservatory.  It's moving to see this girl embark on her journey in the theatre, and watching this unfold has made me contemplate what I might offer her in the way of insight as I celebrate my 25th year as a professional actor.  So, here it is.

________________________________________________________________________

Dear Isobel,


I think I understand, as well as anyone, the dreams and desires that have brought you to this moment of embarkation, this stepping into the world as you await the decision of where to train as an actor and musical theater performer.  You've accomplished so much in your hometown, where people have truly accepted you for who you are--a real original--and where you have been given the chance to stretch and grow with each terrific part you have undertaken.  You also have had a preview of what it will be like to train alongside other young talents as a participant in the Emerson College summer program.  I have no doubt at all that you have brought heart and vibrancy to your auditions for the colleges and conservatories you have targeted and that they have recognized your unique personality and gifts.

I also know that at your tender age nothing anyone could say would dissuade you from your chosen path.  Nor should it.  It's not an easy path, the path of an actor, and it takes courage, stubbornness and devotion to pursue.  So I am not going to be one of those who try to intimidate you with horror stories of the harsh realities of show business.  But I am going to be honest.

In this business, rejection is the norm.  Being out of work, not getting the job--these are the norm.  It's something to accept, a reality to try and use as a spur rather than crumble beneath.  The work of an actor is mostly the work of stepping up time and again and putting oneself out there for the next job.  Even the most beautiful, the most effortlessly talented, spend more time not working than working.  You must believe in yourself, try not to personalize the vagaries of the business, nor get tangled in stories about why someone else is luckier or more fortunate than you, harboring resentments and hurts at how unfair it all is.  Show business is not a meritocracy.  Being good isn't a guarantee.  It often makes absolutely no sense.  But if you want it, you have to simply keep showing up.

Part of what enables you to do that is getting to know who you are and what you love to do and what you do best.  I know you enough to know that you already have a huge leg up in this department.  You know who Isobel is.  This will be enormously useful to you as you begin your serious training as a performer.  I want you to enjoy college!  I didn't enjoy undergrad that much, mainly because I spent the whole time feeling I had to compete--for approval, for good parts, for acknowledgment.  I had the gift of going to grad school when I was almost 40, and discovering the joy of just showing up each day curious to learn, and immersing myself in craft.  Stay in the moment of training and discovery.  These years will never come again.  The world and the business will all too soon demand things of you.  This is the time to revel in the art of what you do and to find your voice.

Let's talk backup plan.  It's a crappy subject, but it's one worth thinking about.  When I was your age I thought even contemplating a back up plan or the development of skills for that dreaded day job, or parallel career, meant admitting defeat.  Jumping without a parachute to me meant full commitment, full belief in my potential.  But the business being what it is, even the best have to support themselves and can't always do it performing.  Nurture whatever interests or skills you have that might be parlayed into money making opportunities, especially ones that will also allow you some freedom to pursue the business.  Don't wait until you are trying to survive in New York and start scrambling for a day job.  Think about it now and have a plan.  If you play an instrument, keep playing it!  Get good at it.  It's a reality of the way shows are created these days that actors often are asked to play music as well.

And now, the tough love portion of this letter.  I know I will come across as a judgy, over the hill, out of touch old crank.  But I do, in fact, live in 2015 and do observe your generation with a certain amount of perspective.  Never before have young people had such unfettered access to information and free education--via the internet, and that little phone you hold in your hand, you can tap into everything you need to steep yourself in your craft and the traditions of theatre.  And yet you guys are so damn lazy about digging around in there, so lacking in curiosity!  If this is the work you love, if this is the career you are willing to sacrifice stability for, to pursue despite all the odds, then you need to make it your mission to know all you can about it and revel in the discoveries you can make about it.

Yes, I know this is the era where a teenager can record a bunch of videos of himself singing in his room, post them to youtube, go viral, and become a major recording star.  I know it comes so easy to those lucky flashes in the pan.  But aren't those the rare freak successes, and aren't they short-lived? Don't you want more?  Aren't you investing the next four years of your life in training so you can create a foundation for a lifelong career?  So read every play you can get your hands on, from the classics to the latest hit on Broadway.  Listen to every original cast album.  If you love musical theatre, then watch every single musical movie ever made.  Know what shows are being produced now, and know who wrote them.  Regularly visit sites like Playbill.com and BroadwayWorld.com, where the latest news on the current work in theatre is available to you. Pursue knowledge like it's your job.  Training in a structured theatre program is a great experience, but you are responsible for your education for life.  And an actor's career is a self-directed career.  Even with the best agent or manager you still have to know what's going on and who's doing the hiring; you have to get yourself out of bed in the morning and stand in line at open calls; you have to show up at the audition and be prepared and ready and on your game.  That self direction never, ever ends.  And I guarantee you, no matter how gusty, or talented, or cute you are, there is no substitute for education, knowledge and preparation.  Start now.  If you are lucky enough to meet a veteran actor, buy her a coffee, draw her out, have her tell you her stories.  Theatre is a received tradition.  Learn from those who came before, and steal their best stuff!


Finally, I just want to say that I am so proud of you.  I am proud of you for nurturing your gifts and pursuing your dreams.  It moves me that you share my Dad's birthday.  I feel his loss so keenly... and I embrace, more and more each day, the knowledge that his artistry and pursuit of excellence in theatre helped shape the artist I am today.  He gave me so much and I know he would have been proud to watch you blossom as an actor and a creative artist.  I am always here for you, and I look forward to watching you grow.  You are just beginning.  Pursue it with determination, with joy, with discipline and with dignity.

With love,

Uncle Jamie

Friday, February 20, 2015

Transitions

Usually this space is chock full of news about the latest gig I am working on, or the one about to begin.  I love sharing my creative process and my excitement about being a working actor.  I thought I would muse a bit this time on that familiar place all actors come back to--that period of uncertainty and anxiety between jobs, where we don't yet have the next thing lined up and must do the familiar hustle to find it.

I returned from beautiful, WARM Vero Beach, Florida just under three weeks ago, having had a treat of a time playing Bela Zangler in "Crazy For You" with as lovely a group of creative people as one could wish for.  Not only were the subzero temperatures in New York a shock to my system, but along with them came the slap in the face of reality!  I returned just as audition season was getting cooking and had to start thinking about booking work between now and the end of the summer season.

There are two major audition seasons in New York for theatre work.  The first comes around the end of January through the end of March and is when producers are hiring for projects that will happen between May and end of August--sometimes even beyond that into early fall.  The second audition season happens between end of August and early October, and is for work that will happen around the holidays and into the beginning of the next year.  There is a third push that happens around December and is mainly for shows that will be mounted in the early months of the following year--February, March.  But I think the first audition season of the year proves to be the most hectic and the most crucial, especially for actors who do musical theatre, as summer is when the most jobs are happening.

So of course, upon returning to the city I surveyed the audition notices, the season announcements, and began setting my sights on the productions and roles that I feel are 'in my wheelhouse' as an actor.  Along with the excitement of possibility there is also the overwhelming feeling that much has to happen in a very brief space of time before the audition season is over and everything is cast.  I am fortunate to have a good agent who knows my work well, and to have some strong relationships with casting directors with whom I have proven myself.  I also have some good connections with directors who work a great deal and this helps me get into the room and strut my stuff.  I am in an interesting passage in my career; I am established enough that certain theaters do not hesitate to bring me in for key roles in their seasons.  But I am also, having not yet done a Broadway show, still banging on the door of those upper echelon opportunities where I have not yet proven my value; sometimes even getting an audition appointment at all is an uphill battle.  After 25 years in the profession this can be disheartening, but it's par for the course.

What I discovered this year, as I attempted to hit the frozen ground of New York running, is the need to step back a little, rest and recuperate from my recent endeavors.  The break between "Peter and the Starcatcher" in Salt Lake City and "Crazy For You" was literally a matter of days.
 As anxious as I might be to snatch up more work and make sure I am seen during audition season, I also feel the need to recenter, regroup and rest a bit.  So I am spending this time doing things like investing in new head shots, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, leaning on my agent a bit and letting him shop me around for the available jobs, and cultivating a little peace and quiet.  I find it hard to allow myself this space, so eager I am to keep booking work and anxious about earning my living in this precarious of all professions.  But sometimes I think, in the midst of the maelstrom of this city and this industry, the healthiest and most productive thing I can do is to take a step back and breathe, trusting that there will be a next thing.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Zangler's Follies

That's me, center, as Zangler with the company in the Act One Finale, "I Got Rhythm"

As of this writing, we are closing out the first week of our run of "Crazy For You" at Riverside Theatre in lovely Vero Beach, Florida.  I can't tell you what a tonic it has been to spend the first weeks of the new year in a warm and sunny place and in such a warm and sunny show! Click here for a look at a great montage of moments from this sparkling production!

I knew "Crazy For You" would be fun--it's a bubble of a show, a real love letter to the classic musicals of the 1930s;  but nothing prepared me for the rapturous response of the audience!  Our opening was as electric as any I have experienced.  Our production is based on the original as brought to life by Susan Stroman-- a tried and true formula made fresh and heartfelt by the expert work of our choreographer Deanna Dys and our director, the great Jimmy Brennan.  I saw Jimmy play Bobby Child on Broadway 20 years ago, and he and Deanna were both a part of that original Tony-winning production. Their history with the piece combined with their own creative gifts breathe beautiful new life into it.   We are blessed to have extraordinary dancers tapping up a storm, and Drew Nellessen and Abby Church, two triple threat performers, playing the lead roles of Bobby and Polly.  Reviews are ecstatic, audiences are on their feet every performance, and the show is rapidly selling out.

"Crazy For You" is also especially delightful for me because not only does it hearken back to the frothy fare of Depression-era Broadway, but it also evokes those amazing musical films of the 30s, art deco extravaganzas starring the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Being a die-hard classic movie fan, I couldn't help looking for inspiration from those films as I created my characterization of Broadway impresario Bela Zangler, a sweet treat of a part.

Adolphe Menjou
Zangler is clearly based on Flo Ziegfeld, a great showman who perfected the follies revue, dripping with glamour and gorgeous showgirls.  He also has about him the qualities of those womanizing Broadway producers of early 1930's backstage musicals; mature roués cheating on their wives, plying pretty young ladies with champagne and promises of stardom.  In this respect, my Zangler owes a little to the suave Adolphe Menjou, who played a number of these roles, most notably in the classic "Stage Door." 

Erik Rhodes


Zangler also has the qualities of the 'continental' second man who figured so often in Astaire/Rogers vehicles-- a handsome, European type who we know will never get the leading lady.  Often these characters had exaggerated accents and were given fun comic business as the wool is pulled over their eyes by the leading man so he can covertly woo the starlet.  In the Astaire/Rogers films, often this second man was played by handsome and funny Erik Rhodes.  He played an Italian gigolo, Rodolfo Tonetti, in "The Gay Divorcee" and an Italian fashion designer, Alberto Beddini, in "Top Hat."  In crafting my flamboyant Hungarian Mr. Zangler, I found Rhodes's rolled 'r's and animated flourishes a great inspiration.

I'm just having a ball playing this guy, who disappears for most of Act One, but returns in Act Two to be given one of the best scenes and numbers in the show-- the drunken mirror act with Bobby, "What Causes That?".  It's a show stopper, and I am so happy to have a talent like Drew Nellessen as my partner in crime.  Shows like "Crazy For You" put us directly in touch with the spirit of those old films and fluffy Broadway shows where pretty girls, great Gershwin songs, and high energy tap dancing diverted audiences from the Great Depression and into a world of fantasy.  I can't deny that being in warm and easy Vero Beach while the Northeast is shivering through a polar vortex feels equally like a world of fantasy.  But I am not complaining!