Friday, December 2, 2016

2016: High Highs and Low Lows

It's hard to believe, but another year is coming to a close--and it's been a very challenging one for all of us.  The pressures of a tense and acrimonious election, and the seismic effect of its outcome, have left many of us feeling drained, stressed and worried about the future. The highs and lows of life in New York and the vagaries of a career in theatre have made it a bit of a roller coaster ride for me on these fronts as well.  But, at the risk of sounding trite, in my profession, and in life itself, the show must go on.  We have to pull our shoulders back, lift our eyes to the horizon and stride forward with as much positivity and optimism as we can muster.

There's a great lyric in "Me and My Girl" that seems apropos to the current climate:

Julie Kleiner and Matt Loehr in "Me and My Girl"
So if we're alive
If there's a bother you want to survive
Just you take it on the chin
Turn on a little grin
And smile...

Doing this bubble of a show at this time is both a welcome distraction from the cares of the world and a challenge.  Sometimes I've had to ask myself, what's the point of tap dancing and silly songs and this old fashioned little farce?  The answer of course is that people need to laugh right now.  They need to come together and have some fun.  And boy, are we providing that here at Maltz Jupiter Theatre!  "Me and My Girl" has been great fun to do; I have a treat of a cameo role and have been enjoying being a part of this truly elegant production.  Our leading man, Matt Loehr, is so multi-faceted and so skilled that he has really inspired us all.  And his leading lady, Julie Kleiner, brings the heart.  Together, they are unbeatable! The run is selling like hotcakes and it's a great way to launch the holiday season.
With Giselle Wolf and Brad Fryman in "A Wilder Christmas"
This time of year, I always take a look back at the year past, and the work I have been lucky enough to do.  2016 began with an extension week of "A Wilder Christmas," the evening of Thornton Wilder one-acts that made a real hit Off Broadway at Peccadillo Theatre Company.  
I then escaped the winter chill and returned to wonderful Riverside Theatre to play Rudolph, the headwaiter, in "Hello, Dolly!".  Brilliant director James Brennan invited me to be in my fourth production with him ("Me and My Girl" makes five!). 

With Karen L. Robu in "Nice Work"
The spring brought a difficult dry spell and I weathered the New York grind as best I could.  The light on the horizon was getting to do Cookie McGee in "Nice Work If You Can Get It" again with director Larry Raben and choreographer Peggy Hickey at Music Theatre Wichita.  I was thrilled to win the 2016 IRNE Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for the show at Ogunquit Playhouse and what a treat to do the part again.  MTW artistic director Wayne Bryan invited me also to play Cogsworth in "Beauty and the Beast" for him, so this was a very exciting debut season for me in Wichita.  For it, I was honored with the Mary Jane Teall Theatre Award as Guest Artist.  Cookie's been a lucky guy for me!

Talbot, "Henry VI, Part 1"
Late summer brought me my shot of Shakespeare for the year, when I joined my friends at Taffety Punk Theatre Company as we exploded onto the Folger Theatre stage in DC with "Henry VI, Part One."  This was my sixth of these all-in-one-day theatrical feats with these amazing artists, and a chance to revisit the role of Talbot, which I played almost a decade ago at Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

With King Arthur and the Knights, "Spamalot" at NSMT

With the coming of autumn I got to watch the leaves change in my hometown of Beverly, MA in my very first "Spamalot" since the first national tour closed in 2009.  Playing Sir Robin again and in the town where it all began for me was a truly special experience.  Great production, great people, and great time with my Mom and other friends and family.

And a few weeks later, it was off to Florida to do 'The Lambeth Walk!'  I have been enormously fortunate this season and am grateful for the collaborations with artists familiar and new, and to do wonderful new parts and revisit some of my favorites.  In the middle of all of this, I wrote the third draft of a full length screenplay, had a reading in New York of it, and thanks to generous contributors to a GoFundMe campaign, was able to send the script to LA for analysis by amazing script readers at Coverage, Ink.  Their encouragement and insight, and a new connection with a literary agent, have spurred me on to the fourth, and I hope, last rewrite, and perhaps my 'baby' will soon go out into the movie world and find a way of coming to fruition as a feature film!  To begin a new creative path as a writer while pursuing my acting work would be a great adventure I would welcome happily.

What 2017 will bring remains to be seen, for us all.  To you and yours, my best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season and a New Year that will hopefully bring to us all new purpose, greater understanding and good will between all people.  And many new and fulfilling creative journeys!  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

True Brit

Me and My Girl is a show that isn't too familiar to me, but the more I study it the more I become infatuated with it.  A jaunty British musical from the 30s, it's the tale of a self assured Cockney who finds out he's the heir to an earldom- and until he proves himself a gentleman the stuffy aristocrats he's sudden kin to will not legitimize his claim.  The music by Noel Gay is inspired by English Music Hall traditions, the comedy is screwball-meets-Downton Abbey, and I am delighted to be a part of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre production which goes into rehearsal soon. 

It truly is awesome to be making another regional theatre debut this season, but many of the artists I will be working with are colleagues from numerous shows--particularly director James Brennan!  This will be my fifth production with him, and my second this year.  As with Crazy For You, Jimmy starred in Me and My Girl on Broadway, and brings with him all the essence of the original along with his trademark finesse; it's always a pleasure to be directed by someone who knows a show inside and out.

This is also going to be my third British character this season, after Cogsworth in Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Sir Robin in Spamalot. Herbert Parchester is the trusted family solicitor at the country estate of Hareford, and except when he is carried away by song, he is the very model of a buttoned up English gentleman.  When he finds himself taking a shine to Cockney Earl, Bill Snibson, he also starts peppering his speech with Cockney slang and doing the Lambeth Walk.

John Williams
It's such a fun part, and I am looking forward to crafting a lovable character in Parchester.  As always, when tossing ideas around, I am reminded of great character men of the past, and the elegant Hollywood actor John Williams immediately sprang to mind. You'll remember him as the wily detective in "Dial M For Murder" and Audrey Hepburn's chauffeur father in "Sabrina." Understated, bemused, Williams's performances always feel authentic because he was authentic-- always with a smart mustache and a neat suit, he's a great model for my family solicitor.

With Giselle Wolf in "The Long Christmas Dinner"

And in my own efforts toward authenticity in this English of English shows, I went to my dear friend Giselle for some coaching on my accent.  Giselle is a British trained actress who performed on the BBC and in the West End, a Londoner, and who has the highest standards--she lent her very critical ear, and has kept me sounding 'true Brit' as I learn my text! Giselle and I performed A Wilder Christmas together last season and became fast friends.

Me and My Girl opens at Maltz Jupiter Theatre on December 1 and runs until December 18. For more information and tickets visit the website.

Friday, September 2, 2016

You Can Go Home Again

North Shore Music Theatre--Then and Now
In my last post, I shared the 'second chances' the 2016 season has offered me, opportunities to reprise roles I've had success in in the past.  No role has brought me more success than that of Sir Robin in Monty Python's Spamalot.  

Joining the First National tour of this Tony Award-winning Best Musical in the winter of 2007 was an incredible step up for me; over the course of 22 months and 682 performances I got to not only see much of North America, but to perform alongside stars I had considered idols as I was coming up in the profession: Gary Beach, Richard Chamberlain.  Being part of such a successful show in such a key role brought me a confidence I had never known before. The tour also was my first attempt at blogging and social media, and I blogged the entire tour weekly!  To visit my adventures on the road as Sir Robin, click here.  

George Rose in "Peter Pan"
Oddly, since the tour closed in 2009, I have not to date had the chance to play Robin again, despite numerous attempts to reprise the part at regional theaters around the country.  So, to return to the role this fall at North Shore Music Theatre has an even deeper significance for me.  Beverly, Massachusetts is the town where I grew up, and North Shore Music Theatre was always the hometown theatre.  My father, Don Beaman, as a set designer created scenery there when NSMT was part of the old summer stock circuit.  As a kid, already smitten with the stage, I went there on field trips.  The show I most remember seeing was Peter Pan starring Tovah Feldshuh, with George Rose as Captain Hook.  Rose made such an impression on me I can still see him in my mind's eye in his flamboyant costume and high heeled, buckled shoes, preening and rolling his 'r's-- implanting a dream to one day play that foppish villain myself.

As Max, with Jacquelynne Fontaine as Elsa
Ironically, in the six years I lived in Boston after college, working as a professional actor, I was never hired at North Shore.  I always wanted to work there, of course--there's nothing like being the hometown boy!  But it didn't happen until a few years ago.  My first show at NSMT happened in 2012, playing Rusty Charlie in an award winning Guys and Dolls.  The following season, director James Brennan offered me a bucket list role--Max in The Sound of Music, which truly was a remarkable production; the Independent Reviewers of New England nominated me for the IRNE Award for my performance.  

So, to say I am excited to be back in Beverly and performing in the round again at NSMT is an understatement.  My Mom lives a mile and a half from the theatre, and I have nieces and a nephew in town, and lifelong friends all around.  I will get to enjoy the transition into my favorite season in New England, the early autumn.  Nothing like sitting down to a steaming bowl of real deal clam chowder, in a cozy sweater, with a view of the water!!  If you will be in the North Shore area, come and have a belly laugh with the crazy knights of the roundtable in Monty Python's Spamalot at North Shore Music Theatre, September 27-October 9!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Second Chances

Surprising as it may seem, 2016 marks the first opportunity in my 25 year career that I have had to reprise a role I have played previously.  And, even more surprisingly, this season it's happening three times!

Cookie Returns!

With Karen L. Robu in "Nice Work"
Music Theatre Wichita invited me to rejoin director Larry Raben and choreographer Peggy Hickey in recreating my performance as Cookie McGee in the joyous "Nice Work If You Can Get It."  Not only one of the most shamelessly enjoyable parts I've played, but the one that paired me last season with the genius of Sally Struthers, and inspired the IRNE folks to give me an award for my work at Ogunquit Playhouse.  I loved the Wichita cast, especially my Duchess there, the fearless Karen L. Robu, and a great time was had by all!

A Talbot!  A Talbot!

As Talbot, Taffety Punk 2016
Hot on the heels of this reprise, my friends at Taffety Punk Theatre Company in DC invited me to play Lord Talbot in this year's Bootleg Shakespeare, "Henry VI, Part One," a rare staging of this early history play, almost never produced on its own, but almost always conflated with the cycle's second and third parts.  It was a wondrous full circle for me with artistic director Marcus Kyd and his partner, Lise Bruneau, as the three of us performed this play as part of the Wars of the Roses cycle at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2007, I playing Talbot and four other roles.  It was there that Marcus and Lise conceived their cutting edge theatre company and the concept of Bootleg Shakespeare: taking one of the Bard's lesser performed works, casting it and giving the actors several weeks to memorize their lines... joining together one summer morning at the Folger Theatre and using that one day to sketch out a roadmap for the play... and then presenting one performance, free to the public, having never run through the piece!  I have now done six of these kamikaze theatre projects with Taffety Punk, and it was a joy this month to return to the heroic role of Talbot and bring the wisdom and experience of nine years to my interpretation.

"You Won't Succeed On Broadway..."

As Sir Robin, "Spamalot" First National Tour
And this fall, it pleases me to announce that I will get to return to a role that changed the course of my career and presented me with my most prestigious gig to date: the not-so-brave Sir Robin in "Monty Python's Spamalot."  In two spectacular years on the road with the First National Tour--playing almost 700 performances--bringing laughter to thousands across North America, I had the honor of performing this fantastic part alongside stars Gary Beach, Jonathan Hadary, Richard Chamberlain and John O'Hurley.  Seven years since the tour ended, I am getting the chance to don my green and white motley again for the very first time--and, lo and behold, at my hometown theatre, North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA.  To perform this special role again in the town where I was raised, for family and old friends, is going to be something unforgettable.  "Spamalot" runs September 27 through October 9 at this wonderful theatre in the round, where I last got to play a bucket list role: Max in "The Sound of Music." Thank you, producer Bill Hanney, for inviting me back!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Like Clockwork

We are halfway through our eight day (gasp) rehearsal process for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" here at Music Theatre Wichita.  "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which closed just a few days ago, was a great success, and I loved returning to my role of Cookie McGee; but of necessity, my preparation for Cogsworth had to take something of a back seat as we roared through the Roaring Twenties for delighted audiences that packed the Century II here in Wichita.  The nature of the beast (sorry, couldn't resist) that is this summer stock schedule, I find, is that as an actor I am finding things as I go along, especially as my Cogsworth works off of all the other characters in the piece.  However, I did do some preparation work when I found out I would be playing this goofy, veddy veddy British head of the household.  As usual, I stole ideas from the best!

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson

Cogsworth is to the Beast's castle what Mr. Carson is to Downton Abbey, for example.  There is something of an upstairs/downstairs hierarchy in "Beauty and the Beast," except that the staff of this castle are becoming strange household objects.  Cogsworth shares Mr. Carson's fussiness and insistence on decorum; but like Carson, he is, at heart, a sentimental softie.  I have borrowed some of these qualities from Jim Carter's wonderful portrayal.

C-3PO, Human/Cyborg Relations

The servants in the Beast's castle are morphing into objects that are reflections of their personas and their roles in the house: Lumiere, the flamboyant ladies' man, is becoming a candelabra; Mrs. Potts--warm, nurturing, also very British--is becoming a teapot. Cogsworth, who is all about precision and order, is becoming a mantle clock--one that is extremely tightly wound.  Learning the role, I've been greatly inspired by "Star Wars'" gleaming gold droid, C-3PO.  Like Cogsworth, he is easily flustered, absurdly logical and devoted to his master.  I also found inspiration in the work of C-3PO voice actor Anthony Daniels.

Eric Blore
The third influence I've drawn upon--and this should be no surprise to those who know me as a devout classic cinephile--is the ultimate British butler of 1930s Hollywood, actor Eric Blore.  You might remember his fabulous performances in Astaire/Rogers pictures like "Shall We Dance?" and "Top Hat."  His 'gentleman's gentleman' characters were always a little feisty, easily riled, and spoke with an exaggerated accent not even the toffiest toff would adopt.  He's been a great inspiration for Cogsworth.  Take a look at this scene for a sample of Blore's gifts, as he banters with another great classic character actor, Edward Everett Horton.

Some getup, huh?!

I admit that I am still finding my Cogsworth and I feel no little pressure to do justice to this now classic Disney character.  This is the 25th Anniversary of the animated film and the MTW production is a lavish, extravagant and heartfelt version, completely designed and crafted here at the theatre and directed with the elegant touch of Artistic Director Wayne Bryan.  I've been saying all week, as I have found myself curiously moved and excited by the show, that Disney knows how to get you!  As fantastical as the piece is, we have to bring complete sincerity and high stakes to the story and our characters.  This is a great challenge, especially when wearing, as I will, a large, stiff, cartoonish but very beautiful clock costume designed by Tiia Torchia.  

The seven performance run is nearly sold out as of this writing.  It is going to be one thrilling production--playing to an over 2000 member audience every show amidst a cast of over 60 performers, accompanied by a 26 piece orchestra.  This 'tale as old as time' will feel new, fresh and more magical than ever!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Taking Stock of Summer Stock

"Back in the day," as they say, young theatre artists from actors, to directors, to designers like my Dad, Donald Beaman, cut their professional teeth on the old summer stock circuit.  The term 'stock' referred to the scenery, props and costumes that theaters would recycle and rework for each production, thus enabling them to save money and produce a different play every week to entertain their audiences, primarily comprised of East Coast urbanites vacationing at their summer getaways.

Ogunquit Playhouse, 'back in the day'

Some of these original summer stock theaters are still in operation, like Ogunquit Playhouse and the Cape Playhouse--and I have had the honor to work at both of these!  When the summer stock circuit was established, young performers paid for the summer apprenticeship where they would learn their craft alongside big stars of Broadway and Hollywood, who happily came out to places like Maine and the Catskills to escape the Manhattan heat and often, un-air conditioned Broadway theaters.  

The 'show a week' paradigm of summer stock is still thriving in big professional summer theaters around the U.S., the most prominent being the MUNY in St. Louis, the Sacramento Music Circus, and the place I am fortunate to be in right now: Music Theatre of Wichita.  All of these theaters offer apprenticeship and internship programs for young artists, continuing the legacy of summer theatre as a vital training opportunity and a bridge into the business.  MTW operates under the URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) contract, and assembles, each season, a core company of talented college performers and recent grads, who get to do five shows in ten weeks with top notch directors, choreographers, and visiting actors like myself.  These young triple threats are the cream of their colleges and conservatories and the talent is just--WOW.

MTW's lavish, in house designed and mounted "Beauty and the Beast"
But the days of slapping up some flats and reworking some old stock costumes are a thing of the past, and the old barns that used to house summer theaters have given way to state of the art facilities, like the Century II Center here in Wichita.   Here at MTW, shows are presented in a 2,100 seat concert hall, with lavish sets and costumes (some from Broadway and tour productions, some made right here on the premises) and with an orchestra of upwards of 18 pieces!  Broadway productions don't have orchestras of this size anymore, so to be able to present a big musical with that kind of lavish orchestration is an incredible opportunity. This ain't your grandpa's summer stock!

What remains the same as of old, however,  is the breakneck speed of the summer stock schedule.  From first rehearsal to opening night of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" we have a whopping eight days of rehearsal and tech. Nothing tests your mettle quite as profoundly as having to learn an entire role in a complex musical in a week, and then deliver just seven performances before moving on to the next show.  Larry Raben, our director, and Peggy Hickey, our choreographer, are doing a superb job of recreating our production from the Gateway and Ogunquit Playhouse of last summer, for which we had three weeks to rehearse and two multi-week runs to refine.  Seems like utter luxury as we power through this process!

The ladies of MTW's "Nice Work"
I'm lucky on this first show because I am recreating my role from last year, so I am ahead of the curve!  I am in awe of our talented principals and energetic young ensemble who are just nailing this busy Gershwin musical with total finesse.  I will get a taste of the real MTW experience when I follow up this production one week later as Cogsworth in "Beauty and the Beast,"  a show I have never done in a spectacular physical production.  Studying one part while rehearsing at hyper speed on the other is every bit the challenge you think it is!  But as we keep saying, with a smile and a shrug, "THAT'S SUMMER STOCK!"

If you are in the Wichita area between June 8 and July 3, come see me in one of these glittering shows.  Visit the theatre's website for more information.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Butler(s) Did It!

Despite having been (happily) ensconced in Florida during February and March--prime summer theatre audition season--I am happy to say I have already landed two shows at a brand new theatre for me, Music Theatre of Wichita.  I am always thrilled to break in at a new venue, and in this case, it will be to revisit one of my favorite parts, and to take on one I've yet to do.

Cookie Redux!

As Cookie, at Ogunquit Playhouse 2015
I am thrilled that my "Nice Work If You Can Get It" director and choreographer, Larry Raben and Peggy Hickey, have invited me to reprise my part of bootlegger-turned-butler Cookie McGee.  We had such a wonderful success with the show at The Gateway and Ogunquit Playhouse last summer, and although I will miss playing with my dear Sally Struthers, and will be paired with a new Duchess, I can't wait to do Cookie again.  I am also delighted to share that I WON the Independent Reviewers of New England's IRNE Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for "Nice Work!" One of six nominations our production was honored with.  I  attended the ceremony in Boston on April 11 and was proud to represent the great work done by all in this fabulous show at Gateway and Ogunquit.  Take a peek at the b-roll from last year's show!  I know this remounting in Wichita will be just as wonderful.

Tale as Old as Time...

Music Theatre of Wichita's Artistic Director Wayne Bryan has cast me as another butler, the crusty old worrywart, Cogsworth, in his production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" which will follow immediately after "Nice Work."  I am rather tickled that I get to play two such very different butler characters back to back and to do my very first Disney musical.  I saw the show on Broadway and am looking forward to what I am sure will be a beautiful production at MTW.  Learning how to act in a clock costume will be its own special challenge!!  Stay tuned.

So, the season is starting to take shape, but of course I am doing the hustle of auditions here in the city now that I am back and am hoping to fill out my schedule with even more fantastic work in the months ahead.  If you find yourself in Wichita, come see me buttle!  

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Received Tradition

"Give 110% every time you go on stage. You can be in the last row, but there is always someone in the audience who is watching you. If you are bored with a show and can't give your all, please quit. There are plenty of people out there who would jump at the opportunity."  ~Roger Preston Smith

We are headed into our last week of performances of "Hello, Dolly!" here at Riverside Theatre, and what a joy it has been.  Having never done this show before, nor indeed seen it on stage, I was not prepared for the love affair that audiences have with this story and these characters.  Of course it helps to have the vivacious Michele Ragusa as Dolly, and a company of fine performers telling the story, under the direction of the redoubtable Jimmy Brennan.

As my last act of my time here in sunny Vero Beach, I thought I would introduce you to one of those fine performers, who not only has done "Hello, Dolly!" -- but has done it with the original Dolly, the great Carol Channing.  Roger Preston Smith has been my roommate here at Riverside and I have gotten to know him and have reveled in his astonishing stories from his 45 year career in show business.  Roger plays the Judge in our production and serves as dance captain, and no one could be better suited to that job--in his day, Roger has galloped the Waiter's Gallop hundreds if not thousands of times!

Roger with Carol Channing
Roger loves this business and he is happy to describe himself as 'a lifer.'  Even though he freely admits he is now of retirement age and already collecting his pension, he keeps on working.  Such an inspiration.  His inspiration, he says, is Miss Channing: "She always said: "I can't imagine missing. That would mean that I'm dispensable!"  I learned so much from watching and listening to her. She taught me how to focus and fine tune comedy and how to plant yourself and take command of the stage. I've never seen anyone who could control an audience the way that she could. Her love of the art of performing is amazing."

And Channing is not the only star that Roger has worked closely
A young Roger Preston Smith
with.  His career reads like a who's who of Broadway: Patti LuPone, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby, Michele Lee, Bette Midler... the list goes on.  He is a recipient of the coveted Gypsy Robe.  From ballet companies, to the Lido in Paris, to his six Broadway shows (one of them being "Me and My Girl" starring our esteemed director Jimmy Brennan), Roger is, without question, a success.  And for me, the biggest inspiration of hanging out with, and working alongside Roger is his unabated and unabashed enthusiasm for the work of show business.  He just loves what he does, holds himself and others to the highest standards, and makes no apology for it.  Our show has benefited for sure.  I will never forget his intensive work session early on with our spectacular male ensemble, finessing the very athletic and difficult Waiter's Gallop.  His eye for detail, his mastery of understanding everything the piece required and his ability to speak to dancers as one of them... all an inspiration.

Roger giving a full split on his 65th birthday!
There is always someone to learn from in this business, no matter how far along the road you are.  I've been doing this for a quarter century, but Roger has two decades on me!  I marvel at his work ethic, his good humor, and his passion for theater.  He also has affirmed for me that each and every member of a company is essential to the success of the show... making me all the more determined to be the best and most memorable Rudolph I can be in "Hello, Dolly!"  I have had such fun with him and plan to enjoy every moment I have left out there alongside Roger and our talented cast!  Thank you, Mr. Roger Preston Smith.  I look forward to our next show together.  For more on Roger, you might enjoy this profile and interview I found on line.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Lights of Fourteenth Street

Those who follow my blog know that I love acting as my own dramaturge on every show I do.  I am a research enthusiast and love discovering source materials and real-life people and places that have inspired writers whose works I undertake. So of course, when I landed the part of Rudolph Reisenweber, majordomo of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in "Hello, Dolly!," I dug around and have discovered the actual New York restaurant that inspired the elegant eatery that is the centerpiece of the show.

Vintage postcard showing Lüchow's dining room
Lüchow's, a popular German restaurant and biergarten, was a fixture on Irving Place for a century.  The Union Square area was, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a vibrant cultural center, with concert halls including Steinway Hall and the Academy of Music, as well as theaters and music halls.  From its earliest days, musicians flocked to Lüchow's for its hearty, authentic German cuisine and for the Würzburger and Pilsner beers for which founder August Lüchow was the exclusive agent.  Live music was always part of the Lüchow's experience, as was elaborate decor, including stained glass skylights, Tiffany windows, mahogany paneling... a fitting inspiration for the lush interior of the Harmonia Gardens.

Famous visitors regularly held court at Lüchow's, enjoying sauerbraten and Wiener schnitzel, among them iconic actress Lillian Russell; Diamond Jim Brady, who eventually had an entire private dining room created in his honor; composer Victor Herbert and his associates founded ASCAP, the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, at a corner table; in later years, musical greats like Oscar Hammerstein were regulars at the eatery, and Gus Kahn wrote the song "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" over bratwurst and cabbage.  Even Teddy Roosevelt raised a stein of beer or two amidst the fashionable New Yorkers at Lüchow's.

Lüchow's facade in the 1930s
The waiters at Lüchow's may not have done fouetté turns and Russian splits like those at the Harmonia Gardens, but they were famous for their efficiency, expert knowledge of the menu, and their wonderful recommendations to those patrons not familiar with German delicacies.  The brisk service, hearty and delicious food, authentic beer flowing from the taps, genteel surroundings and sentimental Viennese music all created an atmosphere of gemütlichkeit--cozy, jolly good cheer.  Lüchow's remained in operation until 1982 (there is an NYU dorm now on the site where it stood), but its place in the life of legendary New York history remains.  Even some of the rib-sticking, delicious dishes can be recreated via recipes that have survived the decades.  Click here for instructions on how to make Lüchow's famous sauerbraten!

What does all this do to inform the world of "Hello, Dolly!" and my character of Rudolph?  Well, a lot!  Rudolph brings to the world of the Harmonia Gardens the only flourish of authentic German style and color; he is, in a way, an embodiment of homage to Lüchow's.  Also, learning about 14th Street and the lively scene of music, good food and entertainment that it once was gives me a sense of the world that surrounds the Harmonia Gardens, and just how special it might be for patrons to spend an evening within its walls--and how devoted its staff would be to favorite guests like Dolly Levi.  Knowing that Lüchow's waitstaff was famous for efficiency and expertise helps me and the other waiters in our imaginary restaurant summon up an air of pride and finesse that certainly will make our performances sparkle with energy and period charm.  For more about Lüchow's, I recommend this wonderful blog post, which gives more of its colorful history and fun info.  Gut Essen!  

Monday, February 1, 2016

No Small Parts

I don't care how small the parts are, as long as they're good.  ~Alan Ladd

It was Konstantin Stanislavsky who said, "Remember, there are no small parts; only small actors."  If you google this quote you will see it misattributed to everyone from Ginger Rogers, to Melanie Griffith, to Milan Kundera!  It's not surprising, as this is a sentiment that has been shared, or at least repeated, by every actor who has ever trod the boards.  

As a character actor, my view is aligned with Alan Ladd's, as indicated in the quote above. I want to play good, memorable, delicious roles and sometimes these fall under the category of the 'cameo.'  Now, don't get me wrong--I love playing leads, and in recent seasons, I have gotten to play some spectacular ones; from Thénardier in "Les Misérables", to last summer's Cookie McGee in "Nice Work If You Can Get It."  But a sprint can be as rewarding as a marathon, especially when the smaller role is a classic of the repertoire, a familiar character much anticipated by audiences who know a show like the perennial favorite "Hello, Dolly!"

David Hurst as Rudolph, with waiters in the film "Hello, Dolly!"

In my last post, I announced that I will be returning to Riverside Theatre to play Rudolph the headwaiter in this Jerry Herman classic, and I am tickled to have the chance to make this small, robust cameo part my own.  Rudolph runs the show at The Harmonia Gardens restaurant, the scene which is the centerpiece of "Hello, Dolly!".  From the spectacular dancing of The Waiter's Gallop, to that moment everyone anticipates--Dolly's grand entrance, feather headdress and all, at the top of those stairs to the strains of the show's title song--the Harmonia Gardens is the place where everyone in the audience feels 'back home where they belong.'  I think of Rudolph as the ringmaster, sometimes barking orders and blowing his whistle like a Prussian commander, sometimes the silent presence standing by Dolly's table awaiting orders for the next course, where the smallest lift of an eyebrow can be an hilarious punctuation mark on Dolly's masterful manipulation of her hapless future husband, Horace.  
S.Z. 'Cuddles' Sakall

It's true that Rudolph doesn't appear until mid-Act II, and that his journey on stage is a brief one, but the challenge for the actor is to become a seamless part of the world that has been created by the company up to his first entrance, while being a vivid and colorful presence that the audience will remember.  I feel like it's a guest star moment, and I am looking forward to playing this funny little German martinet.  Of course, being the classic film fan I am, I look for inspiration from the character men of the past, and in addition to looking at David Hurst's memorable Rudolph in the film version of our show, I am studying guys like S.Z. 'Cuddles' Sakall.  Sakall is best remembered as the headwaiter at Rick's in the beloved Casablanca, and for his thick Hungarian accent and befuddled charm.  Sakall was a true character man in the grand tradition, never straying far from his lovable and memorable persona--and it is this kind of unique impression I want to make with Rudolph.

Olivier in "Peer Gynt"
The approach to a small part is the same as for a leading one: understand and illuminate your character's special place in the storytelling; create a vibrant, memorable living being, and infuse him with your spirit!  One of my earliest lessons about the artistry that goes into creating a cameo role came to me when I was around 13, stage struck and obsessed with the then acknowledged greatest actor alive, Laurence Olivier.  In 1944, his first season as a co-director of the Old Vic, he played the flashy title role in "Richard III," but also chose to take the cameo of the Button Moulder opposite Ralph Richardson's "Peer Gynt."  For Olivier, it was both great fun and a stretch of his technical skills to take on this small part, and so complete was his transformation that many who saw the production didn't even recognize Olivier in the part.  For him, it was a chance to explore another facet of his talent. An example I've never forgotten!  

"Hello Dolly!" runs March 8-27 at Riverside Theatre, in Vero Beach, FL and will star Michele Ragusa as Dolly.  In my next blog post, I will share some dramaturgical geekness-- my research into the real life New York restaurant upon which the Harmonia Gardens was based!