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.