Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Second Chances

Mea culpa, dear friends.
As can often happen in life... life intervened, and the past few months since I closed "The Legend of Georgia McBride" in Arkansas have been, well, challenging--on personal and professional fronts. 

Fortunately, the show business gods have smiled, and I will have the good fortune of seeing out 2019 not only doing the work I love--but doing a role I love.  

I think all actors have a list of dream parts--a list we often keep close and secret, for fear of either jinxing ourselves, or wanting those plum roles too much; in a profession full of rejection, the chances of those parts passing us by are all too likely.  I have been luckier than most, and have been given some ultimate dream parts to play.  But to play one more than once?

As Max, with Jacquelynne Fontaine as Elsa
Well, for the first time in my nearly 30 year career, lightning has struck twice!  I will be spending the holidays in Vermont playing the delicious role of Max in "The Sound of Music" at Northern Stage.  I had the good fortune of playing dear "Uncle Max" at North Shore Music Theatre in 2013--my first role at my hometown theatre, and my first production of many with brilliant director Jimmy Brennan. For my work, I was nominated for the IRNE Award, and I have to say it was one of my favorite shows to date.

Max Detweiler is a splendid flight of Oscar Hammerstein's fancy, placed in the midst of the true story of the Von Trapp Family.  Loosely based on a real life family friend--a clergyman and choral group promoter--Max serves many purposes in the plot of "The Sound of Music."  He is the urbane and witty friend of the Captain and confident to his love interest, the Baroness Elsa Schrader; he also provides the crucial connection for Maria and the singing Von Trapp children to the folk festival which serves as their way out when the family must escape the Nazis. 

Richard Haydn as Max and Eleanor Parker as Elsa
Max also serves another purpose--one lost in the film version of the musical which removed most of the politics of pre-fascist Austria and, along with them, Max's two songs: "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way To Stop It."  The latter is a stinging indictment of the complacency and self-interest that allows fascist regimes to take root and thrive.  Max, whose interests are purely mercenary, nevertheless works with the Nazis--until he is faced with the reality that his good friends are under threat from his fascist friends.  That realization provides an immensely satisfying dramatic transition for an actor and I look forward to assaying it again.

Claude Rains

As always, I am inspired by great actors and great performances of the past.  For Max, I have always thought of Claude Rains and his rascally performance as Louis in "Casablanca."  Charming, unscrupulous, unapologetically venal-- nevertheless, when it really counts, Louis does the right thing and begins his "beautiful friendship" with Rick, fighting the Nazi menace.

As Solange in "The Maids"
It's rather fun to note that Northern Stage, in the little town of White River Junction, Vermont, produces in its beautiful new venue, the Barrette Center for the Arts, on the site of what once was the Briggs Opera House.  In the early 1990s, I spent a Fall in this little whistle stop town, doing an ambitious rep of Joe Orton's "What the Butler Saw" with Jean Genet's "The Maids" as part of White River Theatre Festival--I think it was their one full season ever!  Northern Stage has become an artistic force, and the area has come a long way since that far away Autumn.  I am looking forward to seeing what it has become, and to being part of bringing the "hills alive" once more with "The Sound of Music," which plays at Northern Stage November 20 through January 5.

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