KARATE KID TOURING IN LOESSER MUSICAL
Ralph Macchio may be best known as the Karate Kid in the movie series of that name. But that kind of success pales, according to the young actor, to the thrill of "when the house lights go down and the stage lights go up.
"Then, there are no studio executives prowling around the set, no editors to leave your best scenes on the floor. Theatre is the performer's medium," says the handsome young actor who will be starring in the national tour of How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
Macchio hadn't trod the boards since he made his Broadway debut in 1986 in Reinaldo Povod's Cuba and His Teddy Bear, co-starring Robert DeNiro. But he says he always had his heart set on one day playing in a musical. And so he jumped at the invitation to re-create for the road the role that won Matthew Broderick a Tony Award last year on Broadway.
In fact, before How To Succeed came along, Macchio was considering playing Danny Zuko in the current Tommy Tune production of Grease!, directed by Êeff Calhoun. "Tommy Tune and I discussed the role of Danny Zuko, but we both felt that it was not really right for me," says Macchio. However, the role of J. Pierrepont Finch seemed just perfect for Macchio, a mixture of reptilian corporate ambition and dewy-eyed charm, who works his way up the corporate ladder.
"It's really the best American musical comedy lead," says Macchio. "It's a complex role but one that seems just right for breaking into musicals, which is something I've always wanted to do."
Growing up in Long Island, Macchio, in fact, had performed in a high school production of How To Succeed, albeit in the chorus. "I was never cast as the lead then," he says sheepishly, "I was known as the 'Dancing Kid,' not that I was all that great. But I had been dancing since the age of three, taking lessons at the June Claire School of Dance in Babylon, Long Island." He attributes some of his deft and fluid moves in movies as the Karate Kid to his early training as a dancer. But Macchio's glad finally to use his talents in a bonafide musical hit. The producers and director Des McAnuff offered him the option of replacing Broderick (who has now returned) on Broad-way or going out on the road with the show. He refused the former (John Stamos took the job) and opted for "creating a new company of the same production."
"As good as Matthew is in the role, I didn't want to just rubber-stamp it," says Macchio. "Besides, I get to do it in L.A., where I can showcase myself in a whole new light to industry people, and San Francisco is a hip theatre town. It's going to be a whole different world than I'm used to. . . But the adrenaline's going."
Macchio says that he's looking forward to getting a crack at a role that has long fascinated him, particularly given Finch's contradictory nature. "He's selfish, but appealing, dishonest yet charming, innocent yet calculated, devious and yet appealing." And how many of those qualities might apply to the person who will be portraying them? "I'd like to think that I'm not dishonest although, at times, I'm selfish," says the actor without a trace of irony. "But I hope I'm not as calculated as Finch, and I do hope I'm charming and likable. Then people can root for me even if they think I'm a snake."
-- By Patrick Pacheco