PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Alan Ruck

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Alan Ruck Audiences around the country over the past year saw a new side of Alan Ruck, the unfussy American actor best known for "Spin City" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Alan Ruck in The Producers
Alan Ruck in The Producers

On tour with The Producers in 2004, he played the role of Leo Bloom, a quirky part originated on Broadway by his "Ferris Bueller" colleague Matthew Broderick.

Ruck now brings his song and dance to the Broadway company of the Mel Brooks-Susan Stroman smashzilla, partnering with pal Richard Kind as Max Bialystock. The show is a reunion for the duo, who starred together (and laughed a great deal off-camera) in TV's "Spin City."

Ruck and Kind begin performances together at the St. James Jan. 11 (Kind began in December 2004) and continue into the spring.

The pairing may once again spell magic for The Producers' title characters on Broadway. The chemistry, after all, was established years ago, Ruck told Playbill On-Line.

PLAYBILL ON-LINE: After doing the first national tour of The Producers, I imagine it takes some getting used to the physical playing space on stage at the St. James. Is the tour stage size different than Broadway?
Alan Ruck: Absolutely. The set here is wider and a little more opened up, and on the road it's shorter from side to side and the walls are a little more turned in. I have a lot more real estate to cover here. PBOL: So in New York rehearsals there's a period of adjustment.
AR: I'd be doing the movement that I've been doing for a year and I still wouldn't be off stage. I need to move faster. My wife likened it to going to England and learning to drive again. It's still a car, it's still a road, it's just everything's a little different.

PBOL: I assume you played some unforgiving 5,000-seat spaces on the road.
AR: I think the biggest we ever played was 4,300 or something like that. Lewis Stadlen, who is Max on the road, said something I agree with: There's something very comfortable about that big black void. You can't see their faces — you can hear them laughing, and there's something very reassuring about that.

PBOL: I know you for non-singing roles in "Spin City," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Biloxi Blues. Is this new territory for you or have you done musicals?
AR: Nobody's ever gonna accuse me of being a singer, but I can sing.

PBOL: You're an actor who sings.
AR: I'm an actor who sings, right. About 20 years ago in Chicago I did a couple of things. I did a musical that I don't think anybody ever saw, called One Shining Moment, and in that cast was Megan Mullally and Kevin Anderson. After that I did [the play with music] Billy Bishop Goes to War. And then for a year it seemed I was doing plays in which I sung. I did this play called Life and Limb, a Keith Reddin play in Chicago, and I sang in that. It's been 20 years since I've been on Broadway. Biloxi Blues was 20 years ago this coming March. I sang in that: I played that guy who wanted to be the next Perry Como. So I actually have sung on Broadway before, albeit not in a musical.

PBOL: Even beyond the singing, the role of Leo is so incredibly physical. Was it a workout jumping into it on the road?
AR: Yeah, what's weird is that this whole thing is kind of like a miracle for me, because three years ago I was sick as a dog. I had a very serious little health scare. I was in the hospital for a couple of months and I was really a mess. It was right after that that I went to see The Producers for the first time. I never saw Matthew do it, or Nathan [Lane], but I saw it with Roger Bart and Brad Oscar. I had it in the back of my mind: Maybe that was something I can do. Then I saw Roger Bart dancing all over that stage and I said, "We can check that off the list. I won't be doing that." A little over a year ago my agent called and asked if I wanted to audition for the tour of Producers. This sounds weird: It was the day after John Ritter died, and I thought, don't be afraid of anything. I met Susan Stroman, and I did it and she liked it. When they taught me this stuff, I was sore. I couldn't walk for a month. I couldn't go up and down stairs. There's all these muscles in your legs that none of us usually use. It's kind of been like rehab on the road that I've been paid for. And I'm getting away with this dancing. I'm not Frank Sinatra, not Baryshnikov…

PBOL: When you say it was "rehab on the road," do you mean rehab from your health scare, or that it was a workout?
AR: Both. When I auditioned for this part a year ago I was basically very healthy, but I had a kidney problem, among other things, three years ago. Since I've been on the road, all this movement and constantly taking in fluids and sweating them out, my kidneys have improved. I have the cholesterol of a child. My blood pressure is 112 over 78. It's good for you! I started rehearsals last year at 172 pounds, I actually went down to 157, and now I'm back up to like 164.

PBOL: In your Playbill bio, you write that a couple of years ago you off-handedly said to Richard Kind that you guys should do The Producers together.
AR: Four years ago when this thing opened up, we were doing "Spin City," we were in L.A. I said, "Y'know that's something we could do together." He looked at me like I had three heads. He thought for a lot of reasons it would never happen. He also thought that he would play Max before I would ever play Leo. They offered the road to him, but he was expecting twins at the time. I think he's perfect for Max.

PBOL: Tell me about your relationship with Richard Kind. Did you laugh a lot on the set of "Spin City"?
AR: We had more fun than we probably should have had. We made friends for life. He and I and Michael Boatman and Barry Bostwick are friends for life. Michael Fox picked his playmates, so he picked people who sort of had a similar twisted sense of humor. So we immediately, all of us, just hit it off. We were very lucky. Most of the stuff we did is unprintable.

PBOL: Are you a New Yorker?
AR: I moved from Chicago to New York in 1984 for Biloxi Blues. In 1989 my wife and our then baby daughter moved to Los Angeles to try to get in television. When I finally got a TV job that stuck [the first several seasons of "Spin City"] it moved me to New York. I'm happier here. The idea was to try to get into a Broadway show so I could stay home, but it took a year of being on the road to make that happen. As long as it's challenging and fun and it pays the bills, I'd love to stay here.

PBOL: How much did Susan Stroman and her colleagues allow you to make Leo your own when you rehearsed for the road company?
AR: The truth is, I auditioned for Susan twice: My initial audition and then when I auditioned for Mel. I never saw her again until three days ago. I worked with James Hadley, the resident choreographer for the "Max Tour," and Stroman's right hand man Steve Zweigbaum, and they gave me pointers. They pretty much let me go. I never saw Matthew. If I had, I probably would have stolen everything that wasn't nailed down. I didn't have that advantage. So I tried to do everything Gene Wilder did in the movie because I figured he wrote the bible, y'know? The problem was, he was so hysterical and shrieky in that movie that I blew my voice out. I couldn't do what he did and then sing a show — let alone eight times a week. Whatever my Leo is, it's mine.

PBOL: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is one of those generational movies that touched young moviegoers in a unique way. You played an unhappy Chicago teenager whose best pal is the title charmer. Is it your most-known role?
AR: Somewhat. It's sort of an even split now between that and "Spin City." Unles you talk to "Star Trek" people. I had a role on a "Star Trek" picture once, and that's what they talk about: Basically, I'm the man who killed Kirk.

PBOL: But the character, Cameron, from "Ferris Bueller" was very real and recognizable to a lot of people: An emotionally lost suburban kid at odds with his parents.
AR: There were a couple of times in my career when I wasn't working. There was one spell that was 18 months and I couldn't get arrested. I was out in Los Angeles. We had a baby, it was before my son was born. I thought maybe I made a mistake — "maybe it's time to do something else." People would say, "Boy, I really loved you in 'Ferris Bueller,' and it would really aggravate me. I thought I was a one-trick pony and people had seen the trick. Now that things have worked out and I've gone on to other things, I'm really pleased that people enjoy it. I think maybe everybody kinda wants to be like Ferris but I think most people are more like Cameron. I think maybe that's why it resonates.

PBOL: Did you get letters at the time from kids or teenagers?
AR: Yeah. I still get some. When that movie came out, I was living in New York and I didn't get an unlisted phone number yet. Some girls called me up, and my wife answered the phone, and they said, "Mrs. Ruck?" And she said, "Uh-huh." And they said, "Is your son home?" [Laughs.] It really aggravated my wife.

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