PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marc Kudisch

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marc Kudisch
 
Marc Kudisch, who has not yet broken away from the theatre to have a profound TV or film career, is in the tradition of leading men like Alfred Drake and John Raitt.
Marc Kudisch in The Thing About Men
Marc Kudisch in The Thing About Men

Kudisch shares with them (and with contemporary Brian Stokes Mitchell) not just a big, profound high baritone that can shake the timbers of an auditorium, but a reputation as a true creature of the stage in a time when more and more movie and TV stars are being plugged into commercial musicals.

When you ask, "Where are our musical theatre stars?," you might be pointed to Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre, where Kudisch is now starring in the Joe DiPietro-Jimmy Roberts musical, The Thing About Men.

Kudisch's roles in recent years have been choice: Playing Jeff Moss in the first Broadway revival of Bells Are Ringing, opposite Faith Prince; exploring new territory in Michael John LaChiusa's dark and jazzy The Wild Party; snagging a Tony Award nomination for Thoroughly Modern Millie, in which he sang Gilbert & Sullivan patter and one-half of a soaring operetta duet, all the while giving one of the funniest acting performances of any recent season, as the soft-centered blowhard of a corporate boss, Trevor Graydon.

Kudisch was also memorable in the Tommy Tune national tour of Bye Bye Birdie (he repeated the role in the TV movie of it). "Bigger-than-life" might have been coined for this beefy actor. He played blustery or boorish characters in Broadway's The Scarlet Pimpernel, Beauty and the Beast and High Society, too. Kudisch now downsizes the emotions to the domestic level as a modern-day, philandering husband-in-crisis in The Thing About Men, in which he plots to move in with his wife's lover. The character ends up dipping into deeper emotions than he knew he had, allowing Kudisch to show more than muscle. Perhaps as no other role, he reveals a beating heart.

Playbill On-Line: Your work in The Thing About Men allows you to play a lot of emotional colors that weren't there in, say, Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Marc Kudisch: Oh, yeah. It's the first time I get the opportunity to play something after 1960. I think I end up doing more period pieces because, one, I have a particular kind of voice that is more 'throwback.' I don't think anyone's gonna hire me for Rent. I also think I have a sensibility to that style, that humor. There's a certain self-effacement that is very '30s and '40s. This show is an interesting piece in that it's very different for people. The closest thing I would compare this to would be something like The Full Monty, which is very contemporary. Even The Full Monty sets up a grandiose situation — these guys who are out of work who decided to striptease — where [The Thing About Men] is just very typical. It's tiny, and it's possible that when you walk out of the theatre this very situation could be going on in the building across the street, happening in anyone's apartment, which is what I think makes it interesting but in some ways kind of very real. PBOL: Was it a conscious choice that you wanted to do a contemporary show?
MK: Happily, I could make a choice. There were other opportunities that I decided not to pursue because I felt that this was different, the story was different than anything I had seen or read before. I liked the character because of the colors that were involved, and because it was contemporary and I hadn't had the opportunity to do something like that. Especially this past season, with continuing to do Millie and going over to City Opera to do Carl Magnus [in A Little Night Music]. You know, as actors we're all typecast and pigeon-holed. I've been battling that for years. It took me years for people to see me as more than being like a big, thick piece of meat with a loud voice. Because I think that's what you get initially, physically, when you look at me: Sort of a big guy, a square jaw.

PBOL: Now, you play Tom in The Thing About Men, a contemporary advertising executive, a suit.
MK: Not unlike Jeffrey Moss in Bells Are Ringing, but more contemporary and, this being an original show, there's not going to be a comparison to anything. It's always great to originate something — to create, to be part of the process of trying to find the way of telling the story. That's the most exciting part of this business.

PBOL: There's a vulnerability you have to show in this. I haven't seen it from you. There's a song about straight male friendship in the show that knocked me out. Their relationship is what moved me in the movie, "Men," on which the show is based.
MK: I have to tell you, I've never seen the movie. That's a conscious choice, too, because once you take a movie script and you put it on the stage, it's its own thing, its own entity, its own living being. I didn't see the film of Millie until I think after their third reading or workshop. Because I had such a clear idea of what I saw in this I didn't want to see that and get a comparison going on in my head.

PBOL: In The Thing About Men, there's a kind of emotional emptying out of this character. By the end of the show, he realizes not what a full person he is but what an empty person he's been, and that's clear and satisfying in your work.
MK: Thanks. That is what constitutes a full person: Someone who realizes the emptiness they have in them, someone who realizes what they don't know. Because then they are open to learn. If you know you don't know a lot, then you're going to be open to what comes, you're not going to take it for granted. That was Tom's mistake: He thought he knew everything, thought he could fix everything, thought he could sell everything. He learned he couldn't. In the end, I hope the audience wants to see these three people happy and get what they want.

PBOL: You and Ron Bohmer performed together in Pimpernel and he plays your rival in this show — and it's a small-cast show about male friendships. Does the familiarity help?
MK: Of course. Especially playing a relationship like this, between two guys. It's great when you know someone: There's already a comfort level, a confidence level you have. And Leah Hocking [who plays Tom's wife, Lucy] and I worked together in The Wild Party, so working with Leah was easy.

PBOL: You haven't recorded a solo album, as a number of Broadway actors have. Does it interest you?
MK: If somebody comes to me and they have an interesting idea — like, I would never just do "my greatest hits." That's just not what I want. If there was an album that had a concept to it, that would be fun. I have always wanted to record or do a song cycle, because then at least it's about something specific. I'm also trying to see if moving into the operatic venue is possible. It's something I'd like to do.

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