PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Michael Berresse

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Michael Berresse The Broadway debut of the musical [title of show] was not a big deal only for its composers and stars.
Michael Berresse
Michael Berresse Photo by Ben Strothmann

Certainly, with the meta-musical's opening at the Lyceum Theatre on July 17, librettist Hunter Bell and composer Jeff Bowen officially became Broadway authors, and the Broadway stock of their co-stars Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell went up. But the show also had a career-changing effect on Michael Berresse, who can no longer be called simply an actor, dancer and singer. The star of such Broadway shows as Kiss Me, Kate and A Chorus Line, Berresse took the original musical under his wing early on and, as both director and choreographer, nurtured it through various workshops and Off-Broadway runs. The 20-year stage veteran is now contemplating a career with many possible paths, including a writing venture he's just begun work on.

Playbill.com: Were you at all surprised by [title of show]'s warm reception on Broadway?
Michael Berresse: It was actually better than I expected. Our first preview was one of the most exciting nights I've ever had in a theatre, and I've been in the theatre for a while.

Playbill.com: That was when the audience stood for something like five minutes at the end, right?
MB: Yeah. They stood and cheered. And we had to wait for them to calm down for a few minutes, and then they went berserk all over again.

Playbill.com: Were there any specific changes you made to the show during previews?
MB: Yes. I cut about 20 minutes off the show.

Playbill.com: Do you think you've done the job you've needed to to make the public understand what this show-about-a-show-about-a-show is all about?
MB: Absolutely. The messages and the notes and the e-mails — I've had e-mails from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights and 14-year-old boys. And they all basically say the same thing, that they thought the show was speaking to them directly, very personally. And that people can do anything. They just need their own permission to try. Whether it's to write a show themselves or paint a painting or open their own business, or whatever that personal dream is. Playbill.com: What's going on with the website and its series of YouTube episodes featuring the cast? Are there any more "[title of show] show" segments coming?
MB: We just posted a new one a few days ago. It's sort of the season one cliffhanger. We have every intention of doing a second season and actually expanding because our world keeps growing now that we are on Broadway. Every step of the journey is giving us endless amounts of fodder for new material.

Playbill.com: What else are you working on?
MB: Well, I shot a movie called "State of Play" with Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren and Ben Affleck amongst others. It's a political thriller and I play the darkest character in the movie. It's a chance for me to play a killer. It's very unlike me and at the same time it's amazing as an actor to tap into things, and you say, "Well, I guess it's alive in there somewhere." That's probably the largest role I've done in a film to date. I'm developing other projects as a director, and I've actually begun writing myself.

Playbill.com: A libretto? A play?
MB: I'm writing a play. It's very personal. It's not autobiographical, but it does deal with my mother and her diaries. She was reading something from her diary from the opening night of [title of show]. This is an idea I had that had been bouncing around for some time, but for some reason when she read that it really sparked my interest. We had a long conversation. I asked her if I could use her diaries for something. Immediately her reaction was, well, there can't be anything of interest in my diaries. And I said, "Oh, mother, have you learned nothing of the theatre?"

Playbill.com: What about acting?
MB: I'm going to wait as a stage actor for the right role. I don't just want to work for the sake of working.

Playbill.com: It may be too early to ask this, but are Hunter and Jeff working on anything new?
MB: I think they have ideas they've been bandying about, but when you're performing all week and doing as much press as they are, it's hard.

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