THE LEADING MEN: The Marc of Excellence

News   THE LEADING MEN: The Marc of Excellence "Tra la, it’s May, the lusty month of May," a lovely month when everyone does Broadway or cabaret. Or so it seems when we chatted with these three amigos: Marc Kudisch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Jonathan Dokuchitz (The Look of Love) and pop singer-songwriter Tom Kitt.

Marc Kudisch with Zoey.
Marc Kudisch with Zoey. (Photo by Ben Strothmann)

KUDISCH: HE’S NO ‘MILLIE’ VANILLA
With his looks, charisma and booming baritone, Marc Kudisch is one of Broadway’s top leading men by most everyone’s standards, except his own. The 6-foot-2 native from Hackensack, N.J., really sees himself as a supporting character actor. In fact, last year he scored the Triple Crown of nominations — Outer Critics, Drama Desk and Tony — for Best Featured Actor as Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

As Millie’s delightfully upright boss, he’s sensational polishing off a patter song about floor wax, set to Gilbert & Sullivan, or exploding into ecstasy with "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life." Earlier this year, the 36-year-old Kudisch took a leave to tackle Count Carl-Magnus in A Little Night Music at New York City Opera in March, and now he will play Mike Robinson in Encores’ No Strings May 8-11 at City Center and return to Millie May 13 at the Marquis.

But whether he’s playing Jackie in The Wild Party, Jeff Moss in Bells Are Ringing or Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie, he infuses his larger-than-life characters with humor and humanity. Currently dating an "incredible actress," Kudisch shares his home with Zoey, an adorable three-year-old Doberman-German shepherd mix.

Question: You’ve been involved with Millie [by Dick Scanlan, Richard Morris and Jeanine Tesori] since its earliest readings four years ago. What do you enjoy most about the show and your character?
Marc Kudisch: The charm of Millie to me is playing it straight. Graydon has to be played straight to be funny. He’s an operetta character caught in a musical. He is a Victorian man being engulfed by a modern world. The fun of it is watching him become undone. When he falls for Dorothy, you see the five-year-old boy in the man. I also really enjoy this cast. Everyone truly loves one another.

Q: Last May, you got your first Tony Award nomination for Millie. How did that feel, and how was your Tony night?
Kudisch: It was amazing to be nominated with those guys, and a lot of them are my friends. Every one of them — Shuler [Hensley], Brian [D’Arcy James], Norbert [Leo Butz] and Gregg [Edelman] — gave a great performance, as well as other people who weren’t nominated. But Tony night was wonderful and terrible. It was a joy because my mom and sisters were there. But it also sucked because it was a competition [between Millie and Urinetown]. This is stupid. Ewwwwww. I was thrilled that Millie won Best Musical, but I also love my friends at Urinetown. It’s unfortunate our business judges things by hype and awards. Q: Speaking of your friends, I hear you’ve got a Sunday tradition called "Game Night." What’s that?
Kudisch: Some of us from Millie, like Gavin Creel, and a couple from Urban Cowboy, Urinetown and other shows get together on Sunday nights and play games like Running Charades, Celebrity and Mafia until two in the morning. Neil Patrick Harris is the ringmaster, and it’s a riot.

Q: You took a leave from Millie to do A Little Night Music. What was that like, and how was it working with Jeremy Irons [as Fredrik]?
Kudisch: Terrific. I’m operatically trained, so I’d always wanted to work at City Opera. And Jeremy is such a great actor and good guy. God bless him for doing as well as he did. He’d say to me in rehearsals: "Please don’t get any better." He was a fantastic Fredrik. He’s very funny and had a cheesy sense of humor. He was like a child with ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder]. It was such a great company.

Q: Besides Millie, you’re doing No Strings at Encores and The Broadway Musicals of 1960 on June 9 at Town Hall, singing songs from Bye Bye Birdie. And you’ve got an Off Broadway musical this fall, right?
Kudisch: Yeah, it’s called The Thing About Men, and it’s by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts. They wrote I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. It’s a great story about a successful account exec with a beautiful wife and two kids, and he’s screwing his secretary on the side. One day his wife tells him she’s been seeing someone too, so he decides to track down the guy who’s been screwing his wife and become his roommate. It’s based on a German film called “Men.”

Q: I know you’re a big believer in craft, so what do you think of "stunt casting" on Broadway [where pop/TV stars with little stage experience are given leads]?
Kudisch: It pisses me off. I’m very old-school. Get on the stage, show me you’ve got the shit. Be here, rock ‘n’ roll. If you don’t have it, get off the stage because some of us take [theatre] seriously and make it our career. It’s what’s wrong with our business. I hate “American Idol,” but my girlfriend and I are hooked on it. I just yell at the TV screen because it accentuates the idea that you don’t need talent to become a star. To me, doing theatre isn’t a lark. It’s a mission.

For more information, visit www.marckudisch.cjb.net.

DOKUCHITZ: FROM BOYS TO BACHARACH
As Jonathan Dokuchitz proved last fall in the Roundabout revival of The Boys From Syracuse, he knows how to sing Rodgers with heart. And now he’s back in another Roundabout show directed by Scott Ellis, The Look of Love, and he’s just wishin’ and hopin’ to give the pop songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David their due.

Dokuchitz’ Broadway credits include Tommy, Into the Woods and Dream, and in January, he filled in for Stephen Bogardus in Playwrights Horizons’ revival of Falsettos and stopped the show with Whizzer’s galvanizing solo "The Games I Play." In addition, he has toured with Liza Minnelli, and his golden tones can be found on the title track of Amanda Green’s new CD, "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth." ("Her songs are so tongue-in-cheek," he quips.) But you’ve probably also heard his glorious lyric baritone in animated movies where he supplied the singing voice for Mel Gibson ("Pocahontas") and John Cusack ("Anastasia").

In fact, in The Look of Love, which opens May 4 at the Brooks Atkinson, Dokuchitz is reunited with Liz Callaway, who sang the title role of Anastasia. Ironically, they don’t have a duet in the new revue. But what the 6-foot-1 actor from Oneonta, N.Y., does get in The Look of Love is a stirring solo of "A House Is Not a Home" and the chance to share the stage with "a diverse group of great singers and incredible dancers. The music is so uplifting. I love the energy of singing with the whole cast."

Dokuchitz, 36, wears contemporary Dolce & Gabbana in The Look of Love, but how did he feel in an old-time tunic in The Boys From Syracuse? He says, "Tom Hewitt, who played my twin, has beautiful legs. I’m not as chunky as Mr. Rocky Horror Show. He was always more tanned than me. I’d say, ‘Stop going to the beach. I can’t keep up!’ But that’s OK. When you get older, humility goes out the door."

Clearly, this actor doesn’t take his good fortune or gifts for granted. Just days before Sept. 11, 2001, he and his partner, Michael Arnold, the award-winning dancer from 42nd Street, found their beloved black and-white puppy, Bucky, in the woods near their cabin in upstate New York, so "Bucky became our instant family." Dokuchitz also recalled that "Michael’s the son of a fireman, so [after Sept. 11] we ran to the store and got bottled water and a million cans of tuna, which I finally threw out six months ago. We called it our ‘9/11 tuna,’ but nobody wanted to eat it anymore. It was unbelievable. It was the best of times and the worst. But hopefully it made a lot of people stronger."

It’s that same sense of community and camaraderie that also informs one of his most recent recordings. A month or so after Sept. 11, he got together with his good friend Anne Runolfsson and recorded Billy Joel’s beautiful "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" for "Jamie de Roy & Friends, Volume 4: Family" CD. As Dokuchitz puts it, "I remind myself that I’m very lucky to live in this country and be an actor doing exactly what I want to do on Broadway — give or take a tunic."

THE WHOLE KITT AND KABOODLE
Tom Kitt is a one-man band who doesn’t like to toot his own horn, but he’s a helluva musician. As a singer-songwriter, he’ll perform May 12 at the Southpaw in Brooklyn and May 16 at the Bitter End in Manhattan. As a musical director, he will accompany Mario Cantone at Comedy Tonight!, a star-studded benefit on May 19 at the 92nd Street Y. As the leader of the Tom Kitt Band, he’ll be rocking Mondays, starting May 26, at the Red Lion. And as a composer, he’s written Feeling Electric (with Brian Yorkey), a musical about shock therapy that’s being developed by Sh-K-Boom Records.

If Kitt weren’t busy enough, this "Jewish suburban boy from Long Island" also has saddled up for Urban Cowboy as its rehearsal conductor.

Jason Robert Brown, the show’s co-composer and conductor, says, "Three days before the tech rehearsals started [in February], I had to fire someone who wasn’t up to the job. I really needed someone who could read music, conduct the band and sing this kind of music. So I called Tom, and he was a lifesaver. Within two days, he learned the entire show and played a runthrough of it perfectly. From there, he had a big chunk of my will."

On March 5, Kitt, who covers for Brown, made his Broadway debut. He led the onstage "Cowboy" band and belted Brown’s Act II opener, "That’s How Texas Was Born," while his lovely actress-wife, Rita Pietropinto, and friends and family cheered. "What a rush," the 29-year-old classically trained pianist recalled. "It was one of the thrills of my life. I love the score. Jeff [Blumenkrantz] and Jason did a fantastic job. It [sounds] country, but it’s rock ‘n’ roll. I felt like Jerry Lee Lewis up there. And the cast was so great!"

As for leading his own band, the 5-foot-11 Kitt has headlined the Mercury Lounge, and Bill Flanagan, a VH1 exec, has raved, "The Tom Kitt Band seems to have everything: great chops, catchy songs and onstage charisma." The band’s dynamic debut CD, "Find Me," not only rocks, its toe-tapping tunes have more hooks than a tackle box. One of their most infectious songs, "Road to You," played on TV’s "Dawson’s Creek."

Kitt’s piano-based pop music is often compared to Elton John and Billy Joel, and this economics major actually got to meet the latter "Piano Man" at his alma mater, Columbia University, in 1994. "He gave a concert and was taking questions, so I asked him for advice on making it in the music business. He said I should write and play constantly to get experience. Then I asked if I could come onstage and do a song with him and he said, ‘Sure.’ It was really cool. We did ‘New York State of Mind,’ and we traded verses. Now the song’s written in C, but I transposed it in A. Billy pointed that out to the audience and then he turned to me and said, ‘I don’t think you have anything to worry about!’” For more information, visit www.tomkittband.com.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There’s so much to see in the New York area: MAC Award winner Michael McAssey toasts his 20th anniversary in showbiz with "Down a Third," a first-rate show, playing May 4 and 11 at 9 PM at Don’t Tell Mama (212-757-0788) and May 5 and 12 at 8 PM at Regents (212 593-3091). . . . If you haven’t seen "Dances With Pitchforks," John Flynn’s Bistro Award-winning one-man show about the Paper Mill Gypsy, let him entertain you May 5 at 9:30 PM at Carolines Comedy Club (212-757-4100). . . . Bobby Short, king of the long runs, celebrates his 35th anniversary at the Café Carlyle from May 6 June 28 (212-744-1600). . . . Tom Postilio, star of Off Broadway’s Our Sinatra, will croon Ol’ Blue Eyes’ tunes to The Manor born on May 8 at 9 PM in West Orange, N.J. (973-731-2360).

If you’re free on May 11, which is a "Sunday, sweet Sunday, with nothing to do," you can catch Telly Leung (Flower Drum Song) making his cabaret debut at 5 PM at Don’t Tell Mama (212-757-0788). . . . Whether it’s fate or Kismet, Scott Coulter, Davis Gaines and Ed Staudenmayer will be the leading men of The Broadway Musicals of 1953 on May 12 at 8 PM at Town Hall (212-840-2824). . . . And the jazzy John Pizzarelli and his "First Family of Cool" will be chillin’ — and thrillin’ audiences — May 27-June 21 at Feinstein’s (212 339-4095).

Finally: David Kenney of WBAI’s "Everything Old Is New Again" (99.5 FM) will be hosting a Broadway & cabaret benefit on Sunday, May 25, from 8-11 PM. There’ll be rare recordings and special in-studio guests (including yours truly). Proceeds will go to this outstanding noncommercial station. Visit www.oldisnew.org.

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at waymanwong@hotmail.com.

Until next month, let’s hear it for the "boys"!

Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theater critic for the San Francisco Examiner and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.

Jonathan Dokuchitz (L) and Tom Kitt
Jonathan Dokuchitz (L) and Tom Kitt (Photo by Ben Strothmann, Wayman Wong)