THE LEADING MEN: Hoff, Barbour, Wilson, Newman, Spirtas and Bullock

By Tom Nondorf
02 Oct 2008

Newman Zone
A great thing about the Broadway Flea Market event is that not only are Broadway stars there, but a great deal of daytime television stars as well, mixing the two camps of actors that are a big part of New York's acting industry. Often you'll find the actors' skill-sets overlap, with Broadway musical people having done daytime TV and vice versa. The ageless Robert Newman has played Josh on "The Guiding Light" seemingly forever, but he makes time each year to go off and do theatre somewhere outside the City. The brawny actor, who, like James Barbour, grew up playing football, has done The Full Monty and A Little Night Music at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in recent years.

Question: Does making time to do some stage work outside of "The Guiding Light" recharge your batteries?
Robert Newman: It allows me to stay sane, and our producers are very understanding. In August I was up in the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan, playing Charlie Anderson in Shenandoah. It was just wonderful to focus on that experience.

Q: Do you enjoy coming to Shubert Alley and being among theatrical folk?
Newman: I like it because it brings both my worlds together. I've worked with a lot of people who do a lot of Broadway work. Beth Leavel was just here. She and I did A Little Night Music a few years ago. Dee Hoty and Stephen Bogardus and all these people that I know from the theatre world… just a bunch of them. I feel like this brings both of those worlds together for me, so it's kind of cool.

Q: What are some great moments you've enjoyed?
Newman: A couple years ago, I sat at a signing table with Bernadette Peters right next to me, and at some point I turned to her and said, "You know, I've had a crush on you for about 100 years," and she just smiled really nice. Things like that are cool. I met Victor Garber, another guy who was really nice, who I'd never met, and it was a great opportunity to talk to him.



Q: I always wonder for someone who has played a character on a show as long as you have, do you add up all the crazy things that have happened to Josh and think of them all as part of the character, or is that too overwhelming and you just pick and choose the things that make up the man?
Newman: The answer to that is, yes, mostly you take him as a whole. I think the storyline we did involving clones, that one I pretend didn't happen.

[To see Robert Newman sing "All I Care About Is Love" at the Barn Theatre of Augusta, Michigan, via his official fan club website, www.ornfc.com.]

The Spirtas Moves Us
Kevin Spirtas is another crossover talent from daytime and musical theatre. He was the standby for Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz on Broadway, and is well-known to soap fans from "Days of our Lives" and "One Life to Live." Spirtas just wrapped up a production of They're Playing Our Song in Beach Haven, New Jersey. In Los Angeles, he performs shows of dance, pop and standards on a regular basis, and is working on a new two-man show with one of Streisand's Broadway Boys, Sean McDermott.

Question: Tell us about this show you are working on.
Kevin Spirtas: I've had a one-man show for awhile. Bruce Kimmel directed my one-man show called Night and Days about my nights on Broadway and my days on "Days of Our Lives." He's just now finishing directing a brand-new show that we are going to mount in Los Angeles called Jersey Men. It's about all the great singers and songwriters, the male great singers and songwriters from New Jersey. Sinatra, Frankie Valli, David Cassidy, John Travolta, Bruce Springsteen, every Jersey man. Sean McDermott and I are going to be starring in that together, that's what's up next.

Q: You've done TV, cabaret, film, Broadway. In which are you most comfortable?
Spirtas: Well, they're different muscles, it's like a different workout. Different types of performance bring you different types of energy or a different type of "high," if you will. Theatre is immediate. Singing is live, and it's immediate. And then you have film and TV, and it's kind of like you could do something, and it won't come down the line till three months or three years later and you go, "What was I going through when I did that?" But it's all an emotional workout.

Q: What does this Broadway Cares event say to you?
Spirtas: I think this is a great opportunity for everyone to get together and give thanks. It's kind of an honor for me to be a part of this community. I've been in L.A. for so long. [I come back here and see] the way this Broadway community pulls together, and helps create a place for people to support the arts. People need the arts, and I think it is very important, and I'm honored to be here.

[Kevin Spirtas and Sean McDermott's new show, Jersey Men, will have a special performance benefiting the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund on Oct. 27 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California. Go to www.kevinspirtas.com for ticket info.]

Jim Dandy
In other news, the New York Musical Theatre Festival rolls on. Theatre fans still have a few days to catch The Fancy Boy Follies, featuring former Ted Knight foil, hilarious Hollywood Square, Jim J. Bullock as part of the five-man ensemble. The show, which bills itself as "A Vaudelesque!," promises a dirty ol' time of sex-themed songs and skits. "It wouldn't be appropriate for four year olds," says Bullock — probably a few years beyond that as well. Dave August, Howard Kaye, Jon Powell, and Tom Stuart make up the rest of the cast.

Question: For the uninitiated, please describe The Fancy Boy Follies.
Jim J. Bullock: It's so hard to describe. It's a cross between a burlesque and a vaudeville show — like a gay burlesque and vaudeville. It's five guys, and it's a lot of fun, a lot of music, a little dancing (I can't do a lot of dancing). It's just filthy fun.

Q: How filthy?
Bullock: Oh, it's filthy. You have to have a sense of humor about sex. We talk a lot about taboo things in sex that people don't talk a lot about. If you address it properly with humor, it makes it more palatable — sort of like "South Park." I just watched a show today called "Little Britain." Oh my God! It's so taboo, but they do it in such a comical way that you can laugh at these things that are politically incorrect.

Q: You've played Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray on Broadway and on tour...
Bullock: I was doing Hairspray this time last year. I love that show. I've been very fortunate to have a nice run with it. My first jaunt with it was in August of 2004. I came here and did three months, then I went back to L.A., came back and did six months, then I went on tour with it for a year, then I came back last fall and I got to play Wilbur for three months. Then I actually came back last spring and did another month run with it, so I guess they like me. They keep having me back [laughs]!

Q: Where are all your lady friends from "Too Close for Comfort" these days?
Bullock: As a matter of fact, I just saw them. I had a party, and I invited Deborah [Van Valkenburgh] and Lydia [Cornell] and Nancy [Dussault]. Nancy was busy doing some show, but Deborah and Lydia came, and it was so great to see them, and they both look fabulous. Deborah is doing a lot of theatre in California. Lydia is married and raising a family. She has a radio program. She's the co-host of this politically-minded show. She is very smart, not at all the dumb blonde everybody thought she was.

Q: Monroe was such an indelible TV character. He's not an albatross around your neck, is he?
Bullock: Not at all. You do something like that, and you do have to fight what people's preconceived ideas are of you. It is interesting to go into an audition and people say, "Oh, he's not right for the role." It's work, and it's frustrating fighting that, but do I have any resentment whatsoever for it? None. Monroe was very good to me. "Too Close for Comfort" was six incredible years for me that I'll never forget, and I'm so grateful I had. It gave me a career. I have nothing but fond, sweet memories of Ted and Nancy and Lydia, Deborah and Audrey [Meadows].

Q: Maybe I'm out of the loop on this, but didn't you used to go by "Jm"?
Bullock: Oh my God. Okay, here's what happened. Back when I moved to L.A., before I got into any of the unions or anything, I thought, "What can I do to catch someone's attention?" And I had a friend who spelled his name "M-a-r-c" instead of "M-a-r-k." I thought, that's so cool and different. How can I do that with my name? So I took the "i" out, which makes no sense, whatsoever. It was "Jm," but pronounced "Jim." And so when I went to the Screen Actor's Guild, the lady there said, "That doesn't make any sense. There's no vowel there." I said, "I know." Then I got "Too Close" and "Hollywood Squares," and in the late eighties, I had a manager who suggested that I put the "i" back, and on his suggestion I did, and it has really been a pain in the ass ever since. Most people still know me as the guy with the bizarre spelling, but I did put the "i" back in 1990… I had a vowel movement.

[The Fancy Boy Follies, with book and lyrics by David Pevsner and additional material by Bruce Vilanch, is at the 45th Street Theatre until Oct. 5. For ticket info check out nymf.org.]

Hither and Yon
If you get a chance, check out Close Ties, the Elizabeth Diggs play running at E.S.T., a very affecting tale of tough family transitions. Jack Davidson, David Gelles Hurwitz and Tommy Schrider are the men in an extremely tight ensemble. For tickets visit www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org or phone (212) 352-3101 . . . . Got great feedback from readers on rare cast albums in your collections. Reader Mark, for instance, is a Welly Yang fan who was happy to find an Asian-produced cast album for The Wedding Banquet . . . . Very little can I find out about the Off-Broadway musical, Hark!, since the album I found came in a plain, unmarked, white record sleeve with very little info on the label — a must-buy for me, of course! The internet tells me it is from circa 1972 and was written by Marvin Solley with music by Dan Goggin (of Nunsense fame) and lyrics by Robert Lorick (The Tap Dance Kid). If anyone saw Hark! and can tell me about it, do drop a line. And, keep your favorite rarities coming. Until next time!

Tom Nondorf can be reached at tnondorf@playbill.com.