THE LEADING MEN: Crumm and Ullman, Jr. Plus Remembering Goulet

By Tom Nondorf
03 Nov 2007

Douglas Ullman, Jr.
 

FROM MUTE TO MATT
Douglas Ullman, Jr. recently returned to The Fantasticks after some time away. Ullman, who was the original Mute in this revival and later moved up to Matt status, replaces Nick Spangler, who was recently a Mute-to-Matt man himself. Got that? To make matters more interesting, returning along with Doug is Burke Moses, reinhabiting the El Gallo role he created for this revival. We spoke to Moses back in January. Now it's Ullman's turn.

Question: What's it like to be back in the ol' Fantasticks action?
Douglas Ullman, Jr.: It's great to be back. I had a great time doing it the first time around; now I feel like I've had some time away from it. I've relaxed into things a bit more. I don't have to worry or work as hard as I did before. Now I can just have fun.

Q: How tough is it going from a character that doesn't speak to the romantic lead?
Ullman: I was actually the first one in this revival to do that. It's weird because I'm still sitting onstage, even last night, and El Gallo snaps his fingers and my inner Mute is ready to jump. I have to sort of check that once in awhile. It's also weird watching other Mutes do it because everybody's different.



Q: The Mute seems like a difficult part to play.
Ullman: It certainly is because you have a lot of stuff to do, and if you're not on top of everything, the show can really fall flat quickly if you mess something up. But I had a lot of fun doing it — almost, almost as much fun as I had doing Matt. You don't have to worry about your voice, you can really be present on stage at all times. It's really a lot of fun to do.

Q: I'd be afraid of my mind wandering and missing a cue.
Ullman: Oh, definitely! When we were in previews, I was supposed to open this trap door for [writer/director/actor] Tom Jones to go into the box, so he can come out as the Old Actor. After like the first five shows I was blanking out watching what was going on onstage, and I feel this tap on my ankle and it's Tom Jones telling me to open the door!

Q: What has it been like working with Tom Jones?
Ullman: He's really great. He's been working on this show since he wrote it, so lots of ideas floating around, and he has things he likes and things he doesn't like, and you learn really quickly which is which.

Q: What about Burke Moses? You guys have a good rapport?
Ullman: Definitely. He's a laugh a minute, Burke — if you can get a word in edgewise [laughs]. He's a lot of fun to work with onstage and offstage. You really miss him when he's not there. When he's there, you kind of wish he'd go away sometimes [laughs]. He's a lot of fun to be around.

Q: A couple years back you played Rolf in The Sound of Music in mainland China and Hong Kong. What sort of experience was that?
Ullman:The thing I learned about The Sound of Music out there is they use that movie to help teach their kids English. So all these kids, they know "Do-Re-Mi," they know all the songs to that show, especially in Hong Kong, [where] we had really enthusiastic audiences and full houses, and people responded to the show really well.

Q: Give us the ten-cent tour of Douglas Ullman, Jr. and how he got the showbiz bug.
Ullman: Originally from New Jersey. My dad was in the Navy, so I've been all up and down the East Coast from Florida to Rhode Island. I lived in England for a little bit. I think the first show I remember seeing was an English pantomime when I was about six or seven. I didn't have a lot of interest in going into the theatre until eighth grade when I saw our local high school production of Guys and Dolls and I was like, "Oh, that makes sense." I'd always sung in choirs, so acting and singing together in one medium, that clicked for me, and when I went to high school I began doing shows in-school, out-of-school, and I eventually went to NYU and got my degree in vocal performance in 2005 and went straight to Asia right after that.

Q: So you're just starting out in some ways?
Ullman: In a very, very lot of ways. This is only my second big job since I got out of school.

Q: How exciting was it when you got the Fantasticks gig?
Ullman: When they called me and said I was going to be the Mute and understudying Matt, I was jumping around the house. I was staying with my uncle at the time. I'd just moved into New York. No one was home, so I spent a good five minutes jumping around, jumping for joy, being excited about being in the show.

Q: What is your theory about what makes The Fantasticks so timeless?
Ullman: I think Jerry Orbach brought "Try to Remember" into the American consciousness. I was wearing one of my show T-shirts out the other day, and some woman comes up behind me and starts humming "Try to Remember." People just know that song. That song has helped propel [the show] into the American consciousness. Also, there's something about the simplicity of the story. Ultimately, it's about two people who go through all the trials and tribulations of falling in love and falling out of love, and at the end of seeing everything in the world that there is to see, they still decide to choose one another. I think that's it.

[The Fantasticks plays The Snapple Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street; call (212) 307-4100 for tickets.]

WITHOUT GOULET
First thing I did when I heard that Robert Goulet was gone was kick myself for missing a chance to see him in La Cage a couple years back. Second thing I did was head to my vinyl treasury and grab my stack of Goulet LPs. For years, what I would tell anyone about Robert Goulet is to pick up any of his first dozen or so Columbia albums from the early to mid-1960s. This is pre-moustache Goulet, flush with the triumph of Lancelot, a gifted singer with excellent material at his fingertips, lush arrangements and orchestrations by people like Frank DeVol, Don Costa and Sid Ramin. But more than that, the delivery of a guy who was really living each song as he sang it, especially on some of the heavier material.

Goulet lost his father at the age of 14, and according to Ed Sullivan's liner notes on Goulet's debut album, "Always You," his mother urged him to pursue singing, telling him, "I know that you will work hard and develop your voice as your father would have wanted." So it's quite possible he didn't have to dig too deep to find the emotions at the core of some of the great love songs he sang. Or maybe his acting training carried over nicely into the recording studio. Whatever the case, on his 1962 album, "Two of Us," he does a marvelous job conveying the rich uncertainty in "Where Do I Go From Here?" from Fiorello! and you could swear he is breaking down on "Here's That Rainy Day" from Carnival in Flanders. The title song on "My Love Forgive Me" was his only hit, but his take on Charlie Chaplin's "Now That It's Ended" brings chills. "Gone With the Wind," "Skylark," "It's a Blue World" and "Imagination" are among the powerful renditions on the solid album, "I Remember You."

Like Frank Sinatra did a few times, Goulet released one album entirely composed of heartbreak: 1964's "Without You," the cover of which shows the man looking as bleak and grim as the sky around him and the songs inside. That cover photo was taken by his one-time Camelot co-star, Roddy McDowall. I had a chance to talk to McDowall in 1995. I mentioned that album cover, and he got a faraway look in his eye and said, "Ahh. That's when he was really singing."

That's to take nothing away from the stage and nightclub work Goulet did after the sixties. But the recording world was changing, and there was a noticeable drop-off in material for a singer like Goulet. By 1968, he was doing more middle-of-the-road pop covers, and lush arrangements had given way to brassy kitsch of that time.

Ah, but those first dozen or so. Several of them have been released in twin sets on CD, including his two "On Broadway" albums packaged together, but one collection to show the world the full scope of what Robert Goulet was like "when he was really singing" would be a fitting tribute and a great way to remember him.

HITHER AND YON
Broadway fans also cry out for a CD release of Goulet and Doris Day's 1963 recording of all songs from Annie Get Your GunJoshua Henry, recently of In the Heights, headlines the cast of Serenade, a new Rachel Sheinkin musical premiering Dec. 1-15 at Teatro LA TEA on Suffolk St. Call (212) 568-4444 for tickets…Column fave and all-around cool dude, Jeff Denman is in Yank! at the Brooklyn Gallery Players until Nov. 11. Denman also choreographed this original 1940s-style musical that features Bobby Steggert from 110 in the Shade. Go to www.galleryplayers.com for details.

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