Daniel Davis: From Butler to Devil- L'Histoire du soldat Plays May 2

Classic Arts Features   Daniel Davis: From Butler to Devil- L'Histoire du soldat Plays May 2
Daniel Davis, known for his role on "The Nanny," will turn villain May 2 when he plays The Devil in the Philharmonic's presentation of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat. Davis reflects on his new role, his part in "The Nanny" and favorite classical roles.


"It's quite a change from Fran Drescher to Igor Stravinsky!" laughs the Arkansas native, who recently relocated to New York City from Los Angeles to pursue his first love : theater : and the cultural life of New York, and who recently attended the New York Philharmonic's Sondheim: The Birthday Concert. "I've been to Avery Fisher Hall for concerts but never thought I'd be there on stage. It's not usually the realm for actors." Mr. Davis will join Matt Cavanaugh : coincidentally another Arkansas native, who will play The Soldier : and Alec Baldwin, who recommended him for the role and who will play The Narrator : in the 1918 war-influenced musical Faustian tale about a fiddle-playing soldier who strikes an ill-advised bargain with the devil. The soldier comes to realize his error, and for a time seems to manage to outwit his foe and begin a new life with a princess, but the devil triumphs in the end.

For Mr. Davis it is a new kind of role, although he has done the narration for Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. "I'm very interested in it because as I listen to the score I see the way the scenes are intertwined; there are so many ways to do it." While the Philharmonic's presentation will be simple, without costumes or props, some productions do feature The Devil appearing in different guises : as an old farmer, an old man, and an old woman merchant. "I'm hoping to do a little vocal characterization for each of the disguises," notes Mr. Davis. "I think the ideal for me would be to change my posture and voice a bit to indicate that The Devil is not appearing as himself to The Soldier until the very end."

Mr. Davis honed his classically-trained voice while doing classical roles as a member of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in the 1970s. "When I went to "The Nanny" audition, I decided to do a very posh British accent without any regionalism," he recalls, "and make it as upper-class as I could, because, you know, butlers tend to put on a bit. The other Englishmen who were coming in were a little less proper with their accents; they were just English so they didn't worry about the sound that they made. The producers were impressed with my phony British accent and thought it was more authentic-sounding than the real British guys who showed up for the audition!"

His favorite "Nanny" moment, he says, was doing a send-up of Tom Cruise's scene in Risky Business in which he stripped down to his underwear and lipsynched a Bob Seger Rock 'n' Roll song. "It was so out of character for stiff-upper-lip Niles to do that," says Mr. Davis with a chuckle. "It's a moment the fans love, and it was great fun to shoot."

While "The Nanny" brought Daniel Davis much fame, the majority of his work has been elsewhere : in regional theater in the U.S. and Canada, primarily at the American Shakespeare Festival, the Stratford National Theater of Canada, The Guthrie, Seattle Rep, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Old Globe Theatre, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival (for 10 seasons). His favorite roles have included Alceste in Garland Wright's production of The Misanthrope; the American premiere of David Hare and Howard Brenton's Pravda, directed by Robert Falls; the world premiere of The Film Society by Jon Robin Baitz; and title roles in Hamlet, Peer Gynt, and Arturo Ui. His New York credits include Wrong Mountain (Tony nomination), Talking Heads (Obie and Outer Critics Circle Award), La Cage aux Folles (revival), and The Invention of Love and The Frogs for Lincoln Center Theater. In 1971 he toured with Katharine Hepburn in Coco and toured again in 1982 as Salieri in Amadeus, which he also played on Broadway. He has also been seen in musical theater, including as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and as Ko-Ko in The Mikado, and has had numerous guest spots on television, most notably as Professor Moriarty on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His films include The Prestige, Havana, and The Hunt for Red October.

His favorite role? "I've been fortunate in my career to have appeared in most of the Shakespearean roles that I aspired to play," he says. "I started very early. In 1968 I was 23 years old and got to play Hamlet at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. Two summers ago, on my 40th anniversary in theater, I got to play Lear at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey. I came full circle from Hamlet to Lear and most of the stops in-between. So, if I had to pick, it would be Hamlet and Lear. I don't know many actors who wouldn't say that."

As for The Devil in L'Histoire du soldat, he says: "I'm very excited about the prospect of being on stage with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. Good heavens! Who wouldn't be delighted?"


L'Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) plays Avery Fisher Hall Sunday, May 2, at 3:00 PM. The event is part of the Orchestra's The Russian Stravinsky: A Philharmonic Festival, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Visit New York Philharmonic for tickets.

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