Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Jim Barbour and Kyle Puccia

Not to toot my own horn, but I seem to have a remarkable history of befriending extraordinarily talented people at the very beginning of their creative cycles.  That is to say, just as they themselves begin to understand how different they are as compared to those doing essentially the same things around them.  Two perfect examples of this are my dear and lifelong friends Jimmy Barbour and Kyle Puccia.  I met them both when they were in their early twenties.  

James Barbour is, in my opinion, the most powerful and commanding Broadway star working at the moment.  Jim is a big guy.  Physically, I mean.  About six feet, four inches, in ramrod perfect shape, handsome and gregarious, with a speaking voice that brings Moses to mind.  I recently saw him in concert at The Colony here in LA and there were moments when I simply shut my eyes and was transported.  When he gets cranking, and has the right song under him, it's sort of like being in the middle of a vocal typhoon.  One feels like all they can do is hold on and see where he takes us.  

Kyle Puccia and I worked together for the first time in a dreadful little play called The Straight Man at a new play festival in Virginia.  We had both been brought in as hired guns.  Oddly, neither of us had a lot to do in the final analysis in this sickly little piece of writing, but I do remember a moment when we had to walk behind the "stars" of the show as random people on the "street."  We would change our characters as we saw fit.  Neither of us had the least bit of respect for this piece...anyway, as I remember it, all we had to do was walk, in some sort of character, about twenty feet from stage right to stage left.  We simply couldn't do it without bursting out laughing at each other.  It was one of those kind of jobs.

James Barbour and I met in Kentucky while doing a rep season consisting of Camelot, Drood and 1940's Radio Hour.  Jim was Lancelot to my Arthur in the former of these.  As the story goes, frankly I don't remember this but I'm told it's true, I was in the parking lot about to make my way to the theatre for the first read-thru.  Someone pointed me out to Jimmy and he came down to introduce himself.  I had my back turned at the time and when Jim got to me (you have to understand, at that time in Jim's life he was a VERY serious young man) he tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned around he said, "Hi, I'm James Barbour and I studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company."  Jim claims I said, "Hi, I'm Clif Morts and I don't give a shit." Regardless of what was said, for whatever reason, we became instant best friends.  We just clicked.  We had the exact same sense of humor (very rare thing, indeed) and since that moment in that Kentucky parking lot back in 1988, we have spent literally HOURS quite simply immobile with laughter together.   Years later we were doing 1776 together at some regional theatre and we were nearly asked to leave a coffee shop because we were laughing so hard and disturbing the other patrons.

The next time Kyle Puccia and I worked together was in, of all places, Rockford, IL, doing a play called Big River.  My old buddy, Bill Gregg, was directing it and had cast the entire show except the lead role of Huck.  At the time I was living in Chicago and Bill called me one night and said, "I can't find a Huck.  I've auditioned about 300 people in Chicago for the role and I don't like any of them."  I said, "Billy, you've already directed your Huck.  (he had had the dubious honor of directing 'The Straight Man' all those years before) And his name is Kyle Puccia."  Bill said, and this still amuses me, "Kyle can sing?"

Over the years, Jim and I did nine professional shows together.  We would lose touch, get back in touch, lose touch, get back in touch, over and over.  Eventually, Jimmy was tapped to step into Carousel at Lincoln Center as Billy Bigalow.  His Broadway stature was launched.  I drifted off into a life of teaching and writing.  

Kyle, of course, blew the lid off the role of Huck in Big River.  He was a very good thing in the middle of an average production.  

So here I am in the City of Angels.  Kyle and Jim both live about ten minutes away.  I'm writing a one-person show for Jim called "3 Upper."  He will win an Obie for it this time next year, mark my words.  Kyle is writing the score for my play Praying Small at NoHo.  Interesting thing about Kyle...I always knew he wouldn't continue to limit his creativity to acting alone.  He was far too big for that.  There was a sense of frustration with Kyle when he was young because he knew, inside himself, how talented he was.  He just couldn't figure out what to do with it. Now he has.  Interesting thing about Jim...he knew he was going to be a star.  It was written all over his face, even at 22.  He just didn't know when.  

Kyle and Jim are in my life again now.  They both, from a distance, saw me come through a very dark period.  But not today.  Not today.  

Today we've got some work to do together.  And some laughs to share.  And a long and hard-wrought mutual respect for each other.  And I can't help thinking of the old Sinatra song...You ain't seen nothin' yet!  Jimmy and Kyle...let's kick some ass again.



I'll see you tomorrow.