Wednesday, September 1, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True...

Seventy one years ago today the German Blitzkrieg started to roll into Poland.  World War II had started.  Just thought I'd point that out.

Yesterday my agent sent me the music I need to learn for the Garbo Talks project in Long Beach.  I'll need to print that out and get started on it today.  He also confirmed my audition for ANNIE at Music Theatre West, also in Long Beach.  I told him unless the actual Daddy Warbucks showed up for the auditions, I can't imagine a role more suited to me at this particular point in my career.  Physically and vocally the role is perfect for me.  Plus it's a great Equity Contract.  I have until September 13 to learn the Garbo Talks music and the ANNIE audition is the following day.  Good.

I have never considered myself a musical theater performer even though I've done fifty or sixty musicals throughout my career.  My favorite role (did it three times) is probably Arthur in Camelot.  A great role for an actor who sings.  Although the play itself is really not all that good.  Too long and too little to do for the ensemble.  It's basically a three person show - Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere.  It is not, however, my favorite musical.  That would be Sunday in the Park with George.

I have done a bunch of the old musical battle wagons over the years - Camelot, The Music Man, South Pacific, Carousel, Gypsy, West Side Story (Shrank, in case you're wondering), Hello Dolly, Funny Girl, Guys and Dolls, Big River, 1776, Two by Two...many others.  In fact, Guys and Dolls, which I've done twice, was one of the more interesting ones, because the first time I did it I found myself in the unique position of being able to do both Sky (the first half of the run) and then Nathan.  I much preferred doing Nathan as Sky is a thankless role.  1776 was fun, too.  I did it twice as well, the first time as Lee and the second as Adams.  I remember that one fondly not so much for the show itself as the cast.  Both productions were full of fun actors.

But Sunday in the Park with George has always towered over the others.  It is a remarkable piece of writing from both Sondhem and Lapine.  Every time I did it and every time I listen to it, I hear something different.

I've done another Sondheim piece, too - Company.  That was my first introduction to the genius of Mr. Sondheim.  I'd love to take a shot at Sweeny Todd or Assassins someday.

Anyway, the point is, even though I've done a ton of musicals over the years, I've never really considered myself that kind of performer.  One of the reasons for that, I think, is because a lot of my close friends are REAL singers...REAL musicians.  I'm a pretender when it comes to that stuff.  Jim Barbour, one of my best buds, is a real musical theater performer.  Jim and I have done a lot of work together back in the day.  He was good when he was he's astonishing.  I honestly think Jimmy may have one of the five or six finest musical theater voices in the country right now.  I recently saw him do the lead in Nightmare Alley at The Geffen out here in L.A.  The show was mediocre at best.  But Jim was incredible.  His voice is a force of nature.

I've also been fortunate enough to do a few shows with the amazing Kyle Puccia.  Again, here's a guy who has a voice that actually stops me in my tracks.  Kyle did the lead in one of the Big River's I've had the chance to do (I did it three times)...the first time I heard him sing the role of Huck Finn, honest to God, I was struck dumb.  Now, THAT is a singer.  Jim is a singer.  Me?  I'm a guy that on his best day can carry a tune.  It's an uncomfortable truth I've learned to live with.  When I was first starting out in the business, I really thought I had a good voice, I thought I had a crack at being a major musical theater talent.  But as I began to move up in the business, getting higher quality work, I realized how deluded I had been.  This is not false modesty.  It is a way of saying how important it is in this business to honestly assess one's own talent.

Academia is mostly to blame for this.  One of the things that bothers me the most (for the constant, Gentle Reader of this blog, you'll know what I'm talking about) in the biz.  Actors seem unable, for whatever reason, to honestly assess their own worth.  It is essential to know what one's forte' is in this wacky world of show business.  For example, I also know that even though I love Shakespeare, adore watching him, love his writing above all other, study it relentlessly, I am, quite frankly, really not very good with the language.  Like musical theater, I can recognize great Shakespearean work when I see it - Kevin Kline, Laurence Olivier, Michael Moriarty, John Geilgud, Ralph Richardson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, etc. - I also know that it is not what I, personally, do best.  Years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of doing Brutus in Julius Caesar in NY for a long run.  I loved every second of it.  But I wasn't really that good at it.

It is so terribly important for an actor to know what he does well and what he doesn't.  I don't know why actors, deep into their careers sometimes, have no idea that they're not very good at something.  Ego alone?  I honestly don't know.  But to trudge through years of this business without a truthful assessment of one's own worth is just heartbreaking, it would seem.  And yet, I see it all the time.  Is the desire to be on stage so overwhelmingly massive that one just overlooks the fact that one might not be so good at one particular element of it?  Again, I don't know.  It seems to be a dangerous kind of denial.

Know what you're good at.  Know what you're not good at.  If you're not sure, ask someone you trust.

When I first started studying with the brilliant Michael Moriarty, one of the things I did was bring in audition monologue after audition monologue for him to criticize.  And he was always spot on and incredibly insightful. Finally, one day, he asked me to bring in some Shakespeare.  So I found the "Edmond the Bastard" speech form King Lear and worked on it.  After a couple of weeks I brought it to class.  I did my very best with it.  When I finished, there was a long, somewhat ominous pause.  Michael then said, "You're an extraordinary actor.  One of my favorites, in fact.  But Shakespeare may not be your cup of tea.  That's nothing to be ashamed of.  It's just a fact."  At the time I was devastated.  Now I'm eternally grateful.

And that's the way it should work.

See you tomorrow.