SPOTLIGHT ON NY POPS: Tom Wopat Talks CATCH ME & More
One of the busiest leading men on Broadway since his two-year stint in the smash hit revival of Irving Berlin's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN co-starring Bernadette Peters (and, later, Susan Lucci and Reba McIntire), having appeared in Joe Mantello's highly-lauded revival of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and last season's Sondheim musical retrospective SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, the original star of DUKES OF HAZZARD himself, Tom Wopat, can currently be seen eight times a week in the jet-set new musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. In this career-spanning retrospective interview, Wopat and I take a look at his TV work ranging from directing DUKES to co-starring on CYBILL and bring it all the way to today with TAKING CHANCE on HBO and last year's JONAH HEX feature film. We also have news on John Doyle's directorial debut MAIN ST. co-starring Orlando Bloom, Ellen Burstyn and many more, as well as a thorough discussion of his musical side: Sondheim, his recording career, upcoming albums, concerts and more - plus, a complete consideration of his newest Broadway venture CATCH ME IF YOU CAN in anticipation of the NY Pops tribute to Bob Hope that he is co-starring in alongside Kelli O'Hara, Aaron Lazar and many more this Monday, also featuring a special presentation by legendary theatre icon Angela Lansbury. More information - and tickets - are available here.
For more information about Tom's new album, CONSIDER IT SWUNG, and to hear "Fifty Checks" from CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, check out his official website here.
CATCH & SWUNG
PC: Thank you so much for talking to me on a two-show day. How do you maintain your energy on a day like today? It's almost six hours onstage, in your case, with CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.
TW: Well, what I do is, is I break it down and look at each scene as it is. You know, when you really get down to it, it's not like laying bricks or something.
PC: Definitely not.
TW: I mean, yeah, you've got to focus when you are onstage, but the more you've done it and the more professional you become, the less energy it really takes.
PC: What did you do before you were an actor?
TW: (Long Pause.) I don't remember. (Laughs.)
PC: So, nothing? You were born this way.
TW: (Laughs.) Actually, yeah, I studied voice at the University of Wisconsin. I roofed houses for a little bit back in the 70s when I was there to make some cash. But, I've made my living as and actor and a singer since about 1977.
PC: And you got DUKES OF HAZZARD right after that?
TW: Correct. 1977.
PC: Do people still ask you about that? It's popular with my generation even if the movie remake wasn't too successful.
TW: Right. Yeah, people ask about it. I mean, it was a huge phenomenon and it was a piece of pop culture. It was a lot of fun and it was a long time ago. I ended up directing a half a dozen of them.
PC: Do you look back fondly at that time?
TW: I think the best thing that came out of it was the business sense I got for working in the business - and my relationship with Mr. [John] Schneider.
PC: Would you like to direct more in the future?
TW: Well, yeah! I mean, you know, if things quiet down on the stage front or the in-front-of-the-camera front, then I would probably start to focus more on the directing thing. But, right now, things are popping pretty good!
PC: You've got that right. You've been on fire since GLENGARRY.
TW: Yeah, yeah, man. That definitely light some bulbs!
PC: Liev Schreiber did this column recently and spoke really favorably about that production. Could you tell me about working with him and director Joe Mantello on that show?
TW: Well, I think it was definitely a milestone. And, I had never done a Broadway play. I think it was kind of crucial in changing people's perception of me and the idea that I had some range as an actor - I think it established that fact. Also, it established that I have credibility besides being a, you know, musical leading man.
PC: Did you prepare for it differently than you would a musical?
TW: Eh, not anymore - not for me. They are kind of the same. I haven't done a play since then, so... (Laughs.)
PC: So, you don't have anything to compare it to, really!
TW: Not a lot. I've read and considered some plays since, though.
PC: TAKING CHANCE was as dramatic as any play - and better than many.
TW: Well, yeah, but that's a movie; that's a different ballgame altogether. The difference in media is a lot different than the difference between a stage musical and a stage play.
PC: You approach a film differently than a play more than a musical versus a play.
TW: Yeah. Exactly.
PC: How do you compare the piecemeal nature of film versus the complete experience of doing something onstage?
TW: Eh, it's not that hard. I think what actors get paid for in the movie business is mostly sitting around.
PC: That's hilarious.
TW: It's true! The acting part is the fun part - the work is the part that's most enjoyable. I really think where you make your money is sitting around and kind of holding your fire.
PC: Do you get more satisfaction from telling the whole story every time you play the role - like you're doing twice today?
TW: (Sighs.) There's something to that, I think. I do believe that immediate gratification is the coolest thing. But, there are a lot of things that you can do in film that you can't even approach onstage just because of the intimacy of the medium. I think film is entirely different insofar as acting - I mean, obviously, they are related.
PC: How exactly, in your experience?
TW: Film is extremely intimate and stage is a little bigger than life, in my experience.
PC: Movies make you famous, TV makes you rich, and the stage makes you good.
TW: Ha! That's not too bad. I like that. That's not too bad.
PC: Do you agree?
TW: I've never been in a movie that made me famous, so I wouldn't know! (Laughs.)
PC: So, you think stage is still the biggest challenge, though?
TW: Well, I have experience with two-thirds of that only! (Laughs.)
PC: I have to tell you that CYBILL was one of my favorite shows growing up. It was such a theatrical show - you and Christine Baranski, especially. Do you have good or bad memories of the experience? I've heard it was not a fun set.
TW: Yeah, I think a little of both. I think that Cybill has a tendency to carry her trouble around with her a little bit - at least then; and she'd be the first to admit it. She's an amazing, talented person, but I think she gets in her own way sometimes - I'm sure that would not be news to her. I, of course, love her still. And, Christine has become an icon. She's an amazing performer.
PC: You two seem to appear in things together quite often.
TW: Yeah, she was just in that BONNEVILLE thing with me.
PC: Did you get to have a mini-reunion on set?
TW: No, not really. We were together in a party scene - or, actually, it was a wake, I think. (Laughs.)
PC: Same difference, right?
TW: Right. (Laughs.)
PC: Tell me about your new film MAIN ST. directed by John Doyle and written by Horton Foote.
TW: You know, I have no idea what the final product looks like. I know that Horton Foote is an amazing writer and the script seemed really good. I was blown away one morning when I showed up on set and into the scene walks Orlando Bloom!
PC: No way! Double-take.
TW: Yeah, I was like, "Hey, wait a minute, you're a freakin' movie star! What are you doin' here?" (Laughs.)
PC: That's too funny. Is he a nice guy?
TW: I was so blown away. Yeah, he's great. Ellen Burstyn has a really nice part in it, too. I have a couple of scenes. I worked with this young actress in it and Orlando a little bit. Then, I worked with an old friend I know from here - the gal who played my wife. And, I worked with John Doyle, who I respect greatly.
PC: So, you're looking forward to seeing the final product?
TW: Yeah! I assume it's a terrific movie. I assume it's fairly subtle and has a little punch to it. That's what I assume.
PC: What was it like working with Orlando?
TW: Beautiful. He's a nice man and a very generous actor. No airs. I mean, c'mon, he's doing a little independent film in Durham, North Carolina!
PC: What about taking on Horton Foote again in a stage version of TENDER MERCIES? You'd be so, so perfect.
TW: Oh, well, I'd love to! You know.
PC: Do you take roles as they come or do you look for specific things?
TW: You know, anymore, I pretty much take it as it comes - but, you know, I would like to have a couple more action guys on my resume, even if they are a little older; as they would be now. Ever since GLENGARRY, I've played a certain number of victims.
PC: Why do you say that?
TW: Well, you could make the case that in A CATERED AFFAIR he was sort of a victim at the end when he gets to lash out. And, in this one, I definitely have a downward arc.
PC: For sure.
TW: Yeah, so, I wouldn't mind doing something more joyous and a more land-on-top sort of thing.
PC: Speaking of which, I recently interviewed Susan Lucci for this column and she told me how much she loved working with you on ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Tell me your experiences working on it.
TW: Well, it was a lot of fun. For me, there were a couple of reasons for doing it: first, the Irving Berlin music is incomparable; and, so is Bernadette Peters. So, that was my deal in the beginning. It was an amazing opportunity. And, we got kind of lukewarm reviews and she basically kept it open until Reba came and she gave it new life. It ran for a couple of years and it was pretty amazing.
PC: That was a pretty long run, right?
TW: Yeah, two years I did it.
PC: Do you enjoy long runs and settling in or do you prefer always doing new things?
TW: Well, it depends. Generally, it depends on the situation. In that case, actually - money comes into it. I was making a really nice paycheck there and - when you've done this stuff as long as I've done it, that's not always the case.
PC: You paid your dues.
TW: Well, well - I haven't waited tables much. But, yeah, I've enjoyed the stuff that I've done all along. And, the cool thing is that since ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and, especially, GLENGARRY, I've done a lot of interesting stuff. The film stuff has been interesting - working on TAKING CHANCE was great; MAIN ST. was great; even JONAH HEX and working with Josh Brolin on that ended up being a lot of fun.
PC: Some great visuals in that.
TW: Yeah, it was all right. It was all right. But, I think there were too many cooks in that particular kitchen. (Laughs.)
PC: The critics seemed to agree.
TW: Yeah, it was an interesting experience. Plus, it was one of my first experiences with a feature film, so something like that is always good.
PC: Moving to your stage work: tell me about working with Sondheim on SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM last season.
TW: Listen, there is nothing new to say about Sondheim. He's been parodied and he's been exalted and he's been condemned. And, there have been some amazing writers who've had a lot to say about Sondheim.
PC: What does his material mean to you?
TW: From my personal experience and my own point of view? I very, very much enjoyed the experience. He worked with me himself a little bit on "Finishing The Hat" - we spent like forty-five minutes one day going through the song line-by-line and talking about the motivation of the song and how to make it land. I mean, to me, he's arguably the most famous... living (Laughs.)... musical writer we have.
TW: And, you can really make a case that everything he does has intelligence and wit and heart - and, I know he's accused sometimes for not having a lot of heart. But, he does. This stuff is really heartfelt.
PC: What examples come to your mind?
TW: Oh, well, like in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM seeing Barbara Cook onstage singing some of that stuff was just unbelievable.
PC: She did this column a while back and spoke of how much she enjoyed working with you.
TW: Aww, she's a dream. She's a treat. She's such a peach.
PC: What personal achievements are you most proud of recently?
TW: Of all the great things - beginning with the ANNIE GET YOUR GUN experience - the one I am most proud of is making these jazz records. I've made three of them and we're working on the fourth one now.
PC: I absolutely adored IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT and the Arlen album.
TW: We recorded one in ‘08 and it has never been officially released, but we are releasing it for real at last this year.
PC: CONSIDER IT SWUNG?
TW: CONSIDER IT SWUNG. Available soon.
PC: How did you choose the songs for the Harold Arlen album? Did you work with a producer? They were fantastic selections.
TW: Yes, I worked with a full-on producer on the Harold Arlen album called Ben Sidran. He had done an album with Steve Miller, of all people - a jazz album - and he had been a co-patriot of Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs back when he was at the University of Wisconsin/Madison back when I was there. They all had a band together.
PC: What's it like working with him the studio?
TW: It's great. Ben is a musicologist and a jazz critic and, also, a jazz pianist and writer. He's a really cool cat and an interesting, great guy. He produced the Arlen album. As far as choosing the songs for the Arlen album, you know, we choose some stuff that was well-known and stuff that wasn't well-known and we did it on the kind of inexpensive side.
PC: Were you pleased with the results?
TW: Yeah, I think it's a really legitimate jazz album and it has some really cool stuff on it.
PC: So, what's the story with the new one, CONSIDER IT SWUNG?
TW: Well, I've sold a few of them over the years but we have an official release through Lee Lessick and LML Records - we'll get that released in the next month or so.
PC: And the next one is coming up soon, too?
TW: Yeah, now we are working on a new one. That should be out late this year or early next year.
PC: Do you enjoy working in the studio?
TW: Yeah, yeah. The combination of working on studio and working with my band is the best. We're going to be at Birdland on June 20.
PC: Are you going to be doing songs from the swing album?
TW: It'll be swing. It will be a little big band - a rhythm section and five horns.
PC: Will you be doing anything from CATCH ME?
TW: Yep! Of course.
PC: Any cut songs? You had some great songs in that show that were inexplicably cut - "Fifty Checks", especially.
TW: Oh, don't even start! That was a heartbreaker. Frankly, I think that should still be in the show.
PC: I completely agree. What do you think about try-outs and losing a great number like that along the way to Broadway?
TW: You know what? I don't really have anything to say about it. The creative team just has an incredibly tough situation and it's not really made any easier by the fact that Scott and Marc are so gifted. When the creatives say, "Well, can you give us a song that's like this?" and, they say, "Well, when do you want it?" (Laughs.)
PC: Made to order.
TW: They are so glib musically and so, so gifted. I think, in a way, they made it too easy to trade out songs in the show.
PC: I agree. Do you remember doing the "Christmas in Montrachard" number?
TW: Oh, you know that one? That was a really cool song.
PC: I love the demo with Patti LuPone. Did you get to work with her in the studio on it?
TW: I never did get to do anything with Patti. When I got to do it, Louis Pitre from MAMMA MIA was doing it.
PC: What are your memories of Bob Hope and what drew you to this NY Pops event honoring his legacy?
TW: I mean, he's an icon - that word just comes up when talking about him. Plus, he was around for sixty or seventy years and what a great guy. An amazing cat. An amazing talent. I mean, when those guys would get together to make a movie back in the day? I don't even know if they had a script!
PC: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby probably didn't need a script.
TW: It's very, very entertaining stuff. I'd love to do something of his. The ironic thing is that John Schneider and I have been doing shows - we just did one in January up at a casino in Ontario; we are going to be doing more of them. That's so much fun, you know?
PC: Letting loose?
TW: Yeah! Just a couple of guys who are really comfortable with each other and you can turn the show on its head so far as how you perform stuff - it's just a blast. That's what makes entertainment fun for the entertainer.
PC: That's a great quote.
TW: Bob Hope was a great master at that.
PC: What do you remember him most for?
TW: The USO tour of four different ways - just for that he's probably one of the best known entertainers on the planet.
PC: What will you be performing at the NY Pops Bob Hope gala?
TW: I'm doing a couple of songs. I'm doing this little twofer with Gregg Edelman - "Road To Morocco" and "Put It There, Pal" from, I think, THE ROAD TO UTOPIA.
PC: So, a Hope/Crosby medley?
TW: Yeah, a little medley. I forgot who I am - I think I'm Crosby and he's Hope. (Laughs.)
PC: Have you worked with Kelli O'Hara before this event?
TW: Oh, yeah, yeah. We've done a bunch of stuff being on the same show - BROADWAY UNDER THE STARS and a million other things back in the day. She's amazingly talented. God, what a great singer. It's just gonna be a trip working with everyone.
PC: What's your favorite part of events like this?
TW: Oh, the most fun is backstage where you get to hang with everybody. Steve [the music director] - and his mentor, Eric - I have worked with and they are both old friends. Steve is a great cat. It should be a great evening.
PC: And, of course, this is the first time you've worked with Angela Lansbury since MURDER, SHE WROTE, right?
TW: I think it probably is! She's always great.
PC: Define collaboration.
TW: I think collaboration is really what live theatre is about. I think it's a thing where a scene will rise to a new level. Like when I do scenes with Aaron [Tveit] or with Norbert [Leo Butz] and somebody takes a little different inflection on a line and suddenly you are headed in a little different direction - that's what makes it alive and fun and real. That, to me, is what collaboration is all about.
PC: Thank you so much for this, Tom. Enjoy doing CATCH ME - it's one of the best scores on Broadway in a long time.
TW: Thanks, man. Be sure to tell that to all the Tony voters that, too! (Laughs.)
PC: I'll do my best - whatever it takes! Break a leg.
TW: You're the best, dude. Thanks, Pat. Talk later. Bye bye.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro