BWW Interviews: Michael Tapley and Shay Rodgers Talk TUTS' WHOREHOUSE
Every summer Houston audiences gear up for Theatre Under the Stars' (TUTS) free summer musical at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. Top-notch talent and a free price tag make these summer productions an event that is too good to miss. This year, TUTS will be filling the Miller Outdoor Theatre with one whopping Texas treat, THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. Taking time out of their busy rehearsal schedule cast member Michael Tapley and choreographer Shay Rodgers talked to BWW-Houston to fill us in on why Houston audiences don't want to miss this summer show!
BWW: Michael, you are reprising your role as Melvin P. Thorpe for this production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. How does it feel to be reprising this role?
Michael Tapley: It's a completely different production team this time around. It's a different director and different choreographer, so it is a different show. Quite frankly, from the original production to the national tour to the Tower Theatre production that played in Houston for about two years in the 70's, this production is somewhat different. It takes a different turn. It has a different feel, so it is like doing a new show, which is very exciting.
BWW: That's great, which perfectly brings me to my next question. Can Houston audiences expect anything different from this production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS?
Michael Tapley: Yes they can. Of course I can't give it away. There are just some things that are directed in a different direction, for lack of a better word, that pull out different relationships between the characters that weren't emphasized before. It's, well, what would you say Shay?
Shay Rodgers: It's more natural. It's more of a realistic approach to the whorehouse as opposed to presentational.
Michael Tapley: Yeah, I mean, there's no doubt about it that the direction that it was going in originally was more musical theatre.
Shay Rodgers: Yeah, we've taken an approach to it that just gives a more natural look to the show.
Michael Tapley: It's more natural and more realistic. There are more believable characterizations and through-lines as far as relationships are concerned. So, in that respect, it's really interesting to see the path that we are going down. And then, it's more fun because who wants to do the same thing over and over again? [Laughs]
BWW: Well that's great to hear! Shay, it is my understanding that you are actually the granddaughter to the late Marvin Zindler, the basis for Melvin P. Thorpe. How does it feel to get to work on a project that has such a personal connection?
Shay Rodgers: I always kind of felt like, and this is my own internalization, that this show is kind of my legacy. He was pretty much in show business. That's what he did for a living. I really didn't find that out until after he passed away and everyone said, "Oh, your grandfather, that's what he did for a living. He did show business." He really was in show business, and so I think that's why I feel that way. It's like, "Oh, he left me a musical. Well look at that." [Laughs]
BWW: Nice. So, this will be your first time getting the opportunity to choreograph this show?
Shay Rodgers: That's right. It is.
Michael Tapley: By the way, I have to throw this in. First of all, I have known her for years. I'm much older. I've known her and worked with her in the director-choreographer situation, and she is absolutely brilliant. Now, I am not just saying this because she is sitting right next to me. [Laughs] She is an amazing choreographer, and those who have seen and know her work know this to be true. She could be up there choreographing shows with the big kids on Broadway. She's excellent.
Shay Rodgers: Why, thank you Michael Tapley. It's a fun show to work with. It's really fun to see the similarities between the two. Knowing my grandfather and seeing what Michael brings to the show, it's neat to see the similarities. It's kind of neat reliving those moments. I wasn't actually born when the Chicken Ranch closed down.
Michael Tapley: I was! [Laughs]
Shay Rodgers: I was around when the show started to develop and the movie came out. So, it's neat. And hearing my mom, now that we're doing the show, tell me stories. You know, he was fifty-one when he closed down the chicken ranch, and this was his first big news story that he chased because he really wanted to be famous. He wanted to be somebody. So, it's neat to see how the show was written and how realistic it is.
Michael Tapley: He loved it. I mean, even though he's kind of the villain of this story.
Shay Rodgers: He didn't ever consider himself the villain thought. He always thought, "I am serving an injustice." He did an interview back with Kevin Cooney, back when they did it at The Tower Theater. Somebody said something about whorehouses being around, and my grandfather said, "Just go ask your local constable, and they'll be able to tell you where they are." [Laughs] That interview never aired. That's because that's exactly how it happened.
Michael Tapley: That is kind of the storyline in WHOREHOUSE as well. But, he loved coming to the show. Two times that I've done it, I have done it at some other places as well, not playing that part. I started as an Aggie when I was younger and a dancer. He would come to see the show, and we would bring him up for a bow at the end of the show.
Shay Rodgers: Twirling his baton! [Laughs]
Michael Tapley: He would come up twirling his baton like he was a drum major.
Shay Rodgers: Yeah, he loved the spotlight.
BWW: So, as you get closer to opening night, has this production presented any unique challenges to you?
Michael Tapley: Not really. If anything it just gives me a chance to explore the character a little more. I get to try different directions given to me by our director (Bruce Lumpkin) who is kind of brilliant in his own right. So, if anything, it's a growing experience. I don't think it will be the last time that I do this show. Whether it be this part or I'm playing C.J. Scruggs who just sits at the diner, it's a smaller part meant for an older character type. That might be the next time I do it. I don't know. Shay, any challenges?
Shay Rodgers: No. I think that everyone actually knows the show better than I know the show, just to be honest with you. Most of the cast has done it so many times. Like the guy who plays the sheriff.
Michael Tapley: Yeah, Kevin, the one she was talking about that Marvin was interviewing, Kevin Cooney. He was playing my part at the Tower Theater, Melvin P. Thorpe, and now he's playing the sheriff. So, he's been with the production. They did the Tower Theatre, and the Tower Theatre production turned into the second national tour, which ended up in Reno and Vegas, and they brought it into the Broadway production.
Shay Rodgers: Most people working with the show have quite a history with the show. I'm kind of like a newbie. I am a newbie.
BWW: So, what has been your favorite part about preparing for TUTS' production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS?
Shay Rodgers: I think, for me, just kind of getting to reconceive it. Watching the show that was choreographed by Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh in the 70's and then being able to put my own twist on it now has been really interesting.
Michael Tapley: I will say that there is one number that is completely different that the girls do, that was always kind of, well just kind of okay.
Shay Rodgers: Like a concert presentation.
Michael Tapley: The Aggies have a show-stopping number in Act I, and now what Shay has done with the girl's number has turned it into a show-stopping number for them. So, in my opinion, that particular number that the girls do, the choreography is so much more interesting, exciting, and hard, but better at the end of the day.
Shay Rodgers: It has been fun to reconceive. My main job is to work with students at the Humphreys School. That's my day job, but it has been really fun to work with adults. [Laughs]
Michael Tapley: Define adults! [Laughs]
Shay Rodgers: I'm not sure. I guess I would say people over eighteen. [Laughs] It's fun to work with students, but it's very fun to work with adults as well. What about you Michael?
Michael Tapley: If anything, it's not a challenge. Like I said, it's more of a learning and growing experience. My approach as an actor in a show, I am not one who does the same show every single night. In other words, I am going to do the same show, but you won't hear me say the lines in exactly the same way every night because I like to keep it fresh, and I like to be in the moment. So, even every run-through is like a different performance. At the end of every rehearsal day, we do a run-through of what we've done so far during that day, and that gives us an opportunity to explore different avenues. It is not challenging, just fun. I think that Shay would agree that some people are born with musical theatre inside of them. Where does it come from? I don't know. My mother was a writer. My father was an architect, so I didn't grow up with a show-biz family. However, by the time that I was four years old, I knew what I wanted to do.
BWW: That's great. Now, for theatre-goers that may not be familiar with the show or audiences that may not be familiar with Theatre Under the Stars, why should Houston audiences be excited to see this production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS?
Shay Rodgers: I think because it's history. It's Houston history. It did take place in Houston, in La Grange, and it's funny now to me that now that there are so many transplants in Houston that very few people actually remember my grandfather. I also feel like everyone is so young now, so I don't even know if you know who he was on TV, but most people don't know who he was. I think once you live in Texas, everyone rallies around the whole Texas thing, and I think that's a reason to come see it.
Michael Tapley: Yeah, and also I should let you know that of course Melvin P. Thorpe signs off like Marvin Zindler did. Marvin Zindler would say, "Marvin Zindler, Eyewitness News." For a bigger version of that this character has a TV show, kind of like the Lawrence Welk Show called Watchdog. In that number, what was it in 2012, I was dancing around. It was kind of like a caricature, which we are trying to do less of in this production. Some of the audience remembers Marvin very fondly because he is no longer with us. Back in the seventies, we could all laugh along with it. But, some people hold him in high regard, and when they think that I am making fun of him, they will boo. There have been a couple of times, after that first musical number of his, that I have heard people right up front booing, thinking that I am making fun of him.
Shay Rodgers: That's so funny. [Laughs] He was a bigger than life character. He honestly enjoyed whatever attention he got, whether it was making fun of him or not. The only thing he didn't like was the movie, but he didn't care whether people made fun of him or not. He mispronounced words all of the time, and it was funny. [Laughs]
BWW: Well, I remember him being a larger than life personality on the television, and I think that at least, for me, that is part of what made him so memorable.
Shay Rodgers: I mean yeah, but he wasn't always like that in real life. When he came home he was a very quiet man. He came home like a normal person, had his dinner at the table at 8:00, he had strawberry ice cream every night, and he'd watch TV. [Laughs]
Michael Tapley: When he put the wig up.
Shay Rodgers: I actually never saw him without his wig. Nobody ever saw him without his wig. I think I did once, but it was by pure accident. In real life, he was not larger than life. He was just a grandfather and a father. He just had something to prove to the world, and he did it.
Micheal Tapley: Yeah, and he wanted to be in show business. There are a lot of people like that, like yours truly.
Shay Rodgers: I grew up in the business. He actually started me in it when I was ten. When I decided that I was going to make a career out of it he said, "This is a horrible profession. Get out of show business. It's not for you. You're never going to make any money. What do you want to be in show business for?" Then, I came to find out that was what he actually did for a living.
Michael Tapley: But tell her the rest.
Shay Rodgers: The day before he died he told me, "Don't ever quit this job. If this is what you want to do, do it. This is the best business in the world." Then at his funeral that is what people said, "Marvin Zindler was in show business."
BWW: Last question, what piece of advice do you have for someone who is trying to make a career in the performing arts?
Michael Tapley: Well, that's a whole can of worms.
Shay Rodgers: I would say that you have to believe in yourself more than anyone else does. You have to want it more than anyone else does because if you don't, you'll never get there. You have to dream big, and you have to be okay with the ups and downs of the business.
Michael Tapley: Yeah, I would pretty much say the same thing. You have to be committed fully. There can't be the slightest bit of doubt that this is what you want to do. You have to be a self-promoter. You have to work at it. You can't just sit and wait for an audition to happen. You have to search out the auditions.
Shay Rodgers: It is definitely called show business for a reason. It's a business, and you are selling yourself.
Michael Tapley: Those that make it and hang in there work at it 150% every single day. There is a lot of rejection. I was in New York on and off for ten years, but I got burnt out. I had to come back home. It wasn't so much the business, it was the city unfortunately.
Shay Rodgers: I think selfish is the wrong word to use, but you have to be selfish. You have to think about yourself before anybody else, and that's hard to do for an extended period of time.
Michael Tapley: We've got a couple of transplanted folks that have recently moved back from New York, and who knows they may go back to New York again. But, every once in a while, you need a break. The ones who adapt, once again, that is something that is in them.
Shay Rodgers: You have to want it. You have to want it more than anybody else.
Michael Tapley: I found that the ones that I didn't think that I was going to get were the ones that I got. But, it is hard. If you're not ready and you're not strong enough you have got to get there. You have to get ready, and you have to get strong enough. Otherwise, you're not going to make it.
Theatre Under the Stars' production of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS runs from July 15 to July 20, 2014 at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Herman Park Drive, Houston. Free tickets are available at the Miller Theatre Box Office beginning at 10:30 am on the day of each performance. Don't feel like waiting in line to get tickets? Donate to TUTS and get reserved tickets ahead of time! Each $50 tax-deductible donation comes with two tickets. For more information about THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS or how you can donate to TUTS, please visit Theatre Under the Stars at tuts.com or Miller Outdoor Theatre at milleroutdoortheatre.com.