Eddie Korbich: Like a Phoenix...
Korbich appeared in only the first—and the shortest—of the three playlets that comprised After the Night and the Music, but those 15 minutes in a crummy show ended the only downturn in Korbich's 20-year career. He's currently performing at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre in The Drowsy Chaperone, a new Roaring Twenties musical (starring Sutton Foster and directed by Spamalot choreographer Casey Nicholaw) that's bound for Broadway, and he'll be in the New York City Opera production of The Most Happy Fella, starring Paul Sorvino, in March.
On the strength of Korbich's nonmusical (if you don't count ballroom dancing) After the Night performance, he was recruited for the cast of a play, The Irish Curse, at last summer's Fringe Festival. It was good to hear the phones ringing again, as Korbich says he had endured nearly a year of seeming unemployability. "It was weird for me: I couldn't get auditions. Actors go through this all the time, but I never did. Since I got here in '84, '85, I've steadily been able to support myself as an actor. So what everyone was going through for years I never went through," he says, describing his fallow period that started in 2004: "Everything dried up. It got really scary. All of sudden I was thinking, What did I do wrong to people in the industry? Did I burn a bridge? Did I say something wrong? I didn't know what was going on. I was hearing about auditions, calling up and saying, 'What about this?' 'Oh, we'll get back to you'—[but they were] never getting back."
Even Korbich's last Broadway gig before After the Night had been largely unnoticed. In the original cast of Wicked he was supposed to understudy just Joel Grey, but after much contract negotiating, he ended up as the swing for the Wizard and several other roles. He never did get to play the Wizard but went on as about 10 different characters, including Dr. Dillamond, during his six months with the show.
Korbich now believes the ebb that followed Wicked may have had something to do with the age he's reached and the kind of roles he's usually considered for. Possessor of one of the sweetest singing voices around, he has never been a leading man but has matured too much for some character roles yet not enough for others. "My voice is high, so I have this youthful sound to my voice, and a pretty youthful face," he says. "But I'm gray, I'm bald, I'm 45. If I had more lines and was fully gray, I could fit into older character parts. But that doesn't work when you're in a room with lots of people who've been doin' it great for years. And gone are the days when I could slap a wig on and still play the Artful Dodger...although I did that when I was 31."
The Drowsy Chaperone has Korbich doing something he hasn't done in a while. The big number "Cold Feets" is the first serious tap dancing he's done in seven years, and he admits getting back in tiptop tap shape hasn't been easy: "My body hurts, but it's getting better!" He also does magic tricks in one number, although they've been altered several times during the L.A. run. Overall, though, he's loving being part of the show. "It's probably the nicest cast and creative I've ever worked with—and [there was] an effortless rehearsal process," he says.
In Drowsy, Korbich plays George, the best man to bridegroom Robert (Troy Britton Johnson). Sidekicks have always been a Korbich specialty, along with outcasts and nerdy types—or some combination thereof. He's parlayed that niche into a lengthy resume spanning stages nationwide. Though his breakthrough role was Tobias in the 1989 Bob Gunton/Beth Fowler Sweeney Todd (his Broadway debut), he's probably best known as Audra McDonald's Mr. Snow in the Lincoln Center revival of Carousel. He won an Obie in 2000 for Taking a Chance on Love, the York Theatre revue tribute to songwriter John Latouche (Cabin in the Sky). Korbich has also been Sancho in Man of La Mancha (San Jose Civic Light Opera), a Who in Seussical (Broadway), Zangara in the original off-Broadway production of Assassins, Frank in the national tour of Show Boat, title characters in George M (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma) and the Hal Prince-directed Flight of the Lawnchair Man (Ahmanson), Renfield in Dracula (North Shore Music Theatre), a Las Vegas bartender channeling Sammy Davis Jr. in the Rat Pack tribute Heaven Help Us (Florida Stage, Denver Center), an O. Henry narrator in The Gifts of the Magi and the swinger-murdering Paul in Eating Raoul (both off-Broadway).