A Firebrand of Florence: Terrence Mann

The road to Florence was as simple as a phone call for Terrence Mann. “Literally, my agent called me and said, ‘They’re doing this thing at Allice Tully Hall in March. It’s called The Firebrand of Florence and they want to know if you’d be interested in doing the role of the Duke.’ I said, ‘Okay! I love Alice Tully Hall—they just remodeled it, so that’ll be fun. [But] I have no idea what The Firebrand of Florence is!’

The musical, a 1945 collaboration between Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, is an old-fashioned comic romp about a Duke, an artist, and the women they both love. “It’s Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin,” Mann says, “so you kinda go, ‘Wow, that’s a strange combination! Sorta eccentric if nothing else!’” He describes the show as “arched—almost like a commedia/opera…So I’m having fun with it.” The Duke, he continues, is a cross between France’s Louis XIV and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland: “wacky, off-the-wall…opulent and crazy and ridiculous.”

Since Firebrand of Florence is a lesser-known work, Mann hopes that fans of Weill’s work will get a feel for the artist’s “sense of humor. A sense of being able to poke fun at music…Certainly when you  hear the arias and you hear the other music in it, it’s really dense and can be really poignant, but it also can be funny.” Fans of Gershwin, he continues, can appreciate the brilliant lyrics. “[Gershwin] has really rhymed things within an inch of their life. You look at some of the rhyming he’s done and you go, ‘Oh, my God, you really did that? You really sat there and thought that?’ And I’m sure he was laughing all the way. ‘This is ridiculous! I can do this! This is crazy!’ Now, I could be totally off-base and they could have been totally serious, but what I’m getting is a sense of playfulness, with a love story caught up in this strange, wacky world that ultimately survives.”

The most challenging part about being a performer, Mann says, is “not being hard on myself and enjoying the performance I’m doing…I’m always critical of myself, even when it’s good, and I think the older I get the more I impress upon myself to enjoy it. And I’m always enjoying it when I’m in the middle of doing it,” he adds quickly, “but afterwards you start second-guessing.” Still, he says, “I don’t ever feel so at one with the world as when I’m out there doing it, as high as the stakes are. But it’s better to be balanced about that stuff.”

Like his co-stars Victoria Clark and Nathan Gunn, Mann is also passing along his mastery of theatre to the next generation as a teacher at Western Carolina University. In fact, after Firebrand finishes, he will head to the University to finish putting together their production of Fiddler on the Roof. “Everything informs everything else,” he says thoughtfully. “I was an actor first, and then I started directing a lot.” Directing, he continues, helped him gain a better perspective of acting, and teaching has helped him gain a better perspective of directing. “You have to understand that people are learning, and you have to help that learning curve and nurture their own instincts once they get the basics of it,” he says. “And I have to say that I really enjoy doing that.” Three years ago, he adds, he began working with some students who he wasn’t sure would make it through the program. “I’m pleased to say that three years later, everybody is better, and they get it, and they’re good, and they understand what it is that’s intangible about being a performer. I’m so proud to have been a part of their learning curve.”

Look for Nathan Gunn's interview tomorrow!


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