BWW Interview: Roger Bart Hopes SPEECH & DEBATE Full Of Broadway References Resonates With His Daughter
While Roger Bart is known for his comedic chops in shows like Disaster!, Young Frankenstein and The Producers, he knows how to make people laugh even in some of his more serious roles.
"I've always had great pleasure from playing uptight bureaucrats who stand in the way of good," the Broadway veteran (Big River, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) says of his latest part as the high school principal in the film, Speech & Debate available exclusively on iTunes April 2 and opening in select theaters and on VOD April 7.
The movie filmed in 2015 hailed as a 'love letter to musical theatre nerds' has a plethora of Broadway references including some from Miss Saigon and Once Upon A Mattress with cameos by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Darren Criss. Kristin Chenoweth even performs an original song for the film. The story, which is an adaptation of Stephen Karam's off-Broadway play, follows three teenagers (Liam James, Sarah Steel and Austin P. McKenzie) frustrated by the hypocrisy they see in their parents, teachers, and the entire school board which includes Bart. The unlikely trio sets out to make their voices heard as they revive a defunct school club.
Bart hopes the movie resonates with teens including his 16-year-old daughter. "I was thrilled to do something she might enjoy," Roger says. "I'll be curious to what her response is. It will speak to a lot of [teenagers]. It's whimsical, breezy and funny in a way. The message is wonderful and important."
The Tony Award winner just wrapped up 9-weeks shooting There's ... Johnny!, an eight-episode comedy series set behind the scenes of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Bart, who plays Angelo and works in the wardrobe department, says the role was written to represent a bunch of people who worked on the show in the seventies.
"The show is going to cleverly integrate the guests who were on the show at that time and work backwards," Bart explains of the series. "They'll show a real clip of Ed McMahon's dog on the show doing the Alpo dog commercial. Then it will tell the backstory of what led up to the moment where the dog appears on the show." Set to air later this year, There's...Johnny! also stars Tony Danza as the executive producer of The Tonight Show, Ian Nelson and JANE LEVY who will portray the assistant talent coordinator.
As for a return back to Broadway, Bart would love to see Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (the film starred the late Gene Wilder in 1974) up on the marquee one day. Wilder, who died last August, came to see Bart in The Producers and Young Frankenstein, in which Wilder also starred. Bart recalls Wilder coming backstage for a visit after one Young Frankenstein performance and asked him what he thought of the show. He says Wilder replied with, "I like the dancing."
"For the sake of Broadway it would be fun to have the show [on Broadway]," thinking of Blazing Saddles. "I think it would have been fun when Barack Obama was running for President to have a black sheriff in town and a whole show about that," Bart quipped.