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BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood

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David Engel will once again grace the Musical Theatre West stage in FOREVER PLAID 30th ANNIVERSARY REUNION CONCERT beginning August 5th

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood

That triple-threat talent named David Engel will once again grace the Musical Theatre West stage in FOREVER PLAID 30th ANNIVERSARY REUNION CONCERT beginning August 5th, but this time socially distancing at Blair Field near by. Since David originated the PLAID role of Smudge, he has performed on many a stage from Broadway to his home away from home Musical Theatre West. David managed to answer my queries while in the car on the way to his husband Larry Raben's opening night of SCHOOL OF ROCK he directed at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, Utah.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, David!

You were in the original Off-Broadway cast of FOREVER PLAID at McGraw's in May 1990. Can you count how many theatres and how many performances you've played as Smudge?

It would be difficult to say how many performances I've racked up with of FOREVER PLAID. But I was with it two years prior to its New York opening, did it for a-year-and-a-half off-Broadway, then took it to San Diego, Pasadena, and the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills for two BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood years, then six months on the West End in London. I've been involved with it ever since developing PLAID TIDINGS, performing both shows all over the world, directing both shows, and all culminating with being a part of Forever Plaid: The Movie, and now, The FOREVER PLAID 30th ANNIVERSARY REUNION CONCERT. My whole career has been colored Plaid!

How many theatres and performances for your other hilarious PLAID spin-off PLAID TIDINGS?

We developed PLAID TIDINGS over a period of 5 or 6 years in the early 2000s. Every year it changed and grew until it was finally licensed in 2007. Did the show in many theatres, but developed it at Pasadena Playhouse. Impossible to say how many times I've strapped on that PLAID cummerbund, but I never seem to have it off for long.

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood I believe one of the last times I saw you (not onstage performing) was for the Forever Plaids: The Movie release in 2009. What was it like to re-visit your lovable character Smudge for filming?

I felt when we shot the film, that I was too old to still be playing all gosh & golly innocent at fifty years old. The guys are supposed to be frozen at about ten years post high school where they met. So they are about 28 when they get struck down on the night the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. For the film version, I didn't play Smudge near as wide-eyed as I had before. I didn't want to appear too simple-minded. But Smudge comes from my own personality. It was like slipping on an old shoe, that aged with me.

Other than the PLAIDS' gorgeous harmonies and fun 50s songs, what else can the Blair Field audience expect at your 30th ANNIVERSARY REUNION CONCERT? Any previously deleted songs? Any bonus tunes?

Funny you should ask! Yes. The concert will consist of us singing the great songs from the original show of course, plus stories and remembrances with some fun clips and sing-a-long animation. But we are also singing other brilliant James Raitt arrangements that were not a part of the original production. We're doing favorites like "Sh-Boom" and "Route 66," but also a medley of tunes that James arranged for a follow-up album that he dreamed for us entitled The Plaids Swing Down Broadway. He sadly passed before that dream could become a reality, so it's great for these arrangements to finally be heard.

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood Besides your fellow PLAID Larry Raben, your husband, have you stayed in contact with the other PLAIDS?

I don't know of one production of the show where the guys are bonded for life. This show just does that. And it's a huge brotherhood now. The original group of us have stayed very close. It didn't take this concert to bring us back together. We've never been out of each other's life. It will always be that way.

You've done a number of shows for Musical Theatre West. What first brought you to Musical Theatre West and the Musical Theatre Guild? As an audience member? An open audition?

I've done fifteen shows at Musical Theatre West, plus many fundraisers and events. I've known Paul Garman for over forty years. He gave me incredible opportunities fresh out of FOREVER PLAID to cut my teeth as a leading man on his stage. It was pretty brave of him as I was strictly as dancer prior to PLAID, and had never opened my mouth to sing or act at all. Paul just saw more that I did, and I just had to rise to the occasion. I didn't have to audition for many of the shows. He often did shows just to feature Tami Tappan Damiano and myself.

What is the most unexpected audience response at Musical Theatre West that took you by complete surprise?

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood I think it was 2007 when Roger Bean (THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES) wrote a show for Stan (Chandler), Larry (Raben) and myself called THE ANDREWS BROTHERS. Like PLAID, it was a "jukebox musical." On paper it seemed pretty bland and tame, and we were worried about accepting to do it all. Rehearsals were grueling as it was a mountain of material, and we were exhausted. We were sure it was going to fail. Then, we put it in front of an audience. I have never to this date, experienced an audience exploding with laughter the way they did with that show. We came off stage thoroughly stunned. It was one of MTW audience's favorite shows. So much so, that Paul is bringing it back in the Spring. I can't tell you right now it the three of us will be reprising our roles in called THE ANDREWS BROTHERS. But I can tell you this much... MAYBE!

You're a bi-coastal actor. How would you compare New York audiences to Los Angeles audiences?

Wow! Well, every audience is a snowflake. It's what keeps it interesting. I don't know that you can compare east to west. I think the New York theatre audience is typically a more theatre savvy crowd. But anyone going to the theatre is going to be entertained. So I don't know that you need to be savvy to enjoy yourself. I feel like performing in Southern California, and particularly at Musical Theatre West, there is a familial sense about it. So it just feels more supportive, and loving. There is a comfort level that you share. It's really nice to be in that safe atmosphere. But that has nothing to do with geography, it's just family.

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood You were in the Gateway Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in Long Island just before the pandemic shutdown March 2020. Did you get to finish your run?

We DID! The Broadway shutdown happened on Thursday, March 12th. We were set to close on Sunday the 15th. The theatre stopped selling tickets and were able to space the audience out enough to finish the last few shows. Our leading man would give beautiful, grateful curtain speeches thanking everyone for being there, and the energy was so positive and hopeful. Then the world shut down. By chance, two days after the final Sunday PLAID concert, the first stage I am stepping back on is at the Gateway Playhouse playing Pulitzer in NEWSIES. Feels good to be getting back on the boards.

What have you been doing to keep creative and sane during the lockdown times? Bake sourdough? Attempt a new craft? Virtual benefits for MTW?

Well, I'm not much of a cook, but certainly ate a lot of sourdough. Like many, I put on a good COVID-15lbs! But I have just taken it back off in time to strap my PLAID cummerbund back on. During the pandemic, Larry and I hosted a weekly broadcast for MTW celebrating our fabulous Broadway friends' careers, just laughing and scratching and showing performances clips. It was one of those broadcasts where we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of FOREVER PLAID in New York. And THAT is what was prompted the live drive-in concert that we are reprising at Blair Field this week.

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood What is your most memorable moment you remember of your originating the role of Hanna from Hamburg in the original Broadway production of Jerry Herman's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES?

Oh my gosh, you want just one??? C'mon, it was my Broadway debut, and I was working alongside Broadway legends. It was also a groundbreaking show that helped to change the hearts and minds of people everywhere at a time that was incredibly difficult for the gay community. I am so proud to have been a part of that.

Of the six Ovation Awards you received, which one still stands outs for you?

The first Best Actor (in a Musical) Ovation Award I won was for CRAZY FOR YOU. I loved being recognized for that. It is a show that pulled the stops out on my whole bag of tricks. Song-and-Dance man, comic character work, physical comedy, loved it all. The next time I won was for the same role, which I felt robbed my peers from receiving the honor. And I was vocal about it. After that, you could only win once for a role.

BWW Interview: PLAIDS' David Engel FOREVER Performing in Brotherhood What's in the near future for David Engel?

Aside from the concert this week, then NEWSIES, I was just offered another show right after that. I've never aspired for any kind of fame, and certainly don't expect to "hit it big" at this point in life. I just want to be a good dependable working actor that people want to have back. And that's what seems to be happening. I don't really plan on retiring. You don't age out of the business, you just age up. I've been so lucky and am just keeping my finger crossed that my luck continues!
I just hope that things keep going the way they always have.

Thank you again, David! I look forward to laughing and crying again at your REUNION!

For tickets to one of the five the live performances of FOREVER PLAID 30th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT, August 5th through August 8th at Blair Field, log onto musical.org/forever-plaid-30th-anniversary-concert


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