His Last ‘Humbug!’
When Bill Raymond puts on his black cloak, silk top hat and yuletide sneer for A Christmas Carol, now playing at Hartford Stage, it will be for his last run in the role. After 17 seasons, he’s performed before more than an accumulated quarter-million theatergoers.
“The people surrounding the show and the audiences have been like an extended family,” Raymond tells me from his home in Manhattan.
Michael Wilson brought his version of the holiday classic to Hartford Stage when he arrived in 1998 as artistic director, thinking it would be a profitable perennial that would last five years, or maybe a few more than that.
“I’m 50 times blessed,” says Raymond, who only missed the annual productions twice over 19 years (he was committed to Broadway shows).
Raymond reveals that Scrooge was supposed to “fly” alongside the soaring ghosts who visit him during his long night’s journey into redemption. But that was one special effect that didn’t quite work out for him.
“I was sitting in this harness for a long time when they introduced flying in the production a few years back and suddenly I started having these terrible spasms. I tried it for a week or so, but it was clear I couldn’t do it so that was it.”
The secret of the production’s long success? “At the heart of the show is a kind of joy and humor that Michael has placed in this version.”
Fans of the actor will have other chances to see his work. Raymond is featured in CPTV’s original series shot in Hartford, The Cobblestone Corridor. His final bow as Scrooge will be Dec. 30.
When Douglas Lyons received his BFA as a musical theater grad of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford in 2009, little did he realize he would quickly get gigs in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, followed by a run in the hit Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, in which he is still performing (alongside fellow Hartt grad Kevin Duda).
But for the multi-talented Lyons, who grew up in New Haven, performing on Broadway wasn’t the culmination of his dreams, but just the beginning.
A few years back, he released an 11-song album, #LOVE, which he wrote with Ethan Pakchar, an NYC- and Atlanta-based composer and musician. He described it as “a milkshake of theater, pop and R&B music.”
Now he has a new CD, based on a young-people’s show, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical, which had a developmental production last spring at the Ivoryton Playhouse, thanks to music director Michael Morris and Lyons’ former professor there.
The show about kids of different shapes and sizes learning to get along with each other “doesn’t talk down to kids,” says Lyons. “It’s more like a Matilda in that vein.”
With the CD just released on Masterworks Broadway featuring many of his New York pals, he hopes more productions of the four-actor, 14-song, one-hour show will result. But there’s more adult musicals ahead for Lyons, too, including a new musical about the integration of a college fraternity in 1964 and another work that deals with Irish-African American tension in 1863 in lower Manhattan.
At 6-foot-2, Spencer Micetich makes one big elf. But that’s the point of the touring holiday musical Elf, which is slated to arrive at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre the week before Christmas.
Based on the 2003 film that starred Will Ferrell as Buddy — the very big human who was raised by Santa as one of his own little helpers — the movie was one of the actor’s favorites.
“My family would watch the film every holiday season and it would become a tradition for us,” says a chirpy Micetich during a mid-autumn break in rehearsals for the non-Equity show. “And now performing a role that I grew up with watching as a child is quite a surreal experience.”
The musical follows the film but, he says, “this is our own interpretation of it. We’re not replicating any of the choices the actors have made in the movie. We are making it our own and keeping it fresh.”
One can’t help but to ask: How does one prepare to be an elf?
“It’s a lot of candy eating,” he laughs before adding one last Buddy-like note. “I just love Christmas.”
Above the Fold
Jefferson Mays is happy to be playing only one role this time out on Broadway.
The Clinton-raised Yale grad is now in the hit revival of The Front Page starring Nathan Lane, in which he plays Bensinger, the most fastidious of a bunch of down-and-dirty reporters.
Prior to that show, he performed multiple deadly roles in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, for which he earned a Tony Award nomination, and he played many characters in the solo show I Am My Own Wife (for which he received the Tony as outstanding actor).
“I have the same intrepid dresser as Gentleman’s Guide and he’s so bored,” Mays told me over drinks at Sardi’s. “But any show that you do almost requires the same degree of energy. It’s all just on the bubble all the time. The engine of this play is going 100 miles an hour, just in a different gear.”
“I’m a Bensinger type,” he laughs. “My dressing-room table reflects that. I like order, which probably indicates inner chaos.” He remembers as a teen seeing The Front Page at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre and zeroing in, not on the leading roles, but on the character of the germ-phobic scribe. “That’s the role I want to play someday, I thought.”
Tough Guys Get Cast
Jordan Lage wants you to know that he’s not a low-life.
It’s easy to understand why folks might think of the actor that way after his many performances playing less-than-upright figures in many of the plays of David Mamet such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow in New York and as a mob boss in Ride the Tiger at Long Wharf Theatre a few seasons back. Now he’s back as, yep, another smarmy-yet-mesmerizing character: Garfield, the corporate raider, in Other People’s Money, which plays Nov. 23 to Dec. 18 at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre.
“I hope it doesn’t reflect on me personally,” laughs Lage from his home in Chelsea. “I play nice guys, too — but the villains are a lot more fun to play.”
And why is he so often cast this way?
“Hey, look at me. I’m a big guy. I give off maybe an air of — well, I like to think of it as confidence. But maybe people see something dark or mysterious and maybe that’s why some think I can do characters as nuanced and complex as the doughnut-loving ‘Larry the Liquidator’ [in Other People’s Money.] These are not one-note bad guys. They’re a bundle of charm, slickness, bluntness and cut-throatness that people gravitate to. It’s not unlike Donald Trump in real life: Men who can’t seem to get a complete control of their id and the stuff keeps tumbling out of their mouths. Sometimes it’s shocking. Sometimes it’s amusing. It’s always fascinating.”
Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.