Show People with Paul Wontorek: Marc Kudisch of GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

(jazzy music) – Marc Kudisch has delivered
countless fantastic turns throughout his illustrious
Broadway career, earning Tony nominations for
performances in “9 to 5,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and
of course, the fan favorite, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Now Kudisch is moving
audiences in Conor McPherson’s, powerful “Girl From the North Country.” Hear about the audition that led him to his “Bye Bye Birdie” breakout and more on this week’s “Show People.” (upbeat jazzy music) Marc Kudisch.
– Yeah. – You’re finally here,
I’m so happy you’re here. – Aw, gee thanks. – You know, it’s intimidating
talking to someone like you, ’cause I almost know too much about you. – You’re not intimidated talking to me. Don’t even, get outta here. – You do say on your
Twitter bio, I’m a talker. – I am a talker.
– Dot dot dot. – [Paul] Oh I know you are,
and I love that about you. – Well. – Anyway, welcome.
– Thanks, dude. – Now you’re in “Girl
From the North Country,” which you did at The Public, and so you’re sort of back in Duluth. – Happy to be back in
Duluth, Minnesota in 1934. Happy to be back in The Depression. – Back (laughing). – Happy to be back in The Depression. But really, I love this piece so much. It is honestly, ’cause, again, we’ve known each other forever, right? – Yeah. – It is one of my, if not in the top two, favorite things that I’ve done. In the city, period, hands down. – I know, I love that. I love how passionate you are about it. – [Marc] I am. – But I’m also wondering
what the other of the two, if you’re gonna pick two. – I mean, okay, like
let’s say three, right? But I mean, I put it up there with, in my opinion for me, I put
it up there with “Assassins,” with “The Wild Party,” and with
“Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Okay, that’s the top shelf for me. – All right, well me, too. I was just listening to “The
Wild Party” last weekend. Don’t get me started on “The
Wild Party,” Marc Kudisch. That could be the half hour right there. – [Marc] I know. – [Paul] Well let’s talk about “Girl From the North Country.” – [Marc] Yeah, yeah,
yeah, yeah, yeah, please. – Conor McPherson.
– Love him. – Super talented.
– Great. – [Paul] Writer, director. Took this Bob Dylan
catalog and came up with– – Literally outta nothing. They approached him and they
offered him the full catalog, carte blanche to do
whatever he wanted to do. And I think initially he sort of was like, ah, I don’t know. ‘Cause I’ve never done
anything with music before. That said, he is an
incredibly talented musician, and he has a great ear for music. So he took those songs and he created this completely original,
incredibly American story. Just out of being
inspired by Dylan’s music. And it’s a play, right? I mean, it’s a play with music. – It’s one of those where we
don’t know what to call it. – And that’s fine.
– When it comes to Tony time it’s gonna be a musical. – Of course, and that’s the
business side of things. But the truth is, the rules to this piece are unique unto itself. So just come, sit down,
and just get into it, because it’s a freight train. – Come, sit down, and get into it. – That’s it. Just be there, be present.
– Marc Kudisch told you to. – Naw, but I mean, that’s
what I love about it. It’s one of those beautiful pieces. It’s so unapologetic. And it’s like, it kicks you in the stomach and you find yourself crying
and you don’t even know why. I found myself crying, like
one of the first rehearsals we had when we started singing
one of the pieces together, “Tight Connection to My Heart,” and I was like, why am I, why am I feeling like this right now? And as Conor, and I agree with him, emotions don’t have logic so
don’t try to put logic to it. It just feels right. – [Paul] Let’s talk about
this guy that you play. – [Marc] Well. – [Paul] Talk about
The Depression, I mean, he’s been hit by it. – Well they’ve all been hit by it. It’s just how heavy have they been hit, and in this particular case, Frank Burke was a very
successful businessman from the Carolinas who, along with everyone else in ’29 and ’30 just lost it all, just lost it all. So he and his family, Luba Mason, who plays my wife, and– – [Paul] Did you ever work
with Luba Mason before? – Luba and I’ve known each other forever, and we’ve done like
benefits and workshops. – Yeah, I feel like you’ve– – But we’ve never done–
– Crossed paths. – A full stage production.
– Sure. – But it’s crazy because we’ve
known each other for so long, it’s just a natural fit. She is one of those
brilliantly unique souls that just has her own energy. It’s unapologetic. And so it’s like pah
when we get out there, which is just fabulous. And then Todd Almond,
who plays our son Elias. His mind is stuck in
a very childish place, and so it’s our particular story in the thread of the bigger play is just that we are a challenged family, just like everyone else, moving through the country, surviving. Trying to figure out our lives
after you’ve lost everything. That’s what I love about The Depression. It is, in my opinion,
the thing that defined the United States as a country, finally. I believe that we as Americans, when things are at their
worst, we are at our best. That is when our defining
features come out. And the beauty of The Depression was everyone was on the
move because you had to be. And because of that, culture,
music, literature, ideology was spread out across the
country in that particular time. And in our play, it takes
place at a boarding house in the middle of Duluth,
Minnesota in ’34 in the winter. And so these people come
together for two weeks and they become this makeshift family for that very brief moment in time. – And I love that it’s on Broadway. I love the landscape of Broadway. First of all, your resume supports so many different kinds of things. It’s amazing just to
watch you over the years– – Knock on wood.
– And see all the different kinds of things that you’ve been able to do. – Look, I never wanted
to just do one thing. I never wanted to just find that niche and go, okay, that’s what I’m gonna, I’m gonna exploit that now. ‘Cause I just don’t think that that shows, a, for me, I wouldn’t be happy. I just know that. There are a lot of other
choices that I could have made that I would have made a
hell of a lot more money, but I don’t know that I
would have been happy. And b, I just, it’s all
about why are you out there? That’s why I’m saying this season, what I’ve loved about it, “Great Society,” I loved it because it was important to talk about our
politics and our society. What was going on in the ’60s and what we’re actually
dealing with today, and to do those things at the same time. It was not easy. It was a hard play to do, just because of the things
that were in the play. But we’re talking about something, and we’re talking to
the community about it, and that was about politics and society and ideologies and stuff like that. Where “Girl” is really
just getting to the core of human emotion because these people are just trying to survive, man. So it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter your ideology. It doesn’t matter your history,
your culture, your identity. Everybody’s on the same page in this play. We’re all just trying to
figure it out moment to moment. You don’t have the luxury of
this is my five-year goal. That’s gone. What you have is now and
tomorrow and that’s it. And so that gets to the core
of who we are as human beings, which is why I love doing this piece, ’cause it’s not about us. As a performer, I think I’ve
realized over the years, I don’t care about applause,
I don’t care about laughter, I don’t care if you like me. I really don’t. I’m not being paid for you to like me. It’s my job to bring the
composer and the playwright and all of those people
that created the play, with the rest of the company, to the audience, to share ideas. Because they have a job to
do at the end of the night, and that’s why I do it. That’s why I think I’ve always done it. And that’s why I really enjoy this piece and I’ve enjoyed this year so far. I’m not a small talker. (laughing) – Well, I like you Marc Kudisch, whether or not you want the
audience to like you or not. We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be back with more Marc Kudisch. (upbeat jazzy music) (upbeat jazzy music) We’re back with Mr. Marc Kudisch. Is this your 15th Broadway show? – Yeah. – I’ve lost count have you? – I kinda lost count. Someone was asking me to, I couldn’t, I was like, I can’t remember all of ’em. ‘Cause you know, I didn’t
sing when I got to the city. That wasn’t what I did. I was trained as a classical actor. So Broadway was never, never the goal. When I got to New York
Circle Rep was my goal. – Oh, Circle Rep.
– Right? – Down at Sheridan Square. – Yeah, I mean, that was my goal, going out to the ACT to
work with William Ball and his Rep was my goal. – Yeah, somehow you ended up in “Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Bye Bye Birdie” and these things. – But like with “Birdie,” I got that gig because of the way I acted the role. It was not because of the way I sung it. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have pitch or tone or anything like that, but I didn’t have, I was losing my voice
at the end of every week when we were on that tour to the point that Susan
Egan, and great advice, said, “You need to get a voice teacher.” Because she’s like, “You
should not be losing your voice at the end of every week. Nobody else is losing their voice. There’s no reason for you to be.” And she was right. – I’m sure you got the
role for your acting, but you also looked really good as Conrad Birdie, Marc Kudisch. – I got that role because of my acting, ’cause let me tell you somethin’, a lot of people looked really good that were auditioning for that show. – Okay, let’s rewind a little bit. You grew up in Florida, right? – Yeah, Fort Lauderdale. – So when was the first
time you got onstage, how old were you? – High school. I was in high school. I did Freddy Eynsford-Hill
in “My Fair Lady,” and I was terrible. But it was because, I was
in the gifted program. I was in the same class with the same kids from the second grade all
the way to graduation, and my brother was like really popular and president of his class
and when I got to high school I was a freshman, my brother was a junior, we were in three classes together. So I was Little Kudisch, and how embarrassing
for your older brother to have your younger brother
in the same class with you. So by the time I got to my junior year and my brother had left, and
I love my brother, by the way, don’t get me wrong. But I always felt like I was just in this very small sequestered space. – Yeah, that makes sense. – So then I just started,
so I know it sounds crazy, but I became a male cheerleader. – [Paul] You actually did? – I was a male cheerleader. That’s how I sort of got out there.
– That was your way of finding yourself.
– And you think, that was my way of becoming social. I became a male cheerleader. But the thing was–
– So you were throwing the girls up in the air?
– Yeah. – [Paul] Okay (laughing). – And trust me, I had no strength to be able to throw anybody, but the other guys that
were the cheerleaders were like football players who
either had really bad grades or had injury and couldn’t
play or be part of it and they still wanted to be a part of it. So then I got to know those guys, and through those guys and
through the female cheerleaders I had a group of friends
for the first time that kind of spilled out in a social way, and then that introduced me, after one of our cheers one
night, my friend, Pat Cook, who was the theater director and teacher, said, “You should audition
for me for something.” And that was the beginning of it. – And look at you now. I’ve seen you be such a clown and you were so serious back then. I mean, you’re still a serious guy. – I’m serious. – But you have such a clown side to you. – I mean, I think, but everybody does. I do. Look, look man, I’m a
Virgo on the cusp of Libra, if that makes any sense. – Sure, so were you good in
any of those high school shows? – No.
– Did you get good? – No.
– You never got good. – I was not good in high school. I was terrible. It was when I got to college. Because the teachers that I had and because I wasn’t in the theater, I didn’t realize the teachers that I had. So I’m gonna throw some stuff out and we’ll even see if you
know some of these names. So when I first got to school, one of my professors was
a guy named Joshua Logan. You know who I’m talking about? – I do know Joshua Logan. – This was Josh in like the
last year or two of his clarity, of being present.
– Wow. – And I didn’t know who he was, so I wasn’t phased by the
fact that it was Josh Logan. Hume Cronyn was a teacher with
Jessica Tandy for a semester. Zoe Caldwell.
– I, just lost. – I know. She was a teacher of mine for a year. – [Paul] Amazing. – Then years later I got to work with her and we were on stage together, which was just for me–
– What did you do with her? – We did “A Little Night Music” together. She was Madame Armfeldt. This was at New York City Opera. And you know, I played Carl-Magnus. And I remember one night
we got into this huge fight just about the business and the industry. And we were out, and
we were like at dinner with a bunch of people
and she just looked at me, and she went, “Oh, Marc,
I’m so disappointed in you.” And I laughed out loud
because I was just like, I’m having a fight with you. It was just the greatest feeling to actually be a peer as opposed to the student-teacher thing, and just, I mean, in truth she wasn’t disappointed. She was wildly proud of me. But the fact that we could actually argue, and I could argue her, she was amazing. And I’m really sorry that we’ve lost her. But I had these crazy teachers.
– You were surrounded by greatness. – That I didn’t realize
the people I was around, which I think was a blessing. Edward Albee was a teacher of
mine as well, for directing. And I have stories about Edward, man. But again, I didn’t know,
so I wasn’t intimidated. I was just hungry and in
the moment and learning, and I was realizing at university that I was going to be an actor when I didn’t realize I
was going to be an actor. So I was in it with these people. Not even going, I’m going
to go into the theater. And engaging in a way that, it just allowed me not to be intimidated. – So you get out of school, came to New York–
– By the time I graduated, yeah.
– Did the whole thing. – 24 hours in a U-Haul. – Oh you got a U-Haul and drove up here? – Oh yeah, the minute I, well, I worked in South
Florida for a couple of shows, ’cause even while I was at university I began working professionally, because in South Florida at that time, strangely our university
shows were being reviewed the same way professional
productions were being reviewed. So professional theaters
already knew who I was because they were reading
reviews of shows that I was in. So that got me into professional theater in and around Miami, Fort
Lauderdale, West Palm Beach. I got my equity card. The minute I got my equity
card I moved to New York. – Oh wow, in the U-Haul and moved in, too.
– In the U-Haul. – What was your first apartment like? – 71st Street between
Broadway and Columbus. Basement apartment. – Oh. Like in “Wonderful Town.”
– Me and my buddy, Stewart. – They walked, you saw
their legs walked by. – It was great, 600 bucks a month, man. I moved here with my friend Stewart Clark and Rachel Bay Jones. – Wow. – And Rachel and I worked together at my university, Florida
Atlantic University. We did “Picnic” together. – Oh. – Because I had worked with her parents. Her parents are actually, they were like big South Florida actors. And they, and she was always in tow. (laughing) So I met Rachel when she
was just sort of in tow. And then we worked together and we’ve never worked together since. (laughing) But, I mean, it was crazy. – “Bye Bye Birdie” was your big break. I mean, getting that tour.
– “Bye Bye Birdie” was my big musical break.
– Musical break, right. – Yes, for sure. – Yeah, and that was a big national tour with Tommy Tune, Ann Reinking. – Yeah, with Tommy and Annie and Gene.
– It was supposed to come to Broadway. That was like the goal. – Back then, yes, that was the goal. And back then was the
time when national tours were what you did. You went on the road for 12 to 14 months because that’s where
you would make the cash. – I just wanna hear, when you
went in for that audition, you brought your full Elvis. I mean Conrad Birdie is a
version of Elvis Presley, inspired by Elvis.
– Have I never told you this? All right so–
– you got the hips swiveling and all that?
– I had a black leather jacket. First thing I ever bought in New York City was a black leather jacket, just to say, ah, I’m a New Yorker. This is back in 1990, ’91, so like I had the black leather
boots with the silver tips. – Oh yeah, of course, of course. – And like the semi spurs on the back.
– Of course, I know that. – Oh yeah, 91 baby. And I went in and this is what happened. So, back then, remember
we used to audition on Broadway stages. So the final callback is at, I thought, I think it was the Broadhurst. And the holding pen for all
of the actors is the balcony. So everyone is watching
everyone’s auditions. All right?
– Intimidating. – So I get the call and I’m ready to go. I come downstairs and I’m
going down that long… Right as I get to the seats, Stewart Howard, who was casting it, stops me, looks at me and says, “Whatever you do, don’t sing ‘Sincere.'” And I went, “But that’s
what I’ve prepared.” And he went, “Don’t
sing it, don’t sing it. They’ve been hearing it all day. They don’t wanna hear it any longer. Sing, I don’t know, sing
‘A Lotta Livin’ to Do.'” And I’m like, “But that’s like the choral
number, that’s not even…” “Just don’t sing ‘Sincere.’ Okay, go.” – I can only hear that song
so many times in a row. – No shit, but that’s the
only thing I prepared. – Right. – So I’m walking down the aisle, and I walk by and I see the
Weisslers and I see Tommy and I see Gene. And it’s sort of like they’re all in their own separate
aisles as I’m going down. And it’s literally theater
history as you’re walking by. And I’m 24 man. I get up on the stage, I walk,
and I tell this all the time because I think it’s important. I walk up to the accompanist,
his name is Brad Garside. Do you know Brad?
– No. – I walk up to Brad, he looks at me, and he goes, “Are you okay?” ‘Cause I’m sure I was sweatin’. And I said, “They told me
not to sing ‘Sincere.'” And he was like, “Well
what did you prepare?” And I said, “‘Sincere’, what
the hell else would I prepare?” And he said to me,
“Whose audition is this?” And I said, “Mine.” And he said, “Yeah, it’s yours. “Just go sing your damn song.” So, swear everything is true. I walk to the center of the stage. I looked at Brad, I give him a little nod, and the song is, ’cause it’s
that first chord, right? Bruuuuum. And I sing, ♪ You gotta be sincere ♪ And I see Stewart Howard
all the way in the back throw up his hands and literally walk out. (laughing) And that’s how my audition started. – You were just like,
I just screwed this up. – Well but in my head I was like, look, I’m on a Broadway stage, I’ve
never been on one before. This is likely the first and last time I’m going to sing this. Right? And I’m on a stage on Broadway. If this is the only time
I’m ever on a Broadway stage I’m either gonna be in it or I’m not. So I just did it and I just
threw abandon to the wind, ’cause I thought, there’s
nothing for me to lose here. So I started to have fun. And I could see that they were having fun. And I mean, I just let myself go. And at the end of it
they were all applauding, and everyone in the
balcony was applauding, and I was like, it was the biggest rush. And then I just grabbed my music and I ran as fast as I could to the wings, and then I heard Gene Saks
go, “Marc, come back.” So I walk back out onto the stage, and he was like, “You wanna read?” And for me I’m like, that’s what I do. I’m not a singer, I’m an actor. And I said, “Yes.” And then I did the scenes
and by that point I was like, I can’t lose now. And later that day I got the call and everything changed after that. – I know, 15 Broadway shows later. – But I mean, it’s just a
good lesson that sometimes you just gotta trust your instincts even when everyone else is saying not to. – Yeah, I love it. We’re gonna take another quick break. We’ll be back with more Marc Kudisch. (upbeat jazzy music) (upbeat jazzy music) We are back with one of my
favorites, Mr. Marc Kudisch. – Thank you. – I mean honestly, I just
always love seeing you onstage. I love so many things you’ve done. One side note I wanna make
about “Bye Bye Birdie,” you were also in that TV “Bye Bye Birdie,” which recently popped up on Amazon. I was so happy, I got to watch it again. – Yeah.
– You were great in that. – I loved that show.
– I mean, it was early on for those TV musicals. – Very early on for that.
– Really early, yeah. – It was great.
– But you got to preserve it. – Yeah, and it was also
Gene directed that. So to work with Gene again was great. Annie, who I had done, had
played Rosie on the road, choreographed it. So it was sort of like this fun thing of the three of us particularly, like coming together after having this huge relationship with it. ‘Cause I remember there was this, I got a call from Tommy, and he said, “Look, ABC’s interested in doing a television version of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, they’ve asked me to
sort of cuddle together “a reading of it.” And I said I wanna ask
you and Susan did it and then they brought in
some actors or whatever. And we did it over at Sardi’s. And I think initially they were intending on having Harry Connick play Birdie. – [Paul] Interesting. – And then like at the end of
the read Tommy came up to me, and he’s like, “I think you
might have just gotten a job.” And then we got a call and we just got a straight offer to play
Birdie because they said, “We don’t need a name for Conrad, Conrad should be the name.” So they liked me and they thought, you’ll be Birdie, people
will relate to you as Birdie. – Sorry, Harry Connick, Jr. – Yeah, it’s been really–
– Where’s that guy? – tough for him hasn’t it? But what’s interesting is
then we shot it in Vancouver, and I’m not kidding you,
when I would be on set or in or around people
would call me Mr. Birdie. Like, people from the area
would say, “Mr. Birdie.” Like I was Conrad Birdie to them. – I love that. – Which proved the point. But yeah, it was great. It was great to do that ’cause we didn’t do an
album from the tour. And but then by the time we did the film, I was singing a lot better. I had really begun training,
like seriously training, so by the time we got to record that album I was actually really prepared to sing it. – And you’d already done
Broadway at that point. Were you Gaston? – Oh yeah I was Gaston at that time. – Yeah, you were a fantastic Gaston. – Thank you, I love, I love– – That was good role
for you at that point. – At that point, yes. – Yeah, I mean, that’s what’s so interesting.
– It was a very good role. – When you look at your
career, it’s so interesting, all the things you’ve done, when you have a theater life like you do, it’s almost like your life goes along with the roles a little bit, right? And you sort of pop in–
– I think it’s all about, it’s all about the choices that you make. Like I never wanted to go to LA. I never wanted to go to LA. Not at that period of time. Like–
– You’re getting great TV work in New York now. – Yeah, yeah, now.
– Now you’re sort of. – But it’s interesting because back then if you wanted to do television or film you really did have to be in Los Angeles. And after I did “Birdie” we were getting calls from Los Angeles, and “Beauty” had offered me to
take over the role of Gaston, Burke was leaving finally Los Angeles. – Burke Moses.
– Burke Moses, who originated it on Broadway, who I took over for, and then when he was leaving LA they offered me Gaston in LA, because everyone thought I
would wanna go there anyway. – Right, and all the Hollywood people would come and see you– – And like because we were getting film offers and stuff off of that, and I said, “No. No, I wanna be on Broadway.” If I’m gonna get that kinda work I wanna get it outta New York City. ‘Cause stage was what I
was interested in doing. As I got older and as I had
done a lotta different stuff, ’cause it was just about the roles. Like I just, and I’m a character actor and I always have been a character actor, and you gotta fight that
linear vision that people have. Like people would say,
“Oh, you’re a leading man.” No I’m not, I’m a character actor. Everything I’ve done is character, which is why it’s been so, I think, it’s had such variety because I’m always the third or fourth banana. My biography will be
called “And Marc Kudisch.” ‘Cause that’s what I do and
that’s what I prefer doing. – A lot of people talk
about that banana though. You’ve gotten a lot of attention for those third or
fourth banana guy roles. And Tony nominations. – Yeah, but I think because
of that I was never put into, it’s very easy to typecast, right? So the minute I did Gaston
everyone just thought that’s who he is. Before that, I was a ’50s rock and roller. So for me to get into a more classical, and I was training
operatically and everything at that point in time. So for me to be seen for
those classical roles took so much effort. And then I got in there and now that’s all anyone thinks you are. I would say the big dumb funny, so then I immediately
wanted to go away from that. Because now I’m wanting
to audition for plays, which is what I did in New
York when I first got here when no one wanted to hear me sing. And now no one thinks I can do a play because I’m a musical theater actor. And then, knock on wood, I bump into Michael John LaChiusa on the subway, who introduces himself to
me on the subway and says, “We’re doing this show
called ‘The Wild Party’, and there’s a role in it
that you’re really not the right type for but
you’re the right actor for, and I’d really like for you
to come in and audition.” And I had been offered
Andrew’s “Wild Party.” – Oh the competing “Wild Parties.” – Which I thought was
actually a great thing. But I turned it down, and not that I didn’t love it, but he wanted me to play
essentially what was what I consider to be like big
dumb funny kind of character. He was comic relief, Eddie in his. And I just didn’t wanna get trapped that way.
– The boxer, okay. – Right.
– Yeah, yeah. – And of course Michael
John’s in playing Jackie was so off the mark.
– Jackie, yeah. – Of what anyone had seen me do, and what I’d been given
the opportunity to play. – Yeah, very dark.
– Very dark, very out there, and that sort of cemented the fact that, oh, I’m not just this type. I can actually play different
kinds of characters. And then off we went into
character (voice muffled), which was just my blessing, and I think it’s why
I’ve had the opportunity to do so many shows, because, I can, I can, it’s not about my age,
it’s about the character. So, as my career has gone my work has gotten darker and darker, because I just think that just keeps me on an even keel.
– Interesting. – Yeah.
– Well, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna keep cheering for you. – Well, I’d appreciate that.
– I’ll still be the guy hootin’ and hollerin’,
whether you like it or not. – Yeah.
(laughing) You know, but thank you.
– Thank you so much for being here. Everyone needs to go see
“Girl From the North Country.” – See it.
– At the Belasco Theatre, the potentially haunted Belasco Theatre. – Not potentially.
– It is. – That sucker’s haunted. – Thank you, I can’t
wait to see what’s next. I can’t wait to see the next 15 shows. Thank you for watching,
we’ll see you next time. (upbeat jazzy music)


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