This interview copyright © Larry Murray, 2011. Reproduction without permission strictly forbidden. If you wish to share this article, please link to it, do not steal it. Photo above by Jaime Davidson, courtesy Berkshire Theatre Festival.
In Part One of this interview with Randy Harrison we focused on his role as Tommy in the musical of the same name. His time in the Berkshires was over all too soon, and he was on to the dozens of other activities that fill his life. So we steered the subject to the bigger picture of how he keeps busy when not here in the summer.
Larry Murray:Your attention to detail has always been a hallmark of your acting, and even here you found ways to make it more than just a good performance, but an inspired one. Do you think this unusual show will have a beneficial effect on your future work?
Randy Harrison: I don’t know…I always hope that people in New York get to see or hear about the work I do in the Berkshires. I do different work here than I do anywhere else. It’s some of the work I am most proud of.
But I find that – to some extent – what happens in the Berkshires stays in the Berkshires.
LM: That is something that many of us are trying to change, to make the Berkshires as big a destination for theatre people as Tanglewood is for music lovers.
RH: That is what it should be, a national incubator for fresh and new work.
LM:It seems to me that you have a whole different life in New York.
RH: I do.
LM: You seem to travel in one of the most innovative, creative, fun circles. I am envious because when I was your age, I used to run around New York doing the same damn thing.
RH: You know, it’s taken me a really long time to find the creative outlets that offer the sort of diversity I need, but I think I am finally on the right track.
LM: It seems to me that you have discovered your real natural gift which is not only drama, but comedy.
RH: You know it has been a lot of fun to experiment with that this year.
LM: You were doing Margaret, A Tygers Heart at St. Clements this past spring when Kate called about Tommy. That theatre is pretty special.
RH: Yes, I love it, and the two week run of Tyger was sort of thrown together unexpectedly and it was another wonderful experience.
LM: So in New York, do you go to tryouts? What sort of things interest you?
RH: Everything interests me. I go to a lot of auditions for new plays, though rarely to musicals. It really takes so long to prepare for the latter, you need an accompanist, a book and each one is so different. Frankly it is not quite worth it for me a lot of the time.
LM: Yet Kate Maguire (Artistic Director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group) likes to tell the story of the first time she saw you, auditioning for Equus. She says you blew her out of the water, and so you landed the role. It was the first time you came to the Berkshires, the beginning of a beautiful relationship with the company. Your preparation is always extensive and mind blowing.
RH: In addition to the new plays, I go in for lots of classical work as well. I have done a fair amount of Shakespeare. In New York it seems to be the area I have done the most, things like Antony and Cleopatra and that Tygers Heart at Red Bull.
LM: We both know that Kate has been thinking you are at the perfect age for Hamlet. She thinks it would be an ideal role for you.
RH: Really? She’s never talked to me about Hamlet.
LM: Oops. Well, someday there may be a call. Maybe with the same Eric Hill who directed Tommy. Are you ready for a Suzuki Hamlet?
RH: Ummmm….no, I don’t think so.LM: So back to Tommy and its effect on you in the future. Did you discover anything new about yourself doing this work?
RH: I have. I had to find a kind of confidence that’s not natural to me, a sort of bravado that you see in the brief period when he becomes super famous and indulges in it. That sort of self assurance of a rock star that you have to exhibit was sort of a new self discovery for me.
Then vocally, just the stamina needed in realizing the part.
LM: You were on stage like 90% of the time…
RH: It’s easier than you would think, at least the the first act is. There are really only two numbers, “Amazing Journey” and “See Me, Feel Me”. One of the first things I did was calculate exactly how much energy I would need when I am out there, and when I can reserve it. Thank god it’s a relatively short show because the singing was both higher than I had ever sung, and longer as well.
It’s been an awesome challenge.LM: Do you have a voice coach to help you protect that voice?
RH: No I don’t, and you know for years after I pretty much stopped doing musical theatre and got into rock music, I really, really wanted to have like some damaged quality to my voice. I am getting a lot of grinds in this show, but really my voice has been pretty clear all the time. It’s awful, but for years I just tried to damage my voice by yelling and such….
LM: Oh, no…
RH: …but it didn’t work, I don’t have any of that.
LM: We don’t want to turn you into Mike McDonald.
RH: I love Mike McDonald!
LM: Well if he is the King of Mumbles, you have to be the Prince of Diction. But I understand what you were trying to do, roughening up the edges, it makes a voice far more authentic and interesting. But your voice is so clear it would be a shame to trade that for a damaged one.
RH: In the end it was wonderful challenge to be able to do that kind of singing while still turning out eight shows a week.
LM: Do you ever get to see any Broadway shows, or do you have to be comped to do that? It seems to me that stage actors really don’t make a lot of money, and that your residuals have been shrinking as time goes by.
RH: We don’t get residuals from that tv show.
LM: You don’t?
RH: There was a buyout. But when my parents come to town they take me to see the big musicals. I have seen Memphis and Book of Mormon recently. I really enjoyed them.
Besides, I am a member of every discount ticket plan there is. TDF, Theatre Mania, the whole catalog.
LM: Tell me about it. I knew Kate Maguire back when I was at Arts Boston running discount ticket programs. She had her start at Lyric Stage.
RH: She is just remarkable. This recent merger is really exciting and bodes well for the future.
LM: You also have some pretty exciting things happening with your friends, like Silence: The Musical based on Silence of the Lambs. (Link to site with photos and music)
RH: Oh, the wonderful Jenn Harris, I am sorry I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, everyone is talking about it.
LM: They sure are. Jenn is such a natural. Lots of us think that sort of esthetic needs to be brought here…
RH: The parodies like QWAN’s Black Swan (based on the movie) and Silence.
LM: Absolutely.That’s the sort of light but thoughtful material that would fill the show rooms at Cranwell, Seven Hills Inn and even Jae’s upstairs.
RH: We’d love to bring the QWAN company here next summer. (Quality WIthout A Name). It’s a very talented group. Christian Coulson is up here now…
LM: He’s one of the stars of Dutch Masters coming up at the Unicorn. I hope to talk with him later.
RH: Jenn Harris has been here too, and others, so there are certainly the connections and we all love to spend time in the Berkshires.
LM: With the expanded programming at the Colonial and Unicorn something could develop there as well. All it takes is imagination, promotion and seed money.
RH: Perhaps something will happen.
LM: So are you staying to see Dutch Masters?
RH: I can’t, they’re kicking us out at 9:30 in the morning. But I am going to try to make it back to see Christian (Coulson) in Dutch Masters, and Greg Keller – it’s his first work as the playwright.
LM: It’s a bit of a mystery play at this point, isn’t it. Maybe I will see you there. In any case, thanks for filling us in. You never fail to surprise me.
RH: You’re welcome.
This is Part Two of the 2011 Randy Harrison Interview.
Randy Harrison 2011 Interview Part One – The Who’s “Tommy”
Randy Harrison 2010 Interview – Beckett’s “Endgame”
Randy Harrison 2009 Interview – Ibsen’s “Ghosts”
Randy Harrison 2008 Interview – Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”