Some performers (and theatergoers) have mixed feelings about the "actors doubling as musicians" trend that seems to have grown stronger in musical theater over the past decade or so, but actor-singer-instrumentalist Randy Redd has benefited greatly from the phenomenon. Originally from Mississippi, Randy grew up in Florida, but he's been in New York for 20 years now and has worked almost constantly, both here and out of town. Most recently, he was employed as a singer only as one of the Broadway Inspirational Voices, which group served as the choir in the one-night-only City Center Encores! presentation of Randy Newman's Faust. Soon, July 16-19, Randy (Redd) will be back on the same stage for the Encores! revival of Pump Boys and Dinettes, one of the first of the actors = musicians shows to gain popularity. I recently spoke with the multi-talented Mr. Redd during a break from rehearsals for Faust.
BROADWAY STARS: Randy, I seem to remember the first time I saw you perform was years ago, at Jim Caruso's Cast Party.
RANDY REDD: Yes, back in the day, when it was sort of bouncing around from room to room. I used to go a lot. I haven't been in a long time, but it seems always get there on the best nights. The last time I went, Henry Mancini's daughter [Monica] played and sang "Moon River." The Real Housewives were taping that night; I think one of the housewives' husbands had been taking singing lessons, and had learned a song to perform at Cast Party for his wife. So the whole first part of the night was about them. But then, after the housewives and their entourage left, Cast Party took over. "Moon River" is one of my favorite songs anyway, and to hear Mancini's daughter sing a song that's in her blood -- it was just crazy.
STARS: So, given your resume, I'm going to guess you're all for the actors-doubling-as-musicians thing.
RANDY: I love it! Are you kidding? The first show I did was Smoke on the Mountain. I walked into the audition, and the directors asked me, "Do you play the violin?" I didn't, but I said yes. So I learned to play the violin, and I also played about four or five other instruments in that show.
STARS: How many do you play in total?
RANDY: I'm no good on brass, but I think by now I've picked up just about everything else and played it. You know, it's that thing we all do if we're cast in a show. "Do you tap dance?" "Yes! And I'm going to take some lessons." If somebody puts a horn in your hand, you learn it and you do it.
STARS: Sure, but not everyone has the aptitude for everything. What was next for you after Smoke on the Mountain?
RANDY: A whole lot of out-of-town stuff. My first Broadway show was Parade. I was in nearly every scene of that show as a different character; I had 27 costume changes. That experience spoiled me for everything that came after.
STARS: I didn't see you in Million Dollar Quartet, but I know you took over from Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis.
RANDY: Yes. I started as an understudy, then I went into the show at the end of the Broadway run, and then I did all of the Off-Broadway run. I still go out and do a weekend here or there, whenever they need somebody. Probably the most fun I've ever had.
STARS: Did you get to meet Jerry Lee?
RANDY: Yes. He came to the show at the beginning, and then he played afterwards. He's the only one who's still alive. It's like working with Randy Newmanl; it's so special. These guys, when they show up -- there's the voice, there's the person. It all just walks into the room, and you can't believe it. "Yup, that's the guy!" Johnny Cash had died pretty recently when we started working on Ring of Fire, but a lot of the Cash family was around. When we were rehearsing the show together down in Nashville, we put it together with the family, and a lot of Johnny's band was our band. The show wasn't a big success here, but it was great to sit around with those guys and hear first-hand stories about music that we all grew up with. It's in you -- and then, when you get that close to the origin, it means something completely different.
STARS: What were your instruments in that show?
RANDY: I played mandolin, bass, piano. I had a whole bank of keyboards on my side of the stage. And we all played guitar at one point.
STARS: Talk to me about Pump Boys and Dinettes, a show I really don't know at all.
RANDY: When it opened on Broadway, I was in college, and I remember their performance on the Today show. I zeroed in on that performance; it really got stuck somewhere in my brain. When I got out of school, I auditioned for a production of the show down in south Florida, and I got into it and got my Equity card. Later, when I did Smoke on the Mountain, I worked with John Foley, who was the original Jackson in Pump Boys. I did another production of Pump Boys with Jim Wann, down in North Carolina. And then, in Ring of Fire, I worked with Cass Morgan. So Pump Boys was a real jumping-off point for me professionally; it made me kind of recognize that this was something I could do. I didn't realize that what we call "guitar theater" was even a thing, but I guess Pump Boys was one of the first.
STARS: What's your role in the show?
RANDY: I play L.M. He's a tad mysterious. He sings and plays non-stop, but he only has one line in the show. And I think that line says a lot about who he is.
STARS: Before I let you go: I understand that you're in the movie of The Last 5 Years, so I'd love it if you could talk a little about that. I hope it gets released soon.
RANDY: I do, too. It was fun. [The character] Cathy has an audition sequence where she encounters a stereotypically bad pianist; then she has a good experience. A few of us jump in and play the pianists. I won't give anything away, but there's a fun little thing to watch for in that sequence. God, I hope they can get the film out into the world. I saw it when it was nearly finished, which was also the first night that Jason [Robert Brown] saw it, and then I saw it again when it was finished. Jeremy [Jordan] found things in Jamie that I've never seen anybody else find, and Anna Kendrick is so dynamic as Cathy. It's just beautiful.
STARS: I can't wait to see it. Anything else you'd like to say before I let you get back to rehearsal?
RANDY: Just that I'm super excited about Pump Boys. It feels like sort of a full-circle moment for me, because the show was my first professional job. To get to do it here, with this group -- as Pump Boys goes, I think it'll be as good as it gets.
Published on Friday, July 11, 2014
Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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