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by Michael Portantiere

Malcolm Gets: The French Connection

  • Malcom Gets-edit.jpgMalcolm Gets was most recently seen on stage as one of the witches (!!!), along with Byron Jennings and John Glover, in Macbeth, and before that opposite Will Chase in The Story of My Life. But his first two Broadway shows had a distinctly French flavor to them: He made his Broadway debut in 1995 in The Moliere Comedies (a double bill of The School for Husbands and The Imaginary Cuckold), and in 2002 he was Dusoleil in the short-lived but beautiful Amour. So it's kind of neat that he's next up in the City Center Encores! production of Irma la Douce -- a French musical that came to Broadway in 1960 via its British adaptation, and was a fair-size hit at the time. I got to chat with Malcolm en plain air during a rehearsal break. (For more information or to purchase tickets for Irma la Douce, click here.)


    BROADWAYSTARS: I saw you in The Scottish Play. I guess it's okay to say Macbeth, since we're not talking inside a theater.

    MALCOLM GETS: Yes! I was part of the Lincoln Center benefit gala on Monday night, and Byron [Jennings] was there. We were standing backstage talking with Vicki Clark and some other people. Brian and I were saying "Blah-blah-blah Macbeth..." and they went, "Sshh!!!" We were, like, "Please, we've said it 50 times a night in this same theater, so we're over it." I've known Byron and John [Glover] for years, so I've got a lot of history with both of them. They're great guys and remarkable actors.

    STARS: The last time you and I spoke was just before the opening of The Story of My Life, and then the show closed so quickly that I didn't get a chance to see it.

    MALCOLM: Wow. Rob McClure, who's playing the male lead in [Irma la Douce], just did that show in Delaware. He came up to me on the first day of rehearsal for this, and he told me, "I just played Alvin in The Story of My Life." I knew what he was going to say next: "That's a great show." We gave it our best shot on Broadway. I've been back to the Booth a couple times since then, and the ushers have come over to me and said, "We really loved your show." I thought, "If the ushers loved it, there must have been something to it." That wasn't the first short run I was involved with, but it was particularly disappointing. Thank goodness for the cast recording; now I'm teaching, and the students are singing some of those songs.

    STARS: Speaking of shows that had short runs even though some people really loved them, there was Amour.

    MALCOLM: That show reminds me of this one, and not just because they're both French; they're similar in that they both have a delicate, whimsical sensibility. It's exciting to be part of this for Encores! because this will be a different flavor for the series. We have 12 in the orchestra and about 13 cast members, so the show has a very intimate feel. It's not at all your quote/unquote "traditional" Broadway fare. You know, Peter Brook directed the original production, and I think we're in very good hands with John Doyle.

    STARS: Is there any French in your family background?

    MALCOLM: My parents are British, originally from London. I spent a fair amount of time in England, because any other family I have are still there. We're the only ones in the States.

    STARS: But you've been to Paris?

    MALCOLM: [Pauses] I've never been. I didn't want to say it out loud. I've had Michel Legrand invite me, and Alain Boublil. Some pretty powerful people have said, "Come to Paris." I think this summer might be the time to go!

    STARS: Did you know Irma la Douce before you were cast in this production?

    MALCOM: No, I wasn't familiar with it at all. They sent me the cast album, and I listened to it once, because I didn't want to get anybody else's voices in my head.

    STARS: The show is mainly about the very complicated relationship between a prostitute and one of her customers. Talk to me about your character, Bob-le-Hotu.

    MALCOLM: He runs a bar, and he's the narrator, the storyteller who brings the audience into the milieu. The show was first done in French, in Paris, but I think the adaptation has a very strong English sensibility.

    STARS: I've never checked to see if there's a recording of the French original.

    MALCOLM: If there is, I'd love to hear it. I only recently found out that Marguerite Monnot, who wrote the music for this show, wrote "Milord" and other songs for Edith Piaf. That really makes sense when I hear the score now. John Doyle said that the piece started out as almost a cabaret piece. I'm happy that all three Encores! I've done -- The Boys From Syracuse, The Apple Tree, and this one -- have been very well served. But I'm sorry that, for the most part, they've stopped recording the Encores! shows. I am a child of cast albums. I would even venture to say that I'm an actor because of them. Otherwise, I was a classical pianist, and who knows, maybe that's the path I might have stayed on. But my mother would play the recordings of Carousel, Oklahoma! and South Pacific -- and here I am.

    Published on Saturday, May 3, 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 [email protected]

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