Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brian Charles Rooney and Bedbugs: The Musical

Brian Charles Rooney
“A theatrical blast of fresh air” might seem an odd way to describe a show in which large quantities of (fake) insecticide are sprayed about the stage, but that’s just the right phrase for “Bedbugs!!!,” at the ArcLight Theater.
This audacious rock-’n’-roll concoction about mutant bedbugs that terrorize New York City never stops surprising, with its performances, its choreography, its props and special effects. The subject matter may leave you feeling itchy, but with the delirious sensory overload the show provides, you’ll quickly forget the discomfort.
That is how The New York Times review begins.

 What happens when a lonely exterminator – hell-bent on avenging her mother’s bedbug related death – tries to eradicate all bedbugs from NYC??
 Mass mutation and mayhem, from an army of human-size creatures out for blood, world domination – and love. Not since Little Shop and Rocky Horror has a sci-fi musical rocked audiences with such an electric, tune-filled score and over-the-top performances!!!

Brian Charles Rooney's road to Bedbugs: The Musical began when he was in high school. He signed up for the drama club. Unfortunately, they did not do musicals there. The head of the drama club felt that musical theatre was not real acting! A fact that Brian knows now not to be true. It was a really ridiculous notion. He did, however, do a lot of plays, particularly plays that employed a lot of different dialects which would prove to be very useful to him later in his career. He is a character actor and tends to use a lot of dialects. Being in that drama club, Brian fell in love with the PROCESS of putting on a show. That involves teamwork,creating the illusion of the story, and the audience buying into the story. Brian loves being a storyteller.
From high school, Brian went to Duke University. In his freshmen year, he was cast as Charley in Sondheim's Merrily, We Roll Along. That was Brian's first musical and he considers in "baptism by fire."
He didn't read music at the time that he began, but did by the end due to that rehearsal process. He became completely immersed in musicals and musical comedy and what goes into making songs make sense in a play and he loved it.
He then went headstrong into researching and learning about musicals. Before that, his knowledge was limited. He had seen a few, growing up in New Jersey, when his parents (rarely) came into the city. Brian really got to know the canon. Again, he fell in love with the art form. As an actor, it allows him to stretch in an emotive way.
Beyond the spoken word, you are allowed to go further. Music and the spoken word together touches people in a different way, rather than those two mediums alone.
Honest artists inspire Brian. Those that are fun to work with and those who take risks. Those who respect themselves and other artists. That makes his job a lot of fun.
Brian has been lucky enough to work with some really amazing people. That includes actors and directors. He worked with Cyndi Lauper in Threepenny Opera on Broadway and "she was incredible to work with.
Gretchen Wylder as Mother in Bedbugs: The Musical
She was nice. She was dedicated. She was professional, very smart and emotionally raw on stage and I loved it." Jim Dale...because he's a master comedian and his grounding any character he is playing in reality and still making sure he laughs at himself. "This is going to sound totally corny, but the cast of the movie Clue." When he was growing up, he watched that movie all the time.That whole cast are all masters. It is a master class of every style. Brian watched it over and over again and knows every line of that movie by heart.
Bedbugs Ensemble
Randy Harrison and Brian Charles Rooney - POP! at Yale Repertory .
The timing is amazing. All of them had such interesting careers and all of them were character actors bu not in the sense that they were odd looking or strange, but they could play "strange". Madeline Kahn and Tim Curry and Eileen Brennan are all fantastic. Some of that cast are no longer physically with us which is very sad. Brian feels like he learned quite a bit from that movie and that cast because they were just brilliant in it. It is also the type of material Brian likes where all the characters are so fully fleshed out. They are real. They could have been put in a serious drama, but there is a huge amount of comedy instead. Those types of performers really excite Brian.
Brian has been involved with Bedbugs since it was first written. It was written with Chris Hall who plays Cimex, the bedbug king, and Brian, in mind. They started working on it in late 2007 and early 2008. It started out as a reading at NYU because
Fred Sauter, who wrote the book and lyrics,went to NYU's musical theatre writing program.
They are great because they allow their alumni to use their facilities if they need to work. They did a reading/workshop there. Since then, working with Fred and Paul Leschen, the composer, has been an amazing thing. They have become like family to Brian. They are incredibly receptive collaborators. They listen to your questions. They respond to feedback in a very positive way. They will tell you if they don't agree with you, but it has been a very collaborative process.
Brian feels very lucky because of that. He feels it has made the show better.
There are many things that Brian has learned because of his involvement that he will carry with him throughout the rest of his career. At the top of that list is to keep trusting his instincts.  
He admits that this is reaffirmed a  bit more with every project. A good actor respectfully trusts his instincts. He listens to the director, to the writers, to the musical director... He doesn't take himself down if his gut tells him to ask a question, or to make a less conventional choice as an actor. Try something. You try everything. You try what is given to you and you try what your heart and your gut tell you to rehearsal
Brian has also learned over the years more and more about the "business" and how it works. In this case, the producer, Dale Joan Young, has been very good about offering Brian insight into how it all works.  Brian has pitched the show and talked it up to many because he is very proud of it. Dale has been very generous as far as educating Brian about her process and what she has gone through and, in general, what one has to go through to mount a show. That is information that Brian finds very valuable and will definitely take with him. It's a tough business and there is a lot of competition; and there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through, just to get a show up for a couple of weeks. In the case of Bedbugs, it paid off. People really responded in a positive way. That has been so satisfying. When you put that much blood, sweat, tears, and heart into something, which is true in this case, and get this kind of response. it is wonderful validation.
Robert Bartley is the director. Off Broadway: Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle-nominated Character Man (Urban Stages), Tales of Custard (DR2 Theatre). The Cuban and the Redhead (Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals, Village Theatre, Revision Theatre, York Theatre, National Alliance for Musical Theatre), The Family Fiorelli and Color Blind (NYMF), Hair (Peculiar Works). Creator/Director/Choreographer of Broadway Backwards produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS featuring hundreds of performers such as Betty Buckley, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris and many more.
Robert Bartley
As an actor, Broadway and National Tours: Miss Saigon, Cats, Grease. Off Broadway: Clue: the Musical, Cy Coleman’s last musical Exactly Like You. Film: The Producers, Disney’s Enchanted. Concert: Aladdin (Carnegie Hall), West Side Story with Beyonce and Meryl Steep.
Brian has worked with a lot of really wonderful directors and has been very lucky that he has not had any bad experiences. Robert is no exception. He is extremely good at editing actor's work and challenging them to try ideas and trust their instincts and throwing them ideas that they might not have thought of. He is very grounded and very sweet and very passionate about this show. He has been incredibly supportive of Brian throughout the process. If Brian could carry him around in his backpack to auditions just to hear what he has to say, he would! He has Brian's back. Brian feel that a good director has to support their actors and have a good eye for editing the work and have passion that doesn't die. Robert has gone the extra mile for the show for the actors, designers, and all creative personnel.
Grace McLean as Carley and and Nicholas Park as Burt
He has his hand in all aspects of the production as any director should be. He allows everybody involved to create what they desire and what works for the show. He is not a dictator. He is a general. There is a huge difference. He doesn't mean to make this sound military but there is a big difference between someone who is being dictatorial and authoritarian and unmovable and someone who commands respect and commands cooperation that is given gladly.
There have been many wonderful experiences during this journey with Bedbugs. At the top of that list is an amazing review in The New York
Brian Charles Rooney!
It was a huge validation and a lot of relief. Brian remembers reading it early that morning and bursting into "happy tears".
He was so relieved and he was so grateful. He called Fred Sauter first. He didn't even know there was a review! Because Brian was crying, Fred asked if it was bad. Brian said, "Nooooo!"
Then Brian spoke with Robert Bartley (the director) and Dale Joan Young (Producer). It was a good day because the review validated what they all believed, that people really liked it and people could come and have a good time. Although it is this larger-than-life story, it has heart, and people relate to the characters, and desire to go along on the journey with them.
Tracey Conyer Lee, Barry Shafrin, Danny Bolero

GRACE McLEAN Carly, Young Carly
This may sound like a lot of theatre talk, but this is really true in this case. That was one of the best moments for Brian. Every night is an amazing "moment" for Brian. He loves playing the character he gets to play. He loves the fact that audiences like her. He loves going on the journey that she goes on in the show because she starts out doubtful of her own worth and she finds that worth by the end. Brian wishes everyone could feel whenever they are ever feeling any crippling self-doubt. He certainly has. To go through that catharsis every night in front of an audience is very therapeutic.
Bedbugs Ensemble
In the show, Brian's character stress eats. She is stuffing her face with chips and fries and bread. There is a scene in a diner in which Dionne, Brian's character, meets Carly, the bug lady. They end up having a fight as Dionne is stress eating french fries. It's tricky because Brian sings high in a character voice. 
There was one night where there was not quite enough water in one of the glasses. They have incorporated drinking water into Dionne's stress eating so that the food is "sloshed" before she has to scream the next line. A piece of something salty got caught in Brian's throat. It was a little tricky but
Tracey Conyer Lee as reporter Brenda Bedford
he had to make his way through the next line.
It ended up being a little funny. He has become pretty skilled at spinning  gold from straw. When anything goes wrong in any show, the problem can, sometimes, be fun because of the element of surprise. It becomes a challenge to make some kind of funny reality out of it. There was another night when one of the prop-bags of food came undone. Danny Bolero, who plays Dexter, Dionne's husband, has to dump a garbage can, filled with junk food packages, over Brian's head in a scene. The action helps to illustrate the abusive nature of their characters' relationship. In the scene in question, Dexter is berating Dionne for overeating, and for not having a good attitude, and being down. The food in the broken bag went all over Dionne's head!  Dexter is supposed to leave the scene after yelling, "Clean this mess up!"  Dionne's next line is normally, "Alright, Dexter."  However, in character, Brian started to cry a little bit. He cried out, "I need a broom!" cracking up the entire house in the process. A potentially bad experience turned out to be a good one.  Brian believes you must always react in character. Dionne wouldn't have ignored the mess!
Chris Hall as Cimex and Grace McLean as Carly

Brian was recently having a conversation with a friend when he stated that people are looking to be happy right now.
We all need some kind of escape. Theatre is special because you are THERE and it is going on in front of you in a LIVE way. It is not social media. It is not recorded. It is living in front of you. That's different from something where you're more separated from the entertainment, such as in the case of TV or movies or You Tube or whatever.
In this show, although it has serious moments, it has two lead characters who are trying to find self worth. It has a lot of laughs and joy and makes you feel optimistic. It has a happy ending. It doesn't talk down to it's audience either. It invites you to enjoy that happy ending without making you feel bad about it. That is something that has become quite rare in our business. There is a lot of work out there that either makes it or doesn't, but a lot of it tends to be kind of dark and sometimes pessimistic. There is a place for that because there ARE a lot of things in the world that aren't great.
Brian cannot imagine having not done this show.
Brian has played women in a few shows. His evolution as an actor as far as the make up and creating a physicality for the female roles he has played is not a joke.
Each time this happens, he grows a little bit more and he loves it. People are fooled and there are some audiences in which they don't know.
Brian Charles Rooney as Dionne Salon with Danny Bolero
The ArcLight Theatre, where Bedbugs is playing, is not a huge theatre.People write to Brian via his website and tell him they didn't realize he was a man  until they get halfway home! That is a huge compliment. That means he told the story in a real way and the audience "forgot" or they  just didn't notice. That is a great validation for team effort as far as the writing and the acting and the wig maker and the costume designer and his make-up work. All of it comes together for what Brian needs as far as creating characters and a style, something he is becoming more and more known for. That is becoming more and more clear through his process. He now knows how to get what THEY need. He has also learned how to get what he asks for.  
This is a comforting place to now be as an artist. When you first start out in this business, your instincts get you where you need to be. That is sort of how Bedbugs came to be. When Brian did the first production of Bedbugs, he didn't know  how to ask even for a waste cincher or padding or a certain type of make-up style. When Brian was in Threepenny Opera on Broadway, he played a man dressing as a woman, so there was leeway. Isaac Mizrahi designed the amazing costumes for that production. Brian did not have to concern himself with that look whatsoever.
When there is a new production starting from the ground, the actor sometimes has to know what to ask for. The more Brian works, the more that becomes something he is better capable of.
Director/choreographer Robert Bartley has really good instincts as to how to direct each actor. Brian prefers directors who allow him to come in and do his thing and then say, "This is working" or "Try this instead and let's see if it works." It's great to know they trust you. There are other actors who need more hands on. Brian has been lucky that he has been able to bring a lot of improv to the table as Dionne. Robert has even incorporated some of Brian's improvs into the script. There was a song added to the 2008 production that was not as jokey and was more realistic. Brian said to the creative team that he really needed something for Dionne that was not a joke, that was not a pastiche of something. He desired her to be grounded and wanted audiences to care about her. He didn't want her to be a "Saturday Night Life" sketch for two hours. That would not be funny and it would not be real. They wrote a song that, for Brian, achieved that purpose. From that point on, the evolution of
Dionne was less about "camp" and more about illustrating her growth and her evolvement and breaking away from her abusive husband and finding her own power and the joy that she finds in herself in her relationship with her fans and the power of performing. The entire creative team has been so open collaborative. They know when to take something from a question or a suggestion and make it work and to create something even better out of that.
"Not everyone's ideas are always good, including mine!" It is a beautiful thing to work with artists who desire to collaborate. It makes theatre more exciting.

Brian in ThreePenny Opera
The director's approach to the show was, "We need to think of it as based it reality." He didn't desire it to be perceived as campy or winking to the audience. That is not Brian's style. He doesn't "wink" at the audience. The higher the "camp" factor, the less you wink at the audience. The comedy works better if it is played serious. That is really important and is good for this show. It makes it all more substantial.
It raises the bar higher and it makes it less about "pop culture camp" and makes it more of a story that can last for years. It is a timeless kind of story. A character starts out unhappy and without love and without self love and ends up finding those things by the end. A lot of people go through that.
As stated before, Brian is very proud of this team, especially those who have been part of this since day one. He also loves those who have joined on and been part of this journey for a while. This company have risked their reputations in terms of promoting it and telling those they trust in the business to come see it. Credibility can go out the window with people if you invite them to something and they don't think it is worth their time.They have stumbled along the way, but they love each other and they value each other as friends also in addition to be business associates.
Carly McLean and Colin Scott Cahill
Brian would love as many people as possible to see this especially kids and young adults as well as older and elderly! People from all of those groups have responded well at every show.  He desires as many people as possible to HEAR it. "You can infer a lot from those two statements." He would like to see it produced with a big budget. The actor in Brian, the business man, would like to derive as much success out of this as possible. He wants to do it for a long time. He is not ready to leave Dionne just yet. He would love it to go to Broadway or off-Broadway to a bigger venue. There is something to a show being on Broadway that makes and gives a show even more credibility. It invites people to come see it just being on Broadway. If that's what it takes to get people to go see this show, beyond the very generous reviews and great word of mouth they've had, that's what Brian Charles Rooney wishes. I wish it for all involved and I cannot wait to see the magic they create!
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Cast of BEDBUGS!!! bottom left. Costumes: Philip Heckman. Photos: Rex Bonomelli

 New York Times   ✓ CRITICS’ PICK
“A theatrical blast of fresh air, Bedbugs!!! is an audacious rock-’n’-roll concoction that never stops surprising. The sci-fi slapstick tradition of Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show is alive and well and, now, six-legged.”

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
    A publicity photo from the musical Bedbugs!!!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

“Bedbugs!!!,” a rock 'n' roll musical comedy at the ArcLight Theater, finds these giant mutant insects terrorizing New York City. Credit Rex Bonomelli

Be sure and Save The Date to see Jim Speake on October 19th as he celebrates Cy Coleman

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Chris Hall as Cimex in Bedbugs!!! -- costume by Philip Heckman; photo by Rex Bonomelli

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1 comment:

  1. I just adore Brian Charles Rooney. His performance in Bedbugs is spectacular. Thank you for the terrific interview!