Marc Kudisch on Holiday Guys

Marc Kudisch walks into a room, motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm, and the coolness vibe spikes by a factor of 10. He’s a Broadway star with more than 20 major shows – like 9 to 5 and A Minister’s Wife – to his credit,  and three Tony nominations.  DC is one of his favorite theatre towns. You may remember him in Golden Age at the Kennedy Center, and his several appearances at Signature Theatre. He got raves for his cabaret performance What Makes Me Tick, and his snake of a devil Darryl Van Horne in Witches of Eastwick won him a Helen Hayes Award.

When we talked by phone late Wednesday night I was ready to hear about his latest show The Holiday Guys, opening Dec 11th at Signature – check! – and a look at what’s coming next year. That part of our conversation took an unexpected turn.

We began with Holidays Guys, a show created with long time friend, actor/choreographer Jeffry Denman (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Yank!). Marc had just heard some Christmas songs on his car radio, called Jeffry … –

Marc Kudisch (Photo: Aubrey Reuben)

Marc: …and I said, we need to do a Christmas show, we’ve never done one, and it’ll be great. It’ll be easy, and it’ll be relaxed, and we’ll throw, like, beanbags out on the stage, and we’ll put out rugs, and we’ll make it seem like it’s a living room, instead of a stage, and it will be sort of like all of those subscribers come every year, and it will be a gift … to say thank you, you know, for coming and it’ll be awesome.”

Jeff and I have worked with each other in all of these concerts. Jeff’s directed some I’ve been in. I’ve directed some Jeff’s been in. We’re really different and yet we find the same things really, really fun and funny, because we have such different energy that’s actually a great complement.

We try to explain to people what we’re doing, because it’s out of the box. It doesn’t fit. It’s not a cabaret. Nowhere near a cabaret. It’s not a theater piece, really. It’s not fictional.

Lorraine: More like a concert?

Concert! Yes! A concert with benefits.  If you think of “Laugh-In” or if you think of Carol Burnett’s show, or Jonathan Winters’ show, or if you think of the Smothers Brothers, Dean Martin’s roast shows. It’s us being us, and singing what we absolutely love, but they’re our own arrangements, they’re our own points of view on those themes.

We want the audience to walk in and feel like they’ve left their living room to enter ours. That’s truly the point of the piece. To define for people what the holidays are truly about, at the core.

It’s really dumb and stupid stuff a lot of the time. And when I say that, I mean it in the best terms. ‘Cause I think stupidity and genius border each other.

It’ll be like a conversation. Come on over. We’ll drink. We’ll be merry. Good times. We’ll talk about stuff.

Marc Kudisch and Jeffry Denman in the holiday variety entertainment, The Holiday Guys
(Photo: Ben Strothmann)

So, is this mostly improv or is there a fixed script?

Here’s the deal. It takes a lot of time and effort to make something look as loose and crazy as this. Is it scripted? No. Is it structured? Yes. Is there improvisation every night? Absolutely. That’s the point.

We don’t know what the audience is going to be like every night. The audience actually becomes the show. I don’t know how they’re gonna react from night to night. I’ve got no idea what they’re going to do. I can make assumptions about certain moments, I can have an educated guess about what’s going to happen, but I can never truly know. Neither can Jeff. And that’s the point.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

Well, no, but I mean that’s why it’s its own thing. You know what I’m saying? Like, everything you do is not like anything you’ve done before if you are committed to it.

It is a form that I enjoy and that I am writing in right now. I’ve written another show. It’s a history of the baritone voice. And it’s being produced in Boston but it’s very likely going to have a bit of a tour of a couple of cities before it comes to Boston. And it is, again, a concert with benefits. It is a concert, but it’s more than a concert. There’s not a plot line but there is an emotional arc. And I think that with Holiday Guys, it’s sort of a similar thing.

– Marc was featured as Darryl Zanuch on the May 7 episode of the Broadway TV series Smash.

“Smash” was crazy. Just crazy. I went there, you know, and did that number, [“Don’t Say Yes Until I’m Finished Talking"] and it was just insane. But fun. I knew everybody there. I literally did that, then “Blue Blood”, and then  “Gossip Girls” in a row. It was, you know, so interesting to work on three different shows with three very different sort of ways of working and points of view.

– On December 3rd, Marc joined Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Ceveris and most of the original Broadway cast of Assassins, in a benefit for Roundabout Theatre. –

Fantastic. It was great for the company to come back together again and to do that show again and to be reminded why I got into theater to begin with. You know, it’s one of my proudest moments on the stage. I really felt like I would never again experience what I felt on that first preview of Assassins. But I would say that doing this revival concert, you know, bringing the company back again, it really came pretty damn close. All of us are like ecstatic about it. It was thrilling to get back together, to sort of jump back on the horse again, to – everyone remembered everyone else’s performances but their own. Think about what I just said for a minute. Because everyone was so in tune to everyone else. And enjoying everyone else. I remember Denis O’Hare was, like, Marc, don’t you remember, you do this thing over here. And I’m like, what do you mean? Oh no, you did this whole thing, don’t you remember? And he literally showed me what I did. And it was like, oh, my God, that’s right.

You’ve had quite a year.

I’ve had a very good year, but it’s been sort of a challenging year because I said probably ‘no’ this year more than I’ve ever said in my career before. Things that I’ve really wanted in the past. I said ‘no’ to four plays, all in New York City, – one in particular that’s running right now that I did in DC at the Kennedy Center, that I just decided I’ve done and I didn’t need to do it again. But it was also because I was slowly discovering that it was someone else’s voice, and I needed to follow my own.

I’m transitioning. I’m at the point where I don’t want to sing eight shows a week, unless it’s something that is truly my kind of my voice. A highlight for me last year was doing Tartuffe at Westport Playhouse. Getting back to a piece of classic theater because it was what I was trained to do. I wasn’t trained to sing. I wasn’t trained to do music theater at all. And I realized how much I missed it. How much I truly, truly missed it. It was great. Rhyming couplets. Awesome.

What if Warren Buffett gave you a ton of cash to produce whatever you wanted what would that be?

So if Warren Buffett came to me with a bunch of cash I’d say great, because I have three projects on the docket right now. There’s no question of what I would do. I’m already doing it. You know, I have this show that I’ve written, we have the Holiday Guys right now, which is the first step in a much bigger picture in terms of what ultimately we want it to be, because, guess what, there’s more than one holiday in the year.

and …

And we want to nuke ‘em all. Really explore them all, actually, I mean there’s, believe me, there’s a lot to be said for Valentine’s Day you know. I’m producing a new piece of music theater that I adore, The Astonishing Return of the Protagonists, about middle-aged superheroes, that we’re doing a big presentation of in January, and getting people behind us there. We have regional theaters that are very interested in the project.

We  have a great director, who will be announced in the future. We have a great cast of people, and  it’s a wonderful piece of theater. It’s fun, it’s great humor.

So Warren Buffett – if you’re reading this and you wanna get into the theater – I’m your man.

Because I want to tell stories that don’t apologize or second-guess an audience. An audience bursting out laughing is awesome. An audience dead silent is awesome. Like when we did Tartuffe this summer.  In little Westport, Connecticut. Audiences were going crazy. The last time I heard that kind of vocal response from an audience was when we did Witches of Eastwick at Signature.  And I mean that because, trust me, Witches surprised people when we did it.  I was doing things on that stage that I thought for sure people were not going to be having. But they loved it.  I had people say, dude, that’s a little too far. Well, look at the character!

Why do you think Witches of Eastwick didn’t move on from Signature?

I think eventually, Eric will focus back on it again, because I think there’s work to be done. It’s not dissimilar to what I did in 9 to 5 – it’s one man and three women. But there’s something deeper to The Witches of Eastwick. Because you’re not just dealing with women who are frustrated with their work environment.  Or with their boss. You’re dealing with women who have allowed themselves to be taken into  a deeply dysfunctional relationship. They allow themselves to be defined by this person. The truth is – and I think that’s something we can focus more on in that play –  the only power he has is of persuasion. All he has to control these three women is knowledge, that’s his power. That’s it. Women are the ones with the magic.

So let’s get back to your upcoming appearance at Signature. Will Holiday Guys be okay for the kids?

Sure! That’s the thing I love about the show. You know, I can absolutely say, without a shadow of a doubt, this is fun for all ages. You don’t have to worry about any of the language in the show. I’m telling you – people say, like, is it family friendly. Absolutely! And kids have a great time, and adults have a great time.

And, the thing that makes me super-happy … most of the guys who come to see the show are dragged there by their wives or girlfriends. They expect to not have fun. They do leave happy. And it makes me happy when a guy comes up and says, “Man, that was great.” I’ve said – “You thought you were going to hate this, didn’t you?” “Yeah, yeah, I did. I thought I was gonna hate it.”

They think I’m gonna be singing, with a little choir in the back or something. Truthfully, they thing they’re going to go see a kid’s show. And they think they’re going to see something precious and sticky and oh, golly, gee, aren’t they – no. No, no and no. No. No. And no. Not going to see anything precious. No.

The Holiday Guys runs Dec 11 – 16, 2012 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Cambell Avenue Arlington, VA.
Details and tickets

From there they move it to the York Theatre, 619 Lexington Ave, NYC from Dec 18 – 31, 2012
Details and tickets

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