When Will Gartshore had the opportunity to be in Signature Theatre’s upcoming production of A Little Night Music, there wasn’t much need to think about it.
“You just say ‘yes’ to a Stephen Sondheim show,” he says. “It’s sophisticated and funny and a combination of Chekhov and Oscar Wilde set to music. It’s one of those shows that I have known since I was a teenager, but had never seen and never been in.”
Although there was a time in his early 20s when he tried out for the role of Henrik, but hitting the B natural necessary for the part never quite happened, so not surprisingly, he didn’t land the part.
For this production, he’s playing Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (no B natural required!), a military dragoon who hypocritically places value on fidelity, being hugely possessive when it comes to both his wife and mistress.
The Tony-Award winning show, written by Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, is set in 1900 Sweden, and revolves around a tangled web of love affairs. The popular score includes “A Weekend in the Country,” “Liaisons” and the seminal “Send in the Clowns.”
“It’s a gorgeous looking production, a gorgeous sounding production and a really hilarious, touching, moving, wry show,” Gartshore says. “It’s a combination of a beautiful period piece plus an aspect of a grown-up romantic/sex comedy, plus this incredible score, which is smart and modern with a great throwback vibe.”
Surprisingly, A Little Night Music isn’t often performed in the area.
“It’s not an easy show. It’s very sophisticated and you need solid actors and musicians,” Gartshore says. “Not having seen it ever on stage, I can’t speak on how it all works, but I do wonder why it’s not performed more regionally. It was a commercial success, so we know it works.”
The actor, who was last at Signature in The Fix, was also drawn to the show because of director Eric Schaeffer and its cast, which he calls “a collection of D.C. theater all stars,” many of whom are old friends. The production includes Holly Twyford as Desiree, Florence Lacey as Madame Armfeldt and Bobby Smith as Frederik Egerman, and also includes Nicki Elledge, Sam Ludwig, Anna Grace Nowalk, Tracy Lynn Olivera and Maria Rizzo.
Born in Canada, Gartshore left to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City when he was 19.
“I was bit by the acting bug in high school. I was on the track to do science and math and be a physicist or something, and had to take an arts credit to graduate and opted for drama, and in the course of a few months, found myself loving the stage,” he says. “I started doing some of the plays at the school and then I did community theater. My first musical was Jesus Christ Superstar, although I didn’t think I could sing, but I went in cocky and confident having listened to the cast recording 500 times.”
A Little Night Music
Opens August 15, 2017
at Signature Theatre
Details and tickets
Although he had a “big” voice, it was a little unshaped, and he decided to put the music on hold when he went for his schooling and concentrate solely on acting. However, once he started auditioning for professional shows, he found that he was landing as many musicals as plays, and he’s been doing both ever since.
He had his first taste of Broadway in 1999 doing Parade, an experience he will never forget.
“It was pretty magical. I had boots made for me when I was 23, for a three-minute scene,” he says. “For me, the magic happens in rehearsal, as much as it is on stage. It was incredible.”
Gartshore has an interesting life away from the stage. When not acting, he serves in the World Wildlife Foundation’s U.S. Government Relations as a senior policy officer. He leads WWF’s government advocacy on wildlife conservation issues, including wildlife trafficking and international endangered species, as well as on U.S. domestic climate change policy.
“When I moved to D.C. in 2000, I found that I had some space in my schedule so I decided to go back to the academics I had put on the side when I made the choice to concentrate on acting,” he says. “I went back to school at the University of Maryland, College Park in their environment and science policy program and got pulled into the history honors program as well. When I finished, I dipped my toe in to something different and I’ve been with the WWF for almost 10 years now.”
He says he’s been an environmentalist longer than he’s been an actor, so he gets a great deal of satisfaction out of his career.
“To be able to actualize that other passion and skill set has been great,” Gartshore says. “I came on more from a research and writing perspective originally, but then I started lobbying and now that’s the bread and butter of what I do. It turns out the skill set you develop as an actor translates very well to Capitol Hill. Communication and taking talking points and convincingly persuading people works out really well.”
Balancing acting and his job is a delicate proposition sometimes, and he says he’s lucky enough that there’s understanding on both ends to help him do both. Of course, it does mean that when he does double duty, his social life is non-existent. But he’s happy that he gets to do two things he loves.
“I like being busy and being productive, and it does give me a charge,” he says.