Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
(The "Introducing ... " series features an interview
Darrin Baker: I saw one of the first previews of Dirty Blonde in New York and the show touched my heart. It was one of those rare and special pieces that made me laugh and completely took me by surprise. I loved not knowing what was going to happen next and I found myself becoming invested in it and wanting to know what was going to happen. I related to Charlie's troubles and I wanted him to succeed. I also learned something about Mae West, a legend that I knew so little about. I was so thrilled that an audience of both young and old seemed to be touched by the love story between Jo and Charlie and also by the Mae West sequences. I also thought ... "Wow! What an opportunity for the actor playing Charlie ... he gets to do so much ... show so many sides ... a dream role for an actor!"
I remember telling so many people at the time, boy that would be a great role to play. So when the opportunity to play Charlie came up ... it was a no brainer - I had to do it!
SC: In Dirty Blonde, you play the leading male role of Charlie, a rather complex character, as well as a number of other smaller roles. What is the greatest challenge in tackling multiple roles in a show, as well as being a central lead at the same time?
DB: Well it is hard enough to play a role from start to finish in a conventional play (eight times a week) and in this play the "main" story is interrupted, for lack of a better word, with all of the other characters that I must step into. However, something that (author) Claudia Shear did that was so brilliant was set it up in a way that each of the little scenes that flash back to Mae's life seem to inform the main storyline and help the arc of the play. Also, Loretta Greco, our director, was meticulous about how to use each of those flashbacks in a way that helped to keep me connected to the main story line. She directed me so that they really seemed to fuel all of my Charlie scenes.
However, it is a challenge to stay focused in Charlie's desires after stepping in and out of his life. The thing I have tried to do is to keep Charlie's knowledge of Mae and all of the stories about her as if I were telling Jo about them in person ... but living the stories ... instead of just telling them to her, sort of a way of always staying in Charlie's perspective.
SC: You are better known for your work in musicals, having appeared in the Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Footloose. How do you approach doing a non-musical play differently than a big budget musical?
DB: I never really think about it as being musical vs. non-musical or "big show" versus "small show." I approach all my work the same way. I think that every play or story that I am involved with has to have one main ingredient ... honesty. I also am grateful to have done so many musicals, and I am learning that every acting job has a musicality to it. A rhythm that comes out of the words ... the truth.
SC: What are the main differences for you between performing in New York as opposed to performing in regional theater?
DB: Finding a restaurant that serves food after 11:00 PM! Let me tell ya ... I love the Cincinnati Playhouse, but try finding a burger after the show! And I am so hungry after a performance.
SC: Cincinnati is known as a great theater town, but also as a more conservative one. How has the reaction to a more challenging piece like Dirty Blonde been?
DB: It has been very interesting performing in The Shelter House, the smaller of the Playhouse's two theaters. It is a 225 seat theater in three-quarter round. A thrust stage where most of the audience is exposed by the stage light. We are so aware of the audience here. Ms. Shear wrote a piece that is "in your face." Well maybe not in a traditional proscenium theater, but here in this little space we are in their faces. From the very first line we talk right to the audience and I am not so certain that the Playhouse patrons know how to deal with it. I mean hey, you come to the theater to watch, and here we are saying ... "okay, buckle up folks ... you are a part of this!" They are a big part of the evening, and though I feel that every audience is always the "ultimate" acting partner ... here we are literally in their faces ... and REALLY close. They have a tendency to either go with it from the start or warm up to us.
I treat it like a blind date. Sometimes after the drink order you are having the best time and the chemistry is just right and sometimes it doesn't happen until you order desert. I have had to remember that just because they are not screaming with laughter from the outset ... they are taking us in, getting used to us and the format of this piece. The nights where they are less vocal at the start, but are applauding and cheering by the end are the most gratifying. It is not so easy to accept a man dressed in a full sequined gown grabbing his love interest dressed in the same outfit ... and kissing her passionately! I think the show is very liberating that way and ... yes, I like to shake up an audience ... especially if they are a little tentative ... or conservative as you put it. It is particularly gratifying to have the men (with their wives) come up to me as I am leaving the theater and say ... "Hey buddy. Nice legs!!!"
SC: I understand that you have recorded a CD where you perform duets with some of today's leading Broadway divas. Give us some details on that project and how readers might get a hold of a copy.
DB: I had an idea to do a solo album, I still like to call them albums, about two years ago after recording Little by Little, the off-Broadway musical I did with Liz Larsen and Christianne Noll. I had such a great time recording that, that I thought wouldn't it be great to do another. Not so easy. I am not a household name in the Broadway circuit and so I came up with this idea to ask all of the fantastic ladies I have worked with to help me out. Having such well known "divas" was the only way I figured I could get a record deal. Thankfully all of the women I asked jumped on board! Can I mention a few? Okay ... Alice Ripley, Donna McKechnie, Karen Mason, Dee Hoty, and others (not to mention Liz and Christianne).
As it turned out James Marino and Caralyn Spector loved the idea and gave me a healthy budget to do this album, called What's a Nice Girl Like You .... It spun into a fantastic idea to do this duets CD, sort of a throw back to the kind of duets that were lyric driven. I handpicked the songs and had great artistic input. I am so proud of it. I think you can just sit and listen to it ... or throw it on at a cocktail party in the background. It is very jazz oriented ... sort of a fusion of old traditional standards and Broadway. Not an eleven o'clock number kind of CD. They are sweet and fun "little" songs. The women are FANTASTIC and I hope that your readers will log onto www.DarrinBaker.com and give it a listen ... and then of course order one ... or two ... the perfect stocking stuffer. Hey, you can't blame a guy for trying to sell a few CD's. And by the way - I don't see any of that money. The record company owns the CD and the website!
SC: What do you think, or know, that the future holds for both Darrin Baker the performer and Darrin Baker the person?
DB: I only know one thing ... they are both the same guy! I had a very challenging and difficult year prior to this job. I didn't think the sun would ever shine on me again. One of those life altering pitfalls that make you decide ... hey, I can either sit in my hurts and pains and squish around in it and complain and cry the blues to anyone who will listen, or I can pick myself up and try to learn something. I still have so much to learn and I know that I have the desire to do that. This job has been a way for me to continue to get to know myself as both person and artist ... and I know that if I keep my heart and head looking to the future for more challenges and opportunities ... it should be a pretty interesting and wonderful journey. I just wanna keep working and going for what I want ... other than that ... "only the shadow knows ... and he ain't talking!"