Spotlight on Michael Gruber

by Ed Feldman        

(page two)

EF:  How would you describe your work ethic? How do you tackle a role?

DJ:  I put a lot of trust in the director. Coming from an acting and dance background, you put a lot of faith in the person who tells you what to do. That may be a dancer mentality. Fortunately, with this production there is a genius at the helm that is Jack O'Brien. I hang on to his every word. He is amazing. For most of the shows I've done, I've worked with people who have a great deal of vision and are generous at sharing that vision. I want to be able to connect with the needs of the characters I play whether it is the role I play every night (Keno) or the role I understudy (Ethan). How can you identify with those needs? How are they similar to mine? I feel a certain affinity with both characters.

EF:  That is a good lead in to my next question. How would you describe the characters and how would you compare/contrast yourself to them?

DJ:  Well, Keno is the stripper that I play normally. He seems to be a person that has been knocked around a bit. He was probably made fun of for being gay and had sand kicked in his face in the past. Now he has become this stripper and he finds power and strength in being this physical icon. I wouldn't say I was kicked around a lot as a kid but being involved in theater and dance is not always the common interest for a young man. There were people who didn't understand what I was about and what I wanted to do. That gives you great strength later in life but can be difficult to deal with at the time. I feel like I connected with Keno on that level.

EF:  What about Ethan? He is a very interesting character.

DJ:  He is. I think he is someone who is a little lost. He is searching, trying to find something to be a part of and people to connect with. I think all six characters try to find something to be a part of that they feel good about. They are lost and are trying to find some feeling of self-worth. Through stripping and doing this one night, they find that. In some way that is maybe how I felt about theater as well. Being a part of it is something that is meaningful to me. I know when I was younger it gave me a place to meet people with similar interests and be a part of something that I felt good about, part of something I cared about. I think Ethan is looking for those same kinds of things.

EF:  There really is some depth to these characters, isn't there?

DJ:  The strip at the end proves to be very effective for the six guys. Seeing where they came from to seeing them do this one thing is so powerful. They did the strip at the Tony awards and I was wondering if the people at home would understand where these six characters had come from and what their journey was in terms of coming to this moment where they took their clothes off. The Tony telecast provided more of an entertainment effect. It went very well and apparently was very good for the box office.

EF:  You know what though, that scene on the Tony's will get the people in to watch the show and they will see the big picture.

DJ:  I think it has been tricky marketing this show because they don't want people to think that it is just a strip show. I know they haven't used anything that is Keno related in the publicity. They don't want people to think it is just a Chippendale type show.

EF:  This brings up an interesting point. I like the relationship between these six characters. Ken Mandelbaum had written that Terrence McNally " ... has made a quiet throughline of the hero's homophobia and allowed a pro-male stripper to figure into the action". How would you explain the interaction or relationship between these characters of Jerry and Keno?

DJ:  There is certainly a lot of friction. I think my character is a device to show how Jerry gets from point A to B. They spar a little bit and it isn't a comfortable relationship at all. I come back in the second act just briefly and with a few lines you see how Jerry has come to a different place in terms of how he thinks of this person and also how he comes to accept the relationship between Malcolm and Ethan. You see how this experience has opened him to different things and softened his edges.

EF:  Speaking about relationships, how important is it for this or any cast to get along? It seems like with this show that there is a real chemistry there that goes beyond acting.

DJ:  It is very true. It is interesting going on for one of them and becoming part of that chemistry. At this point, all six understudies have gone for the six guys. For Jerry, it started last week because it has been the first time Patrick (Wilson) has been out. Being within that chemistry is very different than appreciating it from the outside. I felt like I was very ready to go on as Ethan. I think I was competent the first time but it took a few shows until I felt that I was more part of that "thing" that those six guys share.

EF:  I hear the tour is doing well.

DJ:  Yeah. They rehearsed here but I don't know if they even did run throughs before they went to Toronto.

EF:  Did they come watch you guys?

Denis Jones in Chicago
In Chicago
Photo: Michael Beresse
DJ:  They were around. We didn't see a gypsy run through or anything before they left. That is probably a good thing. I remember when I was in Chicago (Broadway) and going with the company into this rehearsal space to see the final run through of the touring cast before they went on the road. I kind of remember being in an uncomfortable situation. I think it was a little tense on both sides. It is maybe who you don't want your first audience to be.

EF:  Now, that is different of course than watching your own show. I hear actors can rotate into the audience?

DJ:  That is invaluable. I haven't swung out yet. There is a lot of the show that I'm not in as Keno. I have big breaks. I'm the dance captain also so it is part of my job to go out and watch the show and maintain it. I've never actually sat and watched the whole thing straight through which I would like to do. A few of the understudies have done that knowing they were going to go on the following week. It was a really positive thing for all of them. Previously, I hadn't seen the shows I was in until I left the production and came back to watch. It was really exciting.

EF:  You talked a bit about being an understudy. An interesting thread came up on the site regarding rehearsal time for understudies. Do you think they are given enough time to rehearse the part?

DJ:  It varies. I did Grease here in NY and understudied the role of Sonny. We did a pre-Broadway tour and the first city was Boston. I went on for the actor since he had an injury. I didn't feel I knew what I was doing. I was running in the wings between numbers and having someone tell me what I had to do next. There was only one understudy who went on during the four months we were in San Diego doing The Full Monty. The remainder of understudies have gone on here in NY and in a fairly timely fashion. There really has not been a nail biting evening. In some ways I don't know if an understudy can really prepare for going on the first time. There is only so much information you can gather from the understudy rehearsals, the stage manager, dance captain or the person you understudy. You have to just do it. You don't have the audience dynamic until you get on. It is also the lights. The stage looks completely different in work lights during understudy rehearsals than in the evening when you are lit. You also don't work in understudy rehearsals with the people that go on every night.

EF:  How often do you have understudy rehearsal?

DJ:  We have them every other week now. It was every week for a while because of the number of understudies and swings that we have. We had a new swing come in recently and with vacations we have vacation swings coming in. The understudies have been very good about preparing themselves as well. There is such a tremendously talented group of people here.

Denis Jones in The Full Monty
With Patti Perkins in
The Full Monty

Photo: Carol Rosegg
EF:  Let's back up a little. How did The Full Monty come about for you?

DJ:  I had worked with Jerry Mitchell (choreographer) a few times before. In my first Broadway show, which was Grease, Jerry was the associate choreographer. I did Busker Alley with him and Tommy Tune. I had also done Broadway Bares for Jerry a few times. He knew that I was no stranger to the bump and grind. I went in and read and sang for the rest of the panel and did a workshop reading in NY before we went out to San Diego. Nothing was for sure but I felt fairly confident I was going to go to Broadway.

EF:  How do you deal with that uncertainty? I mean what is your attitude toward this profession knowing you are not always going to have a job?

DJ:  It is part of what you accept when you go into this business. There is very little job security. It has to be an accepted element of your life. I don't know how you reconcile yourself with that uncertainty. It can make you crazy if you let it. It is nice when you get into a show like this where business is great and they are expecting a healthy run. You can rest a little easier at night knowing you aren't going to see a notice on the board. It won't go on forever - and you probably won't want to go on with it forever. There is nothing wrong with sticking around in a show but things are different when you get into your thirties. I'm 33. Your financial concerns become different and there are other issues that fit into the equation of making job decisions and career movement.


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