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Edward Watts Goes Under the Sea
by Michael Portantiere


Edward Watts
In a great example of making lemonade out of lemons, Edward Watts gained so much positive attention for his performance (and his appearance wearing little more than a fig leaf) in the Broadway mega-flop Scandalous that, before you could say "Look! Up in the sky," he was playing the title role in the City Center Encores! production of It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman. Now he has gone from flying high over the city of Metropolis to ruling the undersea world as King Triton in the new production of The Little Mermaid that begins performances this week at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. I spoke with Ed about these experiences and about one of his other favorite roles, El Gallo in The Fantasticks in the Jerry Orbach Theater at the Snapple Theater Center.

Michael Portantiere:  How is the final stretch of rehearsals for The Little Mermaid going? It must be a very challenging show from a technical standpoint.

Edward Watts:  It's going very well. We had three weeks or so of rehearsals in the city, and we got to the point of being able to do four or five run-throughs there. Once we got to Paper Mill and got into tech, that really changed things up, because there's a lot of flying in the show. It's been quite a transition. This is my first time flying—they don't usually fly the big, leading men types—and it's a lot of fun.

MP:   One of the major criticisms of the Broadway staging was that having many of the cast members on "heelies" didn't work to convey the idea that they were swimming around in the ocean, but I understand that concept has been replaced by flying in this new production.

EW: Yeah, the heelies have pretty much been scrapped for everyone except the two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, and I think they work well for those two characters. What I thought about the heelies was that you never got away from the idea that you were seeing people's legs, even though they were supposed to be mermaids and mermen with fins. Now, we have tails that go all the way to the floor and then out, so you really can't see our legs. When you add the flying and you see those tails going, it really gives you that underwater feel.

MP:  In textual terms, is the show pretty much the same as it was on Broadway?

EW:  No, that has changed a bit, too. There's a lot more focus now on character development, and there are some new songs. Disney has given the blessing to [director] Glenn Casale and [musical director] Craig Barna to take the show to a new level.

MP:  But I hope they've kept some of those wonderful songs that Alan Menken and Glenn Slater wrote for Broadway. Is the prince's song, "Her Voice," still in it?

EW:   Oh, yeah. Nick Adams is singing the hell out of it.

MP:  And how about "She's In Love?"

EW:  That's still in, as well. Most of the stuff you heard on Broadway is still in the show, but sadly for me, Triton does not do a lot of singing in this production. I was pushing as hard as I could to get them to put back in the song he sang before he destroys Ariel's grotto full of human stuff. I thought I was going to get it back, but then it didn't happen.

MP:  I'd like to ask about some of your other roles. I never got to see you as El Gallo in The Fantasticks, but several people have told me they thought you were excellent in it.

EW:  I loved doing that show. Such a great time. I did it on and off for about two years; I was the 50th actor to play the role, and it was during the show's 50th anniversary year, which was a pretty neat correlation. Tom Jones came in and reprised the role of the Old Actor for about seven weeks, so I got to work with him, which was a huge treat. Somebody who came to the show told me, "I was talking to Tom Jones the other day, and he said you were the best El Gallo he'd seen since the original [Jerry Orbach]." I was very humbled to hear that.

MP:  That's especially meaningful praise coming from him, because he's very vocal about his likes and dislikes when it comes to performers in that show. I believe Kristin Chenoweth has said he really didn't care for her interpretation of The Girl when she played the part late in the run of the original production down on Sullivan Street.

EW:  That's right, he thought she was too funny. He does not like that in a Luisa; he wants her to be much more innocent and na├»ve. True story! Oh, gosh, I've got a ton of 'em from Tom. We've had many a meal together.

MP:  I did get to see you as Adam Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Paper Mill, and of course, in Scandalous and Superman. Talk to me about Superman.

EW:  The cast was great, and [director] John Rando knew exactly what to do with that show. Playing Superman was a huge highlight of my life; I got so much attention for it that I had to hire a publicist. I really hoped somebody was going to pick up the production and move it. There was a lot of interest at the time, then it sort of petered out. But the show was a blast.

MP:  Do you think you appearance in Scandalous helped you get cast as Superman?

EW:  I'm sure it had something to do with it. I already knew most of the major players in Superman, but Scandalous was the first time I got to take a bow in a leading role on Broadway. So I do think it helped to have some Broadway cred, and also, the fact that I was playing two very different roles in Scandalous maybe solidified in some people's minds that I could play Clark Kent and Superman.

MP:  Was Scandalous a painful experience in terms of the extremely negative reviews for the show in general, and the short run?

EW:  It wasn't painful for me at all. My perspective on it was that I got to create two roles in a new Broadway musical. I had no control over any of the stuff that went on behind the scenes—and I'm not the type of person to stress about things I can't control, because what's the point? I just did my job and stayed out of it, and I got to work with some phenomenal people who are now great friends of mine, so a lot of good stuff came out that show for me.

MP:  Well, thanks so much for talking, and I will see you soon in The Little Mermaid. I know the show is a co-production and it's going to travel after Paper Mill, isn't that right?

EW:  Yes. As of now, we're only going to Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Kansas City Starlight. There have been a lot of rumors floating around, but nothing else is definite. I'm really enjoying the experience. Glenn Casale is a great actors' director, so we've been able to dig into the characters for nuances. The show is looking and sounding beautiful, and the flying is spectacular.


For more information on the Paper Mill production of The Little Mermaid, please visit http://www.papermill.org/


Also see our previous interview with Edward Watts


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