Rex Smith as Chauvelin
SP2: Minskoff Theater

The Scarlet Pimpernel : Broadway's Most Intriguing Musical.

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Interview with Marc Kudisch

The first time I saw Marc play Chauvelin, I thought the best word that described his interpretation was intense. Now that I've met him, I think it accurately describes Marc himself, as well as his character. He put a lot of thought into his answers, as you will very quickly realize.

NR: Tell me first about where you grew up.

MK: Fort Lauderdale.

NR: That's quite a ways from here. I notice you're wearing a Yankees hat.

MK: Well, I've lived in New York now for over ten years.

NR: What inspired you to become a performer?

MK: Honestly, I don't know if anything specifically did. I just got into it. I did a play in high school my senior year, so I can say, "I did a play in high school my senior year." In college I was a Poli-Sci major and I took theater as relaxation from doing Poli-Sci. I found that I was spending more and more time in the theater department, and less time in the Political Science department, partly because Poli-Sci was very depressing. I was saying to someone the other night that political theory is based on failure. It's all based on failure. Everything is designed based on when they think it's going to fail. How long will this run until it eventually falls apart? And, will we be out of office by then?

NR: OK, that's an interesting theory.

MK: But it is. Look at all of the programs, whether it be The New Deal, whether it be The Great Society, whether it be Reaganomics, because those were the three last major economic functions that we had in this century. The New Deal worked as long as we were in a depression because it was about rebuilding. Once things were rebuilt, it really didn't work anymore. That's when The Great Society came in. The Great Society was trying to be a check and balance between those that had money and those that didn't. It mostly backfired. Then in the mid-70's, that completely backfired on us. We went into a huge inflation with the gas crisis and the whole deal. That's when The Great Society caught up. Reaganomics came in. Reaganomics was a short term economics that lasted for ten or twelve years. It made everything look really good till Reagan was out of office and then of course we had to deal with the huge deficit that we had from what supply-side economics did to us. I think now we're in a completely different frame of mind due to the "regular schmo." I'm personally a fan of Clinton. I think the economy has done a great deal and I think it's largely due to his efforts. You can say what you think about the man but we don't have a deficit. We are back to manufacturing product. We are a nation of product and we are a nation of paper, and we are a nation of a strong economic backbone that is keeping itself surprisingly in balance.

But it was the failure thing that just made me laugh. I enjoyed that, but that was my favorite part of politics. Theater was something I could really believe in. At three in the morning I was building a set when I should have been studying. At the end of my sophomore year I finally decided to change my major, so that's when I got into theater.

I went to a real small school, which most people went to because it's three blocks off the beach. I was invited because I was in the top ten percentile in the state of Florida and it was the first four-year freshman program so my first semester was basically free. We were invited into it. It was a graduate school before I went there. While I was working for my degree in the Bachelor of Fine Arts, they were trying to figure out what their four-year program was, so my first year and a half, I was doing graduate work. I did graduate work to start with because those were the classes that they already had, and then I had to go back and fill in.

NR: That must have been a little strange.

MK: It was a little strange but they gave me a lot of independent study work because it was a small theater department. I did about twenty productions when I was in school and I directed three. It was that kind of thing where the experience paid off when I moved to New York. I worked for a year professionally in South Florida. I got into the union and I moved to New York, but I had under my belt way more experience than I think most people do when they get out of college, because it was really "hands on." I was very fortunate that I had worked in that atmosphere. So, good colleges, bad colleges, "name" colleges, it's more the experience.

NR: What's your favorite role that you've done so far?

MK: I don't know that I'd say I have a favorite.

NR: Are there some you liked more than others?

MK: I like this. I like this a lot. It's fun. It's a cool character. I think he's interesting. And also I don't have to jump and leap and dive off of everything known to man. Gaston was a great character but he was physically very tough. Bye, Bye Birdie - Conrad's another great character but also difficult physically. This is a great character but vocally demanding. I've been fortunate that the characters that I generally play are very tour de force kind of characters. They have big personalities and when they come on - Boom - they're there! And then they're gone. And then they're there again. Birdie was very much that and Gaston was very much that. George Kittredge in High Society, being more "real" and less heightened than the other characters, was still that kind of personality - very strong. I don't know that I have a particular favorite. I like them all. I've had the good fortune of being able to play a wide variety of very strong personalities.

NR: A lot of them seem to be villains. Is that by design or did it just work out that way?

MK: I think I'm good at understanding what makes those types of characters tick. I think I understand how to make them human, which is generally why I end up doing them. One - because I have a sense of humor and I'm good at comedy. But I understand comedy in the situation of it and not necessarily a "bag of trick" thing. Do you understand what I'm saying?

NR: Not exactly.

MK: There are a lot of people who are "personality" performers less than real actors. They have their "bag of tricks" that they will pull out pretty much in any show and they work. For every different character that I've played, every one of those characters has had humor to it, but the humor has been completely different given the context of the character and the situation in which the character finds itself. Gaston is humorous for different reasons than Chauvelin. Chauvelin is humorous for different reasons than Conrad, or George Kittredge for that matter. Each one of them is a particular kind of person that you can look at and recognize. You wouldn't necessarily empathize...I always end up playing the characters that people recognize, not empathize. Beauty and the Beast - it's the Beast you empathize with. Birdie is a character you recognize. Chauvelin is a character you recognize. It's more Percy or Marguerite that you empathize with.

NR: So, people probably aren't cheering for your character?

MK: Yeah. That's why I generally end up playing villains. Besides, I'm a dark baritone. There are a few people that still write for voices. The baritone used to be the leading man, but it's really become the tenor's role. When you're a baritone, you don't have to work hard for darkness. It's already innate. It's there. You can actually try to be, especially with Chauvelin, as romantic as possible. "Where's The Girl?" to me, is a very romantic song. It's not seductive, it's romantic. It's his version of pain, love, loss. That's what the song is about. "Falcon" to me is very poetic...very poetic.

NR: Poetic?

MK: Oh, absolutely. Read the lyrics. Don't listen to the song. The song is very "hard" because of the drive of the character, but what he says is so intelligent. It's so intelligently written. My favorite lyrics in the whole show are "I wasn't born to walk on water, I wasn't born to sack and slaughter, But on my soul, I wasn't born to stoop to scorn and knuckle under." That's not an idiot. "There was a dream - a dying ember" - all of that. "But I will resurrect that dream, though rivers stream and hills grow steeper." He's the only character in the show that really looks in. He's introspective. He's the only character in the show that you ever really get in his head. No one else really observes their situation and comments on it - not like that. I find "Falcon" to be very poetic.

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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