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The Scarlet Pimpernel : Broadway's Most Intriguing Musical.

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Interview with Mark McGrath

Mark is certainly a man who does his homework. He had studied my League bio before we met and began by quizzing me. He remembered what I do for a living, the name of my community theater group and even asked me my favorite role to play. My response was Lady Thiang in The King and I which is something that Mark mentioned later on in our interview. We met in between performances on a day when he was filling in for Rex Smith as Chauvelin.

NR: Where did you grow up?

MM: I grew up in Ohio. I was born in Cincinnati, raised in a little town called Mason, Ohio. Do you know where Kings Island is?

NR: Yes, I've been there. (Kings Island is a theme park outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.)

MM: OK. One of my first performing jobs was at Kings Island.

NR: When did you decide you wanted to become a performer, and why?

MM: I always knew I wanted to be a performer ever since I was a child. I was a ham as a kid. I used to sing television commercials. So I think I always had the propensity towards that. I think it's a typical story. At the local church the choir director heard me singing and said, "Would you like to join the choir?" so I was a boy soprano in the choir. I started doing community theater a little bit. My first community theater job was when I was 21, almost 22. I had not done any theater. That's what I mean by being a late bloomer.

I was a club singer. I sang in a lot of rock and roll bands. I sang top 40 music, all kinds of stuff. And then one of the guys who was directing a production of 1776 at our community theater in 1976, because it was the bicentennial, said, "You've got a nice voice. Would you like to audition for us?" So, I auditioned for the role of Rutledge and he really liked my voice and that's where I got "bit by the bug." So from then on I just started doing it.

NR: Is it what you hoped it would be?

MM: That's a good question. Is it what I hoped it would be?

NR: Well, you probably imagined a career like this. Is it what you expected?

MM: I think it's more in some ways. Much more than I could possibly have imagined. And, that's the only way I can put it. It's more than I could possibly have imagined. You have to live it to really get a chance to see what it's like. And, God, it's fun! I'm like a kid. When I get a chance to do this role (Chauvelin), the little kid inside of me goes "YAY!" Isn't that how you felt when you did Lady Thiang? Didn't you think, "Oh, I love this role." Like you couldn't wait to go back on and do it again?

NR: Absolutely.

MM: That's the way I am. If it's a role I love to do and if it's with great people (this talented cast) and it's with Doug and Rachel who look you right in the eye and play the scenes back and forth with you, you say in your mind, "I love this, I love it."

NR: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a performer?

MM: Get a degree. I think that's important, especially if you go to a good school that gives you the professional training, that lets you know what to expect when you come to do professional theater so you don't have "pie in the sky" ideas. I think you have to be grounded in reality when you come here. And you've got to love what you do. You've got to love it, because you have to put up with a lot of stuff, and a lot of rejection, and a lot of not working before you finally get those jobs. I think a bona fide passion for your work has to be there. You have to love it, I think. And have fun doing it.

If I would give any advice it's to get a background job. Get a survival job. My wife and I word process. Before I got this job I was working at a help desk. You know, "Help desk, Mark speaking." Trouble shooting software. That's what I was doing but it pays the bills. Especially if you do something like computer work or something that pays well, you can maintain a decent lifestyle while you're still trying to pursue your craft.

NR: Peter Williams (aka Juggler), who runs the web-site, has a question for you. What is it like to stick your head in the guillotine and have the blade fall?

MM: It is a little creepy. But, again, it's fun. For me, it's fun because after having done it a couple times - you know that first - "OK, is this going to work?" - "OK, it works. Now let's have some fun." So, you know how I scream at the end? That's because I want someone to wet their pants out there (not literally). But, I want you to feel that chill -- I want you to jump!

NR:: I DID jump the first time.

MM: Yeah, I want you to. That's all part of the fun of the acting, you know? I want you to go, (screaming) "Oh, God!" as I actually stop my voice as if the blade has suddenly cut-off my scream.

NR: (laughing) I remember looking at my 9 year old son and thinking, "Should I have brought him to this?"

MM: And he probably loved it. He probably said, "Do it again."

NR: He did. (Note: As the story unfolded, all of my fears were put to rest. The Scarlet Pimpernel is certainly suitable for a 9 year old.)

Now, when you're Chauvelin and you see someone go through that, do you think differently? Does that seem strange watching that?

MM: You mean when I'm putting Doug up there? To me, again it's fun, it's powerful, because I'm playing this madman. At that moment I'm Chauvelin getting rid of someone that's been a thorn in my butt for such a long time and I've also saved my own life. The stakes are very high so when I go, "It is done. It is done." it's like, "God, thank you. I have saved my life. I have gotten rid of this thorn in my butt." To my own dismay, I still think I'm going to get her back. too. I even go over to her and go, "Are you ready to come home now?" In my sick way I think I'm going to get her back but of course I'm not going to get her back. But that's all the fun stuff to play.


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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.




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