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Interview with Robert Patteri

I'm so glad I was given a chance to meet Robert. He was announced as the replacement Percy for the National Tour a very short time before my scheduled trip to Los Angeles but he graciously agreed to be interviewed by me. At the time I met him he had barely settled in with rehearsals so he was only beginning his journey with the character. However, it didn't take long for Robert and me to get to know each other. He is definitely not shy and within minutes of being introduced to me, he was joking and teasing and having a great time. We spent a lot of time laughing during this interview!

NR: OK - really dumb question to start off with. Do you prefer to be called Robert or Bob?

RP: Robert is fine. Growing up it was Rob. Dad's Bob. It's just one of those dumb things. If you called me Robert in my home town in Michigan, all of my friends would say, "Robert? Who's that? You mean Rob."

NR: You grew up in Michigan? Did you grow up near Douglas (Sills)?

RP: Yeah. Not too far away.

NR: Did you know each other?

RP: No, we didn't. He grew up in Franklin Village and I grew up in West Bloomfield, so it's actually not too far away. It's probably about five or ten miles away. Doug went to the University of Michigan and I went to Michigan State. He went to ACT and I went to the Asolo which are very similar programs and they're both MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs that are attached to professional training.

NR: Does that mean you just met now?

RP: We actually did - yeah. We have several friends in common but we had never met until he came up to me a week and a half ago when I first came to see the show and he gave me a big hug. He's a sweetheart - a very nice man.

NR: That's great. So, when did you decide you wanted to be a performer?

RP: (old man voice) Ah - way back in 1770. (normal voice) My dad wanted to be a theater major and he did it in college. His parents told him he was crazy. My sister likes it and my dad has the bug in him, so it's sort of in the family. When I was in high school, Mom and Dad encouraged me to sing with my sister in the choir, but I was a football/baseball/basketball player so of course I laughed that in the face - for about nine months until I ended up singing in the choir! Then the teacher plucked me out and gave me the lead in South Pacific. (laughing) So, I did Emile deBeque at seventeen years old, throwing the gray in the hair. I did that in high school and then when I went to college, I went to play baseball and football.

NR: That's what you went there for?

RP: Yeah. On a fluke I auditioned for West Side Story and it was quite comical because athletes think, "I'm agile. I can dance" and it's just the most humiliating thing in the world when they ask you to put two feet in front of each other. (laughs) You all of sudden start walking like Monty Python's funny walks, just trying to figure out how to do this. I thought, "No way are they going to cast me in this show" because I was in a major university and these guys were kicking their legs and I certainly wasn't going to get a lead with all of these seniors and grad students. Three weeks later, by a fluke, I walked past the theater department and found that I was the only one who hadn't signed in. They had cast me as Snowboy in West Side Story. I just freaked out. I fell in love with it and changed to a Musical Theater major. I was the first Musical Theater major for Michigan State University. They had a Music and a Theater department, but they hadn't put it together for Musical Theater. I was the first one who started that program. It was just a strange course of events.

NR: You didn't grow up watching theater?

RP: No.

NR: You never had an interest at all?

RP: I thought it was fascinating but I was an athlete. I was going to be a professional baseball player. My sister was the performer so I did watch my sister's plays, and my dad is very much a ham, and he's definitely a great spokesperson. He does a lot of public speaking for business. I think I had it in me. I was a clown myself and when I was younger I always wanted to be the first one to stand up and read in front of the class. I just got the bug when I started doing it.

NR: Hmm. I was going to ask you if a specific actor inspired you, but I guess not.

RP: Well, I think we all have our personal favorites, and people who are just inspiring role models. Those are always things that sort of stick out in your head. My father was always a great one for me because I always had the utmost respect for him and his work ethic. I was very fortunate to have parents who were always wonderfully "advice oriented" without pushing. They would always give me the choices. They would say, "This didn't work out, so you have this, this or this." They never said, "You should do this." I think that's really great as a parent. I think it's nice if they guide you and say, "Your strengths are here." They always presented the options which I think was really very nice.

NR: Now, you played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast?

RP: I did.

NR: That seems so different from Percy.

RP: Totally.

NR: Even vocally.

RP: It's completely different.

NR: You must have a very big range.

RP: (big laugh) Well, yes. I'm going to become a tenor with this role. When I was doing Gaston, my voice was (in bass voice) "a little bit lower." It was closer to William's (Paul Michals) voice - a much deeper voice. Just having rehearsed this for a couple of weeks, my voice has gotten up a little bit. Just from doing the (high pitched voice) "Lud, love me. So stunning" You know when you sort of do all that lovely stuff (gives a Percy laugh), you can't help but bring it up a bit.

NR: Are they going to change the keys at all?

RP: "She Was There" will probably come down. We're not sure yet. Maybe in the end, we just might not do the key change, and then in "Into the Fire" we won't do the key change. It's just a half step at the end. Those will be the only two changes.

NR: When I saw that credit, I was surprised because they were two completely different styles of performing.

RP: They are. They're completely different. I'm fortunate lookwise because I can do a variety of different things, and I was also twenty pounds heavier when I did Gaston. I was very big and sort of in my "athletic, football mode," but I've dropped weight since then. Now I'm sort of a thinner me - you know, getting into the "Percy thing."

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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