Rachel York as Marguerite
SP2: Minskoff Theater

The Scarlet Pimpernel : Broadway's Most Intriguing Musical.

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Interview with Robert Patteri

NR: Again, I know it's early, but can you give me some early glimpses into the character from your point of view?

RP: Early glimpses?

NR: Yeah. Can you describe your idea of Percy? (And I know it's early.)

RP: Well, it's a dream because it's that childhood hero that you always want to play, and the joy of getting to play a character who is literally like the fly on the wall. You're assuming another personality which allows you a wall and a distance from everyone else around you. You're not actually letting them into your thought process. It's a dual edge because it's very painful, but it's also a wonderful thing to be able to play with that. It's a character who has so many facets, and can manipulate so much, and can do it all in the name of injustice, which is the one thing that the audience identifies with. Everybody wants to be that super-hero who is able to go out and fight for a cause. In today's day and age, or any day and age, everybody's got their cause that they believe in and that's one thing that is a great core for me, because I just can't stand injustice in the world. I'm talking about Robert Patteri - race, creed, all the way down to disrespect of elderly people, to people littering or throwing a cigarette butt on the street. It just tortures me and I get into confrontations. I do it very nicely. I'll just walk up to someone and say, "Would you please not do that?"

NR: Really?

RP: (seeing my incredulous look and laughing) Watch - you're probably one of those people that throws a butt on the street!

NR: (laughing) No, not at all! I totally agree with you! I want to go up to people and say, "Excuse me, but who do you think is going to pick that up?" But I DON'T! I may think it but I don't say anything. (laughs)

RP: So, to be able to play someone who gets to fulfill that part of all of us that wants to go out and be able to live out their dream. Most of us in life are just not pushed into a corner far enough to be able to do that. And the people who are pushed into a corner far enough are the people who do wind up doing that - the people who start cancer research, a new foundation or who do something extraordinary. Their circumstances in life push them into a corner so far that they have two choices - to let it consume them or to take it to the next step and fight for that. That's what makes theater so great. You have two and a half hours to tell the most interesting thing, and what can be more interesting than someone who's had their whole world pulled out from underneath them?

NR: What do you think is going to be the most fun to do? I know you've only seen it, but haven't really had a chance to do it yet. What are you looking forward to?

RP: (laughs) I don't know. I'm sure that when I step onto the stage it's going to all surprise me. I'm sure the things that I think will be fun just might throw me. I don't know. The fop obviously is a joy, so that would be the obvious thing to go to - the drawing room, "The Creation of Man." It's one of those rare times when you're allowed to go as far as you want to, which doesn't really happen that often.

NR: (laughing) That's for sure!

RP: Usually you tell the director, "I'm going to give you everything and you pull me in." (laughing) I'm sure Bobby (Longbottom) still will.

NR: Hmmm, interesting. Are we going to see any ad libs from you at some point?

RP: Well, you know.... (leaning into the tape recorder) "I have no comment."

NR: (laughing) Is that because you're not allowed to have a comment?

RP: Yeah. I think I have to stick pretty close to what's written there right now.

NR: Ah, I see. That was a "special dispensation" for Douglas?

RP: Yeah, I have to stick pretty close to what's written there. It's a tough thing, boy, because watching Doug...it is hard. We did the drawing room scene today and my rhythms get thrown because there are places when he'll just throw things in and I just have to go with what's written in the book, but it's strange because I'm used to hearing what he's doing.

NR: Are you just used to hearing him do it, or are you tempted because that's what you want to do?

RP: It would be both because there is so much room to have fun, but you have to stick to what an author has written on the page.

NR: (laughing) ...or help rewrite it as Douglas did in the first version!

RP: Exactly.... um .... "to be continued."

NR: Is there any part that's making you nervous?

RP: (long pause) "To be continued."

NR: (laughs) Oh, come on.

RP: No, nothing makes me nervous performance-wise. The only thing is just learning the pacing of the show.

NR: And the silly things like changing on the boat.

RP: Yeah, and vocally. I've done huge vocal demanding shows like the Yeston-Kopit Phantom. There are seven huge laments and big songs. Ben-Hur is like living the life of Job and there are ten songs, but this one is different because of the vocality I have to use. It's one thing if I'm using my own voice and singing in my own timbre but because you're playing one character here and (using Grappin voice) another there, it's going to be getting used to pacing that.

NR: That's a good point doing eight shows a week.

RP: This show definitely would cry for an alternate.

NR: Douglas did something like that in SP2. It started with Nat Chandler and then Bryan Batt took over. Douglas only had to do six shows a week. Sometimes he did more, but many weeks he only did six. Bryan did a lot of matinees, because that was exactly it. It's very demanding vocally.

What do you know about the League? Are you ready for the fans?

RP: I've heard. That's part of the price you pay when you're in this business.

NR: (laughing) Well, they're not a bad thing!

RP: No, no. But that's part of what comes with doing this stuff. I am not one of those "put-off people." I'm always willing to embrace people who are very supportive. I think it's wonderful, as long as people...and that happens. There are people who do go a little overboard.

NR: Have you done a lot of traveling with tours?

RP: Not with tours. I've been all over the world the last three years so I'm used to traveling a lot, but doing the week or two week thing...I haven't done that long term. I've done ten week tours but most of my stuff has been sort of "leave to go to London," "leave to go to Toronto," "leave to go to South Africa," "leave to go to Florida." I've had to transplant a lot.

NR: That's going to help but a lot of these are one week.

RP: Yeah, and you're traveling on your day off.

NR: That's going to be somewhat draining. I was going to ask you if you're bringing anything with you, but I guess you're bringing your wife.

RP: Yeah. I've got a wife and a tummy.

NR: I guess that answers my question! It's ridiculously early to ask this since you're committed to this for a year, but is there any role you're dying to play down the road?

RP: Well, you know, every actor dies to play Hamlet. I would love to play Hamlet. I really, really would. I've done bits and pieces of it. I did a thing called The Readiness is All in New York and it was a director who put together a piece which was introspective. The audience was participating in the various ways to look at Hamlet, which was very interesting. Three different actors did large portions of the play in different ways so that you could see the different ways to play it. It was great.

I'd love to play Cyrano. I really would love to play Cyrano because of the poetry. It's such a great role. Musically, a role I've always wanted to play but haven't done yet is Billy Bigelow. I love the show and I think it needs such tender care. Because of the abuse issue, it's a really tough, fine line to be able to like the guy and to make him sympathetic. A lot of times you see it and you just hate him, so it's a challenge.

NR: It has gorgeous music.

RP: It does. The music is beautiful. To be able to sing that "Soliloquy" is great.

NR: Well, good luck.

RP: Thank you.

NR: You have a lot of work ahead of you.

RP: Yes I do!

NR: You have a decent amount of time at least. You have about a month.

RP: Yeah, at least it's all under my belt now and now it's a matter of playing.

NR: And what a wonderful opportunity for you.

RP: It's great.

NR: There are not a lot of roles like this.

RP: This is a role of a lifetime. It's a dream. It's a tour de force. You get to play a character who gets to play all these characters on stage. You kind of get to take your "acting suitcase" out and have fun and play. I know the playing will begin for me once I get to perform because the rehearsals are going to be just falling on my can left and right, making a fool of myself, trying to find what works, which is what you have to do. It will be fun once I find the pacing, catch my breath and get past moments when I think, "This is just landing south. When Doug did it, it really got a big laugh!"

NR: Well, you don't want to do that, because it's not going to work.

RP: No I don't, and I won't do that. And you couldn't have a nicer person to replace. He's just so giving and he's so wonderful and so supportive and that's really nice, because I've stepped into shoes before that weren't quite as embracing.

NR: I think in this case he's very happy to see someone else pick it up.

RP: (laughs) Yeah, he did give me a huge hug and he said, "Thank God you're here."

NR: Robert, Thank you so much.

RP: You're welcome.

Robert certainly has his work cut out for him. He's about to begin ten months of touring around the country playing a very demanding role. He will no doubt be compared constantly to his predecessor. He will be away from his family for six months at a most precious time in their lives. He has all of these responsibilities looming over him, but you know what? He couldn't be happier! I think he'll embrace the challenge with abandon and make Percy his own. I wish him wonderful success in his run and I hope that he will receive tremendous support on the road.

Questions suggested by:

FreakyMartian, Christina Mavroudis, Anna Wilson, Leona Hoegsberg, Stacy McInnis, Nancy Miller, Janice Oeming, Laura Cutler

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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