Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Interview - Brett Ryback

Actor Brett Ryback, no stranger to LA stages, will recreate the role he originated in New York in Murder for Two at the Geffen Playhouse opening June 3. In our chat he talks about his part in the show and other theatrical favorites.

Explain briefly about the musical. 

Murder for Two is a two person murder mystery, where one guy plays the wanna-be detective, and the other guy plays all the suspects, and the both play the piano.

How did it get started? If I remember correctly, you first started off-Broadway, ran a while and then returned after a brief absence due to overwhelming popularity?

That’s correct. We began at Second Stage Uptown, had an extended, sold-out run, and then transferred after a brief hiatus to New World Stages for a commercial run. All told, the show ran about a year in New York, before hitting the road in a tour.

How many characters do you get to play?

I, thankfully, must only inhabit one character – Marcus, the ambitious young cop.

What style of music is utilized in the show?

It’s mostly a mix of old cabaret/vaudeville style songs, with extremely clever lyrics, and tuneful melodies. But there are couple little nuggets of other styles as well.

Talk about your co-star, your director and the writers/composers.

Jeff Blumenkrantz is a crazy genius. He’s a genius because of all the amazing work he’s done to carve out each and every character he plays so that you really believe you’re watching 13 different people on stage. And he’s crazy, because anyone would have to be a little crazy to do what he does. Scott Schwartz did a wonderful job of orchestrating a very carefully crafted play to look completely spontaneous and chaotic. He also added layers of theatricality and comedy that allows the audience to feel in on the whole joke. Our writers Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair are two of the most unique and gifted young writers currently working. I jived completely with their love for slapstick and word-play. And their ability to craft a smart, hilarious, and completely unexpected song is truly one-of-a-kind.

What is the most favorite role you have played to date? Why?

My most favorite role to date would probably be playing Scripps in the Ahmanson’s production of The History Boys. The role was fantastic, and well-suited for me, but more than that I think it was the production that I loved. It was the first major regional show I did in Los Angeles, and the cast of boys were all up-and-coming in our own way, so there was a lot of camaraderie. The play is a gorgeously written play about growing up, finding out who you are, who you’ll be. We had a fabulous director, and incomparable cast. And to play the Ahmanson theatre night after night is truly an actor’s gift. It was an experience I will never forget and will always cherish.

Who is your favorite composer of all time? Why?

This is a tough one to answer. I love so many composers for so many different reasons. Are we talking musical theatre? Are we talking classical? Are we talking pop/rock? If it’s musical theatre, I think I’ll have to go with the old stand-by Stephen Sondheim. It’s cliché at this point, of course, but he had a profound effect on me as a young writer growing up. His use of texture, motif, and color was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

Is there a mentor or one person who has stimulated you more than any other in your career choices?

There are many. If I had to choose one person it would be a man named Ray Jivoff. He is the education director at the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee, WI. I knew him as an acting colleague, a director, an educator, a boss. He gave me my first job as a composer. He taught me how to collaborate, and to create shows from nothing. He was the first person to see something greater in me than even I saw in myself. And surprisingly, he’s done this for other people, too! He’s a cherished part of Milwaukee theatre, and I will always be forever grateful to him.

Do you prefer musicals to drama, or both equally? Why?

Equally. They are different styles. It’s like doing a Neil Simon play or a Shakespeare play. Musicals, I feel, are tougher than dramas. Dramas look a little closer to real life than musicals do and so musicals take a little extra care and thought to let the audience in. But what would life be with out variety?

Anything you care to add?

Jeff and I often want to share – for people who know nothing about Murder for Two – that while it is a vaudeville style, murder mystery comedy, what most people leave with is the sense of what’s possible with two actors, one set, and minimal props. It is, almost more than anything else, a love letter to the theatre. 

Murder for Two plays May 26 – July 5 at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood. For tickets, visit: or call: 310.208.5454.

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