Mrs. Doubtfire, the musical playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through December 29, 2019 (Extended through January 04, 2020). Get tickets and more info here.
Brad Oscar is a Broadway legend. He’s appeared in shows written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Wildhorn, and the great Stephen Sondheim. He’s shown his talents in creating new roles on Broadway in The Producers, Something Rotten, and currently working on the new (Broadway bound) show at the 5th Avenue Theatre, the adaptation of the hit film, Mrs. Doubtfire.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Brad Oscar: I guess I would have to say Angela Lansbury. Being introduced to musicals when she did Bedknobs and Broomsticks. That same summer she was touring in Mame. I saw her do Mame, and it was such an experience that I still recall it. I listened to the album constantly and that sparked my interest in musical theatre. Right from the start, my parents got us backstage to meet her and over the next decade, we went back every time she was around and she remembered us! We would come back stage and she would greet us by name. I saw her in Gypsy twice, and of course Sweeney Todd. I was always such a fan of hers. As my interest developed there were many others as well. Kevin Klein in On 20th Century, and that performance and style and comedy influenced me. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to go see as much theatre as you can!
Andrews-Katz: Your rocket to stardom took off when you appeared in the Mel Brooks’ musical, The Producers. What was your audition like for that show?
Oscar: Here’s a story. I was in the Broadway company of Jekyll & Hyde and the show ran pretty well. I was in my third year, and they had given me several leave of absences to do other things and come back. I was playing Santa in the Radio City Spectacular. I was in Branson, MO and my agent calls and tells me they are looking for a standby for Max Bialystok. The show is cast and they are going into rehearsal a month later. I flew to NYC and go into the room and read for Max and sang for them. I also read for Franz for understudy. One thing happened and then another and the next day I’m flying back to Branson when I get the call that I got the job. They got me out of my Branson contract and next thing I know; I’m starting rehearsals for The Producers. Then I realize I’m covering Roger De Bris, Max and Franz and several ensemble men. It’s now becoming overwhelming and the irony is I never ended up doing it. Next, we are in Chicago when the actor playing Franz has a knee issue and needs to have it taken care of. I go into rehearsals in Chicago and do most of the run there. The decision was made that I would assume the role of Franz for NYC. It’s horrible to benefit from someone else’s misfortune, but we are all trying to be ready when opportunity presents itself. I’m doing Franz and still covering Max (for Nathan Lane) and I eventually got a Tony nomination.
Andrews-Katz: After Broadway as Franz Liebkin, you opened The Producers in Las Vegas as Bialystok. What are the main differences you noticed between playing both characters?
Oscar: Franz being the feature role that it is you have three or four great scenes and a song. It’s so much fun and I think of it as a manageable role opposed to Max where you don’t stop. You live your life accordingly to get through 8 performances a week. But it is also gold and everything you want. You don’t have to work to make it work. There’s a style and a form and timing, but it was a joy to do. Over the course I ended up playing Max over 4000 performances, and as exhausted as I got, or sick, or voice issues, I never got bored nor felt like ‘how am I going to do this tomorrow’. It’s everything I ever dreamt of doing.
Andrews-Katz: What are the main differences between audiences in New York, and audiences of The Las Vegas Strip?
Oscar: Vegas is such its own place. They have learned that musical theatre doesn’t work in Vegas. We tried and they do these tab versions (90 minutes and not the entire production) so right away there were issues. They [the audiences] were not there to see shows. They want to see concerts or ‘other forms of entertainment’. Vegas is a great place to be and we enjoyed ourselves, but it is different from anywhere else in the world.
Andrews-Katz: After The Producers you were in the musical Something Rotten in the scene-stealing role of “Nostradamus”. Do you find musical comedy or musical drama to be easier to play?
Oscar: Comedy is always hard in its own way. Comedy requires more of an exchange with the audience. You don’t want to be dependent on that, but it is part of the gig. There is a laugh line, so ideally it should be funny. Drama in general, because we aren’t looking to intentionally solicit laughter, is a whole other way of telling a story. Every role is a challenge in its own way but the difference is with comedy the audience is more of a participant.
Andrews-Katz: Currently you are staring in the Pre-Broadway musical Mrs. Doubtfire (by the same creators as Something Rotten). Do you find it more challenging to create a role or to take a role created on film and make it your own?
Oscar: I guess that depends on the template and the role. An iconic role can be more challenging. Example, I played Uncle Fester in The Addams Family (musical) and there is only so much you can do to be Uncle Fester. You shouldn’t just imitate, but there is a shell that needs to be filled. I like to think about what happens in the room. When you replace a role/actor, it’s your job to come in and fill that. You bring yourself to it, depending on the role and director, there may be huge variations or none at all from what the previous actor did. It’s part of the job and that’s why it’s called acting. You find the way in, and it’s not – something I told myself – not my responsibility to apologize for NOT being the previous actor in that role. We are reinventing and retelling the story on stage in our own way. There’s only so much responsibility we can take on in any role for any story.
Andrews-Katz: Since you have worked with the creative team of Mrs. Doubtfire before, do you find it easier to get into character knowing what they expect?
Oscar: I think, for me, it’s the comfort factor of knowing these guys and trusting them. I admire the work they’ve done, not just stage work, but also other aspects of their careers. Here they come to create this Broadway comedy, and I trust them because they know the form. It makes the work easier and more fun that way.
Andrews-Katz: Aside from the songs, what changes from the film can the audience expect from Mrs. Doubtfire, the musical?
Oscar: To be honest, I have not sat down to watch the film in its entirety since it first came out. I have not watched it, intentionally staying away, because we have to create our own thing. I trust that with the creators and Jerry Zaks (the musical’s director) we are in good hands. I’m not the right person to ask about the changes. I don’t know what is in the movie, but the audience responds to their favorite parts. If you are a fan of the film, there will be parts that you still love. We are telling this beautiful story about a guy trying to be with his kids. I think it’s totally stage-worthy and that it works, the updates made for the musical (the film was 1993) have been done beautifully.
Andrews-Katz: The latest trend of theatre seems to be making stage musicals from hit movies. What movie do you think would make a great stage musical?
Oscar: Oh my goodness. I don’t know. Will they have the balls to do Citizen Kane?
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Oscar: Easy. Mame. We are right back to where we began. I would love to play it. Second cousin is Albin in La Cage (another Jerry Herman musical) I would love to do it. To do that iconic scene, in Mame with that trumpet blasting and wearing the gold lame!
Brad Oscar has been twice nominated for the Tony Award; first for his role in The Producers, and then for his role in Something Rotten. Other works include The Addams Family, Sweeney Todd and Jekyll & Hyde.