Onstage / TEN QUESTIONS FOR Ricky Needham
Tony in WEST SIDE STORY, at MusicalFare
Sept. 4–Oct. 6, 2019
West Side Story
at MusicalFare, 4030 Main St., Amherst
What’s your relationship to West Side Story?
I remember seeing the film for the first time at my grandma’s house when I was little. I loved those fight sequences and action, and I didn’t even realize it was all choreography. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that it’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Around that time—which is when I really started falling in love with performing—I got to see the revival production, and I adored the visuals, music, and choreography. Never in a million years would I think I could play Tony one day. It really feels like a full circle kind of thing.
What’s the best acting advice you were ever given?
In a college acting course, Drew Kahn would say to his students, “There can be no freedom without discipline.” That sticks with me. In so many cases, the work needs to be put into the role before it can feel like play.
What’s your best “the show went on” moment?
In a production of the musical Singin’ in the Rain, I played Cosmo Brown. Early in the number “Make ’Em Laugh,” I shove a whipped cream pie in the face of another actor, at which point two other people would come on and clean up, so no one would slip later. Well... the song’s finale comes up. When I run to do my front flip into another dancer’s arms, I slipped [on some leftover whipped cream], completely wiping out. The audience had no idea that wasn’t planned, considering most of the choreography was slapstick. I finished the final moments of the number on the ground, mostly rolling around like a 7-Eleven hotdog. Our Don Lockwood (Bobby Cooke) struggled to keep a straight face.
What’s the role that got away?
Any Mormon character in The Book of Mormon. I was living in Chicago and learned that they were holding an open call. Mind you, this show has been a favorite of mine since it went up, so I was prepared to rock the audition. But, upon checking the call dates, I realized they had occurred the day prior to my finding out about them.
What line from a former play have you never forgotten and why?
In a college production of The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, I played an old man who enjoyed drinking Manhattans with two cherries. I had never tried a Manhattan before the show, but now it is my go-to. His line was, “I say yum for one cherry, and yum again for another!” It’s fair to assume I recite that line when I order Manhattans.
What “against type” role are you dying to play?
Maureen in Rent. To go up and perform “Over the Moon” would be everything to me.
What’s your classic actor nightmare dream?
I’m cast in a show hours before opening night and have to learn the entire thing in no time. That dream usually occurs the night before a show opening, so, perfect timing! Or the dream where I am fully prepared to perform and then the production is switched to something else. So, while I’m performing King Lear, everyone else doing The Heaven Hop thinks I’m nuts.
What audition would you love to do over?
I was auditioning for a musical improv team at The Second City, Chicago. I made it through to the third and final round, where we were engaging in scene work in very specific musical improv format. I spent so much of my time onstage trying to adapt to this scene structure I knew nothing about, that I forgot to be...I don’t know, funny?
What’s the best thing you’ve seen this past season and why?
MusicalFare’s Fun Home. I knew nothing about it, so I was able to experience everything with a fresh perspective. Every aspect of that production was so well crafted and executed. Another has to be Second Generation Theatre’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. The intimate spacing of the show really brought the audience into each story. Those two were probably my favorites.
Plugs for the next season?
West Side Story at MusicalFare, Monty in MusicalFare’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (April 22–May 24, 2020), Cliff in SGT’S production of Cabaret (June 12–28, 2020).