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|A CurtainUp Review
Master of the QuickChange . . ., Actor With a Mile High Comic Flair
And He Also Sings And Dances
By Elyse Sommer
Stephen DeRosa as Stephen DeRosa
Stephen DeRosa shows we've reviewed
Lives of the Saints (after August 18th)
Love 's Fire
The Mystery of Irma Vep
When the Acting Company brought it's production of Love's Fire to the Public Theater last summer neither Les Gutman or I had ever heard of Stephen DeRosa. Les was not alone in spotting him as a standout, though one comment in his review proved to be more than a little prescient -- "he (DeRosa) on a couple of occasions called to mind that gifted comic Everett Quinton." No sooner was that comment sent zooming through cyber space than, lo and behold, there was the delightful DeRosa partnering up with Quinton in a smashing revival of The Mystery of Irma Vep. They went through their mind-boggling array of quicker-than-lightning costume changes for 300 performances.
And no sooner had DeRosa stepped out of Jane Twisden's and Lord Hillcrest's gear and I'd retired Irma Vep to our archives of past reviews than happy coincidence struck once again. It turned out that the energetic comedian was headed up to Williamstown to take part in the annual Williamstown Cabaret and in the first WTF collaboration with the new Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts (MassMoCA) -- a family musical with the quirky name Quark Victory. What's more, unlike most actors who come to Williamstown to do a show, Berkshirites will have a chance to check him out at another major venue, Berkshire Theatre Festival, where he'll be working for the third time with director John Rando in the world premiere of David Ives' new play Lives of the Saints.
It seemed an appropriate time to find out about the man behind the various masks -- cabaret performer (Cabaret Verboten as well as the WTF Cabaret, the several roles in Love's Fire, a dancing and singing show biz wannabe and a shtiky villain in Quark Victory and as a player in David Ives' latest satrical take on the world. He was knee-deep (or should I say laugh-deep) in rehearsals for Quark Victory but we managed to arrange a brief meeting on the afternoon of the show's official press opening.
Stephen DeRosa as Stephen DeRosa proved to be warm and instantly knowable, funny and serious, ambitious but not driven. Quite simply, a nice, smart regular guy. Someone who would keep a party from getting dull, but an ensemble player, not a limelight grabber. Like most of today's theater professionals he's well educated with an undergraduate degree from Georgetown and a graduate degree from Yale Drama School.
Like many comedians he has his serious side though my comment that he didn't seem to suffer from another trait often associated with comedians, shyness, brought a big laugh. "No, no, my dear, I'm afraid subtlety is not my fortune -- brassy, shtick driven -- that's me."
He's also a fast talker. Here are some aspects of the theater and his career on which he ventured rapid fire opinions:
On playing multiple characters
I actually was supposed to play one part in Quark Victory but the Reales (the brothers who wrote the book and musical) decided to create two parts for me. So now I get to play a big fat Disney kind of villain. But two parts are easy after Irma.
On playing a long run after his previous shorter runs in regional theater
Everett and I both were pretty much gone at the end of that run, especially when heat kicked in and with all the costume changes in that basement. (ed.note: They played in the basement theater of the West Side Arts). But the first six months were delirium. That show has so much going on that exploded on us.
Conversely, on putting so much effort into a brief run for a show with an unknown future
I love the show and I think it will have a life -- maybe at the New Victory Theatre or as a Disney movie-- but in the meantime it's a great chance to work in a musical on a very large scale. It was also my chance to come to Williamstown for the first time and that's been like a home coming. It's the theater camp you dream of being in and it's exactly the right place after the craze of New York. The spirit of Williamstown is truly nurturing and reminds you why you believe in theater to begin with. I'd heard about it but I thought it might just be sort of an ego trip for the actors who came, but it's all that it promised. A real family. I've never been to Berkshire Theatre Festival either so I'm looking forward to working with John Rando again and seeing what that's all about.
About working on a show billed as a kids/family show
I think some art can really talk to everyone and work on all levels. The Reales did Quark Victory for kids and with an all kids cast. This is bigger and with a wink to adults. The audiences so far have been 80% adult and they come with a great generosity of spirit.
About his "silken" voice
DeRosa chuckled at my mention of a review of his stint in Cabaret Verboten (in Huntington) which referred to him as "the silken-voiced Stephen DeRosa." I don't know if I would go silken -- sometimes I feel more like Bea Arthur or Elaine Stritch but I think I can hold my own in a musical. I've always loved to sing. It's what made me want to be in theater.
I don't read reviews until a show closes. Not so much to avoid negative comments but if you read a specific thing about something you've done it gets in the way. If someone says "when he puts chair down the audience roars" -- you can somehow never do it again and that laugh is gone. For that reason I won't read reviews while I'm still doing a show.
On future dreams
I've been very blessed to be able to work as a full time actor since I graduated from Yale with only one or two really dark spells when I thought I'd have to leave business. I just want to continue to be a full time actor I don't mind doing regional theater it's where some of our best work is done and it's the theater's lifeblood.
I do realize that to make it in New York an actor needs Hollywood star power, so I would love to have the opportunity to eventually do television too. So far I've only been in "Law and Order" because that's the only show that casts out of New York I'm a New York actor. I grew up in New York and I want to establish myself here. However, I also grew up on TV and it gives me a lot of my references. I don't think any actor can be exclusively in one medium but has to do all when opportunity presents itself.
On passions outside the theater
I went to Georgetown for politics and fell in love with the theater. I'm still passionate about politics and hope eventually to go back to that -- like Chris Reeves and Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand. Would I actually want to run for office? I would be proud to serve my country like that but that would be even longer down road. I'm not ready to play that character just yet. I need to see more of world and interact with life more.
After we parted my husband and I went out for a bite to eat before seeing the third performance of Quark Victory. A girl of about eleven sat next to us with her parents. They had just seen Raisin in the Sun and were on their way to see Quark Victory for a second time. With more families like this enthusiastically making the theater part of their lives, actors like Stephen De Rosa, will be able to fulfill their dreams of a life in the theater!