Sunday, March 27, 2005

Meet our Groucho: Michael Austin

Michael is a Moonie veteran, and a frequent contributor to the blog. Groucho is perhaps the largest role he's had at 42nd St. Moon, so I was curious to see how he was holding up, especially since his last missive indicated he's been feeling over-worked and under the weather. Here's what he had to say:

"To be honest, I'm feeling a lot more pressure and excitement than I ever have before in a Moon show, because this is the largest/most central role I've ever had with them. Now of course, there are no small roles, and every part is very important to a show's overall success. But in the past, my roles have been about me finding the humor and interest in very short scenes, limited characters, a very small amount of lines, etc. In other words--no one expected much from the parts I had, so anything I could do with them was impressive. Suddenly with Groucho (referred to by his birth name, Julius, in the play), it feels that there is a huge wealth of opportunity and expectation, and I am going to have to work pretty hard to meet it, much less exceed it! Naturally, I am doing my best.

Doing a character that most of the audience has a certain picture of in their heads already is always an interesting challenge, because you have to strike a balance between doing an "impression" or imitation of the real person, the person as he is represented in the material you are working on, and of course who you are physically. This is all complicated by the fact that the public [impression] of Groucho is, I believe, an exaggerated one. After decades of bad impressionists over-doing the nasal quality of his voice and the rolling of his eyes, and those Groucho glasses with the huge nose and horn rims, few people remember that Groucho, at least as he appears in the Marx Brothers movies, was actually fairly subtle and flat in his delivery of lines, and actually only wore wire rimmed glasses on his not-terribly-large proboscis. Many people are surprised when I tell them that for most of his life, at least in his movies, he never even had a real mustache, or even a three-dimensional one (he painted it on ever since a time he arrived too late for call to glue one on and realized how much easier and faster it was to just use greasepaint!)

I don't look terribly like the Groucho everyone knows from his famous images, but happily I do look a bit more like pictures I've seen of Groucho at my age, at least when not in make-up.

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