Bobby Steggert and Marc Kudisch in A Minister's Wife
(© Paul Kolnik)
Bobby Steggert and Marc Kudisch in A Minister's Wife
(© Paul Kolnik)
In the Lincoln Center Theater production of A Minister's Wife, a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Candida now playing the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, Tony Award nominee Bobby Steggert plays young poet Eugene Marchbanks, who has set his mind on winning the heart of the beautiful and intelligent Candida (Kate Fry), and taking her away from her charismatic clergyman husband (Marc Kudisch). TheaterMania spoke recently with Steggert about the project.

THEATERMANIA: How did you get involved with A Minister's Wife?
BOBBY STEGGERT: I pursued it pretty aggressively. Last summer, I was at Lincoln Center doing The Grand Manner, and in the next room they were rehearsing this new musical by the guy who wrote The Adding Machine, which I thought was so revolutionary and daring. When I found out that it was a musical adaptation of Candida, I thought, "that's such a horrible idea!" And like so many bad ideas in musical theater, it ended up being really wonderful. Then they offered me a workshop of it, but I wasn't available and it killed me. When I found out that they were not going with whoever they had cast, I emailed the director, Michael Halberstam, and said I really would like to do it. They were kind enough to bring me in and test the material on me and I got it. I've learned that you have to be forward about the work you want to do, and if you do it respectfully, hopefully it will pay off.

TM: What were your first impressions of the role?
BS: I think Shaw clearly wrote himself into the character of Marchbanks. Shaw insisted at a very young age that he was meant to be a famous writer and he had an incredibly infectious and also incredibly frustrating confidence. And that's what Marchbanks has as well; he is so sure that he's absolutely right. And at times he is and at times he's not. But it's that surety of youth that makes him such a wonderful character to play.

TM: How did you approach playing Marchbanks?
BS: What is most challenging is how mercurial Marchbanks is. That was really a challenge, because I am pretty linear in the way that I think. I'm observational and not very impulsive. He quite literally turns on a dime about 300 times throughout the evening. And once you accept the fact that this person can go from one extreme to another in a moment's time, it is really fun to do. I tried to figure out the audaciousness of this young man coming in and trying to steal this minister's wife away from him and I tried to ground that with a real connection to this woman. I think Marchbanks truly loves her.

TM: Do you understand why he thinks Candida should leave her husband?
BS: His point is that this woman is so special that she deserves passion in her life. And the minister's argument is "forget passion - I take care of this woman, I support her, and we have comfort and domestic knowledge of one another, and that is far more important." Those two arguments butting up against each other are fascinating -- and what is great is that you can see both of their sides throughout the play. I should say that one of the true gifts of this experience has been playing opposite Marc Kudisch. So many actors are selfish in the way that they only think about the story from their own character's point of view. I really respect his desire to tell a story right.

TM: How would you describe Joshua Schmidt's music for A Minister's Wife?
BS: He doesn't hand you easy melodies. I have compared his music to a really complex red wine that you have to pour and let breathe a little before it can flow on your ear as an audience member. As a singer, it takes a long time to learn, but once you have it in your body, it's really organic to sing. I'm loving singing this score, because I'm forced to sing with my full range and sing very different kinds of music in the same hour and a half. It is a real vocal challenge that I appreciate.

TM: How do you feel about playing another character who is considerably younger than you are in real life?
BS: I know I read as extremely young, but I think my advantage is that I can look back on how I felt at those times. Sometimes when you are in the midst of something, you can't quite understand it. And when you can't understand something, you can't quite portray it. So the fact that I have distance from these moments in my life helps me to approach the character with more clarity as an actor.