To legions of television watchers, Kevin Spirtas is defined by his seven-and-a-half year run as Dr. Craig Wesley on the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives. Since then, Spirtas has turned to stage projects, both in front of and behind the footlights. As a theater actor, he served as Hugh Jackman's standby in The Boy From Oz. As a producer, he helped shepherd to Broadway both the 2009 revival of Finian's Rainbow and the 2011 musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
For the past two summers, Spirtas has been part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Last year, he lampooned soap operas in Legacy Falls, while this year, he's starring in Mr. Confidential (July 21-27), a jazzy bio-musical about Robert Harrison, the granddaddy of tabloid-magazine publishing. On a break from rehearsal, Spirtas talked with TheaterMania about how much he has learned about Harrison's legacy, why he willingly walks past the gossip rags, and why NYMF is a great starting place for shows like Mr. Confidential.
What is Mr. Confidential, and who is Mr. Confidential himself?
Mr. Confidential is the story of Bob Harrison. I like to call him the inventor, or the grandfather, of tabloid-magazine publishing. He created a magazine back in the fifties called Confidential Magazine. It was the first of its kind. Today, you have The National Enquirer, US Magazine, People, OK! Magazine, and TMZ. He didn't start out with a negative tilt on things. He wanted to be successful at something, and he wanted to be somebody important. He wanted to have fun. He thought gathering info about people was fun. It wasn't about slander. He started in girly magazines and had to find something new that would raise the bar when the girly mags were losing interest.
Were you familiar with Harrison before starting work on the production?
I didn't know about him until the script crossed my desk for an audition. I was very intrigued about who he is. I like Bob because he's kind of got nine lives. He always bounced back, he always had a vision, and he kept creating. I have that parallel with him. I'm a serial creative, myself. If he was down in the dumps, he found a way to pick himself back up and move forward. It takes a lot of energy. I've had some very high highs in my life and some very low valleys. He had to balance it out, too.
Do you pay any attention to the supermarket-check-out-line gossip magazines?
No. I totally walk past those magazines. I'd rather read something that really inspires me. When I was younger, all the magazines like People — the original version — were about the people you wanted to be and know. With the digital age, People, US, and OK! turned into these negative, slandering [publications]. These are people you don't want to be and you're thankful for it.
You've done NYMF shows in the past. What does the experience offer you as an artist?
I like the opportunity to jump into a show like this. I call it guerrilla theater. The people coming to see it will understand you won't have the biggest theater or the best sets because of storage space. But what attracts me is that there is great material that comes through. This musical is a great throwback to the old-fashioned way of telling stories. The songs are big and fun, there are great group numbers. And the story is a good, old-fashioned book musical. I love the fact that this is a great possibility for the show to be seen and picked up and viewed in a classy way. This is a really great show that has legs, and it could and should go much further. That's the exciting thing about working on something like this.