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As Good As It Gets

Malcolm Gets prepares to show off his many talents at Birdland and gets his Irish up for another shot at Finian's Rainbow. logo
Malcolm Gets
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Had life turned out just a little bit differently, you might be seeing Malcolm Gets this month at Carnegie Hall in white tie and tails. "Both of my parents play the piano, and when I was 8 or 9, we got one," says Gets. "But I was the only one of my siblings to show any interest. By the time I was 10, I was on the fast track to becoming a classical pianist. Then, around age 14, I started hanging out at the Gainesville Little Theater to spend time with this girl I loved named Hannah, and I became their rehearsal pianist. But then, one day, they put me in a play because they found out I could sing. Eventually, this wonderful piano teacher I had told me that my attentions were divided and that I had to decide whether to be a classical pianist or hang out with crazy theater people the rest of my life. You can see which one I chose."

His parents weren't too disappointed with his ultimate career choice, especially since they also had something to do with the outcome. "They grew up in London and saw all these musicals, then saw more of them in New York," Gets tells me, "so I became this nerdy suburban kid who fell in love with all these record albums -- especially the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows." As it happens, his childhood loves will form much of the basis for his June 13 solo concert, which is part of The New Season at Birdland. In this benefit for The Songbook Project, Gets will sing many R&H standards and will accompany himself on the piano.

But the audience won't only be hearing show tunes. "My siblings also forced me to deal with pop music," says Gets, "so you'll probably hear Kenny Loggins, Cat Stevens, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and maybe some Shawn Colvin, who I just love. And I have to do that wonderful song 'Way Ahead of My Time,' by Peter Mills. Everyone loves it. Plus I need up-tempo tunes; I always fall into doing too many ballads." And there's one more composer who might be represented in the program: Malcolm Gets. "I just did the closing song for a new movie called 29th and Gay, which was directed by Carrie Preston and stars Michael Emerson, Mike Doyle, and James Vasquez," says Mr. G.

Melissa Errico and Malcolm Gets in the
Irish Rep production of Finian's Rainbow
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Just three days after his Birdland gig, Gets will once again don the rather goofy duds of Og the Leprechaun for the Westport Country Playhouse production of Finian's Rainbow. The actor is thrilled to be getting another chance at this classic Burton Lane-Yip Harburg-Fred Saidy musical, which had a critically acclaimed run last year at Irish Rep. For this version, once again directed by Charlotte Moore, Gets's good pal Melissa Errico will reprise her role of Sharon alongside Milo O'Shea as Finian (replacing Jonathan Freeman) and Stephen J. Buntrock as Woody (replacing Max Von Essen). "I had first done the show at Reprise! many years ago and I loved it," Gets remarks. "But when Charlotte called to offer me the part for the Irish Rep production, I said to her, 'I don't look like the people who usually play a leprechaun; I'm six feet tall and 40 years old.' And she said, 'He's growing and he's 452 years old.' "

While there will still be a minimal set and a narrator, the show will be done this time in a proscenium house with a larger orchestra and ensemble than at Irish Rep -- all of which suits Gets perfectly. "I think Charlotte is a genius in how she reconceived it by focusing on the music rather than the production values," he says. "When you leave stuff to the audience's imagination, I think it's better. And cutting down the book was a good idea. I truly think this gentle, sweet way of doing it -- much like story-theater -- is the best choice for this particular musical."

Gets also thinks that the City Center Encores! series was probably the best venue in which to present Bock and Harnick's The Apple Tree, adding that his experience in that production last month was one of the best of his professional life: "I love the show, I love Jerry and Sheldon. There's so much gold in that piece; it has a real place in a lot of people's hearts." So does his co-star, Kristin Chenoweth, who earned rave reviews for her performance. "I always knew Kristin was brilliant," says Gets, "and I knew she was going to kick butt, but she went one step further."

The same could be said of Gets. When he realized that he was going to play Flip the rock star in the show's Passionella segment, "I actually had Rob Fisher and Gary Griffin, the director, give me a couple of extra weeks to rehearse that part. In the early days, I made some very bold choices and I told them, 'You can't laugh at me.' I used every bad cliché I could think of, from Marlon Brando to Bob Dylan. The funny thing is that I didn't see pictures of the original production until after ours was done, and then I discovered that Alan Alda played him as more of a hippie." And when Griffin informed him just two days before the first performance that he would be singing "Beautiful World," a song that had originally been cut from the show, Gets panicked: "Because we're supposed to be on book, people were like, 'Malcolm, just sing it.' But I'm as blind as a bat and I couldn't even read the book, which is why I tried to memorize everything. Eventually, I had to blow those pages up. They told me that the only person in the history of Encores! to have type that big was John Cullum."

After the Finian's Rainbow run ends on July 2, Gets will begin traveling around the country in support of the film Adam & Steve, in which he plays a gay dancer who reconnects with someone with whom he had a disastrous one-night stand 15 years earlier. A hit at the recent TriBeCa Film Festival, the movie will be shown as part of NewFest in New York on June 11 and will be the centerpiece of OutFest in Los Angeles in July. When Gets returns to New York, he may pursue a whole new career as a director. "I did She Loves Me with the NYU graduate program last year, and that whetted my appetite," he says. "I would say that my role models are Graciela Daniele, whom I met when she taught at Yale, and Tina Landau. They are both so brilliant, but what I really admire is that their style of movement is rather minimal. I admire shows like Wicked, but I don't think I will ever direct a multi-million dollar musical."

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