Quick Wit: Roger Bart
Robert Kent talks to Mr. B., who is Fully Committed to his work.
Several years ago, Roger Bart gave up a promising career as a waiter to pursue acting. Instead of filling drink orders and reciting the specials of the day, he was soon singing and acting in Broadway shows, including Big River, King David, The Secret Garden, Tommy, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Triumph of Love. Last year, he won a Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role of Snoopy in the revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Bart has now returned to the world of food service: taking orders from obnoxious restaurateurs, cleaning up after intoxicated patrons, serving supermodels, and finding a table for the Zagats. No, he hasn't fallen on hard times. Rather, he's stepping into the starring role of Sam, a frazzled reservations clerk at a chaotic four-star restaurant in the long-running, Off-Broadway comedy Fully Committed at the Cherry Lane Theatre. In this one-man show, Bart also plays the 30-plus characters who inundate Sam with their problems and requests for reservations.
The actor recently took a break from rehearsals schedule to discuss his life as a waiter and actor.
How are you?
My head is swimming with voices!
Mine, too. And how are rehearsals?
Great. I rehearse a lot at home. It's starting to confuse my landlord.
The other day, he stopped me and asked (switches to a Greek accent), "Who all these people in your apartment? You can't have 30 people living with you. They go or you go! Only two people in apartment. Understand?"
Are you fully rehearsed?
This role is a great challenge. It's a little daunting to realize that the entire script is a 95-page monologue. When I first saw the show, I watched Mark Setlock's performance and thought, "How could I ever do that?" Mark knows these characters so well. It's awe-inspiring. I've asked for cheat sheets or an ear phone, but I don't think I'm going to get them.
Did Mark give you any advice?
We went to dinner the other night. He told me about the people who inspired each character. He threw out some technical clues and shared some of his secrets of how to remember who comes next.
Like a magician explaining how a trick is done.
You dedicate your performance in Fully Committed to the owners of the Paris Commune Restaurant on Bleecker Street. Why?
From 1987 to 1991, the owners of the Paris Commune Restaurant gave me a job and fed me twice a day. They were very understanding, scheduling my hours around auditions and letting me go away to do various acting jobs on the road. I always had a job waiting for me when I got back. It was an actor's dream. They helped me survive through the lean years.
Any interesting stories from your days as a waiter?
One evening, a strange looking gentleman came into the restaurant and sat next to a woman at the bar. He didn't speak to anyone. After a few minutes, he left. Then, the woman noticed her purse was missing. I realized the man had taken it, so I hightailed it out of the restaurant and started running down 11th Street, chasing a six-foot tall guy with a purse--not your usual sight, even in Greenwich Village.
What happened next?
He eventually dropped the purse. When I returned with it, the woman casually said "thanks," then went on with her evening. I expected she'd throw me a 20 or offer to buy me a drink as a reward. Instead, she thought it was part of my job. Oh well; it gave me a sense of pride. I thought to myself, "I did something heroic."
Speaking of heroes...aren't you the singing voice of Disney's Hercules?
I am. The Hercules experience was incredible. It's one thing that I can share with my daughter and future grandchildren. I've also been asked to be the singing voice for Scamp in the upcoming The Lady and the Tramp, Part II.
Another singing dog role. Any fear of being typecast?
What was it like winning a Tony for your role as Snoopy?
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown was so fun to do. Winning an award was a terrific bonus. Being nominated and going to the ceremony is wonderful. And when they call your name, for a moment, it's terrifying!
Has winning a Tony changed your life?