For Rick Grossman, playing a born-and-bred New Yorker who’s spent his whole life in the theater is not much of a stretch.
The actor’s latest role is Broadway producer Julian Marx in the new touring production of “Bullets Over Broadway,” based on Woody Allen’s 1994 movie. Allen also wrote the libretto. “The character is a true New York guy. He got into the theater at an early age, and then became a Broadway producer, of both hits and failures. And he loves what he does. He loves the theater,” says Grossman, himself a third generation performer whose grandparents came from the Yiddish theater.
“It was easy for me to embrace the character,” he adds. “Same background, my ethnic roots are similar, and I’ve been in the theater all whole life, acting and directing and producing. So I have an affinity for this character.”
We spoke with Grossman to find out more about the show before “Bullets” comes to Philly for the first time.
This is the first time “Bullets Over Broadway” is touring, right?
Yes, this is the first national tour — the only time it’s been seen was in the Broadway run. So we’re all very excited about that.
What’s the show about?
It’s very colorful, very lively, very funny. It revolves around a young playwright who’s trying to get his play produced on Broadway, and has a producer — the role that I play — who picks it up. And it deals with how they get the money and the interesting characters that get involved, backing the show financially — and some of the strings attached. It’s in the early 1920s, so it has a lot of that color. It has mobsters.
So you’re watching a play within a play?
You’re watching them rehearse the play, and there are a lot of funny incidents that go on, during the tryouts, bringing it to Broadway — what goes into making a show.
Is it a screwball comedy?
I’d call it a zany musical comedy. [Laughs] People who are familiar with Woody Allen’s work, especially in the ’70s and ’80s, know it has that craziness and neurosis.
You’re taking this show to 46 cities. How do you keep up the energy?
It can become a little wearying. I’ve done several tours throughout my career; you have to learn how to pace yourself. When you’re doing the 205th performance, you need to give your audience the same performance that you gave in the first one. That’s something that was ingrained in me as a young actor, when I was fortunate enough to study with one of the great acting teachers of all time, Stella Adler. She was the coach to Marlon Brando, and many others. She said, “Each night, you owe your audience the same level of professionalism you started with. Never give them anything less.” And each night, before I go on stage, no matter what role I’m doing, that message comes back to me.
Do you have any other backstage mantras or rituals?
My mother was a big influence on me, she was an actress herself. So my little ritual is I just kind of look up and say, “OK, Ma, keep your eye on me tonight.”
NEXT UP: ‘Matilda’
On deck for Broadway Philadelphia is “Matilda The Musical,” coming to the Academy of Music Nov. 17 to 29. The show, based on the Roald Dahl book, was a hit on Broadway, winning four Tony Awards. Like “Bullets Over Broadway,” this will be “Matilda”’s first run in Philly.
The show follows young Matilda, a smart, precocious girl bumping up against her comically obnoxious and conniving parents and the cruel school headmistress Miss Trunchbull, aided by her kind teacher Miss Honey.
We’re told that Bryce Ryness, playing Miss Trunchbull, steals the show. He’s been in several Broadway productions, including “Hair” and “Legally Blonde.”