Theater is a place for musicians. While it once was a place for those trained in theater, those who sang and danced, it has become a place where musicians of all kinds gather. Theater performers are all things to all people. For example, check out Eric William Morris in “The Songbird,” an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” set in current day Nashville. The limited run at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ, begins June 9 and goes through July 1. (www.tworivertheater.org/plays_events/current_season.php?categoryID=261)
There are 10 people in the cast, “six of us play instruments and there is no orchestra pit. Playing an instrument has become such a tool. It has gotten me so many jobs.” Eric told me he spent “his life savings” as a kid when he bought his Les Paul guitar!
This story is not about Chekov or about becoming a theater star, but in fact, is a story about Eric. I know you recognize him. He has done a lot of television, including a stint on the CBS soap “As the World Turns”. However, what brought me to Eric is that he is a working theater actor on the cusp of becoming a household name when he takes on the role as film producer Carl Denham in the upcoming Broadway show “King Kong”.
Let’s go back a few years. After college, Eric attended the Circle in The Square Theatre School in NYC, and even worked there as a janitor for eight months after he graduated and started auditioning. His first Broadway break came when he was cast in “Coram Boy”. Unfortunately, the show only lasted 30 performances, so he went back to work at Circle. Then, he got the audition for “Mama Mia,” which was around the corner at The Winter Garden Theater; a place he passed every day when going to school. At that time, what made “Mama Mia” such a coup for theater actors was that it was a different sort of show from what Broadway had seen before. It was the start of the jukebox musical which had a book written around the music of 1970s hot pop group ABBA.
“Mama Mia” was on Broadway “for about 7 years before I was in it. When a show runs for a while, there usually have a resident director. However, the original Broadway director Phyllida Lloyd (who also directed the film) was around and wanted to cast the new crop of people. So, I went through her two or three times. It was a long process that started out in March with a final callback in May. Then I completely forgot about it until mid-June when I got the call that I was cast as Sky.”
Another step in Eric’s career came when he was cast in Joe Iconis’ “Be More Chill”. “I auditioned for Joe in 2008 for a production of ‘The Black Suits’ as part of a summer play festival. I didn’t get it. A couple of months later he did a series of concerts called ‘Things to Ruin’. I guess they remembered me, called me back in and I ended up getting that in the Fall of 2008.” Then, in 2015, Eric was part of Iconis’ “Be More Chill”, another cutting edge show. “That is probably the show that exhibits the most of what the Internet can do,” he says. (https://www.bemorechillmusical.com/)
The “Be More Chill” album has more than 100 million downloads. The album was recorded after the show closed, and “we thought that we had a keepsake, but then found there is a hungry theater audience that is not getting theater music on the radio or in school. The Internet and YouTube are a new outlet for those who long for storytelling and song structure, people who like The Beatles, Radiohead; progressive artists that aren’t commercial.”
Although Eric won’t be part of “Be More Chill,” when it opens off-Broadway this summer, he will be part of another iconic Broadway moment. When I asked him what his dream role would be, he said, “one I create.” He is getting that chance with “Kong Kong.” The show has been around in concept since Global Creatures created the animatronic King Kong in 2013. It has undergone several transformations. The current and final creators of the show are: Songwriter, Eddie Perfect who is currently also working on the “Beetlejuice Musical”; Marius De Vries who is doing the scoring; Jack Thorne wrote the book (he also wrote “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child” currently running on Broadway); and the director/choreographer Drew McOnie.
“About a year ago, I was asked to audition, but there was no script, so I said no. Then a few months later, they had the script, and I read it and thought it was really good. I went on two or three rounds of auditions. That happened in October. Then, I found that I got the part the day before I got married!” (Btw….he married his Sophie from ‘Mama Mia’, Alyse Alan Lousie ).
“King Kong” takes place in the 1930s in New York City. The story is closer to the novella than to the movie, Eric says. There are three lead characters and the gorilla. “The music feels like modern music, and the show is a comment on our situation as a society right now.” While the kids might just like Kong, the adults will be intrigued by the story. “It’s a morality tale about people in cages.”
With all that on Eric’s plate, I then asked ….”Is that all????” He says, “nope.” He has also written and acted in a short that just filmed last month. “It was my piece of writing produced on film. It was exciting. Now, we are getting an editor. I did it because I started to feel like I needed to express myself in other ways.” Ah…just another skill to add to his creative belt!
For more information about “King Kong,” and to get tickets, go to http://kingkongbroadway.com/