Sunday, August 19, 2007

Summer Stock Memories - Part II

Posted by Bruce Miller
A kind commenter to a previous blog entry (My Lunch with Arthur Miller, August 12) inquired about the other actors who worked with me at Southbury Summer Playhouse. I don't know what happened to all or even most of them, but at least two of them were very talented and very successful. One of those two was a great friend of mine, so I’m eager to introduce him to you.

But let me mention first the one I didn’t know very well. He is the more “famous” of the two. Philip Anglim—some of you will know his name instantly—came in and out of Southbury during the summers while he was a student at Yale. A few years after Southbury, Philip went on to originate the role of John Merrick, The Elephant Man, both on Broadway and television, earning Tony and Emmy nominations for Best Actor. He later played the title role in MacBeth at Lincoln Center, and co-starred in the television mini-series The Thorn Birds. More recently, he created a very popular character on one of the Star Trek series.

My Southbury roommate, whom I obviously knew very well, was about ten years older than me. His name was Michael Connolly, and I thought he was a prince among men. I kept in touch with Michael up until his death in the late 80s. When Terry Burgler was Artistic Director of Allentown Playhouse after leaving TheatreVirginia, he hired Michael to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and I went up to see him in the show. It was our last chance to be together.

When I lived with Michael, he was already very successful in regional theatres. About six years after our summer at Southbury, he finally had his break on Broadway. In 1977, Michael appeared in the original Broadway production of Otherwise Engaged, directed by none other than Harold Pinter. Michael followed that success with a flop, 1979’s Break a Leg, in which he had the chance to play opposite the incomparable Julie Harris, under the direction of Charles Nelson Reilly.

Michael’s next Broadway gig was in 1980. It was Tennessee Williams’ last Broadway play, Clothes for a Summer Hotel, and Michael was cast opposite Geraldine Page under the direction of Jose Quintero. You can refer back to my earlier post (When Off Broadway Began, Barksdale was There, August 5) if you want to learn more about the history-making Williams / Quintero / Page triumvirate.

Sadly, Clothes was not a success, and Michael told me that Tennessee Williams was absolutely devastated by its failure. The moral of that story for Michael was, no matter how successful you are, it’s never successful enough.

His final Broadway years were good to Michael. As soon as Clothes closed, he was cast in the musical Copperfield, along with Richmond’s own Spence Ford. Copperfield provided employment throughout 1981, and as soon as it closed, Michael was cast as the first and only replacement in the role of “Venticelli” in Peter Shaffer’s smash hit Amadeus, under the direction of the legendary Peter Hall. Michael remained steadily employed with that show from late 1981 until 1983.

Amadeus was to be Michael’s last Broadway show. Throughout the rest of his life, he worked strictly in regional theatres until his declining health made that no longer possible. He died when he was about 50 years old.

People often ask me--shoot, I often ask myself--why I never sought to build a career in NYC. My mother was a native New Yorker, so the city never intimidated me. It's always felt like a second home. But I know that it was during my summer in Southbury that I decided to come back home to Richmond, and I think the main influence on that decision was my friend Michael Connolly. He was SO talented, and really successful, and yet he always lived from one job to the next, racked with insecurity. By allowing me to witness not only his success but also his emotional ups and downs, Michael helped me decide that what I really wanted was to have a fulltime job back home. I actually made the decision in the 12-hour car ride home at the end of the summer of '71. I've never regretted the decision, and never looked back.

The value of relating these “who worked with whom” actor stories, I think, is to let artists who are relatively new to this crazy career begin to feel how interconnected the national theatre community really is. The longer you’re in the business, the more you realize that it is a small world after all. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? In my experience, it’s more like three or four.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be dumb, but what the heck is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Robyn said...

It's so true! When I think of all the people that I knew before they became famous, or that I now know through friends, I feel like I should famous myself!
btw: I think I'm 4 degrees from Kevin Bacon

Me - John Glenn - Demi Moore - Kevin Bacon

Bruce Miller said...

Actually, that's THREE degrees. One degree from John Glenn, two degrees from Demi Moore. And three degrees from Kevin Bacon.

And here's another one. You - Pat Carroll - Noah Wyle - Kevin Bacon.

You acted in "Nunsense" at Barksdale with Pat Carroll, who guest starred on "ER" in 2005 with Noah Wyle, who co-starred with Kevin Bacon in the film of "A Few Good Men."

I can think of a lot more 4 and 5 degrees, but no other 3 degrees.