Michael Therriault in Tin Pan Alley Rag
His past credits include Leo Bloom in 'The Producers,' Motel in "Fiddler' and creepy Golum in 'The Lord of the Rings'!
Hometown: Oakville, Ontario
Currently: Playing modern music icon Irving Berlin in the toe-tapping off-Broadway debut of Roundabout’s new “play with music” Tin Pan Alley Rag
Fame! Though he comes from a long line of self-taught musicians, Therriault didn’t consider performing until he was 12. “This is really corny, but I was watching a Fame-style TV show and thought there must be a school like that in Canada. I opened a phone book right then and there,” he explains. The nearest arts school was more than an hour away in Toronto, and his mother and father weren’t thrilled with the idea. “I understand now that Toronto is the quietest place, but at the time it seemed like a big, scary city,” he says with a laugh. Therriault snuck off with a friend’s family to audition anyway and landed a spot. His school principal then helped round up scholarship money before talking the budding actor’s parents into letting him attend.
Taking Toronto: After studying musical theater in college, Therriault spent seven years at Canada’s esteemed Stratford Festival, working his way through dozens of classical plays and musicals. When Broadway megahit The Producers made its way to Toronto in 2003, Therriault scored the leading role of uptight swindler Leo Bloom. The big show struggled to find an audience, ultimately closing early. “Toronto can’t support large productions as long as larger cities can, but I couldn’t have asked for a better job,” he recalls. Therriault’s performance was good enough to turn heads south of the Canadian border—on Broadway, to be exact.
Welcome to New York: Therriault soon got a call to audition for the role of Motel opposite Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. “I flew down from Canada on my only day off from filming an indie movie, hopped in a cab and started warming up as we drove to the audition. I said to the driver, ‘I’m so sorry, but I haven’t sung in a while and need to warm up for this big audition.’ The cabbie goes, ‘Well you better warm up more because you’re a pretty flat!’” Therriault wasn’t flat during the audition, landing the role on the spot. “I ran back down to the cab, which was waiting for me, and said, ‘I got the part!’ The cabbie turns around and goes, ‘Really? You?!’” he laughs, cringing. “I knew I was really in New York.”
“My Precious”: During Therriault’s debut Broadway run, news came he’d been cast as tormented ring-seeker Gollum in Canada’s world-premiere musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. “It was terrifying,” he admits. “Everyone was like, ‘Do the voice from the movie!’ I thought, ‘This is going to be a disaster. I’m not CGI—what the hell did I sign up for?’” Helmed by Tony winner Matthew Warchus and choreographed by Tony winner Peter Darling, the $26.9 million project was larger than anything Therriault had ever experienced. “The size of it was overwhelming, but I ended up having more fun than I could have imagined. Gollum had split personalities! You rarely get to crawl around on the ground acting crazy.” The show debuted in 2006 to poor reviews, but won multiple awards before making a giant leap across the pond.
Ring Around the West End: The Lord of the Rings hit London in 2007, with Therriault reprising his role. This time the show was a hit, bolstered by five Olivier Awards and throngs of LOTR fans. “I wasn’t a Tolkien fan, so I had no idea how devoted the followers were,” he says with a laugh. “We had people come dressed as hobbits. One woman came almost every night and sat in the front with a bag of [wizard-like] mustaches and beards—and wore a different one during every scene. We would watch from backstage totally fascinated!” While in London, Therriault took advantage of a theater performance schedule he wishes would make its way to New York. “Matinees play throughout week on the West End, not just on Wednesdays. I saw over 70 shows while I was doing eight performances a week just because I could! I’d love to adopt that here.”
From London to (Irving) Berlin: After a long search, director and Toronto native Stafford Arima tapped Therriault to play composer Irving Berlin in the off-Broadway premiere of Tin Pan Alley Rag. The music-laced dramedy imagines a meeting between Berlin, composer of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and real-life ragtime king Scott Joplin (Michael Boatman). “It’s always hard to play a real person, especially one as familiar as Irving Berlin,” Therriault says. “He’s an American icon I admire. He’s funny but with a very sad story, and I was terrified that people would hate some Canadian playing him.” With the show now up and running, Therriault calls his Tin Pan experience a joy. “It’s fun and entertaining, and I hope people are surprised by it. Look, I’ve been living out of a suitcase for three years! Sometimes you think, ‘Maybe I should settle down?’ Then you get involved in a show as inspiring—for the audience and the actors—as this and go, ‘I don’t care about the suitcase. This is worth it.’”