Marc Kudisch is a versatile musical star who can go “light” or “dark” with equal ease. A three-time Tony nominee for expert comic performances in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 9 to 5, he explored his villainous side in shows such as The Witches of Eastwick and The Apple Tree. Kudisch is currently giving a typically intense performance as the Rev. James Morell, a Socialist Christian minister and self-satisfied husband in A Minister’s Wife at Lincoln Center Theater. In conversation, Kudisch is equally intense as he discusses the show (a musical adaptation of Shaw’s Candida), his vow to set a wedding date with fiancee Shannon Lewis (currently on Broadway in The People in the Picture) and the role he has always longed to play.
Are you enjoying starring in a musical that’s full of big, philosophical ideas about religion, politics and love?
Absolutely. It’s a play that invites people to become involved. In any piece of theater, audiences have a job: They are the final cast member. Sometimes people forget that. Audiences are paying a lot of money to see a show nowadays, so it surprises me when they don’t realize that their job is to be active and take away their own ideas. Hopefully, a week after you saw the play you’ll still want to talk about it. That’s better entertainment than going to see a movie!
You seem like a pretty intense guy, and yet you’ve played so many great comic characters.
Oh, I’m a joker. I don’t take myself seriously at all, but I take my work very seriously. I have a healthy, powerful ego. Ego is not a bad word—it’s all about where it is focused. If ego is focused on self, that is arrogance. If ego is focused on work, that is confidence. Therein lies all the difference. I know I’ve played lots of silly characters. I’ve also played really, really dark ones, but all of them have one thing in common: They’re on the edge of something. I like that balancing act.
Do you ever look at your list of credits and think, “How on earth have I done all this?”
No, I look at the list and I go, “It never ends, does it?”
You don’t say that in a happy tone of voice.
I’m very happy, but it’s hard sometimes. This is a city that very much likes to put [actors] in nice compartments, to be able to go, “Aha! I know what that person does.” I don’t like for people to compartmentalize.
What show has meant the most to you in the past few years?
I did The Sycamore Trees down in D.C. by Ricky Ian Gordon, a beautiful piece of theater about the skeletons in a family’s closet. It’s about a Jewish family growing up on Long Island, post World War II. I played the dad, who was a very tough guy. The first thing I asked Ricky was, “Why did you write this?” And he said, “Because I couldn’t not.” Playing that father was so much fun because it was exploring stuff that’s part of my genetic makeup. I’ve played a minister three times, and that was the first time I’ve gotten to play a Jewish character onstage. I say this because I am Jewish. My dream role is to play Tevye [in Fiddler on the Roof], and I want to play it sooner than later.
Why hasn’t anybody thought of that?
Look at me! I’ve got light eyes, I’ve got a roman nose and a square jaw.
Grow a beard!
It’s not even that. I’m telling you, people like to compartmentalize. When I moved to this city, one of the first auditions I had was a revival of Fiddler with Topol. They’d see my last name, and I got called in two or three times. Every time I walked in, they’d go, “Um, Fyedka,” the non-Jewish Russian boy. I was so angry. I remember saying, all those years ago, “This is what we look like!”
How did this interview get so serious? This is supposed to be a lighthearted “What’s Up” chat.
What’s so good about light? I don’t have time for light anymore. I’m a funny guy, though!
When are you and [longtime fiancée] Shannon Lewis getting married?
That’s a good question. We’re trying to figure that one out.
Absolutely. We’re going to get married by the end of the year. That’s our goal—by the end of the year, come hell or high water.