Anyone seeing theatre in the Puget Sound in the past 2 decades has enjoyed the performances and songwriting chops of Richard “Rich” Gray. This whirlwind of a talent has been madly rehearsing a new musical Murder for Two. With direction and choreography by Daniel Knechtges, this madcap murder mystery tale was written by Joe Kinosian and Carnation, Washington, native Kellen Blair. Fellow actor/musician co-star Chris DiStefano and Rich makeup the entire cast of this show which is ACT and 5th Avenue’s annual collaboration. In precious moments off-stage, Rich took the time to let us behind the curtain of his life and career.
David-Edward Hughes: There hasn’t been enough of you onstage recently. Is this 2 man show our reward?
Richard Gray: I don’t know about “reward”, but I am certainly happy to be back at ACT Theatre after last year’s Assassins. I have been around but folks probably didn’t see me unless they have a youngster in their life (SCT’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).
DEH: Give me your perspective on the show and why should we want to see it.
RG: It is hilarious! Sort of Marx Brothers meets Victor Borge meets Agatha Christie meets The Carol Burnett Show. And in this time of political frustration, sometimes you need a little escape from all the madness.
DEH: In Murder for Two you are literally half the cast. How do you and your co-star Chris DiStefano switch off at the piano?
RG: The writers have built in a lot of clever ways that we incorporate the accompaniment into the action of the show. In addition, our director, Dan Knechtges, has brainstormed with us to find more opportunities for some “piano comedy.” As for being half the cast: I absolutely LOVE working as part of a comedy team. And I have had a lot of incredible comedic partners over the years – in particular Greg Allen, Julie Briskman and Brian Earp. Back in the day, comedic teams worked for years to develop their style, balance and timing. In theatre, you don’t have as much time so you have to keep the lines of communication open. Every laugh takes both of you to make it work because the set-up is just as important as the punch. I am thrilled that Chris is a fantastic scene partner. We trust each other completely.
DEH:What is happening in your writing life and will audiences be seeing one of your shows soon?
RG: I have a new musical I wrote with Andrew Russell (Artistic Director at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre) called The Long Game which is a political fantasy involving Edward Snowden, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, Jack Ruby and Dorothy Kilgallen. And, yes, you will be seeing it very soon. (wink, wink)
DEH: As a gay man and a working theatre artist what is your take on the current state if political upheaval in the US?
RG: What hasn’t been said? I feel just like everyone else does…frightened, angry, dumbfounded. And that isn’t because I am gay or working in the theatre. That is because I am a human being.
DEH: It has been about two years now since your beloved husband Ernie passed. How did you cope with his loss? I know you have a great guy in your life now. What brought the two of you together?
RG: For anyone who suffers a tragic loss like mine, I wish them the same kind of love and support I received from my circle of friends and the theater community at large. I was lifted up and carried through a very dark time. I wondered would I be able to laugh again? Would I be able to be funny again? Good, kind people showed up in so many ways and I will be forever grateful. And, yes, I do have a great guy in my life. He had a similar loss and we connected through that mutual understanding and grief. Life has offered me another chapter and I am moving forward. I am forever changed by this, of course, but I am not done.
DEH: Is there any chance your FORBIDDEN XMAS cabarets may resurface?
RG: I get asked that a LOT. I never say never. They were so much fun and I would love to revisit the show. They were a staple of the holiday season here for 13 years – that’s a long time. We’ll see…
DEH: Finally name a musical and straight play bucket list role.
RG: I’ve haven’t played Pseudolus yet. I think that is in my wheelhouse. And Kendra Kassebaum (local Seattle actress currently onstage in New York in “Come From Away”) and I were talking about wanting to play Nathan Detroit/Adelaide together. That would be fun. I’d like to get back to some Shakespeare soon. Ooh and maybe some Noel Coward. That would be a challenge. I am always up for a challenge. And right now, my challenge is playing the 14 crazed suspects in Murder For Two. (plug, plug)
Murder for Two runs March 25 – June 11, 2017 (press night Thursday, March 30) at ACT — A Contemporary Theatre (700 Union Street, Seattle). For tickets starting at $49 (starting at $15 for students) and information, please visit www.acttheatre.org or call the ACT Box Office at (206) 292-7676.