BY R. J. DONOVAN
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham is kicking off its summer season with the musical “Mame,” playing June 13 – June 23.
Mame Dennis, aka Auntie Mame, is an effervescent, uninhibited, single New Yorker who lives life to the fullest. It’s the 1920s and the world is Mame’s chic, bohemian playground.
However, her life is suddenly altered when she’s given the task of raising Patrick, her young nephew, left orphaned when his father dies suddenly.
The beloved 1966 musical has a score by Broadway legend Jerry Herman and features both the rousing title song and the hit ballad, “If He Walked Into My Life.”
Mark Linehan plays Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, the dashing, wealthy, Southern gent who marries Mame - played by Leigh Barrett - bringing love to her life after the crash of 1929. (Linehan and Barrett both appeared in “Anything Goes” at Reagle last summer.)
The award-winning Linehan has performed in theaters across New England as an actor, dancer, and singer. He’s a lifelong student of the saxophone and piano, both jazz and classical, and also plays guitar and ukulele.
While he’s a favorite of audiences from Wheelock Family Theater to Greater Boston Stage Company and New Rep, he has also found time to appear on screen in “Shutter Island,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “Surrogates,” starring Bruce Willis, and the Boston-based comedy “Ted,” starring Mark Wahlberg.
In addition to serving as an on-camera historical expert for “Mysteries of the Museum” on The Travel Channel, he works year round as a costumed guide on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail.
We spoke recently at the end of his very busy workday. Here’s an edited look at our chat.
BIR: Auntie Mame is a charismatic character audiences just love.
A: Mame is a smart, independent, liberated woman . . . She has a lot of love to give. I think people can particularly identify with Mame. . . especially recently. We’ve had the financial crisis, we had the college debt crisis. It’s the story of someone living large and then losing everything and having to rebuild and maintain the connections that are important to them.
BIR: She attracts some eccentric characters.
A: She creates a family based on the people around her, whom she loves and who love her. It doesn’t matter to her what their situation is. It doesn’t matter to her if they’re related to her or not. Throughout life, all of us collect people who become part of our lives. That’s what a family is. A family is not a bunch of last names . . . For a show written in 1966, that’s a lesson that we can still afford to learn today. A family is love.
BIR: And there’s an interesting family coincidence to your playing Beau?
A: My grandfather was stationed in Korea with the Fisheries Department from 1959 to 1961, and the Americans on base did a community theater production of the play “Auntie Mame,” and I guess my grandfather played Beauregard, the role that I’m playing.
BIR: When you’re giving tours along the Freedom Trail, do you assume a specific role? Are you required to stay in character?
A: We do. We all take on the personas of different characters … but we can’t be completely in character, we can’t be re-enactors. We’re interpreters. We walk through a modern city so we can’t really pretend its 1765 with cars whizzing by … People all the time ask me questions about who I really am, and I tell them. . . [You’ll see me] if you’re ever on Tremont Street, School Street, Washington, or Congress. …[At 6-foot-4] I’m one of the tallest people on the Freedom Trail. And I wear bright green, so I’m pretty easy to spot.
BIR: You’ve played a diverse list of characters from Professor Harold Hill to Gaston and George Bailey. Any dream roles to come?
A: I have been very lucky. My dream was always just to work … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few dream roles on the bucket list. I’m slowly starting check them off. My biggest dream role was John Wilkes Booth in “Assassins” and I got to play that at New Rep about five years ago. Honestly, the only other role that intrigued me was Captain Von Trapp in “Sound of Music.” There was always something about him that I wanted to explore. People seem to think of him as this really stiff, wooden guy with no emotions, and I actually think of him as the opposite. He’s the guy who lost his wife. People always think of him as a distant father but first and foremost he’s a widower . . . He’s someone who loved his wife and lost her and it’s still fresh for him . . . And the other one is a completely different captain. I’ve always wanted to take a stab at Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.” Absolutely over the top!
BIR: What was your first time on stage like?
A: My first year of high school I did “Little Shop of Horrors” at Natick High School and the bug bit me. I haven’t looked back since. I was originally one of the tinier roles in the show and then this kid quit and I ended up playing Mr. Mushnick. And that’s been a repeated occurrence in my career. Many of my best roles are because someone else quit … There’s a very good friend of mine, a very successful working actor, and he has a great phrase. “I don’t care if you call me first, second or seventh as long as you call me last” (Laughter).
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Mame,” June 13 – 23, Reagle Music Theater, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham. Info: 781-891-5600, reaglemusictheatre.org.