Richard H. Blake made his Broadway debut at the age of 12 and his long resume (Jersey Boys, Legally Blonde, Wicked, etc.) is very impressive. After playing a slew of bad guys, he finally gets to tackle the role of a good father in A Bronx Tale.
Joy: What was your first exposure to musical theater, and what made you want to pursue a career at such a young age?
I think the first show I saw was a touring production of Annie in Boston and I sat on phone books. I must have been five and I loved it. I started dancing and doing gymnastics when I was young because I was really clumsy so my parents put me in classes so that I would learn some dexterity. I got discovered at a dance competition. One of the judges was an agent and asked me if I wanted to go off with his show. That was my first professional job, a show called Broadway Baby at the Goodspeed Opera House.
Who were your role models growing up?
My father was my idol growing up. He was a great man. Also my dance teachers. I looked to them, they were like second mothers to me. Then as I started performing professionally, some of the people that I got to work with absolutely became idols to me. Len Cariou, who is now on Blue Bloods, played Teddy Roosevelt on my first Broadway show called Teddy & Alice and I played his son. He is one of the greatest actors there is and could not have been a nicer person to work with.
I would also say a man named Tommy Walsh who was in the original company of A Chorus Line and directed the first show that I ever did, Broadway Baby. He inspired me and he really made me think that this was something that I could do for the rest of my life.
How did you get involved with A Bronx Tale?
I was doing Jersey Boys and playing Tommy DeVito. The Dodgers are producing A Bronx Tale and they are also the producers of Jersey Boys, so when the auditions came around, they asked me to come in for the role of Lorenzo and obviously I was thrilled to even be considered. I went in and sang some songs, did some scenes and the rest, as they say, is history.
It seems like a lot of people from Jersey Boys are in A Bronx Tale.
Yes. You know, one of the great things about this business is, if you have a good work ethic and you are talented and you are a nice person, the same people want to work with you over and over again. You will find that the choreographers and a lot of producers use the same people because they know what to expect with those people. They know that they can count on them, they know what the working relationship is going to be like, and it makes their life a lot easier.
What’s your favorite part about the show?
My favorite part about A Bronx Tale is getting to play a father. I am a father of a young boy myself so this is my first father role. I really enjoy getting to portray the kind of father that I would like to be. Lorenzo is a very great man. I mean, this is Chazz Palminteri’s real life, so he talks about his dad with the utmost admiration. So to get to play that man is an honor.
Tommy DeVito (from Jersey Boys) and Lorenzo are both based off real people. How does that influence your performance?
You have to be true to the people that they were and that’s what’s important. Yet, you don’t want to obviously imitate these people because that’s not what we do for a living. We are creating art and trying to create characters and put things on stage, but it’s very important that while you are creating these characters for yourself and who you envision these characters to be that you also pay homage to the people that they are and were. That’s the trick with playing live people. You walk a thin line of making choices that are going to be too on the nose and too much like imitation and also veering too far away from the core of what these people really are.
In A Bronx Tale, you play a good guy and in Jersey Boys you played a (questionably) bad guy – how do you approach that?
It’s funny, because the last couple of years I have been playing bad guys, between Tommy DeVito and Warner Huntington III and Glen Guglia. These guys are all kind of the bad guys and the antagonist. It feels good to be the guy people are rooting for and not against,
That being said, playing bad guys is so much fun because of the complexities involved. You don’t want to be the kind of antagonist that people just hate. You want them to be understanding in a way of who you are. One of the ways that I choose to play these sort of bad characters is to make them naive to the fact that they are jerks. If they don’t know they are being bad, it almost makes you feel more for them because they just don’t even realize that they are bad people, so they are not malicious in intent. They are just unaware. Unapologetic.
This your 13th show – how do you decide which roles to take on or when to audition for a new show?
At this point I have been very fortunate. Legally Blonde and Wedding Singer I really was asked to do because I worked with the creative team on other shows and that’s always a pleasure. You don’t have to audition and that’s always nice. But the kind of shows that I want to do now – I am trying to evolve and age into certain characters. This one in particular, starting to play these father figures. I also look for shows that are going to be something that I want to do for a year or more. When you sign on for a contract, you hope that the show is going to run for a long time so you better make sure that it’s something that you want to do for a long time.
What’s it like to record a cast album and how is it different when you perform on stage and sing in a recording studio?
Oh, it’s great. We did that yesterday. It’s always a blast to do the recording, but this one in particular working with such pros like Tommy Mottola and Ron Melrose and the team behind it, Alan Menken – they just know what they want and what they are doing so well that it really makes the whole process very smooth and easy.
When you are doing the show on stage, the audience has the luxury of seeing your reactions, seeing your physicality, seeing the set, seeing the lighting. When you are listening to a cast album, you don’t have any of that so you have to do so much more with your voice to really convey what’s happening on stage. So that is one of the really fun things is, you start to play around with all of the different intricacies of your voice while you are recording an album.
In a few words, can you describe your experience in the following shows?
Awesome. “Omigod You Guys.”
It was like dancing through life. Are you sensing a theme here?
“Who loves you, baby.” Actually, you know what? Honestly for Jersey Boys I would have to say “oh, what a night.”
I would say “when I grow up.”
The Wedding Singer:
Saturday night in the city…
A Bronx Tale:
Look to your heart.
Out of all the characters you played, do you have a favorite costume that you got to wear?
If I had to pick one, that’s really tough. I mean, it depends on my mood. Playing Roger in Rent was cool because it was comfy. That was kind of who I was at the time and I didn’t have to change clothes but once, which was really one of the best things about doing any show is when you have one costume change, that’s amazing. I have so many costume changes in every other show that you are constantly changing clothes. Jersey Boys had great suits. Warner Huntington III [in Legally Blonde], I had an awesome suit to start off the show for “Serious.” I can’t pick. I had some real cool clothes. You know, I will go against the grain and say the scarecrow outfit in Wicked.
What’s the most memorable show you have been in?
I am going to say Footloose because I met my wife on Footloose. Followed closely by Wicked because my son was born when I was in Wicked.
Any funny mishaps on stage?
Oh, where do I begin? I have had so many. I got caught in the rope swing in Wicked one time and ended up hanging by my leg and swinging across the stage. I sprained my ankle and twisted my back. It was bad.
I was in the national tour of Sound of Music with Marie Osmond and I have a bike in the show and I was supposed to put the kickstand down and stand the bike up and the kickstand broke and I couldn’t get the bike to stand, so I was fighting with it and I finally just threw it offstage.
I have fallen, missed music, cues…
You have been working on Broadway for a long time. How do you feel social media has changed the industry?
Affected it greatly in many ways. This is really the marketing platform for Broadway now. There are more people looking at their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat every day than there are people watching commercials on TV. Especially these days you can fast‑forward through any of that and I think that with social media and things like YouTube, it’s affected a lot of the casting for Broadway because people are now having the ability to make themselves personalities and celebrities in a platform that is actually marketable to Broadway audiences. Especially the younger generation. You are finding that there are people getting hired for Broadway shows because they are YouTube sensations and it’s a cool new market out there.
Have you ever had a Patti LuPone moment where you wanted to take someone’s phone away from them when you were doing a show?
Unfortunately every night. There are people every single night in the theater who are on their phone while we are up there trying to entertain and they just don’t understand that it’s disrespectful. We are working our butts off and it breaks our concentration when you are trying to do a scene and all of a sudden, you see a bright light. I get it, but there was a time when we could go two hours without having to check in on something. I am just as much to blame as everyone else. Not when it comes to the theater, but I am obviously addicted to the instant gratification of being able to get back to somebody as soon as I want, but when you are doing a show and someone in the front row is just sitting there texting the whole time, it’s a little upsetting. I am not going to lie.
Do you have an all‑time favorite musical?
No. There is something great about every show. Some, it’s that the music is my favorite show that I ever had to sing. Some shows have the best people. Some shows have my favorite costumes. There is something about all of them that’s been great.
Do you have any hidden or quirky talents that no one knows about?
I juggle. I eat fire. I ride a unicycle. I worked with some Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns on a show that I did a long time ago and I just wanted to learn all the stuff that they did.
Favorite thing about NYC?
I mean, it’s New York. There is so much diversity and culture going on. As much as New York gets a bad rap for having rude people, I just disagree. You take 12, 13 million people, you are going to find some rude people no matter where you go, but for a city with 13 million people, I love New Yorkers.