South Florida is an old stomping ground for Rick Grossman, one of the stars of the Broadway road tour of "Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical," appearing March 22-27 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
"It started in my childhood many years ago," Grossman says. "I was a child actor. My parents were in the theater, and my grandparents, they were all in the Yiddish theater. When my parents would perform, mainly back then in Miami and Miami Beach, I would perform with them. The hotels in Miami Beach were very much the winter destination of the same people who would go to the Catskill Mountains in the summer, also known as the Borscht Belt. So the same entertainers would gravitate to South Florida during the winters."
In "Bullets Over Broadway," based on Woody Allen's 1994 movie, Grossman plays Julian Marx, a theatrical producer who gets backing for a new production from a mobster. But now, the gangster wants his spectacularly untalented girlfriend to play the lead role, much to the consternation of the first-time playwright and the cast. The show uses songs from the 1920s and 1930s instead of an original score.
"As I told many of my castmates, I really think this is a show that the audience in West Palm Beach, specifically, is really going to soak in, because there such a concentration of people from the Northeast and New York, especially," Grossman says. "And Woody Allen loves his New York. And when he writes, he writes about New York. There are many geographical references made during the show. For example, for that New York audience, one of the things that is said is 'Bensonhurst,' which is a specific locale in Brooklyn. Only people from New York will get that joke. The flavor and humor of the show is New York-rooted. I'm so looking forward to getting … those kind of responses from a New York-affiliated audience that I think we'll see at the Kravis Center."
We talked to Grossman while he was on a few days break in Panama City Beach before resuming the tour.
Do you remember any specific places you played when traveling here with your parents in the '50s and '60s?
In Miami Beach on Washington Avenue was the Cameo Theatre. The Cameo Theatre was where they ran Yiddish films and would have Yiddish vaudeville. The acts would do four or five shows a day. It was a very popular place for the Jewish audience. And there was a theater further up on the Arthur Godfrey Causeway that was the Roosevelt Theatre. And we performed in many of the hotels that would put on shows. We would stay in South Florida for a good six weeks out of the winter. And then, as time changed and things changed and I changed, I would come down there in the '70s and '80s for periods of time in many of the condominiums that they were building down there with these big, wonderful theaters, doing a kind of variety club act. And, of course, there were two national tours, "Enter Laughing" and "Come Blow Your Horn." They both played the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Coral Gables. Oh, and I remember in West Palm Beach there was this kind of regional theater and it was called Musicarnival and it was in a tent.
What about now? Any favorite hangout or place to visit when you come to South Florida?
I love the area of Palm Beach Shores. As a matter of fact, I have a time-share there I'll be using during the run [of "Bullets Over Broadway"]. That's a favorite area of mine. I had family there. My in-laws and late father lived in Century Village, so we would go down there a lot, spending a lot of time there. I came close at one point to buying a condominium in that area. I have also considered living in Boca. I love that area. I love Mizner Park. Oh, and that famous deli [Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House] in Miami Beach. I think it's closed now, but that was one of my favorite places.
"Bullets Over Broadway" seems to be getting better notices on the road than it did during it's Broadway run in 2014. Why do you think that is?
One of the things that the [original director-choreographer] Susan Stroman kept saying was, "I wanted to get my hands on this piece again, because I knew there were certain things that had to be fixed, and this show could be better." I kept saying during the Broadway run, "We'll fix it on tour." She reiterated that several times. And we did. Jeff Whiting, the tour director, and assistant choreographer Clare Cook, I think they re-energized and revitalized this show. They heightened it to the point where the show is now.
In the show, you're the one who gets everything going. What's your favorite dynamic in the show, your favorite relationship in "Bullets Over Broadway"?
The thing I like about playing the role of Julian Marx is the relationship I have with the writer of the show in the show … almost as a mentor, a father figure to him. People in a relationship like that, there are warm moments and moments of conflict that I enjoy playing a lot. I have two grown sons, and I have gone through that … as a father, so I really enjoy that element every night doing the play.
Do you have any backstage rituals before you go on?
You go and you check your props. You make sure the things you're going to need are there. I check and make sure the costumes are right, and I go through my little checklist. Then, I have this little ritual I do: I have two people I think about. I evoke their thought. The first is my acting mentor who taught me to go out each night and be real and be in the moment and be true. That lady was Stella Adler, one of the greatest acting mentors and teachers I was privileged to go to and have the opportunity to learn to be an actor through her. I always call on Miss Stella every night. And then, before I walk out onstage, I say a little something to my mother, who was an actress her entire life, since she was a child. She used to say, "Yes, you may have had a rough day … but this is the life you chose, and this is the life you love. So make the most out of the next three hours." Those are the two ladies I carry on my shoulders each night onstage, my two angels.
"Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical" will play March 22-27 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $26-$76. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.