Backstage at the Tony Awards earlier this year, Barrett Foa was talking with acclaimed Broadway star Terrence Mann and mentioned that he would be performing this summer as Harold Hill in the Nutmeg Summer Series production of “The Music Man.”
Mann, who spent the past two summers in Storrs acting in and directing in Nutmeg Summer Series productions staged by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, told Foa he would enjoy the experience.
“He just lit up and told me: ‘You’re just going to have so much fun,’” says Foa, one of the stars of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” which will begin its fifth season in the fall.
“I feel comfortable here,” he adds. “The cast is incredibly talented. They’re supportive of me and I’m supportive of them. It’s a lovely and comfortable place to work.”
A veteran of Broadway musicals, Foa says that having the lead role in a production like “The Music Man,” which runs July 11-21 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, presents a new challenge and greater responsibility, since his previous roles in other productions of the musical were as part of the ensemble.
“I’ve been in ‘The Music Man’ three times as a dancing teenager and I never thought I’d be old enough to play Harold Hill,” Foa said during a break from rehearsals last week. “I don’t know that Harold Hill has to be old. I think he can be in his 30s and at the peak of his game both in the way of getting away with conning these towns and sleeping with as many women as he possibly can in each one. If he’s at the apex, I think that gives it a sexier sheen to the whole show.”
Foa has performed in Connecticut before, including as Frederic in “Pirates!” at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, and as Claudio in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Hartford Stage.
A native of New York City, Foa spent his summers during high school at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, later graduating with a degree in theater from the University of Michigan. He made his Broadway debut as part of the original cast of “Mama Mia!” in 2001. He says he first learned about UConn in 2003, when he auditioned for the Broadway production of “Avenue Q,” the hit musical that features puppets. One of the puppeteers featured in the production was Jennifer Barnhart ’98 (SFA).
“It was a bit of a scary experience going into a room full of puppeteers and saying: ‘I’m going to be your new lead.’ They put me into an intensive two-day course and I proved at the audition I could fit in with everyone else. I got to be the understudy for a year and learn from everyone,” he says.
Taking the risk of seeking a new challenge is something Foa enjoys. After establishing his credentials on the stage in New York, he decided to take the suggestion of friends and head to Los Angeles for a move into television. Not long after his arrival in Hollywood, he landed guest spots on established shows including “Numb3rs,” “The Closer,” and HBO’s “Entourage.”
Foa thought that, given his extensive background in musicals and musical comedy, he would likely find comedic roles in television. However, he learned that opportunities for guest stars are more plentiful in dramas. Not long after two turns on “Entourage” and one on “The Closer,” Foa was cast in an episode of “NCIS” that introduced the Los Angeles office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. At the time, “NCIS” was the No. 2-rated television program, and CBS decided to spin off a second show, “NCIS: Los Angeles,” with Foa reprising his role as computer tech analyst Eric Beale.
Foa says he was fortunate to land a network series so quickly: “I never went through a pilot season, which is sort of the living hell that LA actors have to go through every year. Somehow I avoided that and struck the lottery.”
He says the show’s writers continue to evolve the ensemble cast of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” a drama that emphasizes the relationships between the pairing of agents and staff and among the entire group.
“I think what distinguishes our show from a lot of the other procedural crime dramas is there’s a dramatic story each week but at the same time there’s kind of a workplace comedy going on,” he says. “It’s comedy where people are teasing each other a lot. It’s great because the characters are so comfortable with each other.”
Foa looks forward to his performances in Storrs this week, when he will be able to perform before an audience again.
“That’s why I do theater. Yeah, I’m in your living room [each week], but you’re not in mine,” he says. “I’m used to having a live connection with an audience on a stage, and also after the show. Fans stick around and wait to say ‘Hi.’ I get to say ‘Hi’ back. There’s more of an immediate personal touch. I want to do this because I want to meet the fans halfway.”
“The Music Man” is part of the Nutmeg Summer Series 2013, and will run July 11-21 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. For information call 860-486-1629 or go to the CRT website.