When Terrence Mann completed his studies at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the prospect of performing in musical theater was not prominent in his mind.
“I had no expectation of being anywhere near Broadway. I never wanted to do musical theater,” says Mann, the new artistic director of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series. “I was going to be a rock star if I was going to sing.”
But, like the protagonist in a play or film, he found himself presented with unexpected opportunities that would lead him to performances in three of Broadway’s longest running shows and credits in film and on television. His breakout role as Rum Tum Tugger in the original Broadway cast of “Cats” in 1982 was soon followed by Javert in “Les Miserables”, and the lead in “Beauty and the Beast” in 1994. He has spent more than three decades on Broadway, including last year’s turn in “Tuck Everlasting,” and has appeared in more than 25 film and television roles, most recently as the character Whispers in the current Netflix science fiction series “Sense8.”
Mann has also served as distinguished professor of musical theatre at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, directing productions and working with students, as well as performing and directing CRT productions in Storrs several times. This year, he is directing “1776,” the musical version of events leading up to the American Revolution, which opens the 2017 Nutmeg Summer Series on June 1 at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre.
The veteran actor is taking steps to participate in the Connecticut theater community later this month, by serving as master of ceremonies at the annual awards program of the Connecticut Critics Circle on June 26 at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. “If I’m asked to participate in anything that promotes and recognizes the excellence and ongoing support of theater, I’ll be honored to be involved,” Mann says.
His enthusiasm for theater is evident in conversation and through observing his interactions with the cast during rehearsals for “1776.” The cast of Equity actors and UConn students includes Broadway veterans Jamie LaVerdiere (“The Producers,” “Motown the Musical”) as John Adams, Gaelen Gillialand (“Kinky Boots,” “Honeymoon in Vegas”) as Abigail Adams, and UConn alum Richard R. Henry ’98 MFA, who returns to CRT in the role of Benjamin Franklin.
During a recent rehearsal in the Fine Arts Complex, Mann darts from side to side using his hands to emphasize his instructions, directing the actors portraying members of the Continental Congress to move to the front of the stage to conclude the scene. “We’ll do a big exit,” Mann says. “It will be like a Congressmen’s curtain for Ben.” After some discussion about how to cue 15 actors to move off stage, technical director John Parmalee suggests that a red light visible to all of the actors could signal the exit. Mann asks the actors to repeat the movement again and calls out “red light” to begin the transition, before resetting the stage to work out the next scene transition.
“You have 10 days to inspire, create, teach, and keep everybody moving in a forward momentum toward production, and keep yourself on the timeline,” Mann says of the demands of summer theater productions, which bring together a cast for only about two weeks before the curtain rises on opening night. “That’s part of the thrill of doing these kinds of shows in the Nutmeg Summer Series. You’ve got this short amount of time to go bam, bam, bam and let’s get it up. You’ve never felt more alive or more involved and engaged in the creative process than doing it like this. It’s not taking away from having that nice six week rehearsal process, but this is a different animal. It’s the difference between running a marathon and running a 4 x 400 relay.”
Even with his long history of success, which includes three Tony Award nominations as Best Actor, Mann says he continues to approach his craft as if he was still a struggling young talent trying to win his next role. “In the arts you’re always looking at it as a survival game,” he says. “The hardest thing is not to have that feeling, which I still have, that anxiety – am I going to get this next job?”
The Nutmeg Summer Series productions include “1776” from June 1 to June 10; “Noises Off” from June 15 to June 25; and “Newsies” from July 6 to July 16. All shows are at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. For more information go to crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.