BY CARY GINELL
It would not be hyperbole to suggest that Andrew Metzger might one day be the next John Belushi. But that is who the twenty-three year-old actor reminded me of when I saw him in action on stage for the first time, playing the role of Protean in Panic! Productions’ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum summer. He resembles a young Belushi physically, with his broad face, independently responsive eyebrows, and wild-eyed expressiveness, and has the ability to steal scenes without overacting. The next time I saw him was in his next show, Les Miserables, in Simi Valley, where he played the perpetually soused rebel Grantaire, who was more interested in uncorking his next bottle of wine than in engaging in the battle for freedom. Tonight, Andrew gets his shot at a lifelong favorite, Mr. Applegate, a/k/a the Devil, in Adler and Ross’s Damn Yankees, which opens Thursday night at Cal State University Channel Islands. I spoke with Andrew about this and other roles he plays, in a life that has him hop-scotching from one indelible character to another.
VCOS: So tell me about you and Applegate.
ANDREW: I’ve been wanting to play this part since my senior year of high school back in 2008. It’s a role I’ve kind of had my eye on. I auditioned for it maybe three or four times since then and have either been told I was too young or someone else was pre-cast in the role, so I’ve never really had a chance to play it. So when my school announced that they were having auditions for the show, I couldn’t believe it. Needless to say, I was happy to finally get the chance to play Satan himself.
VCOS: What about this character suits you?
ANDREW: Applegate is one of those character actor roles where you can almost do anything with him. He is the Devil so that gives you the freedom to be as crazy, in some scenes, as you want to be. He can be flamboyant, happy, crazy, and then he can be mad and insane. It’s flipping a switch with this guy. There’s a line at the end of the show where he says, “I’m not really a bad guy. I’m just emotional.” That just cracks me up because that describes Applegate perfectly for me.
VCOS: Is there much of a difference between how Applegate is portrayed in the book and what he’s like in the musical?
ANDREW: I made a choice not to read the book only because when I approach a role, any role, I want to approach it using my own uniqueness as an artist and not to have any preconceived ideas about how someone else has played it. While I respect the source material, I still want to do it from an organic point of view. I read a little bit on the internet about the book and the character, but otherwise, I can’t say that I drew inspiration from it because I want to make it as unique and new as possible.
VCOS: What about Ray Walston’s portrayal? He was in the original stage production as well as the film version.
ANDREW: I saw the movie years ago and Ray Walston, who won the Tony for the role and was absolutely brilliant, and he was the first, but the thing is that I didn’t want to do it the way he did. And I didn’t want to do it the way Jerry Lewis did it when he did the revival. So I’ve totally tried staying away from watching other Applegates, just so that I can make it my own.
VCOS: There’s a lot of vaudeville in Applegate’s solo, “Those Were the Good Old Days.” How are you approaching it?
ANDREW: Heather Castillo, our choreographer, and I have tried to cut as much of the shtick that is usually in “Good Old Days,” because it does have that vaudevillian, hammy quality that the Devil rightfully represents. But we are approaching it so that he is a terrifying sociopath; it’s the Devil coming into his own in that song. At the beginning of the song, he sings that he’s depressed and is reliving the days when he was at his peak. Without giving too much away, there will be some audience interaction and it’s going to be both terrifying and funny at the same time. It will still be vaudeville, but it will have an edge to it. As Heather told me, he’s still the Devil and we have to be scared for Joe after this song.
VCOS: Is there a type of character that you enjoy playing more than others?
ANDREW: I’m a character actor by nature; always have been, always will be, so when it comes to roles like Applegate or Pseudolus in Forum, or Tevye, who I’ve had the immense pleasure of playing, it’s fun. The great thing about comedy is that you get immediate response. With drama, you don’t really know how you’re affecting your audience until after the show. But if you’re funny, you get a laugh, and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as on the previous night so you try something new or maybe the audience was just tired. The point is that you get that immediate feedback and I think, for me, that is the best feeling, making people laugh, helping people escape and forget what’s going on in their lives. Through theater, you want to be transported and we do that through song, dance, and laughter. That’s why musical comedy is my favorite genre of theater.
VCOS: I’ve noticed you have a side career as a pirate. Tell me about that.
ANDREW: Yes. That’s Captain Jack. I’ve been impersonating him for a little over a decade. I’m always working on the costume and the impression, trying to go out and entertain people as the character. One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten is when people go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and all they can think about is me or if they see the movie, they are reminded of me. He’s another one of those characters who can do anything he wants. There’s that freedom and comedy again that really appeals to me. I like making kids and older people smile.
VCOS: Where do you portray him?
ANDREW: I work for a few different companies, do birthday parties, events. If I didn’t get joy out of doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it. But I always have fun putting the boots on.
VCOS: Any long-term goals?
ANDREW: I recently talked with a musical theater agent, so that’s going to be cool. I may be getting signed in the next week or so, so that will hopefully shoot me off into new directions. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a student of the art. I call myself a super-senior at CSUCI because I have no idea what year I am at this point (laughs). All I know is that I have a year left and am majoring in performing arts with a theater emphasis. I finish school next year, so after that, I might move to L.A. and do the actor thing and get a job at minimum wage at a restaurant somewhere (laughs).
Andrew Metzger stars in Damn Yankees, which runs through April 12 at the Malibu Hall Theatre on the campus of Cal State University Channel Islands. For directions, show dates and times, see the VC On Stage Calendar.