BY CARY GINELL
In Cabrillo Music Theatre’s new production of Evita, the role of Che, the narrator figure based on Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, is played by Marc Baron Ginsburg. A Philadelphia native, Ginsburg has enjoyed a varied career on both coasts prior to coming to Cabrillo. His favorite roles include Aaron (First Date,) Lord Farquaad (Shrek), Lawrence Jameson (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and Quixote/Cervantes (Man of La Mancha), among many others. He also played Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh’s First National Tour of Oliver! Marc and his wife Liza, who is also a performer, are recent parents of a son, Phoenix, who was born in June. We talked to Marc about his career and his approach to the key role he is playing in Evita.
VCOS: Where did you grow up?
MARC: I came from the Philadelphia area, and then moved out to Bucks County shortly thereafter. I still have family there and they’re coming out to see the show, which is great.
VCOS: When did you get the theater bug?
MARC: I got it on Day One. My parents took me to see shows starting when I was about five. We lived pretty close to New York, so we would drive in every summer for my sister’s birthday. My mom was a teacher so she had some time off. So we would go for a long weekend on Friday night and see three or four shows over the weekend. I didn’t know if it was something that I wanted to do for a living but I was always listening to original cast albums that my parents had. I would listen to them going to sleep and on car rides.
VCOS: What was the first show that had an impact on you?
MARC: That’s a really good question. It sounds trite these days, but the one that I remember the most was Phantom. It was such a mix of sounds. You’d have this big, blaring organ, then operatic singers, then there was this eighties pop-rocky thing, there were so many things going on that I didn’t know what to listen to first.
VCOS: Has Lloyd Webber’s shows been favorites of yours?
MARC: Let’s call him a guilty pleasure. There are things that you really enjoy, but they’re not the most amazing piece of theater that’s ever been written. Still, there’s something about them that you just love.
VCOS: The spectacle of it?
MARC: Yeah! I’ve done a bunch of his things, actually. I did Joseph twice. I’ve seen it a million times and I hate seeing it, but I love every second of being in it. I’ve done Superstar; his stuff is hard, but it’s a lot of fun to do.
VCOS: Where did you go to college?
MARC: Penn State. BFA.
VCOS: How did you end up in California?
MARC: My wife Liza was originally from out here. She grew up in the Encino area. I was living in New York and had just gotten off a tour. I had moved to New York and was staying with a bunch of friends. I subletted, I stayed on people’s couches. One of my friends had a futon next to his bed and we created a curtain around the futon so I had my own little closeted area. My wife had just finished at NYU, she went to Tisch. And she had just finished doing a show off-Broadway. She was assistant stage managing and understudying a show called Room Service, the play that became a vehicle for the Marx Brothers movie.
VCOS: Lucille Ball was in that.
MARC: That’s right. Anyway, we met in New York at the Vortex Theatre; it’s a Sanford Meisner theater on 23rd and 10th at Chelsea right by the water, and we did Kiss of the Spider Woman. It was an immersive kind of thing. They gutted all the seats in the space, ripped them all out so it was just slabs of concrete. Then they put up risers with seats on top on each side of the playing space, and they put chicken wire in front so it looked like you were looking down into the prison. Our cells were underneath the risers. So we became friendly during rehearsals, but during tech and all those long hours when we’re just sitting there waiting for them to get the lights right, we started talking more and more and realized we had a lot in common. Eventually we moved in together, got engaged, went to Chicago for a year, in 2010 to be child wranglers for Billy Elliot. That ended early and we were still subletting our place so we decided to head out to California to see if we liked it out there. And we’ve been here ever since. That was late 2010.
VCOS: What kind of roles have you gravitated toward? Are you the character actor type or are you more of a leading man?
MARC: I’ve been really lucky to have gotten to play a wide variety of roles. For me, I’ve been playing a lot of comedic roles. I did First Date, Shrek, and I did a show at the Falcon Theatre called Real Housewives of Toluca Lake where I played eighteen roles. I was the only man in the show. It was a lot of fun. We worked with the writer of the show very closely. She didn’t expect it to be high art; it’s just this parody of the reality show phenomenon. I had to do a lot of character voices and physicalities. I enjoy doing comedy; getting laughs is like nothing else.
VCOS: Roger Bean wrote that; he also did Marvelous Wonderettes.
MARC: Yes, and Roger Costellano was the choreographer. The stuff that I gravitate towards, though, personally, are the really meaty dramatic roles. Maybe I have a lot of pent-up frustration inside but I love just leaving it all on stage and going home feeling drained, emotionally and physically. There’s something very rewarding and very cathartic about that.
VCOS: Were there any of those roles where you felt like you had bared your own soul in a character?
MARC: In a different way, maybe. I’ve done Oklahoma! twice, both times playing Jud. That show’s a classic and it’s fun and it’s one of those shows that I never really have to see again, but playing that role – and clearly, I’m not a murderer, I’ve never been in that level of self-torture that he goes through – but there is something that I really connected with him because he’s such an outsider. He’s looked down upon because he’s not as smart or good looking as everybody else. And he has this deep unrequited love for Laurey, who he works for, and it’s just because she was nice to him one day. He was sick in bed and she brought him soup, and he never ever forgot that.
VCOS: Did you do “Lonely Room,” Jud’s soliloquy?
MARC: Yes, I love that part and am so grateful that they kept it in. We’ve all felt like an outsider at some point, or not appreciated, and I think everybody has experienced unrequited love.
VCOS: In that sense he’s kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, isn’t he?
MARC: He really is! And it’s so interesting because you see it played so many times as “the bad guy.” But when you really look at it and read the script, he does these terrible things and becomes a bad guy, granted, but it’s fascinating that there’s so many levels to him and you really feel for him if he’s done right. In the revival, when Shuler Hensley did it, your heart just breaks for this guy, which makes it all the more devastating when he does these awful things. I’m very much a musical theater nerd/historian.
VCOS: When you enter into a new theater company for you, like Cabrillo, is there a routine that you follow?
MARC: With Evita, I’ve been listening to it for years so I knew the music very well. Then it’s going back and doing research about the time period and the person the show’s about, especially if it’s about a real person, like Evita. Then I read the script a million times and just take little notes about what my thought process is, my arc, my ultimate goal, and about how I would like to play it. I never solidify anything before I come in just because it could change in a second. That’s what the director’s there for.
VCOS: Do you ever look at other performances of your character?
MARC: I have. I know originals very well, especially now that we have YouTube, so I look around for other performances and check out the national tours. Then I watch one version of it all the way through and then put it away. With me, it’s very easy to get into a happy, repetitive place, and I don’t want to do that. I want to make it my own.
VCOS: With your part of Che, you have to juggle four really distinctive personalities who have played him, you have Colm Wilkinson in the original, then Mandy Patinkin on Broadway…
MARC: And he’s definitely an original!
VCOS: And then you have Antonio Banderas in the film version and Ricky Martin in the revival.
MARC: Very different approaches. Colm just rocked his face off, singing for the heavens. There was a little bit of acting there, but he just SANG. Then you have Mandy, who is all over the place, throwing his little characterizations around and his accents, and his “Mandy-isms.” I love Mandy Patinkin. Huge fan. Antonio Banderas was probably the most down-to-earth and real version. And Ricky Martin, I’ve seen bits of, and he was very interesting because he was very charismatic and very presentational.
VCOS: So where do you fall in all of this?
MARC: I would love to take bits and pieces from all of them. Obviously, there are vocal pyrotechnics that have to take place in the show. It’s just written that way. If you don’t do it that way, it’s not impressive, so you have to ramp it up a little bit. I do love the Mandy-isms, though. He just goes for it and makes it his own. He’s fearless, which is fabulous. So I definitely want to be able to do some of that and step outside the box and not just sing the notes. If that means, speaking a little more or throwing in a few accents or exploring his “every-man” -ism, I’m all for that, as long as it’s rooted somewhere in truth and honesty.
VCOS: This role is kind of an odd combination of a fictional character based on a non-fictional character. How do you balance that? Is he a real person who inserts himself into the action or is he like El Gallo in The Fantasticks, just someone who is all flair?
MARC: Definitely not all flair. My God, that would be interesting, though. What’s great bout Che is that you can go so many ways with it. That’s the fun part about the show and the role because it’s open up to so much interpretation. I love that he is Che, but nowhere is it written that this is Che Guevara. You kind of imply it, in a way, with the way he dresses, but it’s not necessarily mean to be him. So I see him more as a symbol. He’s the narrator and that’s his main role. I see him as the everyman, the anti-Peronista of Argentina. He represents all of the descamisados, which is great, because it allows you to not just be static on stage. You’re not just watching. You’re actually making him a part of it. So in a scene, he’ll step up and be a waiter, he’ll poke his head out and comment on the action, or whisper little things in Magaldi’s ear as he’s passing. He’s commenting on the action, but not in a super-presentational, “I’m the narrator” way.
VCOS: He’s kind of like the narrator in Joseph, isn’t he, in that regard?
MARC: Yeah. Absolutely. It allows him to be part of the action. It’s more interesting that way.
VCOS: How’s your Spanish?
MARC: (laughs) Asi, asi. It’s not a Spanish role per se, but you’d better pronounce it correctly and know what you’re saying. The ensemble has a lot more than I do. But this is a really important show, culturally. This lady really existed and this really happened and we have to be able to honor that as accurately and as best as possible. We’re trying to honor the history that happened within the parameters of what Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice allowed in their representation. A lot of people loved Eva Peron and what she did, but there are other people, which Lloyd Webber taps into, that were skeptical of her because she came from being an actress and then, all of a sudden, she’s a politician.
VCOS: Isn’t it amazing how certain Broadway musicals have become relevant in light of the 2016 presidential race?
MARC: Man, is that the truth! Especially these days. We say it all the time: how did this person become a politician? It’s hard to understand sometimes. This person is going to lead our country? I’m sure a lot of the Argentine people felt that way. Eva Peron came out of nowhere and then, all of a sudden, she’s marrying the most powerful guy in the country. And she didn’t just stand idly by; she had all of these foundations and she was an activist, and was a hugely active person on the political scene and fought for a lot of good. But it just happened overnight. So how did all of this happen? It IS like today!
VCOS: And we’ll just leave it at that.
Evita plays opens at the Fred Kavli Theater on October 14. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.