Of Thee I Sing
has one of the finest pedigrees in all of musical theater: score by George and Ira Gershwin, book cowritten by George S. Kaufman, winner of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for drama (the first musical to be so honored).
A few more noteworthy names are attached to the play for its first major revival in over a decade. The Paper Mill Playhouse production, which opens this week, is directed by Tina Landau, Steppenwolf regular and cocreator of Floyd Collins. And starring as John P. Wintergreen, a bachelor who is elected president of the United States on a platform of love, is Ron Bohmer.
If you don't know Ron Bohmer, you haven't been hanging out at stage doors around the country. Bohmer cultivated such a rabid following during the national tours of Aspects of Love, Sunset Blvd., The Phantom of the Opera and especially The Scarlet Pimpernel that he's got his own fan club, called BohmerBuddies, who post photos with him and comments about his performances on the www.ronbohmer.com website.
Of Thee I Sing is Bohmer's third musical in the past year. He had a seven-month run off-Broadway in The Thing About Men, costarring Marc Kudisch, followed by another off-Broadway musical this spring, The Joys of Sex. The job-hopping is uncharacteristic for Bohmer, who played Enjolras in Les Misérables on Broadway for two and a half years in the mid '90s. He spent the better part of 1999 in the title role of The Scarlet Pimpernel, first on tour and then on Broadway, before taking up the role again on tour a year later. He also put in 10 straight months as the Phantom of the Opera.
Bohmer, who was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago's version of the Tony) for his portrayal of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., is also a songwriter who has performed his own music (as well as some showtunes) on two CDseveryman, which was released in 1998, and another life, which was recorded live in 2000. His daughters, now age 9 and 13, sang briefly on the albums. Bohmer spoke with BroadwayWorld.com while rehearsing Of Thee I Sing in Manhattan, shortly before the company moved out to Paper Mill's theater in Millburn, N.J., for the Sept. 8-Oct. 17 run.
What side of Ron Bohmer will theatergoers see in Of Thee I Sing that we haven't seen before?
There's much more comedy in this than a lot of the things I've done. Certainly Scarlet Pimpernel was funny, but it also had some pathos to it. So the style of that particular piece was a little more on the heroic and tragic side, with these wonderful and comic moments that would come out of all that when Percy would play the fop. This [Of Thee I Sing] is just out-and-out goofy. [Morrie] Ryskind [who cowrote the book] wrote for the Marx Brothers, so the energy of this piece from the get-go isI don't want to say ludicrous, but it has an absurdist element to it. And Wintergreen's the kind of guy who just gets a ridiculous idea and he's so enthusiastic about it that he just goes: "Here's what we're gonna do: We've got a problem
the farmers are sick of being farmers, they want to travel, and the sailors in the Navy, they're tired of the ocean, so, oh, I've got itlet's have them switch places." And then everyone does it. That's the kind of piece it is, it has that ludicrous element to it. Which is delightful for me; there's nothing that's too much in this.