Harry Turpin is a performer, director, choreographer, and writer. He’s performed regionally with ShowTunes!, the 5th Avenue Theatre, Village Theatre as well as nationally. A resident of Seattle, Harry has been seen on stages across the country in the 30th Anniversary tour of Annie, including a small stint at Madison Square Garden. He has recently directed and choreographed The Who’s Tommy and Sweet Charity, both for Seattle Musical Theatre, with the former recognized by BroadwayWorld with awards for Best Direction and Choreography.
Harry, proud father of a now nearly grown son, is a longtime friend and past collaborator of mine. I look forward to sharing my interview with him, days away from his opening as perpetual bachelor Bobby in the Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical classic Company, produced by Twelfth Night Productions in West Seattle.
DEH: Is the role of Bobby in Company the most challenging of your career so far?
HARRY: Oh, absolutely. The emotional arc for the character in a show that is really a series of vignettes is incredibly difficult. To find and elevate the stakes in each scene, to see how it relates to the complete picture of this man, this character, without having necessarily a through-line has been difficult. But that’s the joy in it. I get to discover and play with the cast, to take each situation, internalize it, and let it manifest itself through the choices I make. Connecting the dots from one piece to the next. I’m exhausted at the end of each night, but exhilarated at the same time.
DEH: Bobby has the most to sing in the show, yet some people think of it as being a thankless leading role, as the ladies get a lot of the big musical moments. Your thoughts?
HARRY: Company is one of those shows that is so incredibly well written. The placement of songs pointing you to where you need to go emotionally makes absolutely perfect sense. You think of the sequence in particular, Have I Got a Girl For You, into Someone is Waiting, immediately into Another Hundred People. It’s musical writing at its best. The men in Bobby’s life all trying to get him to get married, immediately segueing into this impossible amalgamation of people–I call it Bobby’s White Knight moment from Music Man. He has a laundry list of people he knows, taking a bit from her and a bit from her and doctoring together a woman that is too good to exist in reality, and then immediately into seeing all the women in his life that cannot and will not ever fill that void.
What I really enjoy is what Richard Buckley, our director, has done in terms of working on the story is focusing on the roles of the Company to really set up Bobby’s character arc, as fragmented as it is. There’s been a lovely conversation and collaboration between the two of us to be able to get to where I need to go.
Bobby sings as an outsider, watching the women in his world, and realizing he loves each of them a little bit, but he’s not really able to decide what he really wants until the very end. Yet each and every single piece makes absolute sense for what the character needs to accomplish, and where he ultimately needs to end up to move, to progress as a person. The women really get a chance to explore the things they’re already living while Bobby is observing and slowly realizing that he simply can’t anymore. It’s a beautiful balance between score and character.
DEH: Do you think the addition of Marry Me A Little (a song that was replaced by Being Alive in the original show several years ago) strengthened or weakened the score?
HARRY: Marry Me A Little is a bitch of a song, but I absolutely love it, and it serves a very specific purpose. I think it’s needed for him to continue the journey, and represents a fundamental shift in Bobby’s thinking. We go from the opening song, Company, where he’s okay being on the outside, to Someone is Waiting, really a representation of his fear to commit, to Marry Me A Little. The key word there is “A Little.” Not a lot, not wholeheartedly, but a little. In all of his songs with the exception of Being Alive, Bobby has this laundry list of how things are supposed to be. He’s not ready to give up his freedom, the lifestyle he’s accustomed to, but by the time we get to Marry Me A Little, the door is starting to crack just a little bit. He’s starting to see that he does want more in his life, that he not only wants it but needs it. I think the song is a testament to the character’s journey, and a perfect way to illustrate this esoteric idea he’s after without wholeheartedly committing.
DEH: Do you as a gay man think Bobby is gay, or bi, or….?
HARRY: I absolutely think Bobby is straight. I don’t think there’s anything in the text to indicate otherwise. I know it’s been discussed, and certainly, in this day and age, I would love to see a production that incorporated sort of that gender fluidity—but only if it wasn’t really an issue. It shouldn’t be that he can’t come to terms with his sexuality, it should be that he’s not able to commit. I suppose one is a different kind of commitment, but one that I don’t necessarily believe is supported by the text.
DEH: You are a performer, writer, choreographer, director…which is your real passion currently?
HARRY: I’m going to deviate from your list a bit, if you’ll allow me to. My real passion is collaboration. From being on stage, to writing, to directing, to choreographing—it all comes from a place of collaboration for me. That’s what fuels me. I love being able to work alongside incredibly talented people, I love being able to come up with an idea and see it come to fruition through the work and thoughts of others, to see what other people can bring to the table, to feed off that energy, to work together, to cultivate and create. That’s my real passion. I love working with people.
DEH: You have a great relationship with your son. Does he embrace your theatre work? Is he artsy himself?
HARRY: I don’t know necessarily about embrace—but I know he supports it. He’s always come to see the shows, and has been exposed to the theatre ever since he was little. He’s done a little acting here and there himself, and has been known to noodle around on the guitar. Not quite as artsy as dad, but occasionally, I catch him singing to himself. He’s got a lovely voice. I’m pretty lucky he’s turned out as grounded and well-rounded as he has.
DEH: I think of you as a serial monogamist unlike the commitment challenged Bobby. Do you enjoy playing the role?
HARRY: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It’s been so much fun to explore this character. To lose my inhibitions a little bit and just be Bobby. I don’t want his baggage—even though it’s a very expensive matching set—but it’s been a lot of fun to explore it and see how it fits for a time.
DEH: What’s in the pipeline for you?
HARRY: Next, I’m getting ready to play Bert in Mary Poppins. And looking for the next thing to direct. I’m getting that itch again and hoping to find a project to invest time and energy into.
DEH: What parting thoughts do you have for our readers?
HARRY: Go to the theatre! We live in such a wonderful and supportive community, Fringe, community, touring, Broadway—go and see something live on stage!
Company will be presented at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center (4408 Delridge Way SW) February 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 7:30 pm, and February 14 and 21 at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors. Find tickets go online at brownpapertickets.com or at the door up to an hour before show-time.
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