In April, Davron S. Monroe played a police officer who has a longtime crush on a nightclub singer who’s hiding out in a convent in Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s “Sister Act.” Monroe stopped the show with a tour de force rendition of “I Could Be That Guy” that featured not one but two tear-away costume changes.
By July, Monroe had transitioned from cop to crustacean. Attired head to toe in an orange-red costume, he played the fretful Sebastian the Crab in “The Little Mermaid” at the Waltham-based Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, where he brought his extraordinary voice to bear on the jaunty “Under the Sea” and the lyrical, dreamy “Kiss the Girl.”
When October rolled around, Monroe had transformed himself again. This time, in the Moonbox Productions staging of “Sweeney Todd,” he wielded a bloody straight razor as the glowering, vengeful barber who turns his customers into ingredients for meat pies.
Three musicals, three very different roles, one versatile actor.
This was a year in Boston-area theater that underscored the vital importance of versatility for anyone aspiring to an acting career, or hoping — as Monroe is doing — to sustain one.
Having an expansive range can help an actor avoid the dreaded phenomenon of typecasting (and the even more dreaded phenomenon of unemployment). A career boost can be enjoyed by performers who are equally adept at comedy, drama, or a combination of both, since so many contemporary plays live in the space between the two.
That kind of versatility was the stock-in-trade of three great actors we’ve lost in recent years — Johnny Lee Davenport, Nancy E. Carroll, and Thomas Derrah — and it’s been essential to Boston stage luminaries like Paula Plum, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Jeremiah Kissel, Marianna Bassham, Robert Saoud, Remo Airaldi, Barlow Adamson, Aimee Doherty, and Karen MacDonald.
Indeed, this month MacDonald is putting her versatility to work in a single show: She’s playing both Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens in Courtney Sale’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” at Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
Nael Nacer’s ubiquity on Boston-area stages over the last decade-plus is a testament to the value of versatility. So is the busy schedule of Yewande Odetoyinbo (SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Fairview” and Lyric Stage’s “Sister Act” this year.)
Then there’s Jared Troilo, whose range has made him one of Boston’s best actors.
Consider how much stage time Troilo logged this year. In May, he turned in a flat-out hilarious performance in SpeakEasy’s “The Prom,” as a vain Broadway actor who can’t get through a sentence without mentioning that he went to Juilliard. Then, in June, Troilo starred as Curly, the cowboy in Reagle’s “Oklahoma!” who opens the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic with an ode to the wonders of nature: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.”
In September, Troilo shifted to a somber key to portray Lucien, a Jewish man who has been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, in the Huntington’s “Prayer for the French Republic.” Then, starting in November, in a co-production of “The Band’s Visit” by SpeakEasy and the Huntington, Troilo played Itzik, an Israeli café worker and father of a newborn whose wife is deeply unhappy in their marriage.
Another sort of versatility is on display when actors like Plum, Bassham, Leigh Barrett, and Lyndsay Allyn Cox take on the challenge of directing. This fall, Plum helmed the political satire “POTUS” at SpeakEasy. Cox brought such verve to her 2021 Gloucester Stage Company production of “Tiny Beautiful Things” that she won the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Award for outstanding direction last year.
For performers who are relatively new to Boston stages, developing and demonstrating capacious range is a way to quickly make their mark and attract the attention of directors who are casting upcoming productions.
When “A Raisin in the Sun” and “DIASPORA!” ran in repertory at Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre this fall, Lorraine Victoria Kanyike shouldered important roles in both plays.
In “Raisin,” she was Ruth Younger, a domestic worker yearning for a better life; and in “DIASPORA!,” she was a writer named Sunny who sets out to explore her lineage and finds herself transported back to Boston in the 1950s, when Martin Luther King Jr. was pursuing a doctorate in theology at Boston University and preaching at Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church.
In an impressive summertime feat, Kayla Shimizu took on the lead roles in two well-known musicals, presented back-to-back at Reagle Music Theatre. Starting in June, Shimizu played Laurey the farm girl in “Oklahoma!,” and then, with barely a breather, got into a mermaid costume in July to portray Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.”
Theater, of course, is not the only realm where the ability to wear multiple hats is valued. Baseball scouts and general managers are perpetually on the lookout for a “five-tool player” (i.e. one who is a speedy runner, throws well, fields well, can hit for average, and can hit for power).
And legendary New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick emphasizes versatility when assembling his roster.
OK, maybe not the best example this year …