Song-and-dance man Eddie Mekka back on familiar turf
Worcester native Eddie Mekka attended the Boston Conservatory before Broadway and Los Angeles beckoned. Best known for his TV role as Carmine Ragusa on the 1970s sitcom “Laverne and Shirley,” and for his appearance as Madonna’s boyfriend in the film “A League of Their Own,” Mekka returns to the Boston area to appear as Moonface Martin in the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes,” which runs June 3-15.
Q. How long has it been since you performed in your home state?
A. It’s taken me 30 years to get back. I’m lousy with directions. But I did perform in Ogunquit [Maine] in “Fiddler on the Roof” with Sally Struthers a few years ago, so I got close.
Q. Is it difficult to switch back to performing onstage after so many years on TV and in films?
A. I started onstage as a singer and a dancer, so I’m comfortable onstage. It was harder to adjust from stage to TV. I was acting for the back row, and [director] Gary Marshall told me to pull it back to Cleveland. But I’m glad I was trained in the theater because I think TV makes you lazy. You can always do another take in a film or on TV, while onstage you have to deliver 100 percent all the time. I was lucky to learn a lot about comic timing from Gary, which added a lot to the character of Carmine Ragusa, the “Big Ragoo.”
Q. On TV, you had time to develop the character of Carmine Ragusa, Laverne’s boyfriend, over a season. Is it harder to develop a character within the two hours of a musical?
A. It’s hard to make audiences forget that I was on “Laverne and Shirley,” but it’s my job to play the part I’m given, bring as much of myself rather than Carmine into the part, and let the audience decide.
Q. What made you interested in the role of Moonface Martin in “Anything Goes”?
A. It’s a great show with great music. Moonface Martin, also known as Public Enemy No. 13, is a wonderful part for a character actor, which is what I am. He’s the comic relief, and it’s not a big role but it’s memorable. I get to sing the number “Friendship,” and I do some dancing, which I love. I’m a dancer in the Gene Kelly style: an athletic tap dancer. And this show lends itself to that style.
Q. Did you get many chances to use your singing and dancing skills on TV and in the movies?
A. I got to do a great jitterbug number with Madonna in “A League of Their Own.” And on “Laverne and Shirley,” because I love to sing Tony Bennett, we worked in a recurring bit where, whenever Laverne is mad at Carmine, all he has to do is sing the line from the Tony Bennett song, “You know I’d go from rags to riches . . .” and she forgives him.
Q. It’s been a long time since “Laverne and Shirley.” Would you like to do another sitcom?
A. I’d love to, but I’m waiting for the reality show fad to fade. I am in the midst of moving back to the Los Angeles area after being based in Las Vegas, where I did a nightclub act called “Eddie Mekka, With a Little Ragoo on the Side,” where I sing some Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, and show some clips from “Laverne and Shirley.”
I’ve been doing a lot of regional theater, both musicals and plays. I just finished a Neil Simon festival in Utah where we performed “The Sunshine Boys” and “45 Seconds From Broadway,” and right after “Anything Goes” I start rehearsals for a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Q. Are there any roles you’re eager to play?
A. I love playing Tevye in “Fiddler.” I play him like an older, grumpier, and slower Jackie Mason. I’d also love to perform in a musical about Tony Bennett, because that’s a great story and great music. And, I’m hoping to return to the North Shore Music Theatre to play the innkeeper Thenardier when they do a production of “Les Miserables.”