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A Little Song, a Little Dance : Matthew Broderick's immediate future is a bit of a blur: He's starring in his first musical, directing his first movie, and he'll see two more films open this fall. Doesn't this guy know how to stop.

October 30, 1994|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar

LA JOLLA — "I don't know what I was thinking--I thought I could whip off a musical in between shooting and editing a film," Matthew Broderick says with a laugh during a break in the second week of rehearsals for the La Jolla Playhouse revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," which opens today.

"It seems like I either have more work than I can handle or none at all, and I've been on a roll since 'The Night We Never Met.'

"A roll, of course, can be a positive thing or a boulder going downhill," adds the 32-year-old actor, who also has featured roles in Alan Parker's "The Road to Wellville," which opened Friday, and Alan Rudolph's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," out Dec. 21 in Los Angeles.

As if that weren't enough, Broderick is also making his directorial debut this year with "Infinity"--a film in which he also stars--about Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, based on a script by Broderick's mother, Patricia Broderick. "Infinity," which also stars Patricia Arquette, wrapped in early September, leaving Broderick just enough time to catch a plane to San Diego to begin rehearsals for "How to Succeed." When the musical closes on Dec. 4, Broderick will race to Los Angeles to spend six weeks editing "Infinity," then it's off to Washington, where previews for "How to Succeed" begin Jan. 28. That will be followed by an engagement of the play on Broadway, where it is to open March 6.

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a scathing attack on corporate America based on the 1952 best-selling novel by Shepherd Mead, finds Broderick cast as J. Pierrepont Finch, an unctuous young man who approaches brown-nosing as an art form. The musical, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, opened on Broadway in 1961 and made a star of Robert Morse, who also starred in David Swift's 1967 movie of the play.

The part demands a lot of Broderick, who is called upon to sing and dance onstage for the first time as he portrays a character who could easily come off as repulsive if not given the proper shading.

The fact that he has a daunting year of work stretching ahead of him may account in part for Broderick's subdued demeanor at today's rehearsal. This isn't to say that Broderick isn't up to the job; when director Des McAnuff gives the signal and the cast springs into action, Broderick lights up like a Christmas tree.

He is, however, clearly a man who knows not to squander his energy, to speak softly, pay attention and give what is asked of him with as much precision as possible. He is, in short, a team player, and the team he's working with here seems quite fond of him.

"Matthew is a total delight, and I'm having a great time with him," says McAnuff, a director known for his ability to breathe new life into threadbare material. "I felt no trepidation at all about his ability to carry a musical, either, because he has a beautiful singing voice and he's a tremendous actor. The greatest performances in musicals have generally come from actors, not from singers who act, and he's done tremendously well so far.

"Bobby Morse gave one of the great performances of the time in the original production, but Matthew brings a different style of comedy to the role," McAnuff continues. "He has a truthful acting style that elevates the play, he's mercurial, impish and bold in his comedy choices, and he infuses the play with sophistication and charm. Without a lot of charm, this character wouldn't be interesting. Matthew has charm to burn, but he's also a man of substance, which the character he's playing definitely is not. . . . An actor needs some distance from his material, and the fact that Matthew is so unlike Finch is part of what makes him great for the part."

A fascination with Finch isn't what attracted Broderick to the play. He's here, he says, simply because "I've always wanted to do a musical and was attracted to this one because it's really funny and it has great songs."

"Bobby Morse got discovered with this play, and people keep saying to me, 'He was such a phenomenon in the part; aren't you afraid to try to follow him?' " adds the actor, nibbling at the tuna sandwich that will sustain him through five more hours of vigorous rehearsing. (One would imagine he'd be training like an athlete for this grueling role, but he says he's just relying on lots of coffee to get through the day.) "My career isn't gonna end or be made on this play, because I'm a known entity.

"I've always wanted to sing and took loads of voice lessons before we started because I had a lot of apprehension about it. I tried to do some singing for 'The Lion King' (Broderick was the voice of Simba), and after three attempts they fired me and got somebody who sounded like me to do the singing. That didn't do much for my confidence. Then my singing teacher, Keith Davis, died four days before we started rehearsing."

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