‘Waitress’ actor to be going on national tour

Larry Marshall might not be a household name, but many have seen his work.

He’s appeared in 15 Broadway shows, starting with the original run of “Hair,” and his resume includes such hits as “The Color Purple” and “The Full Monty.” He’s worked with directors like Bob Fosse on Broadway and Francis Ford Coppola on screen.

For those who’ve seen the film version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” he’s the lead singer and a principal dancer on “Simon Zealotes”“Christ you know I love you / Did you see I waved / I believe in you and God / So tell me that I’m saved.”

Now he’s heading to Cleveland, where the national tour of the musical “Waitress” opens Tuesday at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace.

While most of his castmates and the creative team have been in Cleveland for a couple weeks preparing for the tour, Marshall just completed his stint in the Broadway production of the musical, which was nominated for four Tony Awards in 2016, including Best Musical (it lost to “Hamilton”).

“When I was booked for the tour, they asked if I’d be willing to do two months on Broadway to fill in after Dakin Matthews left,” Marshall said during a telephone interview from New York on Monday.

“Waitress,” with a book by Jessie Nelson and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, is based on the 2007 film about a pie-baking waitress named Jenna who is trapped in an abusive marriage. She discovers she’s pregnant and plots her escape while also falling for her obstetrician.

“The situation she finds herself in is one many women find themselves in,” Marshall said. “She feels trapped, but she’s fortunate to have support around her to make her move and not be trapped in the relationship. There are so many women that are trapped and never get out.”

Marshall plays Joe, a regular at the diner. It’s the role that Andy Griffith played in the film.

“It’s such a wonderful role,” he said. “He’s a successful businessman. He has this curmudgeonly front about him, but underneath all of it is a very soft, loving person toward Jenna. I think she represents the offspring he never had … They have a special relationship that builds through the show. He keeps opening up to her, giving her advice, encouraging her to step out and be her own woman.”

Marshall said he really enjoys the songs he gets to sing in “Waitress” and credited Bareilles, best known for pop hits like “Love Song” and “Brave,” with writing a score that reminded him of the classic musical scores of a half-century ago when he first started acting.

While Marshall Broadway resume is extensive, many of those shows didn’t have a long life. “A Broadway Musical” closed after its opening night in 1978, but Marshall said the trouble-plagued production was one where, “You just knew it was going to close at intermission.”

But others were a shock. Fosse wrote the book for “Big Deal” (based on the movie “Big Deal on Madonna Street”), directed the musical and even won a Tony Award for his choreography, but it closed after two months in 1986.

“I felt that was a wonderful show,” he said. “To this day, I think that was a great show. Another was ‘Oh, Brother’ (which lasted for three performances in 1981). That was a wonderful show that had audiences laughing and carrying on like it was a hit until the reviews came out. Then no one wanted to be caught enjoying it.”

Marshall’s career focus has been in the theater, but he has two memorable film roles — Simon Zealotes in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Cab Calloway in Coppola’s 1984 film “The Cotton Club.”

“Superstar” was filmed in Israel in 1972 during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He remembered going to a party in a building near the contested border where everyone sat on pillows on the floor. It wasn’t a bohemian thing; it was to avoid possible sniper fire.

Coppola recently premiered a director’s cut of “Cotton Club” at the Telluride Film Festival. Marshall said he would love to see it.

“You could have a whole ‘nother show dancewise,” he said. “I did five production numbers, and only parts of two made it in, so I’d be interested in seeing what’s been added. We did full production numbers then he picked out what he wanted from there.”

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