By Will Broaddus Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — BEVERLY — Beverly native James Beaman made his debut at the North Shore Music Theatre last week, when “Guys and Dolls” opened for a run through this Sunday.
Beaman, 47, has appeared in a long list of off-Broadway and regional theater productions, in addition to appearing in the national tour of “Spamalot,” the musical comedy based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” His many appearances in productions of Shakespeare include “Richard III” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
Beaman has vivid memories of the North Shore, where his mother and sister still live and where he is happy to be able to come back and visit.
He spoke with The Salem News about his career.
Were you born in Beverly?
I was born in Pittsburgh. My parents met in college. My father got a job at BU and moved to Beverly when I was 4.
You graduated from Beverly High School?
I did two years at Beverly High, then applied and went early to college. I got an associate’s degree in 1983. Aside from a year in New York, I lived in Boston from ’87 to ’93 and helped my mother run Boston Children’s Theatre, where I taught teenagers and ran a touring company from the late ’80s to the early ’90s.
Did you work as an actor at that time?
I did a bunch of work in Boston and I started a cabaret career, as a performer, that took me to New York.
How much of your work has been in musical theater, how much in drama?
I’d say it’s about half and half. I’ve worked in almost every style of theater. I went to BU and got a degree in acting there. I got a master’s degree with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, so I’ve been trained as a classical actor. But I’ve been doing musical theater since I was 12 years old.
Were both of your parents involved in theater?
My parents met in drama school at Carnegie Tech — now Carnegie Mellon — where my mom was a playwright and my dad was studying set design. My father taught set design at BU for over 30 years. When my parents separated, my mother started her own theater company in Beverly, The Acting Place on Bow Street. She had a dance studio and a small theater, and she ran acting classes and dance classes and produced her own shows from time to time. She did that for seven years, and then went into Boston and ran Children’s Theater for around five years.
How long does it take to prepare a production like “Guys and Dolls” for North Shore Music Theatre?
It’s run like old-school summer stock. We staged the entire show in a week. We started rehearsals Oct. 16 in New York. ... So it’s all very, very quick. ...
Is that faster than usual?
I haven’t done this kind of stock in 20 years. We don’t put up a Shakespeare play in 10 days. I’m also performing as part of the ensemble and dancing with the chorus. This is all a bit of a departure for me. I’m also understudying two leads in the show. I told them they aren’t allowed to get sick. It’s a lot of work.
What is your character?
Rusty Charlie. The most interesting thing I do is I’m one of the three guys who sings “Fugue for Tinhorns,” one of the most famous songs in the show. It’s got the line, “I’ve got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere.” It’s a trio between two of the leading actors and this third character, Rusty Charlie, who is present throughout the show as one of the craps shooters.
How long were you in “Spamalot?”
I joined the first national tour in fall of 2007 and was with it until the tour closed in 2009. I played 62 cities in North America, all over the U.S. and Canada, and twice in Boston — once at the Opera House, once at the Colonial. I did almost 800 performances of “Spamalot.”
What is it like doing the same show so many times?
Touring makes a difference. Every week, you’re in a different city — that keeps it fresh. And we have people coming in and out of the show. I appeared with the first Arthur, Michael Siberry, who had been on Broadway — he replaced Tim Curry on Broadway. Then we had Gary Beach, who won a Tony for “The Producers.” Then we had Richard Chamberlain — he was in maybe three months — and Jonathan Hadary. And then our last King Arthur was John O’Hurley, Elaine’s boss from “Seinfeld” and the man who won the first season of “Dancing With the Stars.” He was in a controversial dance-off; they did a rematch, which he won. He was host of “Family Feud” over the years.
Your character was Sir Robin?
I was playing one of the leads — it was a big opportunity for me. The part I played was the part Eric Idle played in the movie, and was played on Broadway by David Hyde Pierce.
Did you ever go to North Shore Music Theatre when you were a kid?
We used to go on field trips all the time when I was growing up. Early in my career, I auditioned and never got hired there. It’s a delight to work up there, because it means I get a paid vacation with my mother. It’s not a terribly lucrative thing to be a theater actor, so it’s a great benefit. It’s also a little bit of revenge.
When I was a kid, I was brutally bullied and picked on. I was voted most likely to succeed when I graduated Briscoe Middle School, but at the same time I was getting beat up on the playground. I always vowed they’d be sorry, that I would prove what I had set out to do as a kid, be a successful actor — that the potential I had as a kid would pay off. There is a little bit of satisfaction in coming home.
Do you have any friends back here now?
I have a number of people I have reconnected with in recent years, who I was in public school with, who are coming out to see the show. I have reconnected with a number of people on Facebook.
Do you know what you’re doing after “Guys and Dolls,” or is the life of an actor too unsettled?
Sometimes you can plan. But as fate would have it, this is my last known thing for now. I had a bunch of auditions during rehearsal process, but have nothing really lined up. I’m working on developing a revival of a musical in New York, which I will be co-directing. I’ve written a full-length screenplay, and I’m on my second draft.
Are there places you like to visit or restaurants you go to when you come back to the North Shore?
There are always some places that I return to when I’m visiting home. I refuse to eat clam chowder outside of New England, and so whenever I come home, we make a pilgrimage to Woodman’s and have fried clams and chowder. And this time of year, it’s beautiful to visit Newburyport. They’re starting to put up decorations for Christmas.
So you do have good memories of home?
In the years since public school, I have developed a real affection for the North Shore. I look forward to turning my New York friends on to the North Shore. They want to explore, and I’ll be leading some expeditions.