I have been a fan of Frank Vlastnik's for over a decade now, ever since I saw him in the musical adaption of A Year with Frog and Toad first Off-Broadway at The New Victory Theatre then in it's move to Broadway! Frank played "Snail" and I adored his songs, "The Letter" about delivering mail and "I'm Coming Out of My Shell" about "Snail" actually delivering his first piece of mail!
We have kept in touch over the years always bumping into each other around the city, but have not yet had the chance to really sit down and talk...until now that is! It was a delight getting to chat with Frank about his starring role in the upcoming musical staged reading of The Wrong Box, adapted by Kit Goldstein Grant, based upon the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne. The Wrong Box is a musical comic farce where a mysterious corpse is knocking about Victorian England, and two unscrupulous cousins are desperately trying to find it, except when they’re desperately trying to lose it!
In addition to Frank, The Wrong Box staged reading features Joe Harkins (Ragtime on Ellis Island), Raul Hernandez, Melissa Rose Hirsch (The Bad Years), Andrew Holder, Robin Campbell Lounsbury, Evan Mayer, Angelo McDonough, Christopher Michaels, Chris Collins-Pisano, Daniel Plimpton (The Book Of Mormon First National Tour) , Adrian Rifat, Jordan Silver, Morgan Smith, and Kasey Yeargain. It is directed by Christopher Hlinka, with music direction by Matthew Bennis and produced by Sahar Helmy and Melissa Nally.
The Wrong Box will take place on Monday, October 3 at The National Opera Center in NYC (330 7th Avenue between 28th & 29th street) at 1pm and 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. You have just been cast in the musical staged reading of The Wrong Box, adapted by Kit Goldstein Grant from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne. What drew you to the story? Actually, I didn't know the novel at all. I've watched the movie version with Michael Caine since, and it's absolutely insanely funny and so DARK. I was in Sweet Smell of Success on Broadway, and that show was SO venomous at times, yet the book (by the brilliant John Guare) was also hysterically funny. I love that kind of material. House of Blue Leaves, Crimes of the Heart, Hand to God, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses are some of the best times I've had in the theatre. Plus, I just worked with the director, Chris Hlinka, and think he's a super smart and focused young man. I trusted him, then read the script, and was glad I said yes.
2. What do you identify most with about your character? The character I play, "Morris" (who in the movie was played by the genius comic actor Peter Cook, who was paired with Dudley Moore for years...They play brothers in the movie) is a person who will try to make the best out of the most IMPOSSIBLE situation. "Morris" sings a song in the show called "Pros and Cons," which is very close to a passage in the original Robert Louis Stevenson book, where he makes a list of everything good and bad about his predicament. I'm a middle child and a Gemini, so I can totally relate to jumping through hoops trying to fix things.
3. The Wrong Box is a musical comic farce where a mysterious corpse is knocking about Victorian England, and two unscrupulous cousins are desperately trying to find it, except when they’re desperately trying to lose it! What do you love most about starring in a comic farce? I did the play Room Service, directed by the wonderful Mark Lamos at Westport Country Playhouse back in 2013, and had one of the best times ever. I was working with some of the funniest comic actors in NY (Michael McCormick, Donald Corren, David Beach, Richard Ruiz, Jimmy Bracchitta, Ben Steinfeld, etc.), and I realized that panic, pain, and misery is freaking HILARIOUS, if it's done properly.
4. The Wrong Box is a winner takes all race for the family inheritance laced with mayhem, deception, and twists along the way. When have you encountered mayhem, deception, and twists? I'm in the theatre! It's mostly mayhem and twists! I've been lucky to steer clear of deception, except for the four years I lived in Los Angeles, where some in show business deceive people just for kicks.
5. When have you been in a "Winner takes all" situation? Did you win? If so, what stops did you pull out to make sure you won? It's so strange...I recently did the East Coast regional premiere of Mamma Mia (where I first worked with Chris Hlinka, plus Robin Lounsbury, who's in the reading...), so "Winner Takes it All" plays on many levels to me right now.
I'm so not a mercenary in real life, and it's hard to think of a time I was ever as ruthless as the characters in the show are. I developed a sense of "zen" at an early age...The first time I heard Doris Day sing "Que Sera, Sera"...
For example: I was just up for a great gig that would have been constant employment for at least a year and a half. I waited TWELVE weeks while the powers that be decided between me and one other actor. That was pretty tortuous, and in the end the other actor got the job. And...the other actor is actually a friend who is super talented, sweet and funny, and I can't resent someone I like and respect just for being talented. If he was rotten actor and a jerk, maybe I would've felt differently. But I was sad for about four hours, and then moved on!
6. What do you hope to inherit from your family? Ha! Well, both of my parents are dead (I miss them every single day), but I hope I inherited their decency and kindness. They were both terrific, funny, smart people. My dad was a haberdasher, and he taught me the importance of charm, hard work and generosity. My family's men's clothing store in Illinois just celebrated its 90th anniversary. And my mother gave me so much. Humor, pragmatism, and above all, empathy. All of those trump money any day of the week. Cue the violins and the angelic choir. That's my mother talking through me.
7. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I've been asked the same question since I was in High School. My answer then was Johnny Carson, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Robert Preston. Now that I've actually clawed out a career in this business, it's co-workers that continue to teach me: John Lithgow, Lewis J. Stadlen, Chip Zien, Lee Wilkof, and Lenny Wolpe. They all helped me to be a better comic actor, just by observing and being onstage with them. The best acting classes of my life.
8. I had the privilege of seeing you in both the Broadway & Off-Broadway productions of A Year With Frog and Toad, where you played "Snail." Your big story line was that it took "Snail" a very, very, very long time to deliver the mail. What is something in your life that you felt took forever to come, but when it finally did, like "Snail" you were glad it happened slow and steady? I know it sounds so glib and smartass, but I moved into my first one bedroom apartment three years ago, after 23 years in NY. It was worth the wait. After living in studios for so many years, I finally have a bedroom with a DOOR!!! And enough floor space to pace when I get anxious. That's all I really need.
9. Looking back on your time in Frog and Toad, what were some funny moments that happened between the cast either on or off stage? Oh, I just realized I left out the delightful Mark Linn-Baker out of my list of people who inspired me. I had the pleasure of working with him on and off for two years, and he's THE BEST. A master class in knowing how to "hold" for a laugh!
Well, we just had a reunion of most of the Frog and Toad cast from the original production at the New Victory in April...Jay Goede lives in Florida now and wasn't able make it up. Danielle Ferland now has two boys, and Kate Reinders just got married to Andrew Samonsky! Kate was the only one who wasn't with our group of five for the whole journey, and we were so lucky to have two hilarious, talented ladies play the Mouse at other times...The sublime Jenn Gambatese and the sensational Sarah Litzsinger. I loved that group so much. It was truly one of the happiest periods of my life. And I'm starting to feel like everyone's hitched but the "Snail!!!"
Anyway, funny moments? Oh yeah, lots...We had an entirely different set of lyrics (completely filthy, and mostly written by Danielle) that we sang in the wings...But I couldn't possibly quote them here, because they're truly vile! When you do 10:00 shows for school groups, you have to make your own fun!
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Organization. In addition to my acting, I also work as an author and a photo researcher. I'm juggling several book projects right now, and I had to launch a two-hour hunt for a Sharpie®. That's the downside of finally having a one bedroom apartment...The clutter has more places to accumulate. And where was the elusive Sharpie®? It had fallen off my nightstand and into a box of Ritz Crackers I keep next to my bed for a midnight snack. Kind of like a mundane, modern day retelling of The Wrong Box!
More on Frank:
Frank Vlastnik is best known for his roles on Broadway in Big, Sweet Smell of Success, and A Year with Frog and Toad and Off-Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's musical Saturday Night. He also guest starred on episodes of Law & Order, The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire, Person of Interest, and Elementary. He is the co-author of the books Broadway Musicals and Sitcoms, both published by Black Dog & Leventhal/Hachette.