Brian Charles Rooney is currently in the Off-Broadway show BEDBUGS. He was very upbeat and delightful to chat with. He told me about the fact that his vocal range is extensive and at first agents wanted him to pick one but he chose to stay with a wide variety. That’s what good character-actors do!
The Playbill Collector (TPC): Did you always want to be an actor?
Brian Charles Rooney (BCR): No, as a child I wanted to be a doctor. However, I started doing plays in high school, and I was bit by the acting-bug. It wasn’t until college that I acted in a musical. There I was cast as “Charley” in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. At that point, I didn’t even read music, so one could say that I ended up learning quite a lot from that one show!
TPC: Where did you go to college?
BCR: I went to Duke University and double-majored in Drama and Psychology. I was pre-med as well.
TPC: When you moved to New York, what did you start auditioning for?
BCR: I auditioned for everything right away. Anything that was interesting that was in the Backstage trade-paper. If I thought I was right for something, I went in!
TPC: How did you get in your first Broadway show?
BCR: I actually went to an open call for The Roundabout Theatre Company’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA with Alan Cumming, Nellie McKay, and Cyndi Lauper. I was cast as Lucy Brown. They wanted a man who could sing first soprano, as they’d decided to cross-gender cast the role. It was a great experience, and I was lucky in that their casting risk paid off.
TPC: You are currently in the Off-Broadway musical, BEDBUGS. What should someone expect if they have never seen the show before?
BCR: The show, at its core, is about poisonous relationships, and overcoming self-doubt. One of the lead roles, Carly, is an exterminator, who develops a serum to rid the world of bedbugs. Initially, the serum works really well… and then doesn’t. It causes the bedbugs to mutate into giant monsters, who begin to devour the population of New York City. I play a famous pop singer, named Dionne Salon, who is in an abusive relationship with her manager/husband. Dionne has lost her confidence and self-worth, so she allows her husband run all over her. The archetype of my character is somewhat inspired by Celine Dion, Cher and Tina Turner, and for different reasons in each case. The show itself definitely falls into the “theater of the ridiculous” category. It’s pop-rock, comic-book-style with intelligent, but campy ideas. That being said, it has a heart, and wonderfully grounded characters!
TPC: How is it playing a woman?
BCR: I’ve done it a few times (on Broadway, off-Broadway, and regionally); and I’d like to think I’m somewhat of a chameleon. People have told me that, when they see me playing a woman, they forget that I’m a man, and truly buy into the reality of the character. That’s a huge compliment. I’m proud of that because it means that not only have I done my job in an honest and realistic way, but so has the costume designer, wig designer, director, and so forth. In the case of Dionne, in “BEDBUGS!!!,” it is truly a great team effort.
TPC: What’s your favorite moment of the show?
BCR: There’s a song that my character sings at the end of the show, right before the finale. Dionne has planned a grand come-back concert at Madison Square Garden. However, the mutant bedbugs have taken over the city, and destroyed much of its population, so Dionne finds herself in crisis. She wants to save her fans. Without spoiling too much, she meets the other heroes of the musical, and they form a plan. If the plan fails, everyone will die. So, I have to play a super cheerleader, who is frightened for everyone, at the same time. It’s a fun challenge.
TPC: How many costumes do you wear?
BCR: Seven, with extra pieces that come on and off as well. There is a different costume for each scene. Our costume designer, Philip Heckman, is brilliant! He has worked with men playing women before, so he knew how to dress me.
TPC: What’s the space and stage like?
BCR: It is a roughly 100 seat theater, which is pretty standard nowadays for Off-Broadway. It’s a pretty wide stage though, which is cool. The set is designed in a post-apocalyptic style. The design incorporates garbage, old mattresses, and other NYC-specific pieces to create an edgy, somewhat frightening environment. The band is also part of the set. They wear gas-masks in some scenes, for comic effect, as we use a faux bug spray in a song where the New Yorkers are singing about their problems with the infestation. It’s a great effect!
TPC: How large is the cast?
BCR: There are ten people, with an additional four people in the band, plus our Stage Manager and production crew.
TPC: What’s your favorite backstage snack?
BCR: Lays salt and vinegar potato chips. Or if I am being good, a chicken and mixed green salad.
TPC: What are some of your favorite musicals?
BCR: For a long time, my favorite was EVITA, and I think that will always be in my top five. I saw A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Judi Dench in London, and fell in love with that show. Another would be Andrew Lippa’s THE WILD PARTY. THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW is another, because it’s interesting and bizarre. Finally, GUYS AND DOLLS… Even though it’s a classic, it still works so well! I recently performed in the big concert version of that show at Carnegie Hall, with Nathan Lane & Megan Mullally (from “Will and Grace”).
TPC: Who are some industry people you would love to work with?
BCR: Tim Burton. His movies were really influential to me. His style is something I love and think I would work well in. Kathleen Turner as well. She has always been a favorite of mine!
For more information on BEDBUGS, click here: http://www.broadway.com/shows/
To learn more about Brian: Find him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
Do yourself a favor and watch some of his videos while you’re at it! Here’s one to start: The Audition Medley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzENocv54EE