People say that they don’t make ‘em like John Raitt anymore. Actually they do. His name is Chuck Wagner.
Now, I don’t mean to cheapen Chuck Wagner’s immense talent by comparing him to other talented performers, but what I mean is that he’s got that classic booming baritone voice, spot-on acting talent, and classic masculinity.
In addition to seeing him on the video of Into the Woods, I have been very fortunate that Chuck Wagner tours. I was first introduced to him in Jekyll and Hyde, opposite the formidable talents of Sharon Brown and Andrea Rivette. I was still a young, uneducated theatre-goer, but I remember the impression his performance left on me, that his Jekyll/Hyde was amazing. Even then, I could appreciate the magnitude of his performance. I hoped beyond hope that he’d get to do the show on Broadway by the time I made my first trip there. He didn’t get the chance, but whenever I listen to the OBC, I can’t help but remember Chuck Wagner’s great performance.
My most recent experience with Chuck Wagner was as Harrison Howell in the tour of Kiss Me, Kate, where he stole the show nightly with Rachel York in “From This Moment On.” Here was the same man playing a character completely different from Jekyll/Hyde in a show that was completely different from Jekyll and Hyde. As Harrison Howell, he was a hilarious buffoon, completely different from the tortured, sensuous character I’d seen prior. It was the producers’ sad loss that he was not cast as Fred Graham, where his amazing voice would have rightfully filled the theatre.
Whenever I play the dream casting game in my head, Chuck Wagner seems to always find a role—opposite Marla Shaffel in a tour of Jane Eyre, as Carl-Magnus in the revival of A Little Night Music, as a replacement King Triton in The Little Mermaid on Broadway, as someone in a regional production of 1776, Officer Lockstock in Urinetown, and others.
His self-named solo album is an exceptional recording, seeking to present great contemporary theatre songs with character-driven interpretations. Until he gets a shot at that next great role, it’ll have to suffice.
July 12, 2007