by Pomme Koch
(read part I of Pomme's blog here.)
5. Andrew Polk, “Avrum”
Andy plays a grandfather in The Band's Visit. I am Andy’s second cover. If you know my age, this is an eyebrow-raising statement. But it’s not actually that much of a stretch. After all, I was one of, like, two men in college who could grow a full beard, so I ended up getting typecast as the father/grandfather/dying king/dead king for four straight years. To be honest, I dread going on for Andy a lot less than I do for some of my other tracks. I guess those student loans were worth it after all.
Stepping into a character who’s distinctly older than you requires a bit more vocal and physical work. My “hook” with Andy is to place my voice somewhere between Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Andy thinks he sounds nothing like my impression, but what does he know?
As much fun as it is to play Avrum, it’s better tdo watch Andy do it. By his own admission, he has a slim background in musical theatre, but he gets one of the flashier numbers in the piece and he tears it up like it’s the Super Bowl halftime show. I recently took a class with a renowned acting teacher who referred to Andy as his “north star,” and it’s a thrill to dance in his footsteps.
6. Ari’el Stachel, “Haled”
I met Ari in 2016 when we were hired for a workshop of a new piece with Mandy Patinkin. While I spent most of those two weeks in stupefied awe of Mr. Patinkin, I was cognizant enough to take note of this Stachel guy, whose vocal cords sounded as if they’d been gently kissed by the honey-laced lips of the baby Jesus. Cut to two years later and it’s no surprise he’s a Tony winner—not just for his voice, but for his absolute determination to nail every element of the character.
A victim of this determination has been our drummer, Ossama Farouk, who became an object of Ari’s obsession from the moment he found out Ossama was originally from Alexandria, Egypt (where the eponymous Band members originate). Ari set to work nailing every one of Ossama’s inflections and gestures, insisting on complete authenticity. And while the Tony Award is the flashiest fruit of Ari’s efforts, the real victory came one night when Ari said hi to one of our stage managers, Charlene, from the stairwell in his best Alexandrian accent. Charlene unknowingly shouted back, “Hi Ossama,” and I have yet to see Ari prouder than he was in that moment.
7. Etai Benson, “Papi”
My life has crisscrossed with Etai’s in weird and wonderful ways for over ten years now. I met him when we both were in school at the University of Michigan and he was roommates with one of my best friends from back home. We stayed in touch after we graduated and ended up traveling to Israel (!!) with a couple other friends from school in 2014. He even sent me detailed voice memos coaching me through the Hebrew lines when I was auditioning for this show. So understudying Etai is a lovely and fitting cap to our first decade of friendship, and I remain impressed and surprised by his work, despite having seen him in countless productions at school.
There’s a seedy underbelly to our relationship though; Etai and I have turned each other into degenerate backgammon obsessives. We started playing back in September as a way to pass the time during tech (one scrapped iteration of a scene featured Papi and Itzik playing in the cafe. The game was cut, but the board remains hidden on set). Cut to nine months and almost 2,000 games later, our fixation has devolved into a clinical addiction; threatening text messages, profanities hurled down the halls, minutes stolen on the floor of the shower room between scenes desperately trying to fit in just one more game, a total obliviousness to the comings and goings of our fellow man whilst enrapt in the cruel and fateful power of the tumbling dice. The real victim here may be Sharone Sayegh, who claims to have originally introduced the game to our backstage activities, only to be excluded as Etai and I grew more Gollum-like in our mania for the precious checkers. (ps., as of this writing Etai owes me one full dollar from last night’s game.)
8. Alok Tewari, “Simon”
Alok is the James Bond of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. He’s got some background in international something-or-other, no one knows much about his personal life, and he’s the suavest gentleman in the building. So I’m definitely a natural fit to be his second cover.
Simon also plays the clarinet, which makes the match a little less fitting. Down at the Atlantic in 2016, Alok went ahead and actually learned how to play the instrument. And Alok’s first cover, James, has complicated my life even further by learning how to play the clarinet as well. Once upon a time I spent a year learning the saxophone just so I could play the solo from “Jungleland,” but I definitely do not play the clarinet. And breaking news: there are a lot of holes on that instrument.
So whether it’s playing the clarinet, roller skating or improvising in Hebrew, understudying this many roles can best be summed up by something my friend Carlos Valdes once said after he had taken over a role in ONCE on Broadway. “I was supposed to play the bass with my thumb,” he recalled, “But I didn’t know how to do that.” “So what’d you do?” I asked. “I played the bass with my thumb.”
Read Part II of Pomme's blog here.