Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Uncle Jed's Barbershop" preview: Q&A with Ken Prymus

(Photo courtesy of Ken Prymus).

This weekend's staged reading of the musical "Uncle Jed's Barbershop"at the Aurora Fox will offer Ken Prymus a chance to revisit the Denver theater scene. The Broadway veteran made stops in Denver for touring production of "Cats," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Cinderella" on larger stages; his title role in the musical penned by Kenneth Grimes, David Wohl and Susan Einhorn offers the chance to perform for smaller crowds in a more intimate setting. The musical, based on the award-winning children's book by Margaree King Mitchell, tells the story of Jed, the only barber in a small town in 1920s-era Arkansas. The Sentinel caught up with Prymus to talk about the role and how the musical has evolved in the past decade.

Aurora Sentinel (Adam Goldstein): How did you first get involved in the production of “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop”?

Ken Prymus: They had a reading of some sort in Susan Einhorn’s apartment, but then they called because they had heard about me and asked me to come in in 2001. I don’t know if you’ve seen the children’s book, but Susan said, ‘You look just like the guy from the children’s book.’
From then, we did some things at ASCAP at the play got the award. Now, it’s really the same premise, but there are differences.

AS: What first appealed to you about the musical?
KP: It was the idea of the little girl growing up and coming back to find her community. I’ve always thought about the idea of the black community, and people trying to pull together to reach a common goal. Here, it’s Uncle Jed saving pennies to build a barbershop for the community.
It’s the women sitting together on the porch talking, the men getting together and playing baseball. What appealed to me was the community aspect of it.
That, and the music was very good.

AS: How has the play evolved and developed?
KP: It developed in the heads of Kenneth Grimes, Susan Einhorn and David Wohl in the sense that initially, there were three versions of the character Sarah Jean. There was her as a child, her as a teen growing into womanhood and her as a woman.
Now, it’s evolved into two characters. There’s her as a child and as an adult; the two connect and look back. The show now is clearer to me. It’s clearer in the sense of her journey, of going back in time and seeing things. With three Sarah Jeans, people got confused.

AS: What do you like about playing the title character Uncle Jed?
KP: I’ve been very blessed in my career. The majority of the characters that I’ve played have been parts of me, which makes it easier. A lot of actors like to go outside themselves – I don’t.
Uncle Jed is a lot like me: He’s a good guy who’s just trying to work hard. He loves his family and his friends. He’s stable. And he really loves his great niece.
He has a little bit of a sparring thing going with his brother, who is more negative than he is. The brother’s always saying something and Jed’s always saying something back. I like that; that’s very much like me … Uncle Jed’s like a good friend, and coming back has been a pleasant surprised because there’s new music.

AS: What’s been unique about doing the production as a staged concert reading?
KP: The way that it’s set up with raised levels and actors having different chairs is really quite interesting. I’ve watched it as we’ve rehearsed – we do have our scripts there that we can glance at from time to time. That helps a lot.
There are four of us from New York and then a lot of us from Denver. It’s almost like a full production … Most of the time at staged readings, they sit on stools and they never move. We move. We go to different sections on the stage so you can have a better picture of what’s going on.

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop” by Kenneth Grimes and David Wohl, directed by Susan Einhorn. All performances will take place at the Aurora Fox theater, 9900 E. Colfax Ave. For more information, call 303-739-1970
•  7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27
•  2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28
•  6 p.m. Saturday, May 28 —This benefit performance for the prevention of AIDS will feature a silent auction.
•  7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28
•  3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 29

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