Jeffrey Coon, who is one of Philadelphia’s favorite actors, is currently at the Walnut Street Theatre in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Coon plays Bert Bratt in the show as well as the voice of the Narrator. How to Succeed . . . is a “musical extravaganza” that runs through July 13, 2014 on the mainstage at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Philadelphia audiences know Coon from such roles as Harold Hill in The Music Man, John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, and Billy Bigelow in Carousel. Coon has performed in many theatres throughout the region including Walnut Street Theatre, Arden Theatre, and Act II Playhouse. At the Walnut Street Theatre Coon has been in over 30 productions. I had a chance to speak with Coon about How to Succeed in Business . . . as well as the show he is producing in Cape May, New Jersey, “An Evening at the Cape May Summer Club.”
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about How to Succeed in Business . . . ? What can audiences expect?
Jeffrey Coon: It is one of 8 musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize, so it is in elite company! But, seriously….It’s a show that I honestly didn’t really know that much about when we started rehearsal, but it quickly grew on me. It is very well written. It is very funny (think Mad Men meets Vaudeville). And, I am honored to be a part of what I think is an extraordinary cast, which was led by an unbelievably good director [Casey Hushion] and choreographer [Michele Lynch]. It has been a really wonderful experience so far.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me about your character?
Jeffrey Coon: My character is Bert Bratt, Personnel Manager. He is upper management and very happy in his position at World Wide Wickets. He is smart and knows how to play the corporate game. He is also rather silly. Everyone is kind of silly in this show. It is a show with a lot of broad personalities that pokes fun at the corporate culture of the 60’s which isn’t that different form corporate culture of today. When Finch shows up, he, like the rest of the executives, starts to fear for his longevity at the company.
Kelli Curtin: Is there something you draw from to play this character? Do you see any similarities between you and this character?
Jeffrey Coon: Actually, yes. There are more than a few similarities between the corporate culture in How to Succeed… and the culture of the theatre. There is a certain amount of fear involved in both places. Both places require a certain amount of “schmoozing” as part of getting along. And both cultures seem constantly consumed with “getting ahead”. And, NONE of this should be taken too seriously or you’ll go NUTS.
Kelli Curtin: Do you have a favorite scene/song in this show?
Jeffrey Coon: My favorite scene is in the Executive Washroom. It is where Finch and the executives sing “I Believe in You”. It is where things start to really come to a head. And it is just a really fun scene to play with the other guys in the show.
Kelli Curtin: As an actor, what is your greatest challenge today?
Jeffrey Coon: As always, it is trying to put together your work from season to season. One of the things that I love about this business and one of the things that keeps me awake at night is its impermanence. Everything starts and comes to an end relatively quickly. And I like that. I like how you get to start all over again every so often with a new show and a new cast and new combinations of people with whom you have worked and some who you are just meeting. But at the same time, with a family that you’re trying to support while being an artist, this same impermanence is what keeps you unnerved. You are constantly on the lookout for your next job, and that can become tiring.
Kelli Curtin: Did you always want to be an actor? How did you get interested in performing? When did you start? What was your first show?
Jeffrey Coon: I did not always want to be a professional actor. In fact, I started college thinking I was going to be a pediatrician. Rather quickly, I realized that that was not going to happen. But eventually I realized that I liked acting a lot, and that there was a possibility to actually make a living doing it. So I gave it a shot. 21 years later, I am still doing it. Professionally, my first show was Sweeney Todd at the Arden here in Philadelphia back in 1993.
Kelli Curtin: Do you have any advice for aspiring actors?
Jeffrey Coon: Work hard. Work whenever and wherever you can. Be humble and realize that you are not the most important person in the room most of the time. And have fun! There are way too many other things that you could be doing that aren’t nearly as fun. If you are not having fun, you should do something else.
Kelli Curtin: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jeffrey Coon: YES!!!! I am producing a fantastic series of new shows this summer in my hometown of Cape May, NJ. We are calling it “An Evening at the Cape May Summer Club” and they’re happening on July 26th, August 16th and August 30th at Cape May Convention Hall. It’s going to have a nostalgic, variety show feel. I will be performing and hosting the evening, which will feature a 17-piece band playing all new orchestrations of favorite tunes and lots of special guests. I am incredibly excited about these shows, and promise you they are going to be unlike anything else at the Jersey Shore all summer long. If people are interested in finding out more, they can go to capemaycity.org under the calendar of events and buy tickets.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying runs at the Walnut Street Theatre through July 13, 2014. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call their box office at 215-574-3550.
Photos courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online sites broadwayworld.com and figlancaster.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.