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INTERVIEW: Bradley Greenwald on the Nutcracker (Not So) Suite

Bradley Greenwald (left) and Steven Epp in the Jungle Theater’s 2010 production of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Bradley Greenwald has long been a fixture of the Twin Cities theatre scene. The Fairmont, MN native first came to the Twin Cities to study German at the University of Minnesota. After deciding to dabble in voice lessons, Greenwald joined the U’s Opera Workshop program. One performance tour with Minnesota Opera later, he was sucked out of higher education and firmly planted in the intertwined worlds of music and theatre. He also has, according to reputable sources, quite the local fan club.

Over the years, Greenwald has starred in numerous productions across the region; a small sampling of his recent highlights include Fagin in Latté Da’s Oliver, Hank in CTC’s The Abominables, The Baker in Artistry’s The Baker’s Wife. Greenwald spoke with the Arts Reader‘s Hanne Appelbaum about his latest role: Mama Flo in the James Sewell Ballet’s Nutcracker (Not So) Suite.

Singer, actor, occasional librettist, and now narrator Bradley Greenwald. Photo by Ann Marsden.

You wear a lot of hats in the theatre world – actor, lyricist, and librettist, to name just a few. When did dancer become one of those?

Ooooh, not a dancer, not a dancer! I can move…as in, sway, and walk without falling down, mostly. Although the percentages drop in heels.

I’d consider a performance in heels without falling down a triumph.

When did you first work with the James Sewell Ballet? How did that come about – an audition, an invitation, or…?

I was invited to work with JSB on Lover– their one-act fantasia of Rodgers & Hart songs. They’d done it before with recorded music, and wanted live musicians that time around. So Maria Jette, Dan Chouinard, an old beaten upright piano, and I came on board.

This riff on The Nutcracker is the brainchild of Myron Johnson, who is a long-time anchor of the Twin Cities ballet scene. How did you first Myron and when did you first work with him?

I worked with [Ballet of the] Dolls on a production of The Red Shoes years ago. Myron had choreographed the film version, Craig Harris wrote a score for piano played off to one side, and Julia Tehven and I did all the dialogue and sound effects off to the other side.

It was a lot of fun. One of my favorite performing memories.

A promotional photo from the James Sewell Ballet’s 2013 performance of Lover.

As the only cast member with a speaking part, what was your rehearsal process like in relation to the rest of the cast? Were there separate rehearsals?

Myron and Dee (Marie) and Mary Jo (the maid) and I rehearsed the speaking scenes separately. There was never really a script, so I improvised around plot points. Then my swaying and not-falling-down was added in the dance rehearsals with the company.

What’s a favorite moment in this show and why?

Right now, for me, the Divertissements in Act Two are so sublimely choreographed and performed [that] I can’t not watch them in rehearsal. Each of them is a separate world of movement and expression. They’re clever without being cynical, beautiful without being sentimental.
Nutcracker (not so) Suite exists in the normal and Naughty Nutcracker versions. Does your part change significantly between them?

We’ll see about that. Since the scenes have an improvisatory feel to them, the difference probably will be to simply remove Mama’s filter, let the governor out, and see how much the audience wants.

Since you’re doing this show, it looks like you’re not going anywhere off-stage for Christmas. Will you be taking a winter holiday, and if so, where will you go and what do you look forward to doing?

My husband, John Novak, is the production stage manager at the Jungle Theater (for 20 years!), and they’ll also be running Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley before and after Christmas. So we’ll cozy up at home, and nestle in for a day or two.

Nutcracker (not so) Suite runs December 15-30 at the Cowles Center’s Goodale Theater in downtown Minneapolis, MN. The Naughty Nutcracker version plays Dec. 22, 28, and 30.

Hanne Appelbaum