An Ode to a Broadway Actor
An Interview with Ed Dixon
Ed Dixon’s Broadway credits include such shows as Mary Poppins (Admiral Boom and the Bank Chairman), How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Max), Sunday in the Park with George (Mr. Charles Redmond) and so many more. Mr. Dixon is also a Drama Desk Award Nominee for Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Shylock) and the 2011 Helen Hayes Award Winner for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Sunset Boulevard (Signature Theatre). But not only is Mr. Dixon an excellent actor, he is also a playwright – we would expect nothing less from him! Read on to discover more from the talented Ed Dixon.
Tell us about yourself.
I have been a professional actor since 1968. My first job was at Surflight Summer Theater on Long Beach Island, New Jersey – I did ten shows in eleven weeks. My second job was at Casa Manana in Fort Worth, Texas where I did eight shows in sixteen weeks. That got me my equity card. Then I did eight more shows for them so in my first three jobs, I did almost thirty musicals. I don’t think that kind of thing is possible today. While still at Casa Manana, I got hired for No, No, Nannette on Broadway from an audition I had done many months earlier. That was in 1970 and I have been a New Yorker ever since.
I played both Admiral Boom and the Bank Chairman in Mary Poppins. Of course, I saw the movie and the musical before I began work on it. But both roles in the show are very different from the movie. I always try to do all my work on any part based primarily on the script. Since both of those parts are pretty underwritten, I tried to make as many vocal, accent and physical body differences as possible to differentiate the two characters and make them distinct. This work was all done before I started rehearsals.
What was your first night like on Broadway (No, No, Nanette and most recently, Mary Poppins)?
It was one of the most exciting nights of my life. To be on Broadway had been a dream since junior high school, so to actually be doing it at age 21 or so, was very, very exciting, especially in a unique and ground breaking hit such as Nanette. Mary Poppins was hysterical. I was put into the show very hurriedly while I was performing Curtains at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. So I had been running back and forth from state to state rehearsing whenever I could find an hour. The woman playing Miss Lark with me was on leave when I was rehearsing, so I never even met her or worked with her once before I saw her on stage. The backstage machinery of Mary Poppins is so gigantic and confusing at first glance that members of the stage crew were literally grabbing me by the arm and shoving me in the right wing or out of the way of scenery at my first performance. I remember thinking, “Good thing I’ve done like fifteen broadway shows or this might be rather daunting.”
To play Shylock in my own adaptation of The Merchant of Venice in New York was a great, great thrill. And getting a Drama Desk nomination for Best Actor in a Musical opposite Colm Wilkinson, Mandy Patinkin and Robert Lindsay was pretty amazing too. But I also had an amazing time playing Max on the first national of Sunset Boulevard. Being on that set, and playing opposite my dear friend Linda Balgord, was one of the greatest thrills ever. Also, it was nice to get a Joseph Jefferson nomination for that, and to reprise the role at the signature theater with my dear friend, Eric Schaeffer, and to win the Helen Hayes award.
I’ve been in a lot of bad shows and readings over the years, and once while doing a particularly bad reading of a new musical I thought, “Geez, not only could I do better than this, ANYONE could do better than this.” So for about 10 years I started dabbling, and got several spotty pieces up. Finally about ten years later, I wrote what I thought was a really respectable piece, Shylock, and got more serious about it.
At this point I’ve written at least thirty-five plays and musicals, most of which have been produced somewhere at least once. Some of them many times, most notably Whodunit…The Musical, which has had something like twelve productions in the last year alone. I have regarded each one as a learning tool for the next one. And I think each branch of the theater, singing, acting, directing, writing and composing all inform one another. Teaching has also been a great learning tool for me. There’s nothing like trying to explain something to someone else to make you revisit it yourself.
Such a talented guy! For more news on Ed Dixon, check out his website!
-Ashley September, 2011