A level-headed presence on Broadway: Lafayette's Bryce Pinkham
gets Tony nomination
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Some actors would kill to win a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Bryce Pinkham does just that, eight times a night.
Playing Monty Navarro in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" on Broadway, the Lafayette native slaughters eight heirs to the inheritance his downtrodden character aims to claim. Those performances have won him -- and Jefferson Mays, the actor playing all eight of Navarro's victims -- a 2014 Tony nomination.
"I was going to sleep in, because it was a Monday, my day off," Pinkham said about the day the nominations were announced. "But I wanted to be conscious, so I took a walk. I was in Washington, D.C., pacing around Capitol Hill, when my phone just exploded with texts and calls."
A 2001 Campolindo High School graduate, Pinkham had had a number of local acting roles by then -- among them were as Jem in a Moraga Playhouse production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the mid-1990s; Tony in a Central Stage Theater (now part of Walnut Creek's DTC Stars 2000) production of "West Side Story" in 2001' and Harold Hill in a Campolindo High School production of "The Music Man."
He did a lot more than act. When he wasn't playing sports or earning badges as a Boy Scout, Pinkham was honing his stamina and his "sweet spot," where his tenor-range voice shines in the current Broadway production.
"I play a character who changes drastically over 21/2 hours and rarely leaves the stage," he said in a phone interview. "He's the one telling the story to the audience. It's not macabre, but there's darkness and danger."
New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called the musical a "frolicsome operetta" and praised the show for providing the much-missed pleasure of "musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase."
Pinkham said making his comedic character three-dimensional is different every night and he's thrilled that the show -- 10 years in the making -- is getting attention.
"At the end of the day, the nomination is a month-and-a-half in the spotlight; then we go back to the show."
His attitude -- maintaining a level-headed perspective amid an industry full of divas -- is why Pinkham believes he landed the role. Returning from Madagascar, where he and colleague Lucas Caleb Rooney are building Zara Aina, a theater program for impoverished at-risk youth, he said he was "relaxed, grateful, and grounded" during the final audition.
"I had just worked with kids who have to sell charcoal to make money for food. When you see that,
Broadway theater's stress isn't hard," Pinkham said.
Zara Aina fulfills Pinkham's childhood dream of having an impact on the world. Boy Scouts was the initial outlet for his urge to serve; "playing with the kids" in Madagascar has become his current passion.
"The reason to work with them is to be reminded of the sparkle created when you build a little theater. They howl with joy when they pull it off. They're not worried about getting a Tony," Pinkham said.
At first, he admitted, the initial reaction was, "Why do we need your help?" Persistence, extended residency and the intense focus on Malagasy stories (the shows are performed in the native language) proved the 10-person team of Americans are not "just there to take selflies of third worlders." The ultimate goal for Zara Aina is to partner with international nongovernmental groups to establish a self-sustaining, locally run theater program.
David Pinkham, Bryce's father and a former community theater actor who continues to direct and produce high school musicals and other local events, said he had a sense of "wow" when he saw early clips of his son in the Navarro role. "It was written for him -- musically great, combining intelligent, physical humor with a great use of word," he said.
A phone call at 5:30 a.m. on April 29 was most welcome, David Pinkham said.
"As soon as (I and my wife) heard the 'ding,' we knew what it was. I know how wonderful he is, but to have other (people's) validation it is exciting."
Pinkham said he and Mays joke about doing bits of the play on the red carpet on June 8. Sharing the nomination, there's camaraderie and it's a friendly competition -- at least until he said, "I'm thinking of fixing a special cocktail for him that night ... "