THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face

Musical theater performer Anthony Gruppuso takes a look at an actor’s life—and his own in particular—in his entertaining, gorgeously sung one-man show THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face, playing this weekend only at Theatre West.

SONY DSC THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face has Gruppuso (an Outstanding Featured Actor Scenie last year for his deep, powerful performance as Milton in The Immigrant) imagining a musical therapy session with a certain Dr. Freud, to whom he has come in search of self-identity, a search he preludes with a salute-in-song to the psychologist’s well-known namesake in “The Ballad Of Sigmund Freud.”

Memories of family (“Hey Pop” a tribute to Gruppuso’s Italian-American dad—sorry, make that Sicilian-American dad) alternate with dreams of becoming a performer (Craig Carnelia’s “The Kid Inside”), dreams that began coming true almost immediately upon young Anthony’s arrival in New York City despite a father’s warning that without a leading man’s looks and physique, his son had better seek success elsewhere than Broadway.

SONY DSC As any actor will tell you, you can get callback after callback and not get the part, a fact of show-biz life Gruppuso knows all too well. Oliver’s Mr. Bumble (“Boy For Sale”), The Little Mermaid’s Chef Louis (“Les Poissons”), Guys And Dolls’ Nicely-Nicely (“Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”), and My Favorite Year’s Benjy Stone (“Larger Than Life”)—all of them are roles on Broadway that Gruppuso got called back for again and again until the parts ended up going to someone taller-shorter-younger-older-thinner-fatter (you get the picture).

Fortunately, these failed opportunities add up to a terrific vocal showcase for THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face’s golden-throated star.

SONY DSC Gruppuso pays tribute to two important women in his life, his Italian Nonna in “Easier To Love” and his wife of twenty-plus years in “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You.” He even treats his audience to a bit of Pagliacci in “Vesti La Giubba” (in full clown garb), proving that despite a dislike of opera (the result of having been forced to listen to so much of it as a child), Gruppuso has the pipes to sell an aria with the best of them.

I’m not quite sure what conclusions the star of THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face would have us draw from the set of songs that end his session with Dr. Freud, but they make for one fabulous finale beginning with “(A Little More) Mascara” from La Cage Aux Folles, and followed by a medley made up of Some Like It Hot’s “The Beauty that Drives a Man Mad,” Hairspray’s “You can’t Stop the Beat,” the title song from Little Me, and the gender-bending “Boys Will Be Girls,” before Gruppuso brings the evening to a powerful close with the introspective “Self Portrait.”

SONY DSC THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face benefits from the assured direction of the multiple Scenie-winning Calvin Remsberg, the accomplished keyboard tickling of musical director John Dickson, and Yancy Dunham’s expert lighting design. Dina Morrone is producer. Roger Kent Cruz is stage manager.

Anthony Gruppuso may not be the household name he dreamed of becoming way back as a child, but as THE FACE, Behind The Face, behind the face makes abundantly clear, he’s got what it takes to keep an audience thoroughly entertained just Him, Himself, And He in this tasty Thanksgiving weekend treat.

Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 29, 2013
Photos: Dina Morrone

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