It’s always exciting when a homegrown talent returns to Southern California as a member of a nationally touring musical, but when that local triple-threat is Costa Mesa-born Mike McLean, a stop at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts is big news indeed. The Newport Harbor High School/USC grad stars as Benny Southstreet in Frank Loesser’s classic Guys And Dolls, pulling into town Tuesday for a one-week Costa Mesa run. I was delighted to catch up with Mike to find out more about Guys And Dolls, Benny Southstreet, and his latest appearance at SCFTA.
Growing up in Costa Mesa did you ever dream you’d be performing on the stage of the Segerstrom Center For The Arts?
I’m so excited and proud to perform with this cast and crew of Guys and Dolls at Segerstorm. I’ve been bragging to everybody about how wonderful the venue is, and how much fun we’re going to have in Orange County. I’ve actually been on stage there before.
Really? When was that?
I was a background actor in two productions with Opera Pacifica. I was Fleance in Macbeth, and I was the Torrero Boy in Carmen. In Carmen I was actually featured a bit. I got to open the show by doing some choreographed bullfighting moves. It was just me, centerstage, in the spotlight. I think I was twelve, and it was quite a thrill. So, I’m very excited to be back on that stage.
You obviously started doing theater at a very young age. I saw online that you won awards for your performances as Harold Hill in The Music Man and Buddy in The Diviners while still a student at Newport Harbor High School.
Thank you for remembering my awards from NHHS. I definitely learned to love theater when I was in high school. My teacher, Gail Brower-Nedler, gave me some great opportunities to explore my creative side on stage. I’m very excited for her to see me on stage at Segerstrom.
She’s going to be there?
Yes, she’s coming to the show!
That is exciting! What did you learn from those early experiences?
I learned that I was very comfortable on stage, I loved to sing, and I very much enjoyed the idea of live storytelling and the escapism that it provides.
What’s your favorite part of acting?
The rehearsal process. It’s the most creative part of the process. You get to the freedom to really play with your fellow actors, and bounce ideas off the director.
Was that true with Guys And Dolls?
Yes, in this particular show, I had a blast with Chris Swan, who plays Nathan Detroit, and Todd Berkich, who’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson, while we were figuring out our charters together. And our director, Jeffrey B. Moss, gave us the freedom to play.
Following your high school graduation, you became a theater major at USC, which puts you in some pretty illustrious company. What was your favorite onstage role while you were a Trojan?
My favorite role at USC was John Proctor in The Crucible. It’s one of the all time great roles in one of the most iconic plays in the American theater canon … and I got to work with my favorite USC professors at the time, Andy Robinson. He gave me that amazing opportunity to play John Proctor, and I learned a lot from him in the process.
Anything else you did at USC that stands out?
A close second favorite role was Billy Bigelow in Carousel. Just having the chance to perform the song “Soliloquy” is every musical theater baritone’s dream come true. I have to thank Jack Rowe, one of every USC theater student’s favorite professors, for having the confidence in me to pull that off.
How did your USC training help you on your path towards being a professional triple-threat?
In general, my experience and training at USC allowed me to fill my proverbial “actor’s toolbox.” Every audition, every production, every role presents different challenges to the actor. One needs to have the right tools to get the job done, and USC gave lots of good tools.
Shortly after your graduation, I got to see you in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s revival of Guys And Dolls as Benny Southstreet, which happens to be the very same role you’re playing in the current National Tour.
My first professional acting gig after college was indeed Benny Southstreet in Cabrillo’s Guys and Dolls.
That must have been a lot of fun!
I had a blast in that production.
Are you doing things differently now, six years later?
It’s been eye-opening revisiting the role with a few more years under my belt. I’m more comfortable in my skin this time around, so I’ve been braver with my character choices. Also, I’m working with a different set of performers, so we’ve found some different moments and beats to play.
I understand that Guys And Dolls is your all-time favorite musical.
This is certainly my favorite musical of all time.
What is it about Guys And Dolls that makes it stand the test of time where other musicals of the era have come and gone?
For me it’s the music. I’ve always been a fan of the crooners, and this musical comes from that era. I think this show has stood the test of time not only because of its classic music, story and style, but because of its structure. First of all it’s a wonderful story that features lovable characters. There’s the romantic leading couple that sing beautifully, the comedic leads that keep you laughing, character actors making the show unique, athletic male dancers, and sexy chorus girls. It has all the right ingredients.
What is it about this National Tour that distinguishes it from Guys And Dolls we’ve seen before?
The reason our Guys and Dolls is unique to others is because of our team. Jeff Moss, the director, did a wonderful job putting together a group of performers that play very well together, and gave us the freedom to do so. Bob Richard, the choreographer, put his energetic stamp on the dance sequences: Runyonland, the Havana scene, the Hot Box dances, and the Crapshooters Ballet.
It is. Skip Brevis, our music director, created probably our most original addition at the end of “Sit Down.” I don’t want to give too much away, but most of us on stage describe that number like riding a roller coaster!
Tell us about Benny, how he figures in the plot, and what your favorite Benny Southstreet moment is.
My character Benny Southstreet is in charge of finding gamblers to play in Nathan Detroit’s “Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.” The character also serves as a reminder of the era and setting for the story. I get to provide some comedic relief, as well as sing the title song. My favorite part as Benny is when I’m forced to give testimony at the Salvation Army mission.
You’ve been posting pix of taken stage views of all the theaters you’ve stopped at so far on the tour? Is there a favorite theater/city among them, and what makes that one stand out in your memory?
My favorite venue and city so far has been the Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon. It’s a big, beautiful theater. We had great audiences there, and the city was really fun. I had a great time with my castmates while there. But, I know Segerstrom and Costa Mesa will take the cake!!
What’s the touring life been like for you?
I’ve enjoyed touring so far. I love being on the road, seeing different parts of the country, and experiencing all the different venues. Each one has its own feel and history. Also, I’ve been making a lot of friends and memories along the way.
I’m told you’d only just recently moved to New York when you booked the Guys And Dolls tour. What prompted your decision to move back east?
I moved to NYC in July of 2014. I made the move to light a fire under myself and my career. Also I wanted to go to a place where my all my talents were respected and appreciated. So far it seems like it was the right move. I booked this tour just two months after making the move.
What do you like best about New York City living?
I love the energy of the city. It was quite a culture shock at first, coming from the more mellow and laid-back atmosphere of Southern California. In fact the first week or so, I barely slept. But I got used to it and I’m finding my rhythm there. I look forward to being back in the Big Apple this summer so I can get back in the action and continue moving forward with my new life on the East Coast. Also, I’m excited to get back to the pizza!
What would you like to see as the next step in your career?
I think the next thing for me will probably be another tour. But hopefully it’s all moving toward the end game of being bi-coastal and doing it all: Broadway, film, and TV … living the dream!
Mike, it’s been great talking with you. I know you’ll have lots of friends and family there to cheer you on on Opening Night. I’ll be there too, so I hope we can get to say Hi at the stage door!
Guys And Dolls plays at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. April 14-19. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 7:30. Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30. Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 714 556-2787
Click here to purchase tickets.
Mike’s Guys And Dolls bio:
MIKE MCLEAN (Benny Southstreet) is thrilled to work with this cast and crew on his first national tour and favorite musical of all time. Credits include: Life Could Be a Dream (Wally) in Hollywood, CA; Guys and Dolls (Benny) in Thousand Oaks, CA; Carousel (Billy) at USC; The Crucible (John Proctor) at USC