By Artistic Director, Bruce Miller
Those of us who’ve been around for a while well remember the great Dougee Zeno belting out from behind her baby grand Cole Porter’s titillating torch song, Love for Sale, during both the 1977 World Premiere of Red Hot and Cole at Hanover Tavern and the subsequent 1987 revival at our historic November Theatre (known then as the Empire).
Those with memories even sharper may recall the legendary, Tony-nominated chanteuse Elisabeth Welch plaintively warbling that same tune from that same November/Empire stage during her 1990 cabaret performance that reopened the theatre following Phase I of our restoration. Lest we forget, it was the late, great Ms. Welch who created quite the scandal when she first introduced Love for Sale to Broadway audiences in Cole Porter’s 1930-31 production of The New Yorkers. Thereafter it become one of her three signature songs.
Well … this blog post has nothing to do with any of those fond and precious memories.
This blog post intends to send a little Richmond love to Jonathan Sale, a young actor who began his career here at Virginia Rep and is now knocking ‘em dead eight shows a week appearing opposite Broadway icon Carol Lawrence (the original Maria in West Side Story) in the smash Off Broadway comedy hit, Handle with Care, written by UVA Drama Dept. alum (and Emmy nominee) Jason Odell Williams.
Jonathan ably co-starred in Virginia Rep’s productions of Stand Up Tragedy and Marvin’s Room (both performed in our Theatre Gym) and Romeo and Juliet (staged in the historic November). In the Stand Up photo below, Jonathan is the dashing young man seated second from the right, with one forearm resting on his knee. Others in that photo include (standing left to right) cast members Rick Brandt, Richard Travis, Rusty Wilson, the late Tye Heckman, sound designer John Anderson, stage manager ?, and director John Moon, and (seated left to right) cast members ?, ?, Ben Hersey, Jonathan Sale, and ?.
Two free tickets to the Virginia Rep show of your choice (and my heartfelt appreciation) to anyone who can fill in any of the question marks.
Those of you who weren’t here for those shows from the mid-90s may know Jonathan’s work nonetheless. After graduating from the University of Richmond with a double major in theatre and Spanish, Jonathan headed to San Francisco where he earned his MFA in Acting from the prestigious professional theatre grad program at American Conservatory Theatre. He moved to NYC, married his beautiful wife, actress Heather Dilly, in 2003, and for the last decade has been building an impressive career Off Broadway and in television and film, finding work as both an actor and director.
You can watch several great clips from Jonathan’s reel, including a classic Holiday Inn Express commercial in which he demonstrates the rap skills he first honed portraying an NYC street kid in Stand Up Tragedy, an Arby’s commercial with a non-speaking Jim Parsons, and a Law and Order episode with none other than our recent Atticus Finch, Adrian Rieder.
I caught up with Jonathan recently to ask what it felt like to be starring in an Off Broadway hit opposite one of the legendary actresses of American theatre. Here’s what he had to say:
“The Handle with Care experience has been fantastic. It was actually my first audition after the birth of my son, Grayson, and it took a year and a half of readings, travel and fundraising for the show finally to come to fruition. Grayson is 20 months old now and I’ve been doing Handle with Care in one form or another for basically his entire life!
I saw that the casting notice called for someone over 6 feet tall to play opposite our statuesque leading lady, Charlotte Cohn, and that the play takes place in Goodview, Virginia. I noted that they needed someone who could do both comedy and drama and I felt like the role was meant for me. So I pursued it pretty hard and was lucky enough to land it.
Carol Lawrence is a phenomenon. She’s 82 years old, but she has the energy of a 22 year old. She bounces and hops and taps and sings her way through rehearsals and performances. She is like a fish in water on the stage as well as in interviews and press events. She’s also an amazing chef and often starts sentences with phrases like, “Oh, when I knew Dean…” and “Elvis was a sweet boy,” referring to guys like Dean Martin and Elvis Presley by their first names without even thinking about it. Not name dropping, just sharing a life story like you or I would talk about Ford or Gordon.
My time with Virginia Rep was so formative, so important to my path as an actor. Those productions hold up very, very well compared to many of the New York and regional productions I’ve done since. The talent, the professionalism, the production values were all top notch. The Romeo and Juliet I did with you guys is still the most handsomely produced R & J I’ve been in, and I’ve done that show four times! Marvin’s Room and Stand Up Tragedy might be two of the top six or seven shows I’ve ever done. So good. I remember looking up to folks like Irene Ziegler and Dawn Westbrook and John Moon so much. And I still run into guys like Ben Hersey and Duke Lafoon at commercial auditions all the time. Small world.”
Then and now, Jonathan was and is a great guy. We miss him. And we’re especially proud of and happy for his success. Hopefully, we’ll be able to lure him back to one of our Virginia stages sometime in the near future.
If you’d like to know more about Jonathan, you can visit him on his website: www.JonathanSale.tv. Or if you’re in NYC between now and his show’s closing on March 9, drop by to see him in Handle with Care. And take him a little love from Virginia.