On Broadway, Terrence Mann is best known for being feline, French and furry. He was Rum Tum Tugger in “Cats,” Javert in “Les Miserables” and the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.”
At UConn’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre, he’s the big man on campus — selecting the shows for the theater’s Nutmeg Summer Series. This year he’s starring in one of those three shows and directing another.
Off-Broadway, earlier this year, Mann was the titular talk show host of “Jerry Springer — The Opera.” He’s played dozens of roles in New York shows, but is also a regular presence at regional and college theaters.
When the run of “Jerry Springer” was extended earlier this year, he had to leave the show because he had previously arranged to direct the musical “Spring Awakening” at Western Carolina University. “I loved doing that show with college students. It’s so in their wheelhouse.”
Here in Connecticut, Mann has been active for years with Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series. Among his summer flings there: playing Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” for the theater in 2011; playing Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha” and directing “The Pirates of Penzance” (both in 2012); and reprising his role of the incessant pursuer Javert in a concert version of “Les Mis” in 2015.
Even with all the opportunities that have opened to him as a performer and director, “I have a personal bucket list of things I always wanted to do,” Mann says during a recent phone interview. One of them is Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” He’s performed the role before, in 1991 for the North Carolina Theatre Company, but has been dying (murdering?) to play the demon butcher of Fleet Street again: “It’s probably my favorite musical ever.”
Mann will star in the “Sweeney Todd” concert show at CT Rep, which runs June 21 through July 1, and Peter Flynn will direct it. Then Mann will direct the hallowed Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which runs July 12 to 22.
“I wanted to do a concert version of a great musical between the first and third show — two full-blown musicals and the middle one a stand-alone concert version.”
Mann was named the artistic director of the Nutmeg Summer Series last year. He directed “1776” and got his brother-in-law, acclaimed choreographer Christopher d’Amboise, to direct “Newsies.” Mann wasted no time setting up a new model for how the summer season could be shaped.
The 2018 season opened with “Disaster!,” which runs through June 16 and stars that Broadway musical’s co-creator Seth Rudetsky and is directed by its other co-creator Jack Plotnick. “To have them come in and do it is a boon.”
Mann had hoped to do “Jesus Christ Superstar” last year but was unable to procure the performance rights; the Nutmeg Series did a no-musical, the backstage comedy “Noises Off,” in the middle slot instead. The ever-popular “Jesus Christ Superstar” has had numerous productions around Connecticut in the past few seasons and regained some major national attention with the acclaimed Easter broadcast of “Jesus Christ Superstar — Live in Concert” on NBC-TV.
“We’ll be trying to do homage to the movie,” Mann explains, referring to the 1973 film version directed by Norman Jewison. “It can be done so many different ways.”
Mann sees the concert shows as having “some physical staging,” but also likes the stripped-down quality, where you can focus on the music and lyrics.
Asked what the main traps are when staging “Sweeney Todd,” Mann quickly answers “when you try to do too much with it. It’s like Shakespeare that way.” He makes the idea of a concert version seem that much more sensible.
How does Mann feel about the grand returns of shows whose original Broadway productions he is indelibly associated with? Both “Cats” and “Les Mis” were revived on Broadway and are now on national tours.
“It sounds so Pollyanna-ish, but I’m just so proud of those [original] productions. When I see them again, the nostalgia makes me feel I was part of something special.”
CT Rep shows allow for four or five Equity (actor’s union) performers; the rest of the cast is made up of non-Equity performers. Often these are UConn acting students or recent grads, just getting a start on their careers.
“The beauty of the concept here,” Mann says, “is professionals working with college students. We all learn. I get to go back and become the student.”