Some folks can’t stand it— say time is a bandit— but not these two, because they’re timeless to everyone! Heading into the home stretch of the TheatreBloom “You Can’t Stop the Beat” interview series, we sit down with Toby’s veterans David James and Lawrence B. Munsey who are no strangers to theatre in the round nor to the roles which they’re currently reprising in Hairspray.
Thank you both so much for giving me a quick nugget of your time! Refresh our memories even though we all know you’re both household names here at Toby’s, who you are and what you’re doing in this how?
David James: I’m David James, I’m Wilbur and I am the stronger half of the duo. I’m the pants of the family.
Lawrence B. Munsey: I’m Edna Turnblad in the show. I’m Larry Munsey and I let David James think he is the strongest in the show.
David: Oh, interesting!
Larry: We know who rules the roost.
David: And we know who wears the pantyhose. And Spanx.
Larry: I don’t wear Spanx!
David: Uh-huh, maybe you should.
Larry: Listen, Gutterina, with your gut all hanging out— Miss Mushroom top— and look, your fly’s down. Come on, Wilbur. Get it together!
David: Oh! It’s cause I’m excited for you, Edna!
Larry: Oh yes, we know.
Oh my, I knew this was going to be a scream. You two were practically made for this “old married couple role.” In fact, it’s not either of your first rodeo in regards to playing Wilbur and Edna, right? How many times have you guys done this?
David: This is only my second time doing this with Larry. And actually only my second time doing Wilbur at all.
Larry: This is my fourth time. I did it in Columbia— in 2010 with David. Then in Baltimore in 2012 with Charlie (actor Charlie Able, current show swing and Wilbur u/s) and then I did it MTC (Musical Theatre Center) no wait— MTC was before Baltimore— same year, MTC was in January, I think and then Baltimore was over the summer. And now I’m here. Doing it with David. Again.
What is it like getting to reprise and recreate the role and getting to do it again with someone you’ve done it with before?
Larry: It’s like revisiting a dear friend, Edna. And then tolerating Wilbur.
David: And mine’s like putting on an old pair of shoes. They fit nicely, they’re comfortable, and you can kick them off when you want to and be even more comfortable!
What are you guys finding that is different this time around?
Larry: Hmm. For me it’s like we never stopped. It feels the same.
David: We fell back into it very easily, I think. Now there were some new things that were asked of us, absolutely, but it was very easy getting back into it.
Larry: I guess for me the biggest difference this time around is—
David: All the new costumes he had made for himself.
Larry: I was just going to say the absolute jealousy that Wilbur has over Edna’s wardrobe! It’s ridiculous! Edna only got a new dress— count them— one. And then Edna rebuilt the red dress at the end.
David: I’m squeezing myself into some clothes— some vintage clothing—
Larry: See?? Who was calling who fat?
David: No…I’m just saying— I’m squeezing in—
Larry: That’s right. SQUEEZING in. Squeezing being the operative word, honey!
Oh, see, that’s the perfect segue, thank you both! Hairspray comments on body image. Do you think body image still holds relevance in today’s society, does it still impact the type of work you guys do?
Larry: Well there are roles for every body type in the theatre world because there are so many different characters. But in society today? Oh my God, absolutely, you see it in fashion. Everything cute is for a size 2. They don’t believe that fat people can have style.
David: I just believe that we spend too much time judging people by the way they look, by their weight and their size and everything. I mean I know the old adage of “it’s who you are on the inside” sounds hokey, but it’s so true. What you bring to the table versus what package you bring to the table, it’s ridiculous! Who has time for all of that shit? I know we don’t. We may tease each other, but it’s because we’ve been doing this together for years.
Larry: That’s an ugly shirt you’re wearing.
David: Really? I just tried to be nice and you’re going to— really? See what I’m dealing with?
Larry: What? It’s ugly.
David: At least it’s a color I’m supposed to wear. And just look at that mess of a top you’re wearing! It’s all faded!
Larry: It’s supposed to look like that.
Is that one of those over-priced shirts that you paid $50 to have look like you’ve owned it for years already?
David: Honey, please— they don’t have $50 shirts at Kohls.
Larry: Excuse me! This is Old Navy. Darren (actor Darren McDonnell, character track, Edna u/s) is Kohls. This is a five-dollar shirt from Old Navy. Get it right. Darren is Kohls. I’m Old Navy.
Oh boy. Okay. Let’s skip the fashion debate. In addition to body image, Hairspray also addresses civil rights injustices, do think that’s also speaking to the modern audience?
Larry: No. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is getting the message. If it were speaking to the audiences? The world wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having. We keep doing it over and over, with Ragtime, with Hairspray, with any show in which where these issues that should no longer be issues but are still issues are being addressed. It’s ridiculous. The fact that we can do a show like Ragtime and it takes place 100+ years ago or Hairspray and it takes place 50+ years ago and we’re still dealing with the exact same issues— people are stupid.
David: We take several steps forward? And then we just slide so far back. One of these days we are going to get it though, I have faith. I have faith in humanity.
Larry: I don’t think we’re going to see it.
David: You don’t think so? Maybe the next generation.
Larry: We can hope.
David: I mean we as a society say that we’re more accepting and more open? But guess what…no we’re not.
Larry: Yeah, we’re “more accepting” but only to what we’re comfortable with.
What are the challenges that you guys are discovering this time around?
David: Challenges? Hmm. I don’t find any challenges in this show really.
Larry: I’m lifting him. That’s a challenge.
David: You should hear the audience’s reaction! It’s quite something, I must say!
Larry: You’re heavy.
Larry: They turn off my mic so you don’t hear the grunting of me straining to lift him.
David: I lift my weight, I think.
Larry: Hopefully I will not injury myself like I did the last time I had to lift you up.
David: Oh trust me, if you do, I’ll be hearing about it.
Now, now, play nice. What’s your favorite moment in the show?
David: Now this is not because it’s our song or our scene, but I really do love that part of the show— “Timeless to Me” because it’s those honest moments between Edna and Wilbur. Everything else is a little Fozzy Bear, you know, wokka wokka wokka, but that scene? That scene is us talking and we get to express how we really feel about each other. Everything else is really in your face but that whole moment is just really honest.
Larry: It’s funny, more times than not I hear people going “that is one of my least favorite songs in the show.” But you know what? I love it. And maybe in other shows or other performances people didn’t know how to do it right so they don’t know what they’re missing. I love the way we do it here. It’s a nice compliment.
I think there’s something to be said to that in knowing that you guys have been doing this together for so long—
Larry: Well, when you know somebody for 25+ years…I mean I was three and David was 16 the first time we worked together…
David: We’ve just been around that long. And around. And around. And around.
Everyone has that special thing that gets them going in the morning, a la “Good Morning, Baltimore.” What is it that gets you going in the morning?
Larry: Because I have to. There’s nothing that really gets me going, you know what I mean? I LOVE my bed. I do not want to leave it ever.
David: You know, there is something to be said about that. I’ve been doing this for 30 some odd years and it is such a hard lifestyle. We’re up til— whenever, whatever indecent hour it is when we finally crawl into bed— you know what that’s like. And then getting up the next morning to go to your full time job that you have during the day— it’s just…it’s exhausting. I have Coca-Cola. That’s my burst of energy in the morning.
Larry: And Excedrin.
David: Yeah, exactly. That gets me through the day.
Larry: I do coffee. But coffee does not make me want to get out of the bed. It helps me stay out of the bed but it does not make me want to get out of the bed.
What is your favorite comfort food, Larry and David, and is it different from Edna and Wilbur’s favorite comfort food?
Larry: Hmm. My favorite is creamy pasta type dishes. That’s my personal favorite. Enda? I really believe she just enjoys food. I think that her biggest fear in life is that she goes to a buffet, and someone later asks her “did you try the— whatever” and she would have to say no. She would be devastated on missing out. “What? Potato Salad? It was great? I didn’t taste that! Oh My God!”
David: I was raised with a mother who loved southern food. So I’m all for kale and all that. I love a good scrapple sandwich.
Larry: And my mother’s creamed chip beef.
David: Oh yes. His mother’s creamed chip beef and biscuits? To die for. I think what Wilbur likes the best is feeding his wife. I don’t think Wilbur has an actual food that he enjoys? I think he likes feeding his wife so she can remain that ample plus size that she is. Prime real estate as he says.
You’re both Maryland boys. How do we feel about crabs?
David: Love ‘em.
Larry: LOVE THEM. Absolutely. It’s not a food. It’s an entertainment.
David: It’s a social event.
Larry: Totally a social event.
David: There needs to be crabs at the cast party.
Larry: I’m pushing for them to have them for this show. And they’re cheaper this year.
David: Though I did just discover lobster. I just got back from P-Town— for the first time ever— and I discovered lobster. Let me tell you, the lobster in northern parts? It is quite delicious. And there’s less picking.
Larry: You can’t beat picking crabs, though.
What is Edna’s favorite piece of her wardrobe?
Larry: I think it would have to be her new moo-moo from the second act.
David: I thought you said Edna only got one new outfit and it was the dress?
Larry: We’ve moved on past that.
David: We have?
Larry: See? All this jealousy. But it’s the new moo-moo, it’s all purple and black, it’s Mrs. Roper’s outfit. It’s the one I wear during “Timeless to Me.” It’s comfortable, it’s stylish, and it has a nice head wrap. It’s her “keeping style around the house” outfit. You know, she’s looking pretty for Wilbur in that outfit instead of her old peacock chenille bathrobe.
Does Wilbur have a favorite Hardy-Har-Hut product?
David: Well, now that I have a brand new logo for my store on the back of my smock that I wear in the store, I think that’s my favorite. I think it’s the beginning of a chain, I think Wilbur is trying to get a chain started so he has this logo and that’s my favorite. And that was a big surprise to me, and I love it. That was something that dear sweet Costume Mary—
Larry: Now wait a minute—s
David: Her name is Mary the Costumer. She made this happen for me.
Larry: He was bitching and complaining—
David: What’s the next question?
Larry: Hush. You’re not telling the whole story. He was bitching and complaining about me getting all new costumes—
David: Well it’s true!
Larry: and— AND! He was complaining. “My smock. It’s flimsy! I wish it was made a bit more study or made of stiffer fabric.” And I said to him “It’s a cotton smock—”
David: Oh heaven forbid I want something!
Larry: And then our director (Mark Minnick) was looking through pictures and he found this one Hardy-Har-Hut coat that actually had “Hardy-Har-Hut” written on the back of it. And I said, “But his coat is orange and has white polka dots.”
David: Which was apparently supposed to be enough for me— the same old orange and white polka dotted coat while she gets an entire new wardrobe—
Larry: So I didn’t tell either one of them what I was up to. I actually went and designed a logo and had an artist paint it—
David: And you know I love it. Thank you, Mary.
Larry: Ugh. I had it designed and painted and then Mary (Costume Assistant Mary Quinn) sewed it to the back of the coat. It was a sweet little surprise for him.
What does “timeless to me” mean to the two of you?
David: I think it basically sums up their relationship, through the good, through the bad. You take it all.
Larry: It’s when you know someone so well and you accept them for all their goods and bads.
David: He says— “you’re fat and old but baby boring you ain’t!” and you can say that to the person because you have that history with them.
Larry: Right. I mean David’s hairline is receding just like in the song, but hey he can wear a wig it’ll be fine.
David: And you have got to stop messing my hair up during the show, thank you very much!
Larry: It’s only when you start hamming it up—
David: Well that’s every night—
Larry: It’s when you’re hamming too much that I really mess your hair up.
What is this show teaching you guys about yourself?
Larry: For me, this time, because it is the fourth time, it’s teaching me that I’m able to go out and make it new every night and do it full out and enjoy it still. I’m kind of surprised. I mean, it’s a pain in the ass getting ready? But once she’s on and I’m out there? I love it.
David: You revisit certain roles throughout your career. Some you like, some you have a fondness for, some you don’t like as much. But you make it new. And we always say this, it’s the audiences’ first time seeing the show. So you have to make it as presentable as possible so that they can enjoy it. It’s a lot of work—people think we’re just up there having fun—
Larry: We are having fun, but it is work.
David: It is a job that we do in addition to the fun we have.
What does “you can’t stop the beat” mean to you personally?
Larry: The end of the show and I get to take off my wig and heels!
David: You can’t stop what comes out of his mouth.
Larry: Oh shut up, you don’t have to wear heels the whole show.
David: You can’t stop the beat. The beat of life— until you die? You can’t stop it.
Larry: We’re going to keep going through all the ups and all the downs— we’re just going to keep going.
David: I think for 1960 when it was written to take place, the world was dealing with a lot of turmoil and that was really prevalent—
Larry: Because we’re not dealing with any of that turmoil now.
David: What? No! Of course not…we’ve made great steps ahead, remember? Seriously, that was the driving force in people’s lives— we’re at war, we’re going to get through this, and move onto the next thing. You can’t stop us. And that’s true of every generation, right through to today even if we aren’t getting the message the way we should have by now.
This is— I’m not even going to try and count— let’s say dozenth or so— show working with Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick. What’s it like working with him on this, a project that you guys have both done with him before?
Larry: Good. It was great.
David: Mark who? What?
Larry: He comes. He gives us direction. He was here just the other night giving us notes.
David: It’s interesting because his first association with this was just as the Choreographer. He choreographed the show and Toby (Artistic Director Toby Orenstein) directed it. So we had worked with him in that respect on this. Now this time he took over the reins, choreographing and directing it this time. It was very familiar to us but at the same time we still have some different things happening.
What are you hoping that the audience is going to take away with them when they leave after seeing the show?
David: The only thing you can hope to expect after paying good money to get through the door— because people work hard for their money and it’s a choice to spend it here— is that they are getting the best entertainment for their money. We hope that they are thoroughly entertained. We hear it all the time, there are people that love it. And of course there are people who probably don’t love it, but we’re hoping that they love it.
Larry: And of course we hope that they get the message that the show has. The bigger picture is that they can come in through those front doors and for a few hours forget what is happening outside in the world. For a few hours, we can ease their mind. We hope they can enjoy themselves, that we’ve let them recharge so that they can go back out into the world. It seems so hokey to say that, but it’s true.
Why should people come see Hairspray?
Larry: Oh, to see David James, of course!
David: Oh and Larry Munsey! And all his brand new costumes.
Larry: I think people will find value in their dollar here. They’re going to get a great show from people who really care. I think it’s a really tight production.
David: Mmhmm. Ditto.
Anything else either of you would like to say?
David: I think we’ve said it all.
Larry: I think we have said it all.
To read the TheatreBloom review of Hairspray, click here.
To read Part 1 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Coby Kay Callahan and Darren McDonnell, click here.
To read Part 2 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Samantha McEwen Deininger and Renata Hammond, click here.
To read Part 3 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Heather Marie Beck and Gabriella DeLuca, click here.
To read Part 4 of the You Can’t Stop the Beat interview series featuring Andre Hinds and Sophie Schulman, click here.