J. T. Turner came to Boston to study at Emerson College and never left
Reagle Music Theater in Waltham continues its 50th anniversary season with the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes,” which will be playing from July 5 to July 15.
Set on a luxury liner sailing from New York to London, the breezy, tap-dancing spectacular follows the comical on-board antics of a dazzling evangelist-turned-nightclub-singer, a second-rate gangster in disguise, a lovelorn Wall Street broker, a stuffy British nobleman, and more.
The score includes such standards as “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-Lovely” and more.
(A bit of local trivia: The original production of “Anything Goes” tried out at Boston’s Colonial Theatre on its way to Broadway in 1934.)
J. T. Turner plays con man Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13, who is hiding out on the boat as a minister.
A New Jersey native, J. T. came to Boston to study at Emerson College and never left. He’s very much in demand on Boston stages with credits ranging from “Big River” and “1776” (Lyric Stage) to “Drowsy Chaperone” (SpeakEasy), “Johnny Baseball” (ART) and “A Christmas Carol” (North Shore Music Theatre), among others.
He’s also known for his extensive voice-over work, his one-man shows bringing historic figures to life, and as ringmaster for the newly formed Granite State Circus.
Here’s an edited version of our recent conversation:
BIR: “Anything Goes” is a classic. Wonderful music, and a light and funny story. It’s just what we need right now.
JTT: I couldn’t agree with you more. There are a lot of people who maybe embrace their snobbery and say “Oh ‘Anything Goes,’ that old chestnut.” But I love it! People come for the music – listening to those amazing Cole porter lyrics is great. And you forget how great the book it . . . It’s so cleverly written.
BIR: You’re playing Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13. Clearly he’s gotta try harder!
JTT: (Laughing) That’s true! . . . for a comic character actor, as I occasionally am, it’s a treat to be able to work on this show. All actors have their little bucket list, and for character actors, you have these roles that someday you hope to play. Certainly Moonface Martin for me is on that list. I’m really excited about it.
BIR: Actors really love the experience of working at Reagle. What makes it so special?
JTT: (Artistic Director) Bob Eagle has this tremendous following that he’s built up . . . They are an incredibly loyal audience . . . Even though it’s a professional Equity theater, it has such a flavor of community coming together. They do a lot of musical dance shows and all these great dancers from local colleges come in. It’s a great summer gig for them. They bring so much energy to the production.
BIR: When did you decide you wanted to pursue acting for a living?
JTT: When I was in high school, as a freshman, I auditioned for “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” We had a great director and teacher who became my mentor over the years – Mr. Bogart – and he gave me the role of Lycus in “Forum.” And that was it. The bug was on. I did all the shows at the high school that I could. I did a couple of shows outside and wound up going to Emerson and studying theater.
BIR: It can be a tough business. Any moments of doubt?
JTT: There was actually a short period of time that I sort of gave up on doing any theater. I wanted to focus on my work life (in banking). That didn’t last very long and I was back doing a lot of community theater. Eventually I decided to take the plunge and get my Equity card and I’ve really never looked back. Theater has pretty much always been a part of my life.
BIR: Were your parents supportive?
JTT: Talk about a contradictory story. When I took my first real job in the world of banking, my folks were like, “Well, what about your acting career?” They were always incredibly encouraging of me.
BIR: Tell me about your one-man shows.
JTT: As somebody who loves to act, I know there are times when I’m not going to be cast, when I’ve got an open schedule. And eons ago I stared doing a one-man show. The first one was Charles Dickens doing a one-man version of “A Christmas Carol.”
BIR: And you’ve since added Shakespeare, Frost, and Ben Franklin?
JTT: All of my characters tend to be historical literary characters . . . I do a lot of work in schools, especially with my Shakespeare piece. But also libraries . . . And historical societies will have me in. I’ve performed the Robert Frost piece at the Robert Frost Farm up in Derry, NH. Just recently I started to do them remotely . . . Schools and organizations all over the country can log on and I broadcast the piece (live) . . . I can see the audience and they can see me. There’s an immediacy . . . I’m really proud of all of those pieces. I‘m very possessive of those characters.
BIR: What can you tell me about your own family history.
JTT: As we say, “my people” come from Ballygar in Co. Galway. I guess three quarters of my relatives are Irish and then there’s a little bit of English thrown in . . . (Laughing) I’m at battle with myself. I’m always fighting internally . . . My Dad’s people emigrated to southern Pennsylvania. They were a bunch of Molly Maguires and mined for coal . . .My parents tell me that . . . I had a lot of pub singers in Ireland who were my relatives. But that’s not saying much because, as we all know, everyone in Ireland’s a pub singer!
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Anything Goes,” Reagle Music Theatre, July 5 - 15, 617 Lexington St, Waltham, MA. Info: 781-891-5600, or reaglemusictheatre.org.