Patrick Dunn is definitely a guy on the go. One day you’ll find the actor performing off-Broadway, the next he’s at Lincoln Center working with the legendary Hal Prince on a production of “Candide.” He might be playing the lead in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” appearing at the New York Music Festival, conducting a master class for theater students, or touring the world impersonating Elvis Presley in “Legends In Concert.”
This month, he’s making his national tour debut in the ensemble of “Waitress” (music and lyrics by Sara Bareillis), playing the Boston Opera House from Feb. 20 to March 4. He also understudies three of the four male leads.
Set in small southern town diner and inspired by the Adrienne Shelly film, “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna (played by Desi Oakley), a waitress and expert pie maker trapped in a loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby town may give her the courage to rebuild her life.
Prior to Broadway, “Waitress” opened in 2015 at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Then, as now, it’s directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Finding Neverland”).
Originally from Port Jervis, NY, and tracing his roots to great-grandparents in County Wicklow, Patrick holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the prestigious Hartt School at the University of Hartford. He was also an ambassador for the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership program, a group dedicated to “training and nurturing the young leaders of tomorrow.”
The only performer in his family, he notes with an easy laugh that “my Dad was the good Irish cop and my Mom was an Irish nurse. And I was like, I think I want to sing, everybody!”
We spoke by phone when the show was in Milwaukee. Here’s a condensed look at our conversation:
Q. As a member of the show’s ensemble, what’s it like constantly making entrances, exits, and quick changes.
A. It’s as choreographed off-stage as it is on. It’s cool being an ensemble member in this show because we’re so busy. We weave in and out of the story, almost Ninja-like in certain places. At other times, I sit in a diner booth, read a newspaper, and eat some food. Other times we’re swirling pies around – it’s such a prop heavy show. I don’t even use my dressing room once during the show . . . We each have a little dressing station right behind the scrim, upstage, because we don’t have time.
Q. Boston has a special affinity for this show since it began here. What’s it been like working with director Diane Paulus for the tour?
A. She’s so great. She knows exactly what she wants 99.99 per cent of the time. And the other .1 per cent, she figures it out real quick. She’s really specific . . . She lets you play and then she hones everything in. It’s really cool to watch her process.
Q. You’ve had a chance to work with a lot of interesting people, right from the start, haven’t you?
A. My first Broadway show when I was 12. That was “A Christmas Carol, The Musical” at Madison Square Garden (directed by Tony Award winner Susan Stroman). I played Young Scrooge for a couple of years in a row. It was produced by Radio City Music Hall. It ran much like the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City. I had done a few little things, and on a fluke, with a group of friends, I went down to audition – to miss a social studies test. And I ended up booking it.
Q. You have a strong connection to Susan Stroman?
A. Yeah . . . She was with me for quite a long time in my younger years, even wrote me a letter of recommendation for college. Which wasn’t a bad reference to have.
Q. Any other special mentors?
A. I have to say my Mother, really. She was kind of the classic Irish stereotype – protective, but also knew that I needed to go and scrape my knee every now and then and learn my lessons. Even today, still a Mama’s boy . . . She was always, always there.
Q. Do I hear you met Martha Stewart many years ago when you were part of the Hugh O’Brien youth program?
A. It was when she was on trial, so she wasn’t very nice . . . I was one of (Hugh’s) ambassadors and spoke at the World Leadership Congress . . . I was on the entertainment panel – the kids could relate to me because I was their age. I was at the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Dinner in New York at the Marriott Marquis, and she was there. I just remember her being so cranky. And my dad, driving me home was like, ‘Yeah, she’s going to jail.”
Q. Can you tell me about “Legends” and Elvis?
A. “Legends,” oh man, “Legends” is so fun for me. I mean you know how the business is. It can be tough. You have your lulls. As much as I love musicals, I try and do Shakespeare, and I try and do some operas. And then on top of that, as a joke, I started impersonating Elvis – as a dare, from a friend. And it kind of just snowballed over the course of a very short period of time . . . I eventually became one of the top five Elvis impersonators in the world, as judged by Elvis Presley Enterprises . . . I’ve toured with them, sat down in Vegas and I’ve played Foxwoods a lot, which is fun because my Hartt professors will come and see the show. And they’re, “What the hell did we do?”
Q. Is there a moment in “Waitress” that you really love?
A. Totally. It’s one of my favorite parts. It’s during Dawn’s song, “When He Sees Me” . . . She’s a waitress and kind of this little neurotic nerd, trying to branch out and date . . . She had this moment that in rehearsals we called, The Prince Charming Moment, which hit home for me. When I was younger I played Prince Charming for Disney Cruise Lines and that’s where I met my wife who was portraying Cinderella. So I was like, “Okay I can do the “charming thing” really well.” Dawn’s really neurotic at the beginning of this song. And toward the middle, the three ensemble men get up and strike burly poses, have a little dance, a few turns, and try to swirl her around into the Princess that she really is. It’s kind of cool.
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Waitress,” Feb. 20 - Mar. 4, Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Info: 800-982-2787 or boston.broadway.com.