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Burbank resident lights up Broadway

JOYCE RUDOLPH

As he approaches the St. James Theater on West 44th Street in New

York, one can only imagine the excitement that overcomes actor Fred

Applegate, now starring as Max in “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ Tony

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award-winning musical.

“Seeing your name above the title on the marquee of a Broadway

show is a dream come true,” the Burbank resident said during a phone

interview.

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Applegate will continue in the role until Dec. 28. He replaced

Lewis J. Stadlen on Oct. 8 after Stadlen injured his hip. Prior to

arriving in New York, Applegate was playing Franz at The Pantages in

Hollywood as well as being the understudy for the role of Max. What

makes the experience even more exciting, he said, is the chance to

play to larger audiences in New York.

“It’s fantastic!” he said. “There are only 1,700 seats at The

Pantages, but the St. James seats 2,700.”

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He likens performing at the Pantages to doing the play in his

living room.

But at the St. James?

“It’s Broadway. There’s nothing like it,” he said.

How Applegate got the plum role is something of a Cinderella

story, he said.

Prior to First National Tour bringing the show to Hollywood, the

production played a weeklong engagement in San Francisco. Jason

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Alexander wasn’t scheduled to join the tour until it came to Los

Angeles. Then, Stadlen was asked to take over the role of Max on

Broadway, and Applegate assumed the role in San Francisco.

Director Susan Stroman saw Applegate in the role and was so

pleased, she called Brooks to fly out and see him.

“So he did, and he was very pleased,” Applegate said, and when

Stadlen had to bow out in New York, Brooks remembered Applegate and

called him to take over the role.

“He’s wonderful!” Applegate said about Brooks. “He’s exactly what

you’d expect, funny but serious, bright and quick. He knows exactly

what he wants.”

Applegate admitted the only downside to taking a role so far from

home is being away from his wife, Cherie Sprosty, and their three

children, especially over the holidays.

“She understands this is where my career’s going, and the kids are

thrilled about being able to come to New York to see the show,” he

said.

Sprosty is the liturgist at St. Robert Bellarmine Church in

Burbank. A liturgist is an advisor to the priest on the rites and

ceremonies of the church. The couple came to Los Angeles on a

vacation 20 years ago and decided to stay. They’ve lived in Burbank

for 16 years.

Applegate had been doing stage work prior to their moving to L.A.,

and his first job here was in “American Clock” at the Mark Taper

Forum. After that, he began doing TV and one of his most memorable

roles was Mr. Tedesco in TV’s “Growing Pains.” Applegate decided to

return to live theater 10 years ago.

For his living arrangements in New York, the theater has secured

an apartment for him on 55th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues.

Although he’s so close to the major shopping district and five blocks

from Central Park, he’s been spending most of his off hours sleeping.

He performs eight shows a week, Tuesdays through Sundays, with

matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Mondays, he goes to see his

friends in other plays nearby.

After his shows at night, those friends are also leaving their

theaters and they meet up on the street.

“It’s great!” he said. “You feel like you are part of a community.

There is a lot of great theater in L.A., but the theaters are not

right next to each other.”

One of Applegate’s favorite restaurants is Angus McIndoe, which is

next to the St. James Theater. Nathan Lane, who was the original Max

in “The Producers” on Broadway, started the restaurant.

Applegate’s only other role on Broadway was back in 1998 when he

did the revival of “The Sound of Music.” Coincidentally, the name of

his role in that play was Max.

His parents, Fred Sr. and Betty Applegate, are coming from

Wisconsin to see him in the play for his father’s 84th birthday.

“Having a starring role in a Broadway show is something I have

wanted since I was a teenager and they are going to get to see it,

and that delights me,” Applegate said.

* JOYCE RUDOLPH’s column appears Wednesdays. For events happening

this weekend, read her 48 Hours column Saturdays. Reach her at

637-3241.


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