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
“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
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.”
He likens performing at the Pantages to doing the play in his
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
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
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
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