Photo: Matthew Murphy
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Updated: December 31, 2019 11:12 AM
'The Band's Visit' is magical.
KSTP had a chance to get to know Pomme Koch, who plays Itzik. Before the question and answer session began, Koch joked about hijacking the interview to discuss Prince, someone he thinks highly of.
"Our press team was very worried about me hijacking this interview to talk about Prince," he said. "I told them I wouldn't but I am very excited to be here. We are going to Paisley Park on Friday and I have been looking forward to this since we got our tour schedule earlier this year. Nothing is keeping me away from Chanhassen."
Q: Why are you such a big Prince fan?
Koch: "He's a God. He's a genius. I don't need to explain to a Minneapolis audience why Prince is the best. I walked out of our stage door at The Orpheum and there's a huge mural that says, 'Take a picture sweetie, I ain't got time to waste ... baby I'm a star!' Later today I'm gonna go to the address of Prince's childhood home and then I'm gonna go to Bob Dylan's favorite spot so I'm making the most of my time here."
Q: Have you always known acting was a career you wanted to pursue?
Koch: "I guess I told my mom when I was 5 years old that I wanted to be an actor and she kind of assumed ... that I would change my mind eventually but I never did. I didn't realize that you're not supposed to keep pursuing the thing you wanted to do when you were a little kid."
Q: What inspired your passion for acting?
Koch: "You know, I've been asked that before and for a long time I didn't really know. You're the first person I'm telling this to, other than my wife ... there's an old Disney cartoon, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at The Met, and I was obsessed with it when I was young. The whale wanted to become an opera singer. I loved the parts where the whale is on stage doing the Traviata and Barber of Seville and I must have been 4 years old and I got the concept of being in a costume and performing on stage. It was a simple cartoon made in the 1940s and that's where I became infatuated with the idea of performing."
Q: How do you prepare for your role as Itzik?
Koch: "I've been with this show since September 2017 for the Broadway production. I was originally an understudy for eight of the 10 male roles. At the beginning of this year for the Broadway run, I took over the role of Itzik full time. I took it over from Brandon Uranowitz, who's now a three-time Tony nominee, and it's odd because I don't think many people do this ever. I certainly have never taken over a role full-time that I previously understudied. It's a very backward process because usually you build a character, you form the character, you develop choices, and then you workshop it and you present it and own it in front of an audience. For me, I inherited a character in a lot of ways and over this last year, I've reverse-engineered it back to the original choices that Terriani and our director David Cromer made years ago. I've reversed it and put it back into my body. It almost helps because you don't get to overthink things. You inherit a template which is almost like cheating as an actor, but it's a huge blessing because you can discover it from within. Every character for every role is going to be different. Our director David Cromer who is a true creative genius, said, 'Adrenaline is not your friend for this show.' It's not like Hello Dolly, where you bust out singing at the top of your lungs. You've gotta really internalize the energy of this mysterious desert landscape and bring the audience into your world. I take whatever energy I'm feeling from that day and I get to carry it onstage in front of 2,500-plus people that The Orpheum seats, which is a once in a lifetime opportunity as an actor."
Q: Do you and Itzik share any similarities in your everyday life?
Koch: "In 'The Band's Visit,' it's broken into four different storylines that are overlapping. So mine is just one piece of the show. My character is in a marriage that's not going too well at the moment. There's no huge scandal but this marriage is eroding over time, largely over his failure to be there for his wife the way he should have. That's certainly not the case with my marriage, but every man is going to know that feeling of 'Do you want me to help clear the dishes' and the wife getting mad at you because she actually wanted you to get up and clear them without asking first. My wife, Bligh, is on tour with us as well. She understudies all the female roles. She and I actually just did a rehearsal with her playing my wife in the show, and man, she was shooting me looks onstage that I certainly know from home."
Q: What is it like being on tour with your wife?
Koch: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. People who have toured before will tell you that the hardest part of touring is being away from your family. My family is me, my wife, Bligh, and our dog, Karen, a rescue dog from Puerto Rico. We get to be together and it's incredible to able to be on tour, exploring different cities around the country."
Q: How have you perfected Itzik's accent?
Koch: "We have a lot of Israeli's in the original Broadway cast and lots on the road with us now. We also have a coach for that. You also have the movie (The Band's Visit, 2007), which is really a polished film so you've got cross-references there."
Q: Do you have a favorite scene?
Koch: "Let's just say I have a bit of an irreverent speech ... it's a bit of an allegory for procrastination involving hiding in a tree on your birthday. I've been doing this show for over two years now and that's the one where no matter how many times it comes out of my mouth, I never quite know how it's going to come which is exciting. You never know how the audience is going to respond to it so those moments are special."
Q: What is your favorite movie or musical?
Koch: "My favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia and I often describe 'The Band's Visit' as a mix between Lawrence of Arabia and a Wes Anderson movie. It's got that majesty of the desert with the quirkiness of The Royal Tenenbaums."
Q: What advice would you give to young, aspiring actors/actresses?
Koch: "It's so fantastic how many schools, elementary through high schools, have performing arts programs now. Almost every university has some type of acting program. It's wonderful compared to past generations the extent to which parents support their children's interest in the arts. With all that, there's an immense pressure to be part of the top acting program, top musical theater program. Sophomores and juniors are putting tons of money into getting coaches and while all that is wonderful, it's also important to focus on broadening your horizons. I went to the University of Michigan and studied theater but also a minor in political science. That kind of learning to use the other part of my brain is almost as useful in my pursuit of my career in performing arts as the theater performance degree. If you are a good singer, a good musician, a good actor, a good dancer, keep nurturing that, keep practicing but expand your horizons and make sure you strengthen your brain as much as you strengthen your body."
Q: What makes this show unique?
Koch: "Not to brag, but I'll brag ... we won 10 Tony awards which is the third-highest in Broadway history. We won it for many different reasons but we did something truly new for Broadway. This is not a show that compares to many other musicals, ever. Our creators, choreographer, producer, everybody found a new formula. It's not just the pacing, the tone and the story that's unique. For the most part, a lot of these instruments and music have never been used in a major Broadway production before. Wipe clean any expectations you have based on other musicals. Don't try to anticipate what comes next, just go in there and let something truly new wash over you."
Q: Why doesn't 'The Band's Visit' have an intermission?
Koch: "Well first of all it's shortish, it's 90 minutes. That's the direction movies and plays are moving in. That's a practical reason but 'The Band's Visit' casts a spell and that spell is based on the progression of the action and mood of your evening, your relationship with the characters over the course of that 90 minutes. It really is a bit of a magic trick where suddenly you find yourself in a place you didn't see coming. I don't mean just story-wise, I'm talking about your experience as an audience member. When you're casting a magic spell it's important not to take a bathroom break in the middle of it."
The musical runs through Sunday at The Orpheum. For more on Koch's background, click here.
Updated: December 31, 2019 11:12 AM
Published: December 12, 2019 12:00 AM
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