Theater plays special role for Hinsdale dad

Amateur actor Art Andersen's first foray onto the stage was a bit, well, multi-faceted.

"I was a servant. I was a dogcatcher. I was a cabinet member," the Hinsdale resident related of his debut in "Annie" several years ago.

Although keeping each character's lines straight was taxing, the experience was so enjoyable that Andersen stuck with it. He's now preparing for his latest part in the Westmont Performing Arts production of "The Drowsy Chaperone," opening Sept. 22 at Westview Hills Middle School (see Page 23 for details).

"It's really funny, and it's quick ­- it moves fast," he said of the parody of 1920s American musical comedy. "People are going to have a good time at this show."

Andersen plays the harried Broadway producer Mr. Feldzeig, who will do anything to stop the wedding of his starlet, Janet, to keep her in his employ. He drew comparisons to the character Max Bialystock in "The Producers."

"(Feldzeig) is in with the wrong crowd. His leading lady's now getting married and he's got to try to figure all this out," he explained.

Andersen said figuring Feldzeig out has been a treat.

"It allows me to be me a little bit and have fun with the character a little bit," Andersen said. "I know this guy. I could be this guy!"

Getting to deliver comedic material can be very gratifying.

"There's a rush when you say a line and people react to it," Andersen said.

He credits his family with turning him into a thespian, back when his daughter, Avery, auditioned for "Annie" with Westmont Performing Arts' predecessor, Progressive Village Performance Network. To ease her trepidation, her two brothers tried out, too.

"They all got cast," he said. "My wife decided to help out backstage and told me, 'They're still looking for guys.' So I said I'd do it, and I've been hooked ever since."

There have plenty of memorable moments over the roughly dozen productions he's been in. Once while on stage for "The Laramie Project," Andersen found himself momentarily unable to remember his lines for what felt like an eternity. In "The Music Man," he played opposite his son in an emotional scene.

"That was difficult," he said. "I couldn't look him in the face because I kept smiling. I had to look at his chin."

Perhaps the most profound experience came during a dramatic exchange in "12 Angry Jurors."

"As I was delivering my lines, I realized how quiet it was," he said. "It was just a really cool feeling to know that the entire audience was entranced by everything that was going on in that scene."

Forging strong collaborative and personal ties with fellow cast members is the reward that keeps him coming back.

"There are people I would have never met that I have become really good friends with," Andersen said,

"The Drowsy Chaperone" is very light on the intense dialogue and hilariously heavy on tunes and choreography, he noted.

"I can sing. Dancing is not my strong point," he acknowledged with a smile. "I'm out there giving it my best."

He said people will be smiling, too, after experiencing this over-the-top farce.

"You're not going to need a tissue with this one."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean