A Treasure Valley actor gets to come home

Meridian grad D. Scott Withers will make Morrison Center debut in ‘Memphis.’

October 4, 2013 

  • MEMPHIS

    7:30 p.m. Oct. 9-10 and 8 p.m. Oct. 11, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $37.50-$57.50. Boise State Tickets.

Actor D. Scott Withers remembers being at the gala performance of “My Fair Lady,” which opened the Morrison Center in 1984. At 17, with a bad perm and a nice tux, he accompanied his mom, Lynn, to the event.

“It was so cool to be there,” he said from his hotel room in New York City, where the “Memphis” cast rehearsed earlier this week. “I remember thinking what a great theater it is.”

Withers will perform at the center for the first time next week with the second national tour of the hit Broadway musical “Memphis.” The production company will do its final tech and dress rehearsals in Boise and then launch its tour with three performances.

“It hasn’t hit me that I’m coming home for this yet,” Withers said. “I have friends I’ve kept in touch with, and they’re coming to the show. That’s wild.”

Not long after that 1984 opening night, Withers headed for Arizona State University to major in acting. He ended up staying in Phoenix and built a career there at the internationally known Childsplay Theatre, a professional company founded in 1977 to create original plays for young audiences.

Now in his mid-40s, Withers is breaking into touring nationally for the first time.

“In my 20s, I knew I was a character actor, but I wasn’t going to get these roles then,” he said. “Working with Childsplay allowed me a lot of great opportunities. Now, for this, I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”

Withers discovered theater in the eighth grade at Lake Hazel Middle School. By the time he graduated from Meridian High School in 1985, his ambition was turning from medical school to acting.

“I was a very shy kid,” Withers said. “But I took that first class — it just bit me.”

Still, this farmer’s son planned to follow his former path and study pre-med in college, but then his dad, Donald, gave him a talking to.

“He came to me and asked me if I really wanted to be an actor,” Withers said. “When I said yes, he told me, ‘If that will make you happy, then that’s what you should do.’ ”

That moment changed everything for Withers. He decided, in his father’s honor, to include his dad’s name in his professional name. That’s why Withers goes by D. Scott Withers on stage.

At 6 feet, 3 inches tall, Withers gets cast often in tough-guy roles, characters who wield a certain amount of power. He also ends up in drag a lot, he said.

He played Edna Turnblad — the role of Tracy’s mother in “Hairspray” originated on Broadway by Harvey Fierstein — in the Phoenix Theater production of the musical in 2011. He won Best Actor in the Phoenix New Times Best of Awards and has since reprised that role at other regional theaters.

‘MEMPHIS’ IN BOISE

“Memphis” is Withers’ second tour in the past two years. He played Roger Strong in “Catch Me if You Can” — the father of Brenda, the love interest of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.

In “Memphis,” he plays Mr. Simmons, a radio station owner who hires Huey, a wild DJ who turns Simmons’ white-bread station into a hotbed of R & B and rock ’n’ roll during the 1950s. The show centers on Huey and Felicia, a black singer he wants to promote and then falls in love with.

“They have to figure out how they’re going to make it work,” Withers said. “It’s a great show with a beautiful message.”

“Memphis” is based on the life of disc jockey Dewey “Daddy-O” Phillips, who pioneered bringing black artists to the airwaves in Memphis, Tenn. His life was filled with triumph and tragedy, and makes good fodder for the stage.

The show’s score by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan sizzles with the beats of rhythm and blues, rockabilly and Southern-fried rock ’n’ roll. It won five Tony Awards, including best musical, in 2010.

Trucks rolled into the Morrison Center lots on Sept. 30 to begin work for the final technical rehearsals of “Memphis.” The production travels with a cast of 22 and a crew of 17.

In Boise, the traveling show hired more local stage technicians, wardrobe folks and Boise State theater students.

This is the fifth show to launch from the Morrison Center. “Light in the Piazza” launched in 2006; “Sweet Charity,” starring Molly Ringwald, in 2007; and “Cirque Dreams” in 2012.

Earlier that year, the first national tour of “War Horse” spent three weeks in Boise, converting the show from a thrust stage to proscenium stage, under the guidance of much of the original creative team.

Like “Memphis,” that was produced by NETworks Presentations, a theatrical production company based in Maryland.

“War Horse” was a coup for Morrison Center executive director James Patrick. It went extremely well, so now the theater is on the national radar for this type of use.

The Morrison Center is a kind of template for theaters and performance halls across the country. If a show can fit here, it more than likely will fit in other road houses.

Broadway shows are specifically created to fit a specific theater. When it comes time to travel, productions are retooled to be more generic.

Sets get redesigned for easier breakdown and transport, choreography is restaged or tweaked, and a new cast goes through rehearsals with associate directors and choreographers.

That’s been the journey for “Memphis.” Withers and the cast started rehearsals in New York in September. As the second national tour, it will play dates in smaller markets across the country.

© 2013 Idaho Statesman

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