Fred Applegate has one of those faces – the kind that looks familiar, friendly, and not all what would appear on a Wanted Poster for Public Enemy #13.
Applegate spent years as a guest star or reoccurring character in a multitude of television shows ranging from Newhart to Touched by An Angel as well as being a regular on the stage. These days, he’s cruising the country as part of the First National Tour of the Roundabout Theater's Tony Award winning production of Anything Goes, starring Rachel York as Reno Sweeney.
As Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13, Applegate has taken refuge on a liner bound for London. The ship is filled with lovelorn couples, dancing dames, and variety of comic characters, and the show is stuffed with Cole Porter songs that can only be called classic: You’re The Top, Easy To Love, All Through The Night, and the title tune.
In his own whimsical solo number, Be Like A Bluebird, Applegate counsels a miserable young man who has landed in the brig that when "your instinct tells you that disaster is approaching you faster and faster, then be like the bluebird and sing."
He's also having a whole lot of fun with this show, as evident when he answered a few questions about being a singing gangster in a Cole Porter musical.
What’s the appeal of playing a character with the moniker of “Moonface Martin” and the rank of Public Enemy #13?
Moonie never set out to be a gangster. He's just a gregarious people pleaser who happened to fall in with Public Enemy #1, Snake Eyes Johnson. It's the little things he did for Snake Eyes that landed him on the Most Wanted List.
Do you try to tip the fedora to any of the great actors who played gangsters: Cagney, Bogey, or Robinson?
Moonie is only acting like a gangster to try to fit in with his gangster friends. Red Skelton once did an extended sketch with George Raft. Skelton was an accidental gangster because he got caught up in one of Raft's rackets. That's more who Moonie is. It's as if Lou Costello was mistaken for a gangster, and went with it because he thought it would make him more attractive. I think my Moonface owes more to Zero Mostel than any real movie gangster.
You’ve been in a lot of modern hits, like Cage Aux Folles and The Producers. What do you think these shows owe to a classic comedy like Anything Goes?
The book for the show we are doing was written in 1987 by Tim Crouse and John Weidman, and bears only a very slight resemblance to the original 1934 story. I know Mel Brooks wrote The Producers in the style of a classic book musical, like Anything Goes, and I think he succeeded grandly. The thing that all three have in common is the songs: catchy tunes that you leave the theater humming, and wanting to hear again. And the songs only come when a song is the best way to tell the story at that point. That helps make it a great evening.
What’s the best part of being on a stage filled with Cole Porter tunes?
Well, you never get tired of what's coming over the dressing room monitor, that's for sure. And I get to watch all these talented people sing and dance their tap shoes off, and that never gets tired. They do, but watching them doesn't! The lyrics are so clever, and melodies so beautiful... it's still a joy to listen after over 350 performances later, and the show lifts my spirits every night.
Where does Porter fit in your list of favorite songs or songwriters?
Right up at the top! First of all, he wrote songs. Beautiful songs about what people feel and think and do, with really, really clever lyrics that reward careful listening. But they are songs that can be transported out of the show, and stand alone, and still make sense and be fun. It’s almost incredible that all these songs that everyone knows were really written for this show. Some people think it's a jukebox musical, where someone picked a bunch a great Porter songs and wrote a story around them, a la Mama Mia!, or Jersey Boys, but it's not. Although, I will admit, some of those songs are pretty hard to memorize! Lots of clever lyrics means lots of lyrics, but it's worth it.
So what would it take for Moonface to move up to Public Enemy #12?
I'm sure he wouldn't have a clue: he doesn't know how he got to #13.