If you work hard enough, they tell young actors, you might make it to Broadway someday, and it’s finally happened for yet another D.C. thespian: Frederick Strother just made his New York big-stage debut — at age 62.
Strother was cast in the hit revival of “Follies” when it opened at the Kennedy Center last spring. When the cast was told the show would be moving on to Broadway, Strother assumed nothing: “I still had to go ask the casting director if that included me, too.”
Yes, he was told: You, too.
The D.C. native (Roosevelt High School grad, Columbia Heights resident) may be the most recognized for his role as politician Odell Watkins on “The Wire,” but he’s spent more than three decades on Washington stages, scoring a couple of Helen Hayes nominations. Dream of Broadway much? He laughs. At the old Back Alley Theatre in Northwest, “they used to tell us, ‘Get into the role you’re doing now, because that’s most likely not going to happen.’ ”
He gave it a shot in the ’80s, going on auditions in New York — “I recommend that to a lot of other actors. You can see where your talent lies on a grand scale” — but ended up with roles in film instead.
But finally, he’s made it. (“Follies” features a handful of D.C. actors, including Michael Hayes, another Broadway first-timer, and David Sabin, a veteran of NYC stages.) His role is relatively brief, although, “as they say, there are no small roles, only small actors,” said the 6-foot-3 Strother. He has since walked his first red carpet, at the opening-night party, and performed in front of Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. He still seems just a little dazzled by it all: In scheduling a phone interview, Strother playfully texted us pictures of the “Follies” poster, with his name below that of Bernadette Peters , and of the marquee outside the theater.
“It’s kind of an overwhelming experience,” he said. “It’s like 1,700 seats in this theater, and it’s just amazing to see it packed every night. The whole cliche about that ‘big Broadway musical’ — it took me a while to realize that’s what I’m in.”
Does he wish it had happened sooner? Well, yeah. It would have been nice to debut on Broadway 15 years ago, when he was hot off a scene-stealing role in the Bruce Willis movie “Twelve Monkeys.” “Had it happened earlier, things might have jumped off even further,” he said. “But I think it’s good timing right about now.”