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'My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish -- and I'm a Tony Winner!'
The two and only? That's Steve Solomon and now Paul Kreppel -- the only two to take on the title role of Solomon's wise and witty "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy," the ethnic-run-amok one-man show of a thousand angsts at the Westside Theatre in New York, where Kreppel tries on Solomon's neurosis for sighs as Solomon takes the show on tour.
But you can't blame Kreppel for also thinking Tony when hearing "the two and only," since he just took one home for his role as director-co-conceiver of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only," a hands-on production about ventriloquism that speaks to Kreppel's creativity.
On that super Sunday night, it was better to be a winning Tony than a whacked one. And while Kreppel didn't crap out with onion rings, he did ring in the end of the season with theater's highest honor, his voice certainly edged with a happier timbre than Soprano's.
Now he's lending his toney voice to that of a man whose neuroses know no bounds, a geographically gerrymandered suffering state of tzuris, where the whole family votes on whether he makes it out alive.
Or at least not so guilty.
Funny thing about this show -- that's Kreppel, who has stepped into Solomon's shoes and found that, with a tug here, a kvetch there, he gets the type of bounce in his step that makes the role seem like his own trampoline of chuckles.
But ... while Solomon was the sole source of the character -- basing it on his bifurcated life of blintzes and braciola, a feast of focaccia and farfel -- Kreppel eyes the oys his own way. And as for the "I" in Italian ... fuggedaboudit?
No -- he may not be Italian, but he certainly is Jewish. And Kreppel creates the capisco aspect of his character with an understanding that comes from growing up in the mixed -- if not mixed-up -- neighborhood of Kingston, N.Y., where Jews and Italians were like the Sharks and the Jets, only without the knives -- except at the dinner table -- and without the animus.
Just more hand gestures.
And if Kreppel ever craved a little non-Jewish spice of life -- "My parents come from big families; I had 40 first cousins as a kid" -- he had only to visit the Sovinos a doorstep away to see them decorate the Christmas tree every year.
So, in a way, by taking over Solomon's stage essence, isn't he guilty of ... identity theft?
To catch a punchline predator? Only in the best way, attest audiences. "In a way," he laughs, "it is. And [doing this part] is a blessing for me."
For heaven's sake has been in his corner before. The late middle-aged actor is a familiar and fun face from roles on TV's "That '70's Show" and "It's a Living," and a broad range of Broadway and off-Broadway parts that have had him off and running for years.
It's a living? It's a mitzvah, he says! "My first love is theater."
They even love him in cyberspace; Kreppel was the voice of Apollo Blue in the movie of "The Jetsons."
"He was a Jewish alien," deadpans the deliciously comic actor of his character's trip beyond the wild blue yonder.
Alas, there was no hope for a romance with the non-Jewish Judy Jetson: "It would have been a mixed marriage," he quips of what would have been an intergalactic indiscretion.
No mixing up what he enjoys most. The actor-cum-director-cum-actor has come full circle now at the Westside. But it's directing that directed much of his attention the past few years and directed audiences his award-winning way.
Among his accolade-driven dramas: helming "Zero Hour," Jim Brochu's bravura and brave attempt at bringing Zero Mostel down from the heavens to the stage where he rightfully belonged for so many years.
It was a Tevye for the taking, and Kreppel got the crust and the creative edge just right in helping shape Brochu's bristling performance.
But then, Kreppel wasn't creating from scratch; he knew the family, having worked with Zero's son Josh when both were members of the Proposition improv troupe and were mere props on the bigger picture.
The proposition of putting together ventriloquist Johnson's "The Two and Only" along with co-creator Murphy Cross crossed his mind years ago. "We'd been working on this for a while," says Kreppel.
It worked out perfectly: "I came here [to New York] to create a show, and I find myself nine months later on stage winning the Tony."
The ultimate pregnant pause? It comes with an iridescent irony. "When Steve asked me to take over his show, he said, 'I want you to win a Tony.' "
And while that would have been impossible for "Italian/ Jewish/Therapy," an off-Broadway show ineligible for the Broadway honor, Kreppel connected with his two-hander of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only."
"My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish -- and I'm a Tony Winner!" If only his parents had supported him early on ... wait a minute, they did: "My parents always encouraged what I wanted to do," says Kreppel with a kvell of not having his ambitions quelled.
And it's paid off for the Emerson College grad, whose role in "Italian/Jewish/Therapy" shows he can split his talents without splitting his personality.
But now he's more than part of the Tony family -- and it's decidedly not a Soprano-style family; he's also part of the Solomon set. "Do I feel part of Steve's family? I do now," he laughs.
Indeed, Solomon's "sister came to see me after the show and said, 'Remember, you have to call Mom every night and visit her every Tuesday.' "
A more mirthful Mondays With Morrie begets Tuesdays with Mrs. Solomon?
"I'm not a neurotic," jokes Kreppel, "I just play one on stage."
One who is nudged, knocked, beseeched by a family that would give Prozac palpitations. In a way, isn't his character not that much different than the dummies -- speaking non-mentally, of course -- given a hand by Johnson in the other show?
Is not his new off-Broadway character -- in a broad sense -- a human puppet? Being manipulated?
"Aren't we all?" sighs the actor/director comically, even as he's making seismic shifts of his own along the Broadway/off-Broadway border that defines his artful adventures.