Tom Schmid, the lawyer-turned-actor with strong Brainerd roots, just got the break he's been looking for since dropping his legal career a year ago to pursue a Broadway career.
He's been selected by audition to join the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical "Annie Get Your Gun," which has set box office records since its opening at the Marquis Theater on 45th and Broadway in New York.
Interviewed by phone from his Upper West Side apartment earlier this week, Schmid said he landed a minor full-time roll in the Irving Berlin production, but also will serve as principal understudy for the musical's male lead.
"This will be the big break I've been waiting for," he said. "It's a door opener, a great credit, to do a lead role on Broadway in a major show opposite Bernadette Peters. It doesn't get much better than that."
"Annie" is the story of the famous Oakley who astounded her audiences earlier in this century with her trick shooting and brassy character. A regular on the Buffalo Bill Cody circuit show, she hooked up with Frank Butler, another Western icon of the time who married the sharp shooter despite her rough edges and eagle eyes with a gun.
Peters has reprised the roll with her bouncy demeanor and high-pitched voice to critical acclaim, earning the Tony Award for best actress in a musical this year, along with a covey of others just as sparkling. The show received the 1999 Tony for best revival of a musical.
After a year of head-spinning success in his new career, Schmid has suddenly become a hot property, if his friends in the business can be believed.
Wisened by their own experiences as actors and singers, they've been expressing their shock since he landed the role, saying "it was all very fast," Schmid chuckled.
And it was: "Annie" producers called him back with a job offer 30 minutes after his singing and reading audition in a rented Manhattan studio last week, he said.
The call came a little more than 10 months after he dumped his legal career with the New York office of West Publishing Co., choosing instead to pursue his real calling come hell or high water. He is a 1981 graduate of Brainerd High School.
"Humility would say it's a good thing, but boasting would say I gave them ("Annie" producers) exactly what they were looking for," he said. "This is exactly what I anticipated and it happened fast, but I am ready."
He was told to report immediately and Schmid began rehearsing the role of Mac, as well as Frank Butler's lead, earlier this week, on his birthday in fact. Butler is played by Tom Wopat, best remembered by Minnesota television viewers as Luke Duke in "Duke's of Hazard."
Mac is a minor figure in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show troupe, joining in two ensemble musical numbers during the "Annie" production. On the other hand, Mac "gets kissed by Bernadette Peters every night, so it's a tough role," Schmid said.
As principal understudy in the Butler role, Schmid will step in for Wopat any time the star temporarily leaves the show, for vacation or other productions, for example, the actor-singer said.
Wopat, however, has missed a show only three days in the past nine months, although his next departure is scheduled Tuesday. Schmid will be working furiously, he said, to get up to speed on the part, but a "standby" has already been hired to fill in (for 16 shows) while Wopat is gone.
"There may be a chance in the last week that they will let me do it," he said. "After that, I'm their guy."
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