Paul Kreppel has a long list of favorite performers, and listening to him rattle off just a few of them — Danny Kaye, Spike Jones and Victor Borge — tells you a lot about Kreppel himself.
“When you connect those two things, music and comedy, that’s what really touches my core,” said Kreppel, a Kingston native who is playing the Wizard of Oz in the national touring production of “Wicked,” the smash Broadway musical. The show opens Wednesday at Proctors and runs through Nov. 25. “I’m much more comfortable with comedy and music. When they’re done right together, it’s amazing.”
Kreppel, who was the lounge singer and piano player in the 1980s television sitcom “It’s a Living,” has been playing the Wizard since March. Joining him on stage for what is the second North American tour of the Stephen Schwartz/Winnie Holzman musical are Christine Dwyer as Elphaba, Jeanna de Waal as Glinda and Gina Ferrall as Madame Morrible.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Nov. 25
HOW MUCH: $165-$35
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
“Wicked,” based on the book by Albany native Gregory Maguire, won three Tonys on Broadway in 2004 and continues to be performed in New York, making it the 12th longest-running musical of all time. The story is the prequel to Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I think it resonates with so many people because it’s not about age or gender,” said Kreppel. “It’s about friendship and relationships, and how you can’t judge a book by its cover. It gives you a different perspective on the witches, and how they became who they were. The two ladies we have as leads are such a joy, and I love the whole company. It’s been a great experience for me.”
For Gazette theater writer Amy Durant's review of this show, click here.
Kreppel began performing when he was 3 and hasn’t stopped since. A graduate of Emerson College near Boston, he has enjoyed plenty of success on television, beginning with his regular gig on “It’s a Living,” a story about three waitresses working in a restaurant on top of the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.
“I went from Boston to New York and, after a while, my agent said, ‘I’m moving to Los Angeles, I want you out there in three months.’ So I said OK,” remembered Kreppel. “As soon as I got there, I just knew I was in the place I wanted to be. My character, Sonny Mann, the obnoxious but lovable piano player, was the last character they added to ‘It’s a Living,’ and I just walked into the audition and they fell in love with me right away. I did 120 episodes and I loved it. It was just thrilling to be working in L.A.”
Despite his love for music, Kreppel didn’t actually play the piano on “It’s a Living.”
“I was a pretty good faker,” said Kreppel, laughing. “I used to get piano players who would ask me, ‘You want to sit and play with us?’ and I would say, ‘nah.’ I did have a musical background so I was confident I could look like I was playing and bring that character to life. But I never learned how to play.”
Kreppel also had guest-starring appearances on “Laverne & Shirley,” “Love Boat,” “ER,” and “That 70’s Show,” as Jackie’s dad, Mr. Burkhart. During it all he was also doing plenty of theater. In 2006, Kreppel earned a special Tony Award as co-creator of “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only,” a story based on the life of former “Soap” star Jay Johnson.
“My girlfriend [Murphy Cross] and I have a lot going on right now and we’re working on a couple of different projects,” said Kreppel, who earned great reviews for his one-man off-Broadway show “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy.”
“We’re writing a musical about being a child of the president and living in the White House. It’s a contemporary fictional story that’s wrapped around a lot of history. We think it’s pretty cool.”
As much fun as he’s having producing and writing, there’s still nothing like being out on stage in a smash musical hit like “Wicked.”
“It’s a great role and I get to do enough singing,” said Kreppel. “It was Joel Grey who originated the role. Like in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you’re going to see the Wizard, so you don’t see him for a long time, and then I show up and I’m not what you expect. The show is about the two women. It’s their story. But I have two lovely musical numbers I get to do.”
Kreppel says he has always felt comfortable being on stage.
“I think I started singing and clowning when I was 21⁄2 and or 3,” said Kreppel. “I did it all through high school and got involved in theater and then went to college for it. I felt like this career chose me. I’ve always felt natural on stage. When I was real young I thought about being a clown, then a stand-up comic, and then I found musical theater. I feel like I was always on this path.”
Now 65, Kreppel doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon, and he’s hopeful of keeping himself busy either on the stage or television.
“I guess I enjoy the audience, so doing theater is like doing soul work,” he said. “But really, television and the theater are like oranges and apples, and I like to mix it up. I like to eat but I don’t overindulge in any one thing. I enjoy them both for different reasons, and they’re both very satisfying for different reasons.”
Kreppel, who is divorced and has two children, has homes in both New York and Los Angeles.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Proctors,” said Kreppel, who has performed in the Berkshires but not in the Capital Region. “It’s going to be great because I have some family members who will be there. Then, it will be a few more months of this, and then back to New York for the next project. That’s the way I’ve lived my life for 40 years.”