Joan Hess loves to act, and if she can also play a character who's quite inspirational, that's just about perfect.
"I get to fan the flames of hope and remind people never to give up," said Hess, a Broadway veteran who joins Kevin McGuire in the cast of a new musical, "Some People Hear Thunder," opening Friday at Capital Repertory Theatre and running through May 21. "My character goes on a great journey, I have my heart opened, and if I can help us focus on fighting the horror in the world and everything else going on, that what I love to do."
"Some People Hear Thunder," written by Gerson Smoger and Jeffrey Sorkin, and directed by McGuire, is making its world premiere at Capital Rep. The story is set in 1914 and 1915 in New York City and southern Turkey, and tells the shocking story of the Armenian genocide during World War I, along with taking a close look at the U.S. political turmoil in America just before the country enters the conflict.
"It's beautifully written, and centers around an American journalist, who is an actual historic figure, who is sent overseas to cover the events happening at the time when World War I broke out," said Hess. "There's some tap dancing in New York and some beautiful songs to sing, and then there's the Armenian problem. I am Parisian born, and a wife to one of the Armenians, and at first it is hard for me to stay away from my homeland. But my character develops great compassion for them and their plight."
McGuire plays Hess's husband, Zoravar Der Kaloustian, a former officer in the Ottoman army who becomes military leader of the Armenian resistance and later a hero of the French Foreign Legion. Alex Prakken plays reporter Jason Karras, a character inspired by New York journalist Herbert Bayard Swope, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and the man who later coined the phrase, "Cold War." Albany native Rachel Rhodes-Devey, who recently appeared in the national tour of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas, plays Carole Chapin, Karras' love interest.
Hess grew up in Colorado the eighth of nine siblings, attended college at the University of Northern Colorado and then headed to New York City. In 1993 she landed a gig with the national tour of "Crazy for You" and hasn't stopped working since.
"There was always a lot of singing, dancing and play-acting going on in my house," she said. "I always performed, I always knew that's what I wanted to do, and I've been very fortunate to make a living at it for a long time."
Hess has done some television, including HBO's "Flight of the Concords," and while she would like to do more she doesn't ever see herself leaving the theater.
"There is some brilliant television being done right now," she said. "It's like the new Golden Age of TV, and obviously, there is also some brilliant filmmaking. There are some very inspiring people working in both of those mediums, but I will still love the theater very much. You get that immediate connection with the audience, and it's fresh and new every night. Going on that journey each and every night with a new audience is really very special."
Hess's impressive Broadway resume includes some time sharing the stage with Albany native and University at Albany grad Carolee Carmello in "Mamma Mia." Hess played Tanya, a friend of the lead character, Donna, played by Carmello.
"I didn't really think it was the kind of show I would do, but I ended up having a great time," said Hess. "It was so much fun, and Carolee was just terrific. It was a joyous company, and we had as much fun off stage as on."
Hess also played Sophie in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway.
"I think it's an underrrated, underdone, brilliant show with a great score," she said. "It's a really terrific story."
After playing Patsy Cline in the national tour of "Crazy for You," Hess also got that opportunity on Broadway. She also had featured roles in "Bells are Ringing" and "Kiss Me Kate." She's also performed in some of the top regional theaters across the country, and didn't have to think twice about coming to Albany to perform at Capital Rep.
"This place has a wonderful reputation," she said of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill's theater. "I didn't know Kevin, we've been like ships passing in the night, but my boyfriend's agent is Kevin's agent and I trust him. He said Kevin was terrific in "Donneybrook" at the Irish Rep, and I trust his opinion."
The play itself, however, was what really brought Hess to Albany.
"I am mostly drawn to great new material, and coming here to do it just felt like the right thing to do," she said. "I felt the universe was making the path clear for me to come here, and I'm so glad that I did."
Friday's performance and subsequent shows through next Thursday will all be previews. The show officially opens May 5.
'Some People Hear Thunder'
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111, North Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Friday and run through next Thursday; play opens May 5 and runs through May 21; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $55-$25
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org