There's something special about hearing the natural sound of human voices in the theater. They become a symphony of verbosity akin to a chamber ensemble performing in a first rate concert hall. There are nuances and colors that are to be detected without the aid of amplification. Such is the case with the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of THE PHILANTHROPIST which is currently on stage at the American Airlines Theatre. Prominently featured in the cast is Steven Weber whose voice carries so well that it seems like a clarion instrument in the divertissement of playwright Christopher Hampton's witty wordplay. Weber's voice is so mellifluous that it is obvious he's been trained to use it well on the stage.
Although he attended the famous High School of Performing arts in New York City, Weber credits his actual stage training to the State University of New York at Purchase. "I had several years of intensive and serious theater training with lots of vocal work and that's where I really had the bulk of my studies." He's very proud of the education he received at SUNY Purchase. "They have amazing facilities and great performance spaces up there. The theaters range from small black boxes to major ‘cathedrals' with thousands of seats and we put on plays like HEARTBREAK HOUSE and SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, where we had to project our voices. In doing plays over the years, I've had to adjust per the requirements of each theater. The American Airlines Theater is deceptive. It's small and beautiful. It carries sound well in many ways but there are many pockets that your voice can disappear into."
Continuing with his discussion of the vocal skills he employs in this production, Weber talks about the challenge of playing a British character. "When trying to do an accent I found that much of my dialect got lost when I was trying to ‘project'. I made the decision to err on the side of being heard." For the record, no amplification at all is used in this production of THE PHILANTHROPIST. The "sound design" that is listed in the Playbill has to do with the music and sound effects that are used in the production. The actors' voices are not amplified in any way.
The actor is sitting in his dressing room before a Thursday evening performance. Casually attired in jeans and a blue t-shirt, Weber noshes on a spinach salad throughout the conversation. This is a man who knows how to "nosh": his father was a manager whose clients performed on the Borscht Belt and one just assumes that someone a Borscht Belt connection would certainly pass noshing skills down to his son. Weber's mother, who presently lives in Manhattan, was a cabaret singer and a Copa Girl. With a pedigree like that, is there any wonder that Weber would carve out a career for himself in the performing arts?
The actor is a familiar face to viewers of the small screen, having starred in the "Wings" sitcom, as well as such other television fare like the critically acclaimed "Once and Again" and "The DA". Yet, when meeting the actor in the flesh, one is taken by his affability, his intelligence and the sparkle in his azure eyes. These eyes gleam when lit by the fresnels on stage but reflect a thoughtful and sensitive man when Weber is engaged in conversation. The time in his company zips by and is filled with perceptive comments as well as modest assessments of his personal achievements.
Through his father's show business connections, the young Weber did a few television commercials. The boy had headshots taken and before he knew it he went out for a bunch of auditions and booked several commercials. "In those days they were 60 seconds long and I've been actually trying to hunt them down to no avail. I've made direct inquiries to the advertising agencies that did them and they either don't have them or are disinterested. I remember doing a Gleam toothpaste commercial with Frances Sternhagen and it was a full minute long. That's incomprehensible by today's standards!"
Although Weber is proud of the experiences that SUNY Purchase provided, he never graduated. "I got cast in a PBS production of Mark Twain's "Puddin'head Wilson". Ken Howard, Tom Aldrich and a bunch of other great actors were in the cast. I'm terrible in it. Terrible, terrible, terrible. It was my first taste of professional acting and the treasures that went along with it were inestimable. I mean I had steak and shrimp every night and loved it." His first big theater gig was with the Mirror Reparatory Company. "It was a production of PARADISE LOST and I got to work literally along side of and become very friendly with Geraldine Paige and a cast of very talented character actors. It was pretty much an idyllic situation for me."