Tackling the Role of Phil Davis with Kyle McMillan

As another musical proclaims, let’s hear it for the boys! Last week we met the dazzling and talented leading ladies of White Christmas, and now it’s time to meet the two actors playing Bob Wallace and Phil Davis.

Kyle McMillan is probably a name you recognize if you’re a regular at our productions. An incredibly talented tap dancer and singer, Kyle takes on the role of Phil Davis in Michael Matthew Ferrell’s take on the holiday classic. Last seen most recently in the summer’s production of Les Miserables, Michael’s first Playhouse production of Anything Goes, and as the title role in Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Never Grew Up, Kyle is back in full force and shared a few of his adventures from along the way.

Kyle starred as Peter Pan in last season's holiday show of 'Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Never Grew Up.'

Kyle starred as Peter Pan in last season’s holiday show of ‘Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Never Grew Up.’

Duluth Playhouse: Hey Kyle! Welcome back to the Playhouse stage! What inspired you to portray your Phil Davis the way you do? Where do you find the influence/inspiration for characters you play?
Kyle McMillan: With a classic piece like this, I’ll give the original work a peek, just as a jumping off point. But from there, I like to make it my own. I’m detail oriented, so I do a lot of homework. In Phil’s case, I educated myself on WWII, The Ed Sullivan Show, 1950’s railway travel, etc. At the same time, I like putting my character together as a collaborative effort with my co-stars, which we had the opportunity to do in White Christmas. Michael arranged table work sessions, where we would bounce ideas off of one another, to fine tune the details of our characters’ backstories, relationships, and life goals. This approach really ties the cast together not just in focusing on their role, but in how they fit in to the big picture of the story.

McMillan, KyleBut, with all that serious stuff aside 😉 Phil has been a delight to play, as his demeanor rings so true to my own. Michael has a keen eye for casting actors as characters that they will resonate with. I suppose some of the most brilliant performances you will ever see will be actors making jarring transformations. I’ve done some dramatic, thrilling, and artsy roles, and have loved every minute. But it seems, I’m always most at home when I’m channeling my inner Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.

DPH: What is your favorite song in this show?
KM: Each song is rewarding to perform for its own reasons; it wouldn’t be fair to say one is better than the other. I also love many of the songs I don’t get to sing. Phil gets to watch five different numbers sung by other characters from on stage. The best seat in the house for all 17 performances is nothing to sneeze at!

If I HAD to pick one, the most fun is “I Love a Piano!” Meghan is a treat to sing a duet with. Perfect harmonies AND she’s adorable. Pair that with the second half of the song, stomping out a show stopper of a tap number with Mr. Michael’s choreography alongside the most talented singers, dancers and musicians in the area. I’m surprised the Playhouse still has a roof!

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DPH: What’s it like to be working with a director like Michael Matthew Ferrell?
KM: Working with Michael is an experience that is hard to top! All at the same time, he is the toughest, yet most encouraging director I have ever worked with. He’s not afraid to be blatantly honest about calling an actor out on a shortcoming, but always does it in a loving, constructive, hilarious way that makes you grateful for the opportunity to better yourself. I recall him winding up to throw a tap shoe at Shad and I after we screwed up a simple dance step for the fourth or fifth time in a row, threatening to “break our damn legs off.” He refuses to settle for mediocrity.

From our meet and greet to opening night, Michael has treated our production as professionally as if we were opening night on Broadway itself. We always finish rehearsal on time, we never miss our union breaks, he keeps folks on task with cell phones off and chewing gum out of mouths and chatter in the wings is quickly scolded. Michael is a master at overseeing the tech of a show. There’s never a moment where the cast is nervous about things staying on schedule.

With all that said, the best part about Michael is how genuine he is. A handful of us made a trip down to Bloomington this summer to see him direct Alive and Kickin, his rockin senior ensemble. Michael brings positive energy into so many lives. After that, and working with him on Anything Goes this spring, there was no way I was going to pass up auditioning for White Christmas. And I’ll go on the record here saying, I will be FIRST in line for any future Duluth productions directed by Michael Matthew Ferrell!

One of the sailor boys in 'Anything Goes' from our 2013-14 season.

One of the sailor boys in ‘Anything Goes’ from our 2013-14 season.

DPH: What made you start theatre?
KM: I guess I’d have to credit my elementary educators getting me involved in the performing arts at a young age. Mr. Kaldor recruited me for a select group of singers in 1993, one of the founding years of the now successful Lake Superior Youth Chorus. I was kinda cool with it, getting to hang out with the prettiest girls in our class 😉 I got hooked though, when we learned the tune “All For the Best” from Godspell. I thought, “Why can’t all music be this fun?” I still have all the lyrics memorized.

A few years later, I was dragged to all my sister’s rehearsals for The Sound of Music, where she was playing Marta. Coincidentally, Shad played Captain Von Trapp. It was mesmerizing. As I mentioned earlier, I shied away from The Music Man the next year in 8th grade. Freshman year, I pulled up my bootstraps, and auditioned for Hello Dolly! I was the only person in my grade to make the cut. I played a newspaper delivery boy/waiter, and haven’t looked back!

DPH: And we’re so very happy you didn’t, Kyle! We’ve loved having you on our stage and hope to see you on it again after White Christmas. Since it took a little nudging to get you into the performing arts, what advice would you have for aspiring actors?
KM: Don’t be discouraged by rejection. You aren’t going to get a lot of the parts you’re shooting for. It’s not necessarily because you aren’t talented enough. There’s so much more to casting; type, chemistry, or you simply might not have been what the director had in mind. Don’t stick your nose up at ensemble roles! They can be oh so very rewarding!

Some of my biggest regrets are turning down opportunities when I didn’t get offered the role I wanted. Fun story, in 8th grade, I declined the offer to play Winthrop opposite Shad Olsen’s Harold Hill in Hermantown High School’s production of The Music Man in 1999. I am effectively redeeming that poor decision 15 years later here in White Christmas, co-starring with the immensely talented Shad, but you might not be as lucky!

Kyle (center, holding Jeffrey Madison's arm on the right) in this past summer's special performance of 'Les Miserables.'

Kyle (center, holding Jeffrey Madison’s arm on the right) in this past summer’s special performance of ‘Les Miserables.’

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White Christmas is sold out for each and every show…BUT you do still have options if you’re wanting to see it!

1.) Call the Playhouse (218.733.7555) for show availability. Especially if you’re a Season Ticket Holder who does not already have tickets reserved.
2.) Show up before any performance and get on the Rush List. Rush lists begin one-hour before each performance (6:30pm for evening performances, 1:00pm for matinees). You must be present to put your name on the list. Season ticket holders on the Rush List will have first priority if tickets open up. Any last minute no-shows or cancellations leave empty seats we can fill! You must also be present to claim tickets at the start of each nigh’s show. (Insiders’ Tip: Rush lists gets busier the later the show goes, so the first weekend is always the best bet!)
3.) Get on the wait list for the performance(s) of your choice. We have one for each night and will refer to this list if there are any early cancellations. Season ticket holders will be called first, and if tickets are not claimed, we will continue down the list until they are.

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