Marc Kenison, also known by his wild burlesque persona Waxie Moon, has quite the resume. The Juilliard alumn cofounded Washington Ensemble Theatre, headlined countless performances—in Seattle and across the world—and starred in both his own feature film and documentary. One thing Kenison hasn't checked off the bucket list is opera. Until this weekend, that is, when he appears as befuddled servant Ambrogio in Seattle Opera's The Barber of Seville.
The queer icon took a moment away from rehearsals (and being doted over by a team of costume and makeup professionals) to talk about why he can't stop talking about this lively new production.
What was Seattle Opera's pitch to you?
The director Lindy Hume said she envisioned the servant character Ambrogio as a cross between Lurch [The Adams Family] and Riff Raff [The Rocky Horror Picture Show]. And I said, “Well, I certainly seem like a good fit.”
Did you consider yourself an opera-head before acting in one?
I have to admit, I’ve been to very few operas. I never thought it was a form that excited or ignited me. Now I’m obsessively talking about it. I’m amazed by the technical skill and the singing capacity of these performers. This production is extremely physical. At the end of act one I’m pouring sweat. And I’m not even singing! So I’m just really impressed with what’s required of an opera performer, especially with this score. I feel like my cast mates are just superhuman.
Sounds like it's going to be a pretty kinetic performance.
It looks like a Baz Luhrmann film. It’s so dynamic. The set has 20 doors and windows, so there’s a lot of comedic opportunity there. And the costumes are visually stunning. It has a cartoon element to it. I think it’s really, really fun. Not stodgy at all. And it’s definitely not stand and deliver opera.
How would you describe your character, Ambrogio?
I’m playing a servant who in our imaginings is 200-years-old, who’s been around since the original production of Barber of Seville. My internal thought is he speaks old Italian and really doesn’t understand what anyone is saying. I think he’s just trying to keep up with all the insanity that’s happening around him. I feel a little like the grandfather in The Simpsons. Like, “Where’s my...how’d this get here? What? What?” It’s fun to play that, where you’re constantly baffled by what’s happening on stage.
When you perform burlesque you're the marquee. Was it kind of nice sinking into an ensemble as part of a large production?
It’s a great relief in a way. In burlesque and drag you have to be your own support system. I need to do repairs to my own costuming or rehearse on my own or do my own makeup. But here I can just go in and just focus on my role. I’m not fretting about other details. I’m really supported by some of the best creative team in Seattle. It’s pretty special to be at a costume fitting and have four people fussing over you.
Do you hope your involvement in the production might attract people who would otherwise skip the opera?
In the drag and burlesque worlds, our performance opportunities are increasing. We keep adding shows every year. Various theatrical, established theatrical institutions in Seattle are not having that experience. They’re looking for ways to attract an audience. So I keep thinking about burlesque and drag and how it’s like a guaranteed good time. And people, I think, need a good time right now. If this was your introduction to opera I think you would be like, "I can’t wait to see more!" Because it’s that fun and funny and exciting. I’ve only seen a few operas, so I’m that audience member myself. I have new energy and appreciation and excitement for this form
Are you just a tiny bit jealous of your cast mates' pipes?
Extremely jealous. I'm just astounded by their vocal capacity. My body vibrates when I’m on stage with these performers. My hair stands up on end, multiple times, just being near them on stage as they are making their magic.
The Barber of Seville
Oct 14–28, McCaw Hall, $59–$250