Baltimorean appears in `Rugrats'

Theater

Milestone: Actor Eric Anthony Bates of West Baltimore steps on stage at the Lyric in his first national tour.

January 04, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The last time Eric Anthony Bates stood on the stage of the Lyric Opera House, he was graduating from the Carver Center for Arts and Technology. When he steps on that stage again Wednesday, it will be as a cast member of "Rugrats: A Live Adventure," the new stage version of the popular Nickelodeon TV series about the adventures of a group of diaper-clad toddlers.

Speaking from "Rugrats' " stop in St. Louis, the 20-year-old Baltimore native marveled at this fortuitous turn of events. "Rugrats" is not only his first national tour, it's his professional debut -- the result of his first professional audition.

A 1997 graduate of Carver, Bates visited the school in September, dropping in on a dance class. At the end of the class, he recalled, "All my teachers were like, `If you get anything, let us know,' and one week later I had a job."

Although most of the actors in the "Rugrats" stage show are hidden under costumes -- either as giant babies or various inanimate objects that come to life -- Bates has the good fortune of being one of three performers who appear unmasked.

His character, Larry, is part of a trio of so-called "Movers," characters created specifically for the stage who serve as narrators and also move scenery. "We start the show off with a rap, naming all the baby characters, and it's a call-and-response with the audience," he explained.

When the show began its tour in late October, the Movers were wearing masks, but three weeks later, a quirk of fate led to their unmasking. Bates suffered a back spasm, which kept him out of the show for three days. Because his understudy didn't have a mask, all three Movers went on without masks, and the response from the audience was so positive, the masks were permanently shelved.

"Things happen for a reason," Bates said. "The energy that you put out is so much more appreciated when people can see the expression that you have on your face, and when you get to take in the audience's appreciation for the show, it just makes you feel so good about what you're doing."

The son of Wyvonne Lawson and stepson of John Brooks, Bates grew up first in West Baltimore, then in Randallstown. "His grandfather used to have a candy store, and [Eric] was actually 18 months old, and he would get up on top of the counter and dance for the customers. He loved to dance," said his mother, who works for Social Security. Recognizing his talent, she enrolled him in Cynthia Jahi's Movement Unlimited Dance Company at age 6.

Two years later, he began what became a decade with the Arena Players Youtheatre, a high point of which was his 1992 performance as the only young person in that year's WMAR-Arena Players contest winner, "A Gift From the Hunters." This past summer, he returned to teach in the Youtheatre program.

Bates also distinguished himself at Carver, where he studied theater, music and dance. For three years in a row, he represented the Baltimore NAACP in the national Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. And in 1997, he was one of three Carver seniors chosen from almost 8,000 applicants nationwide to participate in a week of workshops sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

He spent last year studying musical theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia before deciding, "It was time to go ahead and see if I could get my career started. I just wanted to learn from the real world."

His mother said she was initially concerned about his decision, but she added, "I supported him because I believed in him." In very short order, that belief proved justified.

As thrilled as he is at the prospect of performing in his hometown, Bates can barely believe that immediately after Baltimore, the show will play New York's Radio City Music Hall for a week. "It's one of my dreams," he said. "This is my first professional performance -- to get to perform there is just unbelievable my first time out."

Show times for "Rugrats: A Live Adventure" at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., are 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with matinees at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10-$25. Call 410-481-7328.

Play readings

The Potomac Theatre Project, the alternative theater in residence at the Olney Theatre Center, is holding informal readings of four plays Tuesday through Friday. Jointly titled "Plays on the Porch," the plays are all under consideration for future productions.

Here's the line-up: Tuesday, "In Defense of Marion," by Edward Martin; Wednesday, "To Begin Again," by Roger Meersman; Thursday, " 'Scapism," by Justin Shipman; and Friday, "Minna," by Howard Barker. Show time is 7: 30 p.m. Performances are free and will be held in the actors' residence, Crawford House, at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. For more information, call 301-924-3400.

Neuwirth is out

Bebe Neuwirth has left the cast of the new Kander and Ebb musical, "Over & Over," which begins performances Wednesday at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. Neuwirth was to have played the role of Sabina, the seductive maid, in this musical version of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth." She has been replaced by Sherie Scott, whose Broadway credits include "Rent," "The Who's Tommy" and "Grease."

In a statement on Neuwirth's departure, director Eric Schaeffer said, "It's that old cliche, `artistic differences,' but it really means something in this instance. As with any developmental process, all of us are learning as we go along. Working with Bebe helped us to define who Sabina is, and what role her character plays."

"Over & Over," which will run through Feb. 21, is sold out, but returned tickets may be purchased on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office on the day of performance. Call 703-218-6500.

Pub Date: 1/04/99

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