2017-07-13 / Front Page


Wallem, co-star of ‘Nurse Jackie,’ to perform Friday at JAC

Stephen Wallem will perform ‘A Burly Night Music’ cabaret show at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Jamestown Arts Center. Stephen Wallem will perform ‘A Burly Night Music’ cabaret show at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Jamestown Arts Center. A chain of events that began at Liza Minnelli’s birthday party has opened the doors for a Broadway-level one-man cabaret show at the Jamestown Arts Center.

Stephen Wallem, who was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild in 2013 for outstanding comedy performance, will perform “A Burly Night Music” at 7:30 tomorrow night.

The actor-singer is best known for his role as Thor Lundgren, an emergency room nurse on the television series “Nurse Jackie.” The Emmy-winning sitcom aired on Showtime from 2009-15. However, Highland Drive resident Mary Schachtel Wright, who was instrumental in bringing Wallem to the island, did not recognize him or the show when they met at Minelli’s party.

“I had no idea what ‘Nurse Jackie’ was,” she said. “I didn’t watch much television.”

Wright, the co-founder of the Jamestown Community Theatre, struck up a conversation and developed a rapport with her fellow thespian. Earlier this year, she was reminded of their encounter and checked out “Nurse Jackie” on Netflix. Wright was particularly struck by the handful of scenes that featured Wallem’s character singing a song.

Although Thor was his first television role, Wallem had spent two decades performing musical theater before his big break with Edie Falco, the eponymous character of “Nurse Jackie.”

“I thought his voice was marvelous, so I decided I wanted to find him,” Wright said. She reached out to Wallem through Face- book and refreshed his memory about their previous meeting. She invited him to sing at the Jamestown Arts Center. Wallem said he was interested in showcasing his “Burly Night Music” cabaret, which he had performed only a few times before: First at New York’s Birdland jazz club in 2014 and again in April at an LGBTQ comedy festival in Toronto.

Although Wallem had never heard of the arts center, he loves doing the show, especially on fresh stages when he’s solicited by his fans, just like Wright.

“She just contacted me out of the blue,” he said.

Wallem’s interest in cabaret began in the 1990s as a way to keep busy while waiting for casting calls. Wallem’s favorite part of these shows are their intimate nature, he said, compared to the musicals and stage performances he’s been so accustomed to doing.

“It is an intimacy you usually don’t get as an actor,” he said. “It’s a unique way as a performer of being yourself and expressing yourself as a singer in a very personal manner.”

The title of Wallem’s cabaret show is a take-off on Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” The “little” adjective was amended to “burly,” which highlights his large frame and tendency to be cast as characters that fit his body size.

“Because I’m a big guy and I have a very high voice, it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get cast in roles that suit my particular size and voice range,” he said. “This is sort of a retrospective on all of those types of roles that I’ve played over the years.”

Tomorrow’s show will feature songs from an eclectic collection of musicals, including “Seussical,” ‘The Addams Family,” “Pipe Dream,” “Hairspray” and “Shrek the Musical.” Wallem performed live as characters for some of these shows, including a stint as the lead role in “Shrek” at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre in 2013.

Others songs were selected because they were personal favorites of Wallem. More importantly, they fit his theme of songs by “burly” characters that suit his voice range.

“There’s not a huge selection of specific songs in that category, so I wanted to do both numbers from roles I’d actually done and a handful of roles that I’d like to do someday,” he said. “It’s such an interesting sort of category to be in, because I’m not a typical leading man. I love being a character actor, but there are very few roles that perfectly suit my size and voice type.”

Also in the set list are Wallem’s self-written Broadway showtune parodies and his rendition of the pop standard “One for my Baby (And One More for the Road),” which he performed on the pilot episode of “Nurse Jackie.”

That ultimately was the performance that convinced Wright to track him down.

Despite his long career as an actor and singer, tomorrow will mark the first time Wallem has ever performed in the Ocean State. He is excited to perform for an audience that will be completely new to him.

“I hope they laugh a lot, they appreciate my weird sense of humor and they are touched,” he said. “These are all songs by other composers that touched me for one reason or another, and I certainly hope that I can convey that emotion to an audience.”

Wright hopes her fellow Jamestowners have a similar experience that she had when she heard his singing for the first time earlier this year.

“His singing range is amazing, and they’ll love the tunes he’s going to do and how he’s going to do them,” she said. “They’re going to be slightly different from going to a concert and hearing somebody sing. He’s warm and fun with an audience.”

Admission is $35; tickets can be purchased online at the arts center’s website.

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