Acting wasn’t Will Stutts’ first career choice.
Born in Alabama and enrolled at the University of Alabama in pre-med, he had his eye on becoming a pediatrician — until the day he tried out for a play and ended up with a role.
“At first I didn’t get the role, so to me, that was as if fate had made its decision. But then the fellow playing the role I auditioned for literally broke his leg so they called me in to do the show. And I guess that was it. I was hooked,” said Stutts, who is appearing as Noel Coward in Noel and Gertie at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 through Dec. 31.
Stutts, who is well-known for his many one-man shows and also directs this production, is no stranger to the theater or Noel Coward.
“I remember seeing Coward on TV when I was a child, sometime back in the fifties,” Stutts said. “He had a sort of attitude I will never forget, and, to me, he seemed to exemplify the quintessential Englishman. Then, back in the 1980s, I did my own one-man cabaret act of Coward, going through a whole process of listening and watching everything I could get my hands on, so he was already somebody I was very familiar with.”
And here he is today, once again playing Coward, the talented actor, playwright and composer who entertained audiences with Private Lives and Blithe Spirit, opposite Susan Wilder, a talented performer in her own right, as Gertrude Lawrence, the celebrated actress who triumphed in such plays as Lady In the Dark and The King and I.
The play was developed from the intimate stories shared in the biographies of Coward and Lawrence, and features Coward’s popular songs and excerpts from his plays and several personal journals. The show also highlights the mischief and friendship Coward and Lawrence shared, and features such popular songs as Someday I’ll Find You, Mrs. Worthington and Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Stutts, 62, has worked in professional theater for more than four decades. After attending Yale University on a scholarship, he appeared in a half-dozen Broadway productions where he shared the stage with such luminaries as Agnes Morehead, Colleen Dewhurst, Eva Marie Saint, George C. Scott, and many others. He also appeared in a score of off-Broadway productions in New York.
He later spent three years in Los Angeles with the L.A. Shakespeare Company. He’s also served as artistic director at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse and the University of Alabama professional summer theater, and lived and worked in Philadelphia for many years before moving to Florida several years ago.
The actor’s Walnut Street world premiere productions include Barrymore, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eye of the Storm, and his highly entertaining Will Stutts’ Tallulah, among others.
Perhaps best known for being the foremost practitioner of the genre of the “one-person play,” Stutts explained that being alone onstage or playing opposite others both have their advantages.
“I think I probably appreciate doing a traditional play a lot more than most actors because it’s often terrific to have people out there with you onstage and not be so alone,” Stutts said. “But I’ve also learned to appreciate and respect the autonomy that comes with the one-person play. In this business, I’ve always thought that when you get more than two people together you can’t get anything done. And many times, I do see that exact thing happening.”
When Noel and Gertie closes, Stutts will be off to his adopted state of Florida to do his one-man show on Walt Whitman. After that, he offered, there are some shows he might still like to do.
Said the performer: “We’ll see. What I’ve come to realize is that the things that matter in life are good friends, family and the ability to have happy people around you. These days, that’s what is really important to me.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-574-3550.