Curtain Call: Actor August Gabriel doesn’t sing — he makes joyful noises
When Medford actor August Gabriel tries to recall a performance early in his life that may have moved him to aspire to a career in the performing arts, it isn’t something from Shakespeare, Chekhov or Arthur Miller that comes to mind.
It’s “The Brady Bunch.”
The popular TV sitcom that aired from 1969 to 1974 was an American cultural icon, revolving around a large blended family.
He grew up in Seattle, but live performances weren’t part of the family life.
“The closest I ever got to a live performance was watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and the occasional TV special featuring pop artists of the day,” Gabriel said. “It wasn’t until I saw the Brady Bunch variety show that I thought, I could do that!”
He could and he has, trodding the boards since high school. Feb. 10 through April 10 he will be featured in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s “Moon Over Buffalo,” a comic play by Ken Ludwig that relies on situation comedy for its humor — with a bit of innuendo, mistaken identity, farce and slapstick thrown in.
The story is about George and Charlotte Hay, traveling actors who are performing in “Cyrano” and “Private Lives” in a repertory theater in Buffalo. Gabriel plays a love-sick lawyer who courts Charlotte, whose husband is a philanderer.
Growing up, Gabriel was a Carol Burnett fan. Interestingly, “Moon Over Buffalo,” when it opened in 1995, marked the return of Burnett to the Broadway stage after a 30-year absence.
This will be Gabriel’s third OCT production. He appeared in “Working” under the direction of the late Jimmy Giancarlo in 1992 and in “The Odd Couple” in 2020, directed by Galloway Stevens.
“I’m excited to work with him again in ‘Moon,’” he said.
Gabriel, 62, has been a working actor since earning a BFA from Eastern New Mexico University. When in the Air Force, he was able to take college classes during work hours. He was able to finish his degree in two years after getting out of the military.
Besides OCT, Gabriel has performed with OSF, Seattle Rep, Arkansas Rep, and a number of touring companies and theater companies around the country.
He originally planned to teach, but he changed his mind after being cast in “Pippin.” Karyl Lyne, an instructor, talked him into auditioning. And Patrick Rucker, the director, cast him. Gabriel believes he might have become a theater-communications teacher if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of Lyne and Rucker, who ended up marrying each other.
Gabriel’s first acting job out of college was as Ritchie in “A Chorus Line.”
“That’s where my ability to mimic came in very handy,” he said. “I had to ‘act’ like I could sing and dance — at least well enough that making the final cut looked reasonable.”
Acting can be deeply satisfying. Gabriel finds the rehearsal process a favorite part of stage work.
“The collaboration and then presenting what has been created is a special joy,” he said. “Audience response during the show is far more satisfying than any applause afterwards,” which he also appreciates, he said.
There were challenges, too, of course — among them, being a person of color in an era when opportunities were scarce.
“I had a friend suggest to his agent that she should consider representing me,” Gabriel said. “The response was, ‘I already have a Black guy.’ Recalling that experience, I think perhaps the biggest challenge was not giving up.
“Other than that, my biggest challenges were learning music and dances. Parts singing is still a challenge for me. On more than one occasion, I found myself singing the soprano part, not my own.”
As he gets older, he tends to favor shows with smaller casts with lots of character interaction.
Does he have any dream roles on his bucket list?
“I’ve aged out of out of my favorites,” he said. “So, instead of Coalhouse Walker in ‘Ragtime,’ it’s Benjamin Banneker. Instead of Daniel in ‘Once on This Island,’ it’s Agwe or Papa Julien. I’ve done it three times, but I wouldn’t mind another shot at Hoke Colburn in
‘Driving Miss Daisy.’”
Asked whether there were any “oops” moments during his career on stage, Gabriel recounted a few. The first one is especially burned into his memory.
“In college, I was playing the Street Singer in ‘The Three Penny Opera’ and missed an entrance. Making it worse, all 30 cast members were frozen in a tableau, each waiting for another cast member (me) to ‘start the scene.’ When I say frozen, it was for about three minutes. I ended up throwing a carpet bag and then myself onto the stage in the hopes it would look staged.”
His first professional foul-up was in a production of “Grease” in Seattle.
“I was playing Teen Angel/Johnny Casino and during ‘Beauty School Dropout’ I had to descend from the havens down a 20-foot silver ladder. Just half way down, I missed a step and crashed to the floor behind a platform, breaking my left foot. Luckily, I fell in time with the music, picked myself up, grabbed the mic, and made my way through the number.”
Gabriel said he has had perhaps too many oops moments in his career, but his biggest was while playing Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“I totally ‘went up’ mid-speech,” he said. “I didn’t handle or hide it at all well. I asked the audience if any of them knew the line, commented on the beauty of live theater, and finally found the line and continued on with the play. The audience loved it, the producer not so much.”
Gabriel doesn’t think of himself as a musician.
“I played cymbals in my college marching band,” he said. “I can read music well enough to teach myself a tune on the piano, but despite a résumé filled with musicals, I’d like to think I make a joyful noise rather than a beautiful sound.”
Best advice he’s ever received?
“Always offer more than is expected and don’t take it personally if it’s not accepted or wanted. Also, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem.”
And where does he see himself in 10 years?
“At age 72? Hmm, hopefully I’ll still be healthy and productive. But I’m not trying to think about it.”
Whatever the future holds for Gabriel, making joyful noises is bound to be a part of it.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.