This fall, Broadway veteran Michael McGurk brings his boyish good looks, award-winning talents and professional experience to Petaluma's Cinnabar Theater for the world premiere of "So Nice to Come Home To: A World War II Musical." McGurk plays 2nd Lt. Kenneth Downey, a young American soldier who befriends a middle aged woman determined to become an essential part of America’s war effort.
The new musical, which features all original songs evoking popular tunes from the World War II era, plays at Cinnabar Theater from tonight, Oct. 26 to Nov. 11.
Richard B. Evans, the composer of the new musical, saw McGurk in the 2012 Sacramento Music Circus production of "The Music Man." McGurk played the role of Tommy in the Sacramento production, which also featured Shirley Jones as Mrs. Paroo and Jones' son Patrick Cassidy as Harold Hill.
"Richard told me about Michael and I so I contacted Michael on the off-chance that we could afford him. I was thinking of him for the Downey character," said Cinnabar Theater Executive Director Elly Lichenstein, who stars as Kate in the production. "His first question to me was 'Are you in the Bay Area?' When I told him where we were located, he said, 'Yes.' "
The "So Nice to Come Home To" story follows Downey, a decorated war hero who is sent from combat in Europe to help sell war bonds in New York City. After arriving, Downey discovers that a mysterious lady named Kate has been pretending to be his mother. When he meets her, Downey refuses to go along with her game.
"But, Kate quickly draws him in after she introduces him to her home cooking," said McGurk. "Kate and Downey are quite a pair. And both are dreaming of 'someone to come home to.' "
"Working on this world premiere is a dream come true," said McGurk. "It's so exciting to create a character that's never been done before and to bring the beautiful book and terrific score of Richard Evans and Kate Hancock to life."
Michael's performances on Broadway include 2000 revival of "The Music Man" and the 2006 premiere of "The Wedding Singer." Both productions were nominated for Tony Awards and McGurk performed on the "Tony Awards" television broadcasts telecast from Radio City Music Hall for both nominated productions.
"Performing on the Tony Awards was the most exhilarating experience," said McGurk, who hails from Bethel Park, near Pittsburgh, Penn. "To perform in front of an audience made up of the entire theater community was very special."
McGurk was a young boy when he became a fan of musical theater after watching films of musicals including "Annie" and "Oliver!" on television. It was after seeing "A Chorus Line" when he set his mind on becoming a stage performer. It was an "ah-ha!" moment similar to the song "I Can Do That!" featured in "A Chorus Line."
"I guess I was about nine or ten-years old when I started watching and getting interested in Broadway musicals. I was so taken in by those films that I asked my parents if I could be involved in theater. They said 'yes' and I started taking acting classes," said McGurk. "My acting teachers recommended that I audition for the Pittsburgh CLO Mini Stars Program. That lead to my auditioning for a professional production of 'The Wizard of Oz,' starring Cathy Rigby. I was cast as a Munchkin. I was twelve years old."
McGurk has realized his dream of working steadily. For the past 15 years he has forged a solid career on Broadway stages and as a touring professional musical theater performer. In 2011, he added a special role to his theatrical resume: Mike, the lovable dancer in "A Chorus Line" who makes the musical declaration "I Can Do That!" For McGurk, it was another professional dream realized. He was performing as a professional in his favorite Broadway musical and received critical acclaimed for his performance as Mike in the production presented by Stages St. Louis.
"My parents were always encouraging, but they were certainly apprehensive about my being able to make a living at it. They made sure I had acting, singing and dancing lessons," said McGurk. "When I was accepted to The Boston Conservatory, I think they understood that I was really serious about becoming a professional."
As a high school student in Pittsburgh he was honored twice with prestigious "Gene Kelly Awards" - receiving the Best Supporting Acting Award for his role as Benny Southstreet in "Guys and Dolls" in 1993 and the Best Actor Award for his role as Benjy Stone in "My Favorite Year" in 1994.