John Tartaglia is an American puppeteer, actor, singer and dancer who hosts a Sunday program on Sirius XM’s On Broadway on channel 72. He is directing the smash musical hit Mamma Mia for the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, which will have its opening night on Sunday, June 30. John took time off a few days before opening night to talk to us about Mamma Mia, his life, career, and so much more. He is as boyishly upbeat and enthusiastic on the phone as he is hosting his Sirius XM Sunday show.
Ralph Malachowski: How did directing Mamma Mia happen for you?
John Taratglia: Robin Goodman was a producer with Avenue Q which I was a part of for years on Broadway. She is now producing at Bucks County Playhouse, and she asked me if I would be interested in directing Mamma Mia. That was how it began.
RM: Do you find the daily commute from New York City to New Hope, PA, a bit challenging?
JT: I live in Los Angeles now, and the folks at Bucks County Playhouse are great in that they’ve provided lovely housing for me as well as the rest of the cast in New Hope, so that’s not a problem. We rehearsed in New York City until just the other day. We’re doing a lot of tech work right now here on stage. Believe it or not, I do my Sirius XM show from Los Angeles every week. It’s a technological miracle that we can do our shows from just about anywhere now. I use their studio in Los Angeles for my show when I’m not on the road.
RM: Your Wikipedia profile states that you were born in Maple Shade, NJ, and went to high school in Pennsylvania. Is working at the Bucks County Playhouse kind of a homecoming for you?
JT: Yes, it really is. It’s great to return to the area after years away. I had forgotten how lovely the area is and it is so nice to get back together with friends from the area. I was born in Maple Shade, NJ, and lived there until age 10. We moved to Upper Dublin, PA, and I went to a nearby high school which was fabulous. It had such a strong performing arts program. Debbie Thompson was one of my great teachers there. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t in or around show business. Both my parents were in the business, with my mother performing onstage, so I was around backstage all the time. I was fascinated by how things worked, like smoke machines, when my mother walked out on stage. I later found myself drawn to performing.
RM: Your Wikipedia page states that not only were you nominated for a Tony Award, and worked on a film in addition to your many appearances on stage, but that you also appeared as part of Broadway Bares. (Broadway Bares is an annual fundraising event for Broadway Cares /Equity Fights AIDS) Would you like to elaborate on that?
JT: Oh, right! (Laughing) Well, yes, I did and I spent weeks before my appearance eating little more than boiled chicken and brown rice! The film was The Happytime Murders (2018). I also did many other things on stage as well over the years. You know, I forgot about that Wikipedia page. I haven’t looked at it in years. Thanks for reminding me that I need to update it! I’m unsure as to who actually updated it for me. I’ll have to learn how to do it myself pretty fast.
RM: after Mamma Mia, what’s next for John Tartaglia? Is a return to New Hope in those plans?
JT: After Mamma Mia opens, I’m actually taking a week off before I head to the Saint Louis MUNY to direct Matilda: the Musical at their outdoor, 11,000-seat theatre. Later, I have a show I’m doing for Princess Cruise Lines in the fall of 2019, and a TV show for winter. I am not allowed to say anything about the TV show! Also top secret is yes, there are plans to return to the Bucks County Playhouse next year, but that is all I can say about that right now.
RM: John, do you have anything else that you would like to say in closing about Mamma Mia, or anything else that we’ve touched upon?
JT: About Mamma Mia, the reaction I get from almost everyone when they hear that I’m working on it is one of joy and happiness. The show brings forth such good feelings from people. I remember first seeing Mamma Mia weeks after 9/11 in New York City. It provided such relief and escape then when we needed it the most. You could also say the same thing after all these years. Mamma Mia still offers a magical respite from real life and all the problems we face today. As a gay man, I find it especially wonderful that it addresses the life of a gay male character in the show in a truthful and honest manner.
Mamma Mia is at the Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main Street, New Hope, PA, June 28 through August 3. For information, call 215-862-2121 or visit www.bcptheater.org .
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