Theater’s Best Thief–As in Stealing Scenes–is Actor Michael Urie

Michael Urie currently stars as Brave Sir Robin in “Spamalot.” The Texas native said he knew he found a new home in New York the minute he stepped off the bus in the Port Authority at 19, walked across the garbage and said, ‘yep this is home.”

| 22 Dec 2023 | 02:38

The first time I saw Michael Urie on stage was in “Buyer And Cellar,” a clever one-man piece about a man who is in charge of Barbra Streisand’s basement. (Fictional, of course.) In my audience that night was the loudest laugher I had ever heard. Finally, I looked across to see from whom that roaring came. It was Stephen Sondheim.

“Yes, he wrote me an amazing personal note after,” says Urie. “I still have it.” Though Urie never heard from Streisand herself, the show put him on the map. “It went from off off to off Broadway,” he says, “played over 500 performances, was filmed for PBS, and made its money back. “

I have been following Michael Urie ever since. He starred in “Government Inspector,” (“A path-clearing cyclone of silliness called Michael Urie,” wrote the NY Times) “Chicken and Biscuits” and others. On television, fans know him from “Ugly Betty,” and the current limited series “Shrinking,’ (Soon to start season two) with Harrison Ford and Wendie Malick. The latter, a sitcom icon, says, “Michael is one of the most delectable human beings I’ve ever known.” As for the big screen, he even has a scene with Bradley Cooper in “Maestro.” (Portraying Jerome Robbins)

But it is on stage that Urie rules. “Michael understands that acting should, above all, be FUN!!” says Charles Shaughnessy, (Of “The Nanny” fame) who just shared a stage with him in Maine. “I don’t mean frivolous or un-serious: you can be doing the final act of Hamlet: but unless the actor is enjoying acting at some deep level, it’s likely the audience won’t be enjoying it either. Having just worked with Michael for the first time, I can tell you that the audience REALLY enjoys him as much as he enjoys what he is doing. And it is infectious for the rest of us up there on stage with him.”

As we speak, there are many daring to share a stage with him on Broadway, where Urie is pretty much stealing the show as cowardly knight Sir Robin in “Spamalot.” He is loving the experience. “The audiences are very hungry to see something joyful and funny,” he says, “and this is a beloved, tried and true show. They know they’re in good hands.” He sings (sort of) and is up there hoofing and tapping as well. “It’s a relentless schedule, eight shows a week,” he says, “and I am not a dancer, so that’s been a challenge.”

Urie moved to New York, from a suburb in Texas, when he was 19, (he is now 43) and knew immediately that he had landed in the right place. “I took a bus and got off at the Port Authority,” he recalls, “and walked over all the garbage and said, ‘yep, this is home.” He got into Julliard and has been a West Sider ever since. The television roles may be less frequent, but they help pay the bills. And, as he says, “most people still recognize me from “Ugly Betty.” When you do TV, it gets you into the cool rooms for awhile.”

A lot of actors admire and dream of being Michael Urie. His own role models include Kevin Kline, (”A true theater genius.”) Martin Short, and Christopher Fitzgerald, a co-star in ”Spamalot.” “Christopher is a three-time Tony nominee,” says Urie, “and the most inventive and imaginative actor I know.”

Here’s the best news: get thee to a ticket seller, because Urie will be appearing with Sutton Foster in the Encores’ upcoming production of “Once Upon A Mattress” late January. The man never stops. ”My rule is to keep doing everything until I can’t,” he says “and doing theater is the best.”

Which is why he and Charles Shaughnessy found themselves in Ogunquit Playhouse, Maine, doing “Da Vince Code.” “We played two guys in the Louvre trying to find the Holy Grail,” says Urie. Wait..isn’t that what “Spamalot” is all about? “Yes,” says, my favorite funnyman, “and I still haven’t found it!”

Michele Willens’ “Stage Right..Or Not” can be found wherever you find podcasts.