Monte Wheeler likes playing bad men. And he’s got a doozy in the Ordway’s new production of Damn Yankees: the devil himself.
“I have always loved playing villainous characters. They are the most fun, particularly if they are humorous in some way. The audience loves it when the villain gets foiled and gets his comeuppance. I really love to be the person to present those high stakes,” says Wheeler, who previously appeared as Dr. Frank N. Furter at the Ordway’s Rocky Horror Show several years ago.
[jump] It was that performance — and a longstanding friendship with the Ordway’s James Rocco — that brought Wheeler back for Damn Yankees. The play is about a miserable, long suffering Washington Senators’ fan (who would move and turn into the Minnesota Twins a few years after the musical was first produced; losing is in the franchise’s DNA) who makes a deal with Mr. Applegate to become a star player and lead his team to victory.
The appeal of the bad guys goes deep for Wheeler, who remembers watching The Little Mermaid and being intrigued by Ursula.
“She could be frightening, but also funny. From then on, I attached myself to the concept of comedy along with being dastardly,” he says.
Acting started early for Wheeler, and was something he wanted to do from the first moments onstage.
“I was a little boy in a small Kansas town who not particularly athletic. My parents were wise enough to pay attention to the other gifts that I had,” Wheeler says.
This meant putting on shows as a toddler or joining the local library troupe of young actors who played out famous stories throughout the area. Wheeler moved on to performing with a musical theater troupe in Wichita, followed by study at Wichita State.
After that, Wheeler took the big plunge and moved to New York City. During his years there, the actor found success, but he eventually moved away to work in the regional theaters.
“If I could have gone into something more stable and secure I would have, but there was nothing else for me. I have never questioned it. There are always new creative challenges. I meet new people all the time. There is the travel. Nothing beats taking the audience to another place. It is a real honor to bring joy to them in this way.”
For an actor, Wheeler finds steady work. After Damn Yankees, he’ll take the stage in the Pirates of Penzance at the Ordway, followed by another turn as the cross-dressing mad scientist in the Rocky Horror Show in Orlando.
“Once I put the shoes and corset back on, the character is there. Who doesn’t want to be six foot four?”
Before all that, there’s another week as Mr. Applegate.
“It’s fun to be naughty. You can exercise certain parts of your personality you couldn’t when you are not playing the devil,” Wheeler says.
IF YOU GO
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
345 Washington St., St. Paul
For tickets and more information, call 651-224-4222 or visit online.