MARQUETTE - Paul Truckey bid farewell to Broadway this winter and returned to Northern Michigan University, where he first cultivated his love for musical theater. The Marquette native is headlining the current production of The Scarlet Pimpernel and sharing his experiences with students as a visiting professor.
"It's been going great," he said of his new role in academia. "The students have been real responsive. I'm passing along whatever I can from my own professional background as a performer that might help them. I'm trying to be as honest as I can about the business based on what I know without discouraging anyone."
The Scarlet Pimpernel is directed by NMU professor Shelley Russell. She gives Truckey glowing reviews for his interaction with students and his talents on stage.
"Paul is an incredible team player," she said. "He's not a star expecting others to focus on him. The young actors have seen a terrific role model. He also has a supreme vocal gift and is a tremendously talented actor. It's a joy, as a teacher, to watch students learning through a production. Maybe even a greater joy is to have one of your students come back and feel you've got the opportunity to learn from him. I've certainly done that; I've learned from Paul."
When he is not on stage, Truckey teaches two NMU courses: acting in musicals and theater careers. He's well-versed in both, having fulfilled what many stage actors consider the ultimate goal of performing on Broadway. Truckey was a four-year veteran of the international hit Les Miserables. He played Grantaire and served as an understudy for the lead role of Javert.
Despite his relatively long association with the show, he says he was able to walk away without looking back.
"It wasn't a problem at all," he said. "I love being on stage and I'm grateful I had an opportunity to perform at that level, but when the opportunity to do something different came along, I was ready."
The new opportunity presented itself when Tr-uckey's NMU mentor, professor James Panowski, received approval for a winter semester sabbatical in New York City. That opened up a visiting professorship. Truckey left the Big Apple, which "wasn't quite my speed," and returned to his hometown.
Despite the shift in locations and assignments, Tr-uckey remains in a time warp of sorts on stage. Both Les Miz and The Scarlet Pimpernel are set during the French Revolution. Both rely heavily on the universal themes of loyalty, honor and redemption. But that is where the similarity ends.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is about a brave band of Englishmen who embark on a risky crusade against the bloody atrocities of the revolution. They use their wits and creativity to outsmart the French and rescue as many aristocrats as possible from the guillotine. Meanwhile, back in England, they pose as the "fanciest of fops" so that no one will suspect that they are capable of such daring adventures.
Their heroic leader, Sir Percy, is known only by his calling card: the red, starshaped wildflower known as the scarlet pimpernel. Truckey said the role of Sir Percy is vocally challenging.
"It's on the high end of my range. I'm not a tenor by nature; I'm more of a baritone. It's stretching me but I like it. I'm just glad to have a piece that involves dialogue. Les Miz is strictly music, so the scene work in thi s production is a refreshing change."
Truckey is concentrating on his on-stage and academic commitments. He is not looking too far ahead in terms of what his next step will be after the semester ends.
"I don't have permanent plans at the moment," he said. "(My wife and 1) are kind of taking a leap of faith. I won't be going back to New York City, although I had the option of keeping my role if I wanted it. Teaching at the university level would be my first choice."
The show runs through March 2 at the Forest Roberts Theatre. For box office information, call 227-2082.