Actor Eddie Mekka is more than just Carmine Ragusa on “Laverne and Shirley.” While his portrayal of Shirley’s singing boyfriend “The Big Ragoo” in 147 episodes of the 1970s-80s ABC sitcom put him on the map, Mekka has had a versatile career including films and guest-starring roles on television. But his experience with live theater and music brings him to Springfield this week as he takes on his familiar role of Nathan Detroit in a special concert version of “Guys and Dolls.”
Actor Eddie Mekka is more than just Carmine Ragusa on “Laverne and Shirley.”
While his portrayal of Shirley’s singing boyfriend “The Big Ragoo” in 147 episodes of the 1970s-80s ABC sitcom put him on the map, Mekka has had a versatile career including films (“A League of Their Own,” “Dreamgirls”) and guest-starring roles on television (“ER,” “24,” “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody”).
But his experience with live theater and music brings him to Springfield this week as he takes on his familiar role of Nathan Detroit in a special concert version of “Guys and Dolls” at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St.
Friday’s performance includes a gala fundraiser with hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and a post-show reception. The show alone will be offered Saturday and Sunday.
Proceeds from this fundraising effort will help pay expenses for the 80,000-square-foot Hoogland Center.
Joining Mekka in the cast are Mary Jo Curry (Miss Adelaide), Matthew Vala (Sky Masterson) and Brittney McLaughlin (Sarah Brown). Gus Gordon directs the concert, which will feature songs such as “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
“For the sake of my ego and my art, I like theater better,” Mekka said during a telephone interview from his Las Vegas home. “It’s like being a boxer. When you step in that ring, if you don’t know what you are doing ... it’s not like a drive by fight. And if you do a good job with no mistakes, you’ve got to do the same thing again the next day and the next day and the next day.”
Mekka’s theater career includes playing Groucho Marx in “An Evening With Groucho,” Nicky Deluca in “The Right Step” (which he wrote, directed and choreographed), and roles in “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and other well-known shows.
This weekend’s performances will be a little different. “Guys and Dolls” will feature an on-stage orchestra and a cast of dozens, and will still tell the tale of a gambler who woos a Salvation Army officer on a bet. But the performance will more closely resemble a concert than a fully staged musical.
“Some of it is like a concert, where you stand behind a podium and sing songs without blocking, and other times you do the scene with humor and the dialogue in them,” Mekka said. “You have got a live audience. I think part of the audience is on stage, they told me.”
No worries for Mekka, though it is the first time he has done a concert version of a Broadway show.
“It’s exciting in that it’s live theater and there’s no (do-overs). In television, you can get away with it. You can ‘cut.’ You can even fake it with editing, but you can’t do that on stage,” he said.
“You gotta know what you are doing. You have got to be a professional to step on stage, not necessarily to step in front of a camera. You can quote me on that one.”
State Journal-Register correspondent Dru Willis can be reached through Arts & Entertainment editor Brian Mackey at (217) 747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Guys and Dolls” in Concert
Presented by the Hoogland Center for the Arts in association with Gordon Productions
6:30 p.m. Friday (gala), 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St.
Friday’s opening night gala: $75, includes pre-show cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres, the show and the post-show dessert reception; or $50, includes show and post-show reception.
Saturday-Sunday: $20 adults, $18 children.
Tickets available at the Hoogland Center box office, by calling (217) 523-2787 or visiting www.scfta.org