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Interview: Chicagoan Joey deBettencourt On Leading The National Tour Of 'Peter And The Starcatcher'

By Melody Udell in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 27, 2014 6:00PM

Joey deBettencourt and Megan Stern in the national tour of 'Peter and the Starcatcher.' Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Chicago native and up-and-coming actor Joey deBettencourt is back in his home town, but this time as the lead in the national tour of Peter and the Starcatcher, the witty, fast-paced prologue to Peter Pan that earned industry accolades on Broadway in 2012. The show starts performances for its 12-day stint at the Bank of America Theatre next week.

We caught up with deBettencourt to talk fight scenes, angsty teens and his favorite local spots.

CHICAGOIST: What’s it like being back in Chicago, but this time as a lead in the national tour of a Tony-winning Broadway show?

JOEY DEBETTENCOURT: It's really amazing. I have been waiting for these two weeks all year. Chicago has been an amazing artistic home for me, and it's full of talented artists and amazing theater. It's the place I learned what I needed to get cast in a hit show like Peter and the Starcatcher. Also, I think often the Broadway shows that come through end up being very separate from the work going on in Chicago, so it’s cool to be bridging that with this cast. It’s a Broadway show but with a strong vein of Chicago running through it. Not to mention that I will have all my family and friends in the audience. I really couldn't ask for anything more.

C: You earned a Jeff Award for your turn as William, a volatile teen struggling as a high school outsider, in Griffin Theatre’s 2012 production of Punk Rock. What did you learn from playing such a disquieting, angst-ridden character—and how are you applying it in such a quirky show like Starcatcher?

JD: Boy (or Peter) is really the emotional through line of the show. He isn't the funniest or showiest—he’s the most honest. It is hard to be simple and honest while still keeping up with this frenetic and fun, fast-paced show. Roles like William gave me the courage to be truthful amid the intensity of the show, even in front of 2,600 people. It taught me that being simple and direct can sometimes be the most powerful thing you can do.

C: As a Skokie native and Northwestern grad, you’ve got quite a few Chicago credits to your name, including work with the Griffin Theatre Company, the Steppenwolf and Mary-Arrchie. What was your favorite Chicago role, and why?

JD: I have to say the role of William, from Punk Rock. It's an amazingly well written role and play as a whole. Simon Stephens is a name that we are going to see on Broadway next year, and Griffin and Steep [Theatre Company] have been so smart in seeing his talent and bringing his scripts to Chicago before anyone else in the U.S.

More specifically, it was a very difficult role to play, and I love the challenge it brought me. I was lucky to be up there with an insanely talented group of actors and being led by the brilliant Jon Berry. I like plays that let you sink into a role and make you work hard to get at the truth. It’s a very meaty, deep role.

2014_03_Joey_DeBettencourt.jpg C: In Starcatcher, you play the boy who eventually grows up to be Peter Pan. Are there any similarities between you and your character? Or major differences?

JD: I think we are both stubborn at times and can be a bit hot headed. We know he has a tendency to get into arguments, and I think at my worst I tend to be argumentative as well. I think I would be very much like Peter if I was in his same situation: friendless and without a family, with no real hope of change. I was just lucky to have mentors who supported me all through my life and lucky enough to have friends who will argue right back and then grab a beer with me.

C: The characters in Starcatcher talk quickly, with a sort of lyrical syncopation. Was it difficult to get used to the show’s energetic dialogue?

JD: It took a lot of rehearsing to get it down and really nail the timing. That being said, it really reminds me of working on something like Shakespeare where the language demands a higher level of energy to really make it come alive. Once I really started thinking about it like that, the language (from the fantastic Rick Elice) started to flow a lot more easily.

C: Starcatcher is a very physical show, too—there’s a lot of stunt work involved. Did your experience with fight choreography help you adjust to the physicality of the show?

JD: It’s very physical, probably the most physical show I've been involved with. Yes, I love physical theater, I love working on fights because done right there is nothing more affecting. I think this show works so well because it is so physical and it is hard to do. That being said, I don't know if anything could prepare me for how intense I'd have to work to do this show eight times a week. I love a challenge, though, and I like creating something that people will see and say, “Woah, how did they do that?”

C: The Starcatcher cast has quite a few actors with Chicago connections, including John Sanders, who plays the villainous Black Stache. Any local spots you’ll be recommending to your non-Chicagoan cast mates while you’re in town?

JD: Yep, there are four of us from Chicago in this production. This is a tough one: I’ve definitely already told everyone we are going to Scofflaw. I live in Logan Square, and Danny Shapiro who runs that place is great, of course. Then he has a new bar, Slippery Slope, which I have to go to as well. If I had my way they could all stay with me and eat at everything great in Logan: Bang Bang Pie Shop, Gaslight, Parson's, Longman & Eagle.

But they are all downtown, so I'll be pushing for them to go to Au Cheval, and then if they want a fancier evening, Avec. There are so many great places—I could make this list insanely long. I didn't even mention any of the Chicago style places (Al's, Pizzaria Uno, etc.). But trust me, they will have a warm welcome with a good old fashioned shot of Malort.

C: Any dream roles you’ll be aiming for next?

JD: That’s a tough one. We are still a bit off from the end of the tour, so I don't have anything specific in mind. Though I was asked this the other day in a Q-and-A, and I said Iago from Othello. It is a very challenging role, and it's very different from what someone would typically cast me as. Also, I'd like to be the villain for once. Villains are a lot of fun. Maybe I'll just aim to come across as more dastardly.

The show runs Wednesday, April 2 through Sunday, April 13 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., 312-977-1710 or online.