B Street Theatre veteran Rick Kleber, who began performing for the company’s multi-generational audiences in the mid-1980s as a member of its Fantasy Theatre touring cast, is no subtle supporting actor, but an overwhelming comedic presence who doesn’t so much evoke LOLs from children and their parents (and their parents), as demand them.
In the B Street Theatre’s Family Series production of “Finding Our Voice: Susan B. & the Women’s Suffrage Movement,” which continues through Sunday, April 14, the Los Angeles-based Kleber – who was last seen here in 2012’s as the witch in “Hansel & Gretel” – once again pulls a Kleber. That is, he turns the comic sensibility up to “11,” changing personas as quickly as costumes.
“I’m playing three different characters,” said Kleber of the David Pierini-penned world premiere. “I’m playing a misogynistic garment-factory owner who treats women horribly – which is one reason why the women want better rights. I’m also playing a prison guard, and Dudley Field Malone – one of Woodrow Wilson’s right-hand men who became an assistant secretary of state. Malone was told to spy on the women involved in the suffragette movement, but he began to see their side and quit to represent the women by adding his legal know-how to help their cause.”
“Dave’s written a nice show,” said Kleber, adding his regular twice-a-year trips to Sacramento and the B Street are like “coming home.”
“It’s the same group of actors who have been together for years,” he said. “You build up certain relationships with these guys. At the beginning of rehearsals, we just sit back and reminisce a lot – it’s a kick.”
Among Kleber’s fellow veteran B Streeters featured “Finding Our Voice” are Ed Claudio as Woodrow Wilson, Greg Alexander as father of suffragette Mary Foster (Sarah Clancy), and Jamie Jones as Susan B. Anthony in her later years, as well as suffragette Alice Hall.
But for all of the star power B Street Producing Director Buck Busfield has brought to bear for “Finding Our Voice,” it wouldn’t be uncommon for Kleber’s performance to be the one exiting audiences will most fondly remember.
“I’m a bigger-than-life type of character,” said Kleber, a trained opera singer who’s usually cast in musical-theater roles when not performing at the B Street. “They always come to me for cartoonish characters, and I give them a variety of extremes. They don’t have to build me up – I’ll start at the top, and then they’ll rein me in.”
It’s this over-the-top, playing-to-the-balcony persona, which has made Kleber a favorite of B Street patrons of all ages.
“I think I’m a true character actor,” said Kleber, who’s also made his mark on the B Street main stage in such productions as “Gun Metal Blues” and “Death of Zukasky” (a personal favorite). “I don’t play a lot of straight-man roles – that’s not what they hire me for. I’m one of their human cartoons, though I still perform my characters from the heart. There is some realism involved. I perform from my heart so I can believe what I’m doing. You can’t fake stuff in front of kids. Sometimes you can with adults, but there’s no faking it with kids. If they don’t like you, you can see them get restless.”
“But I’ve always had good responses from children – and that’s why Buck has kept me doing kid’s stuff."
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: B Street Theatre Family Series production of “Finding Our Voice: Susan B. & the Women’s Suffrage Movement” by David Pierini (recommended for children 8 and older)
WHEN: March 9-April 14, 2013; with performances at 1 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
WHERE: B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2727 B St., Sacramento, Calif.
HOW MUCH: $18-$27
FOR MORE INFO: (916) 443-5300; www.bstreettheatre.org