The New York native is starring in the show’s North American tour as Alfred P. Doolittle.
Featured photo by Joan Marcus
For a nice Jewish guy from Brooklyn, Adam Grupper has spent the past few years getting to church on time.
Grupper — pronounced “grouper,” like the fish, and, yes, he’s been kidded about it his whole life — has had a stellar Broadway ride since his stage debut about 30 years ago, including plum roles in Wicked, The Addams Family, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, Guys and Dolls, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Bartlett Sher’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
He reunited with Sher when the director helmed Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s award-winning revival of My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw’s original play, Pygmalion, at Lincoln Center that ran for 548 performances, closing in July 2019.
The show, one of the most beloved in Broadway history, is the musical tale of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney guttersnipe who begrudgingly accepts phonetics lessons from a professor in his quest to reform her into a society woman. Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, is the town drunk who’s at the helm of some of the liveliest song-and-dance numbers in the show — “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
In the revival’s initial run, Grupper was featured in the Loverly Quartet and was an understudy for Alfred P. Doolittle and Colonel Pickering, who helps Professor Henry Higgins teach Eliza to speak like a duchess.
Now, Grupper is starring in the show’s North American tour as Alfred P. Doolittle and will be headlining when it comes to Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing Feb. 26-March 1.
“Playing the part of Doolittle has come full circle for me,” Grupper says. The first time he played the role, “I was a shy 14-year-old, and our director saw something in me and cast me as Doolittle in my very first high school production. It was a life-changing event for me. It’s so delicious to revisit this role so many years later as an adult.”
Grupper, firmly in middle age, is expected to do a lot of dancing in the role. “These numbers are very physically demanding, and I’m no spring chicken,” Grupper says. “Thankfully, Christopher Gattelli, our choreographer, has modified the numbers to make me look better than I am.”
Grupper says he is nothing like the character he portrays on stage. “Doolittle is very different from me,” he adds. “He’s very raucous and, in our production, he’s a lot more subversive than he’s ordinarily portrayed. Director Bart Sher has me portraying Doolittle as more violent and threatening. He’s a lowbrow guy with a political moral code that makes him a great counterpart in Edwardian England, which makes this part so irresistible.”
The Lincoln Center production of My Fair Lady took home five Outer Critics Circle Awards and was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards, three Drama League Awards and 10 Tony Awards.
Although My Fair Lady has been performed since 1956, it’s not done very frequently because it has such a large cast and it demands a lot from its leads, Grupper says.
“What I think that people get a chance to see in this production is that it has all the values of a ‘champagne’ musical — the gorgeous score, beautiful sets and sumptuous costumes from Catherine Zuber, who won the Tony Award. But Bart Sher restores elements from George Bernard Shaw’s original play, Pygmalion, that makes it also about social structure, hierarchy and power. So, it’s much more thought-provoking.”
Growing up in Rockland County, New York, Grupper’s family were members of the New City Jewish Center, where he had his bar mitzvah and was shomer Shabbos until he attended Yale University.
“I still consider my Jewish identity a very big part of my life. and I’ve been able to combine that with my love of theater,” says Grupper,
From 2015-2016, Grupper, who also plays mohel David Rosenbaum in Episode 7, Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, reconnected with Judaism when he played Tevye in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
“Life started imitating art when actors in the show started asking me about the laws of Hallachah, which I usually knew. But sometimes I would have to consult with a higher authority — my brother,” he says with a laugh.
My Fair Lady will be performed at the Wharton Center in East Lansing Feb. 26-March 1. For tickets, go to whartoncenter.com.