Over his 16-year career in show business, actor Travis Mitchell has gotten to play a lot of fun roles. He has appeared in film and television as well as onstage in shows like "Spring Awakening" and "The Sound of Music" all over the country.
But the peak of his career, he says, came last December at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton. Mitchell plays FBI Agent Branton in the first national tour of "Catch Me If You Can" and serves as an understudy for several other characters. On this particular weekend, he got to fill in for fellow cast member Merritt David James in the lead role of Agent Carl Hanratty, with a plethora of his family and friends sitting in the audience.
"If I had to pick, that moment stands out for me, and I think will for the rest of my life – that role of Hanratty for all my family and friends," he said. "That’s such a peak for me and the role itself is just so much fun."
Mitchell’s family and friends will get to see him in action again next week when "Catch Me If You Can" comes to the Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St., for a five-day run beginning April 23.
The UW-Steven’s Point grad may not be slated to sub in for any of the lead roles during the Milwaukee run – but if he’s learned anything as an understudy in the world of theater, it’s that you never know what to expect.
OnMilwaukee.com: So you’re a Wisconsin native, and you went to school here. Where has your career taken you and what’s your home base now?
Travis Mitchell: I’ve spent the last 16 years in New York professionally, since 1997. The last few years have been really exciting – I was on the national tour of "Spring Awakening." One of the peaks so far also is being on the first national tour of "Catch Me If You Can." Being out and doing the show eight times a week is great, and it’s always exciting to come back to Wisconsin.
OMC: Do you get back home a lot?
TM: Usually around twice a year. I usually make it around the holidays at some point, and then during the summertime we go camping up in Door County. It’s been a tradition since I was a kid. Getting away from New York City; New York City is wonderful in so many ways ... and it’s also loud and crowded, so it’s nice to get away.
OMC: You’ve been on the road since October with this show. What’s that like?
TM: A lot of it is very exciting – you see the country, and because we’re in cities for a week or two at a time, most of the time, we actually get to experience the city itself. We just spent two weeks in Los Angeles and that was wonderful...we just finished up two weeks in Chicago and now I’m in East Lansing, Mich., which I’ve never been, so I’m seeing what’s here. The toughest part is – I’ve been married 10 years – and the toughest part is being away from my wife Julianna. And she comes out to visit, of course, but it’s definitely the toughest part – and also just living out of a hotel. It’s fun if you're on vacation but after awhile it gets a little like, "Okay. (laughs) I want to be in my living room right now." I’m happy to say that the company and cast and crew and orchestra are all just really, really wonderful people, they’re really wonderful to spend time with and it’s a real family.
OMC: So what’s it like to be an understudy – do you have to learn a million different parts? Is that hard?
TM: You do and it is! The role of Agent Bratton I know very, very well obviously, I do it eight times a week, but to understudy and truly know the other role is definitely a challenge. I’ve gotten to go on five shows, five times for Carl Hanratty, which if you remember the movie was the Tom Hanks role ... and then the two other roles that I know and have done the work over the run for ... and who knows, as an understudy there’s a chance that you may never go on for the role that you prepared to, and that’s just part of the job.
OMC: I’m a big fan of the movie version of "Catch Me If You Can." I feel like there’s a trend of movies becoming Broadway musicals. Do you agree?
TM: Yeah, you know, that is interesting... you are seeing more and more where movies are turning into musicals – like ‘Ghost,’ which is gonna be making the rounds next year, was a movie first, and "Elf," that’s a big one. Yeah, I think more and more people are wanting to produce musicals that people have some sort of a hook into already, that they remember it.
And then with "Catch Me If You Can," the wonderful part with that is that it translates so well into a musical. And the music itself is just is sort of this 1960s jazz swing influence, and the orchestra onstage sort of has like a big swing band feel to it, and the tuxedos and everything – it’s really, it’s really fantastic. The music for this will definitely get you tapping it your seat. It’s a lot of fun. It has a very glamorous feel to it, which I think is really exciting.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.