In anticipation of the WATCH Awards this Sunday (the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors), I had the pleasure of speaking with local actor Chuck Dluhy, about his two nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical. He is nominated for Little Theatre of Alexandria’s (LTA) 2020 production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, where he played the various members of the D’Ysquith Family, and LTA’s 2022 production of Something Rotten! as Nostradamus. This year’s WATCH ceremony on March 19 will be the first since the pandemic, which is why the field of eligible works was expanded back to 2020.
Nods to his performances are nothing new to Dluhy. In 2019, he was nominated for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical as Christopher Belling in Curtains at The Arlington Players. And in 2018, Dluhy won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Chauncey in The Nance at LTA. In fact, Dluhy was at the very first WATCH Awards in 2000, where he won a Featured Actor in a Musical Award for playing Paul in A Chorus Line at Reston Community Players.
But do not think for a second that Dluhy touted these accolades during our conversation. He merely mentioned his attendance at the original 2000 ceremony. I learned of his subsequent wins and nominations from my research. But humility is never a bad thing, and Dluhy is nothing if not humble. Choosing to focus on his love of theater, what drives him to perform, and other artists and works that inspire him, Dluhy observes that “in addition to entertaining people and making lifelong friends, I love to make people laugh, cry, and think. I like to move them, touch their hearts, inspire them.”
Here are some summarized moments from our conversation.
How long have you been doing theater?
Well, I started in high school, which was quite a while ago. So I’ll just say for 40-plus years. It was just a hobby I started in high school, did through college, and then went into community theater. My first show was The Music Man. I was in the choir and everyone was auditioning for it. I had never done anything like that before but everyone was daring me to try out. And so I did, and I actually ended up getting Harold Hill. I got the acting bug and that’s the history.
That’s awesome. Are you from the area?
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I still have my family there, but I’ve been in the DC area since 1983 so I feel like a native.
What brought you to DC?
I’m with the federal government. I started off in the Department of Defense but then ended up just staying. Now I’m an IT specialist in the development of systems for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
What is that you like about doing theater?
So there’s the fun and the entertainment factor. But I guess I found that theater feels like a place of community. There’s a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called “Who Am I This Time?” and it’s about these two shy people who meet in community theater and fall in love. One character had just moved to town and a director had approached her. And this line has always stuck with me. He says, “There isn’t any other way to get to know a lot of nice people faster than to be in a play with them.” That idea is what drives me to keep doing this because you have lifelong friendships. You get to know people, you go to their shows, you see them at parties. It’s a small community when you think about it.
That’s really nice. You said that’s a short story?
Yeah, it’s a story by Kurt Vonnegut and was actually turned into an hour-long TV special in the ’80s with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon in the leads on PBS. They were super young before they were stars.
That’s fantastic. Do you have any other inspirations, movie or stage actors?
Mainly movie. I try to embody their process, which is more method. Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep. You see so many actors that are just the same from one movie to another. But the people who inhabit their roles so much that they become that person. Musical theater inspirations would be Nathan Lane, Jefferson Mays, and Hugh Jackman.
What would you say some of your favorite roles have been that you’ve played before?
I’ve done quite a variety of dramas, comedies, and musicals so it’s always hard to pick favorites because each one is so unique. From a dramatic standpoint, Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. I played Ricky Roma. He’s kind of the villain of the piece. You know, every actor always says they want to play the mean guy or the villain. That was very challenging and one of my favorites.
From a comic standpoint, Greater Tuna was one where I played multiple characters. Also, there was a musical called The Nerd, which was quite a while ago, but another very funny character.
Anytime you get to take your clothes off, that’s fun. I did Hair and The Full Monty. And another musical, Damn Yankees. I played the Devil, who is the comic villain.
What kind of training have you had? I know you said you were in chorus. Did you take any dance classes or anything like that?
I had taken tap dance lessons in the ’90s for about six years.
That explains Nostradamus in Something Rotten! Because he taps.
Anything Goes was the last show that I had tapped in, probably at least 15 or 16 years ago, so that was great to come back to with Nostradamus.
In terms of acting classes, I went to a lot of the theater schools in DC like The Theatre Lab, Studio Acting Conservatory, and Woolly Mammoth. And I’ve had some really good teachers too, like Michael Rosado, Nancy Robinette, Lee Mikeska Gardner.
How do you prepare for roles? What is your process?
Gentleman’s Guide I had not seen before. I read it and listened to the recording. Some characters, I start from the inside and then work on the physical stuff later because you want to be so distinct in your characters. But I actually started from the outside with these, in terms of learning their mannerisms, their walk, their vocal inflections. Things to make them unique. They were all members of the same family so there might be traits that are shared. I found all of that very challenging.
Do you have any dream roles?
Well, everybody wants to do Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. If I had to pick one, that would be it. There’s a few that have passed me by agewise, now. I know this might sound cliche but I grew up with Grease and always wanted to do that show, but the timing was never right.
So in a perfect world, where you can time-travel, you’d like to be in Grease?
Are there any outstanding shows or performances that you saw this year?
I did see The Color Purple at Signature Theatre. It was a powerful piece, and Nova Payton was the lead. Her performance was utterly amazing, as was the whole production. Another show I’ve seen recently that I loved was the musical Ride the Cyclone at Arena Stage.
If you could go anywhere, any place, any time, to see a performance, where would you go? What would you see?
I think I would actually have to go back in time to Broadway for the opening night of Oklahoma. I like the big splashy musicals, like Something Rotten!, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, The Musical. And I prefer the old-fashioned ones, like Hello, Dolly and Oklahoma. Everybody wants to do the latest and greatest and there’s always a rush when the rights become available, and that’s fine and good, but I do think the classics still have a place in entertainment.
I had never met Chuck Dluhy before and had a lovely time speaking to him, learning some of his history, theater favorites, and processes. I will be looking forward to attending the WATCH Awards on March 19 and want to commend Dluhy on his years of work, past and present recognitions, and obvious love and affection for community theater and the powerful connections and experiences that come from it. I will be first in line on the day Dluhy gets to play his dream role of Willy Loman. Congratulations and best of luck to Dluhy and all of the nominees for the 2023 WATCH Awards.
The 2022 WATCH Awards Ceremony will take place at 7:30 PM on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at The Birchmere – 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. The event is currently sold out.