Kiss Me, Kate’s Wayne Pretlow Returns Home to Hartford
By Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate
From growing up as a shy kid in Hartford, then appearing in a Hartford Stage summer youth production of Kiss Me, Kate, and now returning to Hartford Stage to play Pops in Darko Tresnjak’s Kiss Me, Kate – Wayne Pretlow has come full circle.
Pretlow is happy to be home in Hartford. His face may be familiar to many, as the actor has appeared in over 100 national commercials, including spots for Wendy’s, the United States Postal Service, Staples and Canon Copiers. He has also appeared in countless theatrical productions, including Madison Square Garden’s A Christmas Carol; the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down The Wind; the Broadway production of The Civil War, and the world premiere of Memphis (where he originated the role of Bobby). The versatile actor has also appeared on a number of popular television shows, including Nurse Jackie, Person of Interest, Elementary, and The Sopranos.
Pretlow grew up in Hartford’s North End in the 1970s, the youngest of five children. By the time he attended middle school, his two older brothers and two older sisters had graduated and moved on – leaving him home alone with his parents. Pretlow describes himself as a creative yet shy child who participated in glee club and school plays. He credits one of his older sisters with igniting his initial interest in the performing arts.
“She would take pictures of me when I was around 4 or 5, looking out the window as snow fell and said, ‘Look happy and surprised…now look sad,’ and I would act it out,” Pretlow recalls, laughing. “I didn’t know a thing about acting and never gave it much thought. Heck, I was 5 – I was just having fun.”
It didn’t take long for the acting bug to really hit Pretlow. He attended his brother’s and sister’s high school production of Hair with his parents and shyly asked if he could dance along with the cast in the aisles to “Let the Sunshine In.” Pretlow lightheartedly recalls being hoisted onto someone’s shoulders, reveling in the attention he received from the delighted audience when he was brought onto the stage.
In addition to his siblings, Pretlow also credits Gerri Jones, his elementary school choir teacher, and teachers Ellie Kurth and Patricia Edge, who placed the young actor in their summer theatre programs, for encouraging his passion for the theatrical arts. But Pretlow notes that the late Clay Stevenson and the Hartford Stage Youth Theatre Summer Program had the biggest impact on his decision to pursue a career in theatre.
Pretlow first learned about Clay Stevenson while still in high school. He had not appeared on stage for some time and discovered that Stevenson was holding auditions at Hartford Stage for its summer youth theatre production of On the Town. Pretlow auditioned for the show but did not get cast. Crushed, he was determined to keep auditioning until he successfully landed a role.
The following year, Stevenson auditioned youth actors for Kiss Me, Kate. Pretlow had prepared with a voice teacher for the auditions months in advance and felt confident going into auditions for the musical. Weeks later, Pretlow received a letter in the mail announcing that he’d been cast as Hortensio in the show. He was so excited upon learning the news that he screamed. His only prior connection to Hartford Stage had been as a student coming to seeing performances. To actually now be acting at Hartford Stage proved to be a dream come true.
“It was so exhilarating to arrive on the first day of meet-and-greet, seeing faces of other young people I had met at the auditions and others I knew from around town all in one place – in this theater – was totally cool,” Pretlow recalls. “It was working with Clay and choreographer Stephen Semien that I learned what the acting and rehearsal process was really like. It’s work, but as Clay used to always say, ‘It’s fun in the work, babe.’”
From that pivotal role as Hortensio in Kiss Me, Kate, Pretlow moved on to a successful acting career spanning stage, film, print, commercials, and television. The role that stands out most for him thus far in his career is Nicely-Nicely from Guys and Dolls. Pretlow was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for the role, which he performed at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and won the Boston I.R.N.E Award in 2013 for the production at North Shore Music Theatre. But, he jokingly notes that “the role I would love to play hasn’t been written yet … to my knowledge.”
Pretlow is excited to be back at Hartford Stage, performing in the production that truly kickstarted his career – Kiss Me, Kate.
“Since I left Hartford, it’s always been a dream goal to perform at the Stage Company where I had done several staged readings in my 20s and one I did a few years ago called Barnstormer,” Pretlow said. “But being back on the main stage is pure joy. It’s taken nearly 30 years to come back, but I’m here!”
Pretlow plays Pops and the Priest in Kiss Me, Kate, which is being directed by Hartford Stage’s Tony Award-winning Artistic Director, Darko Tresnjak. Pretlow describes his character as “a crotchety door man at the theatre with a soft heart, and the priest in the ‘play within a play’ is, well, a priest.” He jokingly adds this seems to be a recurrent theme for him, as he portrayed a priest on a recent episode of Nurse Jackie.
Working with Tresnjak on Kiss Me, Kate has proven to be a wonderful experience for Pretlow, noting that he is an actor’s director who focuses on a team effort.
“It is truly a collaboration of minds and talents. He takes what the actor brings to the process and shapes it; and if it doesn’t quite work, he offers suggestions,” Pretlow explains. “He is very generous, and we don’t always get that as actors. Once you have that experience, you want to do the work and bring that director’s vision to life. Darko is one of those directors. I hope to work with him many times in the years to come, should the opportunity present itself.”
Being able to perform again in Hartford, his hometown, has been “awesome,” according to Pretlow, who left Hartford to pursue his career in 1996.
“I was cast in the pre-Broadway tryout of Whistle Down the Wind by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Hal Prince, but once that show closed out of town I would come back and forth between Hartford and my new home in New Jersey pretty often, as well as on holidays, if I was not working,” Pretlow says. “I used to have a very successful career in commercial acting, so being home I was sort of the local celebrity. Being home now and seeing all the changes the city has made since I left is odd. It’s a bigger city than I remember, but still home.”
While in Hartford, Pretlow and his business partner will be planning an industry seminar through his company, It Can Happen Productions, LLC, which focuses on artist marketing, training and seminars. To learn more about Pretlow’s company, and upcoming projects, visit www.ichartconsulting.webs.com.
Pretlow will also be using this time at home to reconnect with friends, his high school guidance counselor and science teacher, and spend quality time with his family, who still reside in Hartford. It will also give him a chance to meet the newest additions to the family – his niece and her husband’s newborn twins.
“I’m happy to be home. I’m happy to be part of this production at the Stage Company,” Pretlow notes. “I’ve come full circle.”