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Since graduating Emerson College in 2010, Ashburnham, MA-native Sam Simahk (pronounced – See’-mahk) has quickly become one of the most in-demand leading men in local musical theatre. Winning raves for his recent turns as Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd, and Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods, Sam is now bringing his talents to SpeakEasy Stage, where he will star as Will in the company’s upcoming New England premiere production of BIG FISH.
Recently we asked Sam to tell us a bit more about himself, and his work on BIG FISH.
Tell us about BIG FISH, and the character you play in the show.
BIG FISH is the epic tale of traveling salesman Edward Bloom. So as not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the 2003 film or read the Daniel Wallace novel, let’s just say the action of the play revolves around his familial relationships, and how they’ve been affected by Edward’s never-ending storytelling.
I play Will Bloom, Edward’s son. Will is a young man at a turning point in his life. He’s recently married and about to have his first child; and in planning for the arrival of his son, wants to make sure that everything is right in the world so that he can welcome the newest Bloom into existence. A huge part of that preparation is repairing his tenuous relationship with his father Edward, whose career as a traveling salesman and whose outrageous storytelling has alienated the two men over the years. With Edward’s health in question, Will sets out to discover the truth behind Edward’s tall tales, in the hopes that he’ll be able to pass on his family legacy to his future son.
What attracted you to the show and to this role?
I love this story. I think it’s a beautiful combination of a larger-than-life tall tale and a simple, yet poignant parent-child reconciliation story. And I think that Will Bloom is an interesting guy. He was raised in a home where it was hard to tell truth from fiction, then escaped to a career in hard journalism. Now, as the show opens, he is trying to repair his relationship with his father while preparing himself for the arrival of his own child. He’s looking for understanding at a crucial point in his life, and I think everybody can associate with that sentiment.
Is there a particular song or scene in the the show that is your favorite or resonates for you? The song – “I Don’t Need a Roof” is one of my favorites. I’m getting verklempt just thinking about it! I also love “The River Between Us”, which is a new song that wasn’t in the original Broadway production.
In what ways are you like your character Will?
Will is a level-headed, logical thinker who starts arguments without meaning to, mostly because he’s trying to relay what he believes is the truth. He is a good person who’s trying to connect with others, but one who doesn’t always know how to go about doing that. I can totally identify with a guy like that.
Since BIG FISH is in part a story about tall tales, is there anything that ever happened to you that others might fine unbelievable?
I think I’ve led a fairly believable life, but there was the one time that my suitcase was the first piece of luggage to arrive on the airport conveyor belt. I have no proof, but I swear it happened.
How did you get your start in acting?
My mom enrolled me in Theatre at the Mount’s summer drama camp at Mount Wachusett Community College, I discovered that I loved performing, and then I got involved with their theater’s productions. By the time I was in high school, I was auditioning for every show at the Mount, working on the high school musicals, and trying to complete my schoolwork in between shows. When it came time to apply to college, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to study more.
What are you looking forward to about the rehearsal process for BIG FISH?
It’s always fun to work on “new” material. I’ve done quite a few readings and workshops, and I always love approaching a work without any preconceived notions of what’s right or wrong about a line/scene/character. Here we have a unique opportunity to take work that has already been produced in a full-scale Broadway setting and reshape it into something new. In some sense, there is work that has already been done for us and I’m not going to disregard it, but at the same time I’m excited to bring my own take to material that hasn’t been around long enough for performers to sink into a rut of what the show is “supposed to be like.”
Are you excited about having composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa and book writer John August in the rehearsal room?
Well, excited and scared. They are impressive guys! I always want writers to be happy with the way I treat their work, and this production is certainly no exception. But it’ll be thrilling to have the writers, whose work I’ve been a fan of for years, sitting in on rehearsal–and to be privy to a bit of their process!
The show is very much a love story of sorts between a father and a son. Do you have a favorite memory or story of your Dad from your childhood?
I remember a very specific incident from my childhood, which was, in many ways, a typical rural New England boyhood (albeit with a multi-racial upbringing, which was incredibly rare where/when I grew up). I was torturing ants, as one does when one is a small bored child who’s just beginning to grasp the power that he has to destroy the world around him, but in lieu of a sunbeam-concentrating magnifying glass, I was putting ants on a K’Nex ferris wheel I’d built and spinning them around at what I’m sure were unreasonable speeds (and, if ant amusement parks are anything like those of humans, my ferris wheel was probably covered with little bits of ant vomit). Seeing how I had chosen to entertain myself, my dad came over and told me quite simply that, if I wasn’t careful, I’d be reincarnated as an ant. Instantly, my idea of how the world worked was redefined, as was my understanding of other creatures’ lives. I guess you could say my small heart grew three sizes that day, all because of one statement from my father. Looking back, that’s probably not something that a lot of Western kids hear from their non-Buddhist (or non-Hindu) parents, but my dad, having been born and raised in Bangkok, brought a good amount of Eastern philosophy into our Massachusetts household, and I’m very appreciative of that (as are, I’m sure, all of the ants I’ve come into contact with since then). To this day, I still catch-and-release spiders rather than slaughter them, much to the fury of every woman I’ve ever dated. But come on! Those little guys are super helpful, and I wouldn’t like it if somebody ten million times bigger than I am crushed me simply because he was weirded out by the amount of legs I have.