“It’s a small world,” the old adage goes, and well, the theater world is even smaller.
Sometimes painfully so. And that’s how producer Ronnie Larsen snagged the U.S. premiere of Chris Woodley’s comedy, “Tommy on Top,” opening this weekend at the Foundry in Wilton Manors.
The British actor who starred in a 2019 London production of Larsen’s “Happy Ending,” later played the lead in “Tommy” last year and word soon got back to the prolific South Florida producer about Woodley’s “terrific new play.”
“Ronnie said he’d like to read it and that was followed by a reading in December and here we are,” Woodley explained in a Zoom call.
Tommy Wilson is an actor who finds himself nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor in an art-house film. According to Woodley, Tommy is “more of a Channing Tatum or Wentworth Miller type, a middling actor” more suited to less weighty roles. In the weekend leading up to the awards ceremony, a photo is leaked of him “having a clinch” (kissing) another man in a hotel. Tommy’s agent then arrives to untangle the ensuing scandal. Ultimately, the actor must decide whether to remain in the closet or pursue happiness.
Larsen quickly slotted “Tommy on Top” into a three-show series, “The Hollywood Plays,” including Michael McKeever’s “The Code,” an imagined 1930s meeting of gay actor Billy Haines and agent Henry Willson, and “Valley of the Balls,” a campy gender-bending parody of the 1967 film about three women struggling to forge careers in the entertainment industry.
A former teacher, Woodley’s first full-length play, “Next Lesson,” focused on Section 28, Britain’s version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that was in force from 1988 through 2003. His inaugural effort enjoyed a sold-out run in London, a workshop in New York and another successful production in Australia.
After penning a couple more plays, “I wanted to challenge myself with something that was set in the U.S. I have family in New York and many friends in L.A. and San Francisco,” Woodley said. “I read an article by Sir Ian McKellen that essentially said no openly gay actor had ever won an Oscar for performance. That was in 2016 or 2017 and I also found it interesting that there were these gay Trump supporters, too.”
The playwright won’t be able to attend the premiere, but he is hopeful to catch an upcoming production in Chicago — while hopefully on a “mini-(honey)moon” following his June wedding.
In the meantime, Woodley has two film projects in the works, romantic comedies that will begin production in Canada and the U.S., respectively. He also will be penning an upcoming episode of a popular British soap opera.
“I’m definitely moving toward writing for the screen. That’s always been an aspiration, especially in the last year … and of course, I’d love to see ‘Tommy on Top’ made into a film, sort of ‘Birdcage’ meets a ‘Will & Grace’ live episode,” he said.
Chris Woodley’s “Tommy on Top” will be performed May 13 – 29 at the Foundry, 2306 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets start at $35 at RonnieLarsen.com.