Ben Davis isn't even in Nashville yet, and already he's eating like a native: "This morning," he confides in a telephone interview from his home in New York City, "in anticipation of your phone call and our upcoming trip to Nashville, my wife and I had sausage gravy and biscuits for breakfast."
So it should come as no surprise to Nashville-area audiences when they meet the completely charming, handsome and talented Davis-who will be in town to play the role of Captain Georg Von Trapp in Studio Tenn's much-anticipated production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music-that he feels pretty much at home.
Davis' fondness for Nashville comes honest to him. As a member of the national touring companies of Les Miserables (1997) and Spamalot (2008), he performed onstage at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall and spent more than a little time enjoying some of Music City's most venerable restaurants: "I have many visits to the Pancake Pantry in my past," he laughs. "And I think this time we'll be staying closer to the Loveless Café, so I can anticipate a lot of really good food while I'm there."
In fact, Davis says, when on tour actors tend to remember cities by what's on the menu-and that's why Nashville ranks among his favorite tour memories.
For now, however, he's focusing on his upcoming role playing the strict and strident Captain Von Trapp (who is ultimately unmasked as a romantic softy), whose family welcomes a young novitiate into its ranks as a governess who, in turn, brings music, life and love back into the dour household in pre-World War II Austria. It's a role of near-legendary proportions to be certain, Davis maintains, yet it's one he's never had the opportunity to play until now.
"The Sound of Music is such an iconic American classic of the musical theater," he explains. "And I think that's why it's so popular with theater companies and audiences."
And perhaps, Davis suggests, even Oprah Winfrey might be credited with helping to further solidify the musical's place in the American consciousness, thanks to one of the final episodes of her eponymous television talk show which focused on the musical's film cast. "I wonder if that had something to do with it," he asks rhetorically.
"My wife wasn't born when the movie first came out, yet she's seen it often enough over the years that it's one of her favorite movies," Davis says, considering how the story of the Von Trapp Family Singers has influenced American pop culture since the show first debuted on Broadway in 1959. "It's an iconic film and an iconic musical, so I think it's always popular with audiences."
For Davis, who has appeared on Broadway in such critically acclaimed shows as Les Miserables, A Little Night Music and Baz Luhrmann's imaginative staging of La Boheme, taking on the role of Captain Von Trapp is more than serendipitous; rather, it might be a case of perfect timing.
"It's a role I've never done before, but it's definitely going to be a lot of fun," he predicts.
"I was thinking I might be too young for the part at first. I'll be 37 in July," he explains. "But Christopher Plummer was 36 when he did the role on film-so the timing is definitely right."
The Indianapolis native also looks forward to being onstage again with Jessica Grove, the Broadway veteran and old friend who plays Maria Rainer in director Matt Logan's rendition of the time-honored musical theater classic.
"This will be my fifth show with Jessica-we did three shows on Broadway; the first was Les Miserables, when Jessica was 19-and so it's very nice to be onstage with her again since we're old friends," Davis says. Grove concurs, during a separate interview, calling Davis a "member of the family at this point."