By Rita Charleston
When he was just 13 and visiting a cousin in New York, Tony Braithwaite suddenly found himself on stage at The Improv telling jokes and doing impressions. “The club’s owner asked me if I wanted to come back and do it again. When I returned home, I asked my parents’ permission, and when they agreed, my father drove me up to New York several times to perform.”
Braithwaite says it was really a gimmick but a wonderful experience that, combined with the laughter and fun that permeated his boyhood home in Bala Cynwyd, may have led in part to his current profession. Now 45, Braithwaite began appearing at Act II Playhouse in Ambler in 2003 and has been its artistic director since 2012, and he has been going nonstop ever since as a writer, director and star of numerous productions, including a couple of autobiographical one-man shows.
His current offering, which runs through July 30, is the return of “Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?” gleaned from Braithwaite’s 12 years teaching theology and sex education to high school freshman at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, his alma mater. The show includes storytelling, stand-up comedy, personal testimonials, one-liners, improvisation, audience interaction and even rap music.
“Teaching those subjects to 14-year-old boys at the school from 1994 (the year he graduated from Georgetown University) to 2006 was the best thing I ever did to hone my skills,” Braithwaite declared. “Then, when I was fortunate enough to be handed the reigns at Act II, I knew I had to do this show.
“So I started writing, and it was truly one of the most joyous writing projects I ever did. There’s a universality about this show. We’ve all had ‘that talk,’ wished we had that talk or talked about not having that talk. And of all the things I’ve done, I think this is my favorite show to perform.”
Today, Braithwaite, who now lives in Rosemont with his widowed father, “who tried to have that talk with me when I was about 12,” views Act II as his home base, although he’s worked in and around Philly since 1995. He is a 13-time Barrymore Award nominee and four-time Barrymore emcee, as well as a three-time Barrymore Award winner. He has also served as director of dramatics at St. Joe’s Prep for 23 years.
“Being the drama director has really been the joy of my life. Just last week Disney hand-selected us as one of the four high schools in the nation tapped to help produce their musical, ‘Newsies.’ That’s quite a feather in our cap and really nice for the kids to be able to puff up their chest and feel proud. Additionally, several of my students have made it to Broadway, while one made his way to Hollywood.”
As for Braithwaite himself, he’s quite content doing what he’s doing, feeling that Act II has become his home. “By often playing myself, the audience has come to feel connected to me. Today, everything seems to have worked out well, and we have a very loyal audience.”
In addition to his history at Act II, for nearly two decades Tony has worked in and around Philadelphia as a director, comic, writer and actor with theaters such as the Kimmel Center, Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Montgomery Theater, 1812 Productions, and others.
For times and ticket information for “Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?” call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org