Rory O'Malley on shamrocks & pansies

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday February 12, 2019
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Broadway actor Rory O'Malley: "Now I'm trying to live the legacy." Photo: Courtesy the subject
Broadway actor Rory O'Malley: "Now I'm trying to live the legacy." Photo: Courtesy the subject

When Broadway veteran Rory O'Malley, a Tony nominee as gay Elder McKinley in "Book of Mormon," comes to town later this month, he'll drop in on a couple of earlier chapters of his life. He plans to stop by the Orpheum Theater to greet friends in the cast and crew of "Hamilton." Two years ago, after a stint in the role on Broadway, he played King George in the first touring company of the show when it settled into San Francisco for a four-month run.

But the way-back machine will really kick into hyperdrive when O'Malley takes the stage at Feinstein's at the Nikko for a two-night run of "Pub Crawl," his deeply personal one-man show, on February 22 & 23. In it, the 38-year-old spins a pint-pulling, tear-jerking yarn that follows him from pre-school to his late teenage years.

"It's a story," he says, "about growing up the son of a single mom in Cleveland, Ohio. My mom had grown up in Cleveland, too, in a close-knit Irish neighborhood. She, her siblings and a close group of their friends have stuck together ever since they were teenagers, like one big extended clan. They went into the work force right out of high school. And they were weekend warriors in the pubs.

"My mom got pregnant with me in a one-night-stand with a visiting Irishman," O'Malley says. "She worked in an office daytimes, and in a pub at night to make ends meet, so that's where I was raised."

Unlike most Broadway performers who put together a cabaret act, O'Malley has not a single showtune in his set. "It just doesn't fit," he explains. "This story is set in a pub, and I want to pull you into that world: U2, Van Morrison, Mumford and Sons. Songs inspired by traditional Irish music."

But O'Malley says it's important for audiences to know that they're not in for a straight shot of Irish whiskey. His story has several twists. He won't share them all in advance, but the first goes like this:

"My mom picked me up from daycare one day. She said she needed to talk to me about my uncle — not a blood uncle, but the most charismatic man among all of her friends, a firefighter and pub owner. 'He's very sick,' she said. 'He's gay, and he has AIDS.'

"She didn't go into much detail. Whatever I knew was from the stories I'd been seeing about Ryan White on TV. But what she did was very quickly take the conversation somewhere else. 'He wants to make us a family," she said. 'This is his dying wish.'

"It was the 1980s," recalls O'Malley. "He wasn't out to anyone. He was a gay man who went to Catholic Mass every Sunday. And he wanted us to be able to receive his pension. I was the ring-bearer at their wedding at St. Malachy's church. We were a family, and we were loved.

"I was nine years old when he died in 1990. I was able to go to the private boys' high school in Cleveland. And now I'm trying to live the legacy, to live the life he wasn't allowed to have."

In 2009, along with fellow actor Gavin Creel and production coordinator Jenny Kanelos, O'Malley started Broadway Impact, a political awareness and fundraising organization that worked in support of marriage equality. He has also been involved with countless AIDS and LGBTQ charity projects.

O'Malley has only performed "Pub Crawl" three times prior to this month's engagement at Feinstein's, and the last of those was almost five years ago. But in November, O'Malley and his husband Gerold Schroeder adopted a newborn boy.

"Time is so valuable to me, and I really want to do work that is worth my time," O'Malley says. "I feel drawn to this story again."

Rory O'Malley in "Pub Crawl," Feinstein's at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., SF. Feb. 22-23. Tickets from $55: (415) 394-1167,