On Broadway

Fort Wayne native making his debut

Michael Oberholtzer, photography by Mari Sheibley

Michael Oberholtzer, photography by Mari Sheibley

When Michael Oberholtzer first moved to New York to pursue a career as an actor, his life wasn’t much fun. He worked the night shift as a hotel bellman until 7 a.m., then would try to grab an hour or two of sleep before his first acting class at 10 a.m. “It was a long two years,” the Bishop Luers graduate recalled.

On his days off, he used his old college ID to get student rush tickets for Broadway shows, paying as little as $25 for a seat. Oberholtzer still remembers the first production he saw, the play “Pillowman” starring Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum at the Booth Theater. “The whole atmosphere, it was awesome,” he remembered. “It’s a beautiful theater.”

On April 7, a new play called “Hand to God” will open at the Booth, but this time Oberholtzer won’t be watching from the audience. Instead he’ll be up on stage, making his Broadway debut.

“Hand to God” centers around a shy student named Jason who finds an outlet for his creativity at a Christian puppet ministry run by his mother. Things are thrown into upheaval when his hand puppet Tyrone comes to life, taking on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Oberholtzer plays Timmie, a sullen teen whose mother has forced him to join the puppet ministry.

The play was first staged off-off-Broadway in 2011, then moved off-Broadway last year. That’s where Oberholtzer joined the cast. A New York Times review of that production praised Oberholtzer’s performance as “vivid” and called the play “ferociously funny.” The producers decided to keep the same cast when they moved it to Broadway. Oberholtzer had heard rumors that might be happening but finally got confirmation during a lunch meeting with his agent and manager. “They were like, ‘You’re definitely going. It’s just a matter of when they’re going to announce it,'” he said.

Although it will be a new experience for Oberholtzer, he’s worked with other actors in the past who have performed on the Great White Way, including Harvey Cocks, whose Broadway credits include a multiyear run in “Life with Father” in the 1940s. The two appeared together in a short film shot in Fort Wayne called “The Runaround” before Oberholtzer moved to New York, and he remembers getting advice on being an actor from his co-star in between takes. “He was a really nice guy,” Oberholtzer said. “He shared a lot of wisdom with us as far as being in the business.”

Once “Hand to God” ends its Broadway run, he’s not sure what comes next. Such is the life of an actor, even a working one like Oberholtzer, whose film and television credits include playing a killer in an episode of “Law & Order” and one of Vince Vaughn’s many children in the movie “Delivery Man.”

“Any actor who’s ever tried to do this as a profession will tell you there’s ups and downs and plateaus and valleys,” he said. “I’m just thrilled that I have a job for awhile. That it’s on Broadway is just the icing on the cake.”

Editor’s note: Contributing writer Nathan Gotsch wrote and directed “The Runaround” when he and Oberholtzer were in college.

First appeared in the April 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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