2015-08-20 / Around Town

Casper Roos: A Man for All Seasons

Broadway Actor Lives Over the Fence of Cardines Field
By James Merolla

You never know who or what you will find when you chase a baseball over a center field fence.

As the Newport Gulls ended their latest summer season and the fading echoes of the cheering throngs were scattered about the shadows of Cardines Field, a distinguished gentleman emerged to harvest yet another season of baseballs that landed in his neatly kept backyard.

In that regard, Casper Roos, still straight and handsome at age 90, isn’t much different from his neighbors along Bridge Street and Cozzens Court, all of whom have stories of windows being shattered by a Gulls home run. They all pick up baseballs in their yards from May through August, much like a gardeners plucking errant weeds.

But what sets Roos apart is that he still carries himself like a leading man, sharp as a serpent’s tooth, sporting the rich baritone of an experienced thespian who has commanded many a stage. He spent the better part of four decades on and off-Broadway, in various leading, secondary and choral roles in plays and musicals, working with the likes of Carol Burnett, Hermione Gingold, Polly Bergen, and others, in a list of shows longer than his substantial memory.

Roos lives in the Swansea House an abode from 1731 that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was transported to Newport from the Seekonk, Mass. area years back and restored.

But it is not where he lives that inspires this Q and A. It’s how.

NTW: Is living behind a very active baseball field a hazard to this classic home’s windows?

ROOS: There are only two occasions

I know of where the ball has gone into a house and broken a window. It’s never been much of a problem. The only thing I find objectionable is when they are not playing, they are practicing, and they’ve got the loudspeakers going with their music, which is not my music, which is to say, classical.

NTW: Have the Gulls worked with the neighbors over the years?

ROOS: I have been here nine years, a little less than the Gulls have. At first I thought, “That’s not a very tall fence.” It was 12 feet high.

They added another section, and now it is 18 feet. But they can still get a ball over that.

NTW: Did you have another career before finding your calling in the theater?

ROOS: My dad was a contractor, so I was interested in that. I tried to make a go of it, building a house or two, but I was too slow (laughs).

NTW: When did theater begin for you?

ROOS: In high school in the Bronx. My father had also been a singer. I began to sing and it brought a light on me. I thought, “This is great.” I was fat and pudgy. It was that need for approval. I walked down the hall and these two girls looked at me and said, “That’s Casper Roos!” They knew my name!

NTW: You spent decades acting in New York. Who did you work with?

ROOS: Hermione Gingold, Polly Bergen, Farley Granger. I was in “Once Upon a Mattress,” with Carol Burnett, who was wonderful. That lasted three years. We started in an off-Broadway house and they threw us out. But we were a hit! We said, “What are we going to do?” We needed another theater. So, we donned our costumes and picketed up and down Broadway, chanting, "We want a new theater!" It made all the papers. So, we went uptown. We became the touring company of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

I worked with Robert Morse in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the original Broadway production. We had an untalented choreographer, so they brought in the legendary Bob Fosse and his ex-wife, Gwen Verdon— they had split up but were still close. That was a lovely experience.

NTW: What was one of your toughest nights on stage?

ROOS: I had a principal role in “Here’s Where We Belong,” a musical version of “East of Eden.” It lasted one night. Nobody told me. I showed up at the theater the second night and the stage manager said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “They closed the show. They’ll send you a check.” Then he said, “See if your costumes are still there. I saw the director trying them on.” The director was my size.

NTW: What was your last show on Broadway? Did you retire to Newport?

ROOS: I was in the original production of “Shenandoah” in 1975. After a revival on Broadway in 1989, I retired to Gilbertsville, N.Y., 30 miles south of Cooperstown. But you get to February and you hate everybody. It’s so dull. I got older and my knees had to be replaced and my son, Pieter, urged me to move here for family reasons.

NTW: You then worked regionally and for years in summer stock. Have you performed in Newport?

ROOS: I was in a Salve Regina production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at the Casino Theater. I played the barfly. Last Christmas, I played Scrooge in a Marley Bridges production. There is quite a bit of improvisation. I still enjoy it.

NTW: Why isn’t there more theater in Newport?

ROOS: I was in “Love Letters” at the Edward King House. We had 12 people one night, five the next. It is really not a theater-going town. If Newporters are going to go, they go to New York and make a day and a night and weekend out of it.

NTW: In your scrapbook, I see another handsome actor. Who is that?

ROOS: That's Pieter. Even he was in a few shows. Being on stage seems to run in the family.

NTW: What are you reading?

ROOS: My granddaughter, Charlotte Roos, is a freshman at Ithaca College. She wrote this screenplay. It’s really good. I haven’t asked if there is a part for me. I think I better tell her to tweak it.

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