Evan Buliung is heading back to Stratford after five years (spent, variously, at the Shaw Festival and in Toronto) to take up such classic roles as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew (2008) and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (2008).
In an interview with Richard Ouzounian in the Saturday Star, Buliung says an early goodbye to his deliciously malicious We Will Rock You (2007, Toronto) persona Khashoggi:
"For the past year, he's been delighting audiences (and himself) with his hyper-camp performance as the villainous Khashoggi in We Will Rock You, but before that he endured his stint as Aragorn in what he now calls 'the physical, spiritual and emotional barrage' otherwise known as The Lord of the Rings.
"It's probably a good thing Buliung spent some of his formative childhood years as a military cadet, because without that rigour, he might not have been able to stand the strain of his time in Middle-earth.
"'It became a personal agenda for all of us in the cast to just survive it,'" Buliung tells Ouzounian. "'And when it first ended, I was heartbroken and pretty shattered as a person. Very bleak days. And many of us from the cast were in the same situation. I didn't leave my apartment for days.'"
After being kicked out of the theatre program at George Brown College, Buliung wandered around the local theatre circuit before ending up at Stratford.
"Since he's going back to the Festival this year, he chooses his words carefully when discussing his five seasons there.
"'Stratford is a very big organization. It's easy for a young actor to be a ladder-climber and I didn't want to go that route.’
"For whatever reason, Buliung got a rude awakening in 2002 after playing Edgar opposite Christopher Plummer in King Lear when he was told he would not be going with the production to New York. He was replaced by Brent Carver.
"'It was an incredibly humbling and terrifying experience' is how he describes his departure. But he quickly got back up on his feet and went to his colleague Ben Campbell, who was joining his wife Jackie Maxwell at the Shaw Festival and said, 'Take me with you!'
"For the next three years at Shaw, Buliung honed his craft, moving to a new level of accomplishment in shows like Journey's End and Major Barbara. He loved it at Shaw, but when he heard a new giant musical version of The Lord of the Rings was auditioning in Toronto, he wanted to be a part of it.
"'I was a huge fan of the movies and the video game, but I'd never read the books,' he says, laughing."
The Lord of the Rings: The Musical (2006) also starred Dion Johnstone as Boromir and inaugural Birmingham Conservatory graduate Michael Therriault as Gollum (a role which he maintains today in London, England). Brent Carver, Buliung’s King Lear (2002) replacement, was Gandalf.
"'We spent a month and a half doing the Battle of Helm's Deep,' he remembers with a shudder. 'We wasted a lot of time on technical stuff and didn't spend enough time on the scenes.
"'You can throw as much money and effects as you want at a production, but if the heart of the story isn't there, it just doesn't work.'
"Still smarting from the LOTR experience, Buliung at first refused to audition for We Will Rock You, vowing, 'I don't want to do another big thing.'
"But the power of Queen's music and the Blackadder-ish humour of the book won him over.
"'I went in on the first day of rehearsals,' he says, 'put on the sunglasses and gloves and just went to town.
"'I went very, very large and explored the monster of it.'"
That monster – Khashoggi – will be laid to rest Sunday, January 27, 2008. Adam Brazier, who dabbled in Stratford ten years ago, and who was last in Toronto as the street rat in Ross Petty's Aladdin: The Magical Family Musical (2004), will pick up the reins.
Evan Buliung, however, is off to Stratford for table readings.