Rory O’Malley is already famous for his Tony Award nominated turn as the lightly closeted Mormon Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.
But now the 33-year-old Irish American actor and singer with a smile to rival Michael Fassbender’s has a story of his own to tell, one which is certain to resonate with Irish Americans.
Pub Crawl is O’Malley’s hilarious and deeply moving new show about being raised in the Irish pub culture of Cleveland, Ohio. Using traditional Irish pub songs (including a blast of the Pogues), it tells the story of how his single mother and her circle of friends and family at the pub helped raise him.
“The show is about my being raised Irish Catholic in Cleveland. My mom was a single mother. She had six siblings in a big Irish family, all descended from shanty Irish folks who arrived after the Famine,” O’Malley told the Irish Voice.
“They settled along the Cuyahoga River. It’s the river that caught on fire. We’re real good at picking real estate.”
O’Malley’s Irish ancestors made their parish along a stretch of land that later became known as Irishtown. Their local church was St. Malachy’s.
“That’s were my grandparents and my mom grew up. Pub life was such a huge part of growing up for me. Going to pubs and being around them. It made me who I am today,” he says.
O’Malley’s mother’s hard working friends called themselves the weekend warriors. “They surrounded her and they helped raise me. My mom worked at the pub on top of her 50 hours a week at an accounting firm. So it’s really a story about her and everyone who raised me.”
And what a story it is. In the show O’Malley talks about how his mom fell in love with a fly by night Irishman, fresh off the boat from Ireland where he was visiting family.
“She fell for him and got pregnant and he went back to Ireland as soon as he found out. That was the last time she ever saw him,” O’Malley says.
Later when he was 19, O’Malley made a trip to Ireland himself to see his ancestral homeland. On his way his mother warned him to watch out in case he met his dad.
“You have to be prepared to run into this guy,” she warned him. “I said, ‘Mom it’s a country not a village.’”
But of course it was a village.
“I ended up meeting my father for about 10 minutes. It was wild. It wasn’t planned. It was a major moment in my life,” says O’Malley.
“He wasn’t a strong man, he wasn’t able to look me in the eye even. But he gave me the freedom to embrace the fact that there was another man -- my mom’s friend Michael -- who had really been my father. Before he passed away Michael had earned that title in every way, shape and form.”
Michael was a fireman and a bar owner who also happened to be gay and in the closet. Without giving too much away, his life was tragically cut short. “Before he died he adopted me and married my mother so that we would be taken care of when he was gone through his fireman’s pension. He was an Irishman who comes from the same place that I do, but we lived in a different time,” O’Malley says.
He wrote Pub Crawl to demonstrate his gratitude to the man who stood up for him and to his mother too.
“I was nine years old when Michael passed and I couldn’t properly thank him.”
Don’t expect Pub Crawl be a sad tale, though.
“With Irish drama things are told with humor. I love that people come in for a pub night of fun and that’s what they’re going to get, but there are a few tears too,” says O’Malley.
“It’s a story that means a lot to me right now at this point in my life and I’m glad to get the opportunity to tell it.”
With help from Michael, O’Malley was able to attend private school and develop in a way that eventually led to Broadway. It completely changed his life. He hasn’t forgotten his roots or his debt.
“Much of my audience is made up of theater fans but I would love to be able to get the word out to the Irish community here in the city as well.”
Both are his communities after all, as this brilliant new show makes clear.
There will be two back to back shows of Pub Crawl on Thursday, May 30 at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, New York. Tickets are available at www.JoesPub.com or by calling 212-967-7555.