Entertainment

Native Wichitan’s career lively with ‘Dead Martin,’ ‘Preacher’

Actor and Wichita native Don Winsor returns home this Sunday for a performance of “The Dead Martin Variety Hour” at the Crown Uptown.  He promises it will showcase “some of the worst and strangest acts Wichita has to offer.”
Actor and Wichita native Don Winsor returns home this Sunday for a performance of “The Dead Martin Variety Hour” at the Crown Uptown. He promises it will showcase “some of the worst and strangest acts Wichita has to offer.” Courtesy photo

There are two opportunities to see Wichita native Don Winsor this Sunday.

One is on an episode of AMC’s series “Preacher” (9:10 p.m.), taped in his current home of Australia in April.

The second is to see him live – so to speak – in his resurrection of the title character in “The Dead Martin Variety Hour” at the Crown Uptown Theatre.

“Preacher,” in its fourth and final season on AMC, is based on the comic book series of the same name.

“It’s a show that I’ve always loved,” Winsor said in a phone interview from Melbourne. “I actually loved the original comics it was based on. I own the entire run of the comics.”

Winsor was excited to hear that the fourth season of the series was being filmed near his new home.

“I called my agent immediately – and this is the only time I’ve ever done this – and said, ‘Whatever happens, I have to be on this show,’” he recalled.

The casting director worked with him before and remembered him, Winsor said.

“It’s not a huge part, but it’s something I’m very happy with,” he said. “I’m not sure how much of it remains in the episode. It could be five minutes, they could have gutted it town to 30 seconds. Who knows?”

Controlling his own destiny, however, was part of the reason for creating “Dead Martin,” which debuted in January 2015 at Roxy’s Downtown.

“As a professional actor, you don’t normally get to pick and choose what you want to do,” the 45-year-old said. “Sometimes, it’s not what you yourself would want to buy a ticket and go see.”

Coming back to Kansas after touring in “Mamma Mia!,” Winsor said he thought, “What would I actually want to see?”

A veteran of playing Dean Martin in several Rat Pack tribute shows, “I thought, ‘People like zombies, and I like Dean Martin,’” he said.

And “Dead Martin” was, for the lack of a better word, born.

“He’s Dean Martin-esque, but it’s not zombie Dean Martin,” Winsor said.

Although the backstory has never been included in the performances, “He’s a crooner who died many years ago but lived a horrible life, so he’s cursed to host the worst variety show in the universe, forever,” Winsor said.

The variety acts come from Wichita, and Winsor, er, Martin, doesn’t know what they’re going to be or what they’ll do until they hit the stage.

“The best part about this show is that you never know what these people are going to do. The acts are all real acts,” he said. “The people who do this are people you never imagined lived in Wichita. Some of them do perform for a living, but most of them don’t.”

Winsor calls “Dead Martin” a “first-draft show,” where the only lines he writes are for himself and other characters in between the performances.

“It’s not like improv, it’s more like skydiving,” he said. “Because of the nature of the acts, you hope the parachute opens.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on stage.”

Winsor moved Down Under four years ago this September and married his wife, an Australian native and dancer that he met when they both performed on cruise ships. They have an 11-month-old son, and Winsor said he was ready for a life of semi-retirement but has found himself in a performing frenzy.

He has performed Dead Martin several times in Australia, as part of a stage variety show. He and several other American ex-pats have formed a theater company there, and he has had several appearances, as a brash American industrialist, on the long-running Australian soap opera “Neighbours.”

Winsor says he is also in consideration for an American TV pilot that will tape in January.

He said he considers his humor style “dark and dry,” favoring British humor, but that’s not the same as Australia.

“I’ve been here for years and I’m married to an Australian, but I still don’t think I 100% get it,” he said of the reaction to “Dead” and other work. “There is an audience for that here. But the mass Australian frame of mind, what Australians find funny, is something I don’t quite have my finger on the pulse of yet.”

Winsor said he was only planning on returning to Kansas in mid-August to help his family clean out a storage shed, but Roxy’s producer Rick Bumgardner convinced him to bring “Dead Martin” back to life. (Roxy’s had a scheduling conflict, so it was moved to Crown Uptown.)

“As always with ‘Dead Martin,’ I am equal amounts nervous and excited,” Winsor said. “This was not a part of my plan or even the point of my trip. It just seemed like a good idea and it’s happening.”

Winsor’s resume includes playing both the Beast and Gaston for lengthy runs in “Beauty and the Beast,” Billy Flynn in “Chicago” and Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”

But he said he gets the greatest satisfaction playing an undead crooner.

“Aside from my parents and family and friends, it (Dead Martin) was the hardest thing for me to leave behind from Wichita,” he said. “Four months in, I thought I was this serious musical theater baritone. But it turns out Dead Martin was the thing I always wanted to do.”

‘THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD MARTIN VARIETY HOUR’

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas

Tickets: $10-$15, by calling 316-612-7696 or online at crownuptown.com. Must be 17 or older.

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