If you’re planning to see the Broadway adaptation of Once (which opens at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Mar. 18), I’ve already spoiled something for you: the moment when you say to yourself, “Oh my God, that’s the bad guy from The Warriors up on stage.” Yep, the man who said the oft-quoted “Warriors, come out to play-ay” is in a musical—singing, dancing, strumming the mandolin (Once’s cast is also its orchestra) and play-ay-ing the father of the guitar-playing hero.
For David Patrick Kelly, rocking a mandolin on Broadway is actually the most natural thing in the world. Since 1979’s cult hit The Warriors, he’s done it twice, in Once and in 1998’s Twelfth Night, and he’s performed in six other Broadway shows. And since he’s “Irish through and through,” appearing in the Dublin-set musical is a no-brainer. Or, as he describes it, “like visiting the land of your dreams.” Here are some other things you might know about the 61-year-old actor:
He credits the guitar for his role in The Warriors. “The story goes like this,” Kelly says. “I wanted to go to Julliard and I didn’t have the money, so I went to [the legendary rock performance space] CBGBs instead. In 1975, I played clubs all around New York, so I got really, really much better at guitar. So when Stephen Schwartz tried to do this revolutionary musical where people play the music on stage, called Working, I could do it. Walter Hill, Joel Silver, and Larry Gordon, the director and producers of Warriors came to see that, and that helped me get the job.”
He might be one of the forefathers of psychobilly. That’s a fusion of punk and rockabilly popularized by groups like The Living End. “In 1964, on St. Patrick’s Day, my mother gave me my first mandolin,” the actor remembers. “I played that through all my high school years, but I played it as a rhythm guitar. We were playing Jimi Hendrix, Motown, all the British invasion music, so I have to say that we were working some psychobilly at the time, way before these virtuosos today.”
David Lynch created the role of crazy uncle Jerry on Twin Peaks just for him. And that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Elvis. Kelly explains: “I was doing The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and my character was a stalker fan of a girl rock & roll group. To create him, I saw a show by an artist known as the Elvis Lady. She made these suitcase shrines to country western people and Elvis was her big obsession. I asked her to make me a prop for the movie. It was a little jewel box that had all these amazing objects on it and blinking lights. I took that to the meeting with David Lynch and showed him. I went away and he offered me Wild at Heart. While we were doing Wild at Heart, he wrote me into Twin Peaks.”
He didn’t improvise his most famous line. Despite Warriors lore, Kelly insists he didn’t come up with the taunt, “Warriors come out to pla-ay,” which Luther says while clinking together glass bottles. “Walter gives me credit for that. I found the bottles, but he says I did it all. It wasn’t in the script,” explains Kelly. “I’ll take credit for the bottles and how I said it. But I remember him kicking in the lines.”
He still gets recognized nearly every day for The Warriors. But one young fan surprised him last year when he was in Boston for a workshop of Once. “I was at a vegetarian restaurant called Veggie Planet. I was at the counter having lunch and a kid was like, ‘You were in my favorite movie of all time!’ I said, ‘What can that be?’ He said, ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.’ I couldn’t believe it.”