Peel back his costume, and the Cowardly Lion is actually a burly biker whose arms are covered in tattoos.
Noel Larrieu plays the lion in the Omaha Community Playhouse's production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which opens Friday.
Larrieu regularly rides two motorcycles, a Harley-Davidson Road King and a custom chopper. But don't let that tough-guy exterior fool you, he says.
“A lot of things with the Cowardly Lion are parallel to me in real life,” Larrieu said last week. “The lion has a humongous heart, but he's shielding it, or thinks he is, by trying to be this scary guy. You can see through him pretty much instantly.”
Larrieu said it's a great challenge to take the audience on the journey his character travels, from trying to terrify Dorothy, Tin Man and Scarecrow to becoming a part of their loving, caring circle.
He called the Cowardly Lion a bucket-list role, one he's always wanted to do, along with Nicely Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.” He played that role two years ago, also on the Playhouse stage under director Susan Baer Collins.
Larrieu, 41, grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., and served in the Navy during the first Gulf War. He didn't get into theater until he left the service in 1996. He has performed in a national tour of “Kiss Me Kate” and done extensive regional theater.
He studied acting at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College and at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City. He moved to New York City just days before 9/11, when he stood horrified atop his apartment building and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center, just 25 blocks away.
He's been obsessed with motorcycles since he was a kid and bought his first at age 18. His second obsession, tattoos, began when he lived in Albuquerque, N.M., with his brother after leaving the Navy. It took a dozen three-hour sessions with two tattoo artists to cover his arms.
Larrieu moved to Omaha in 2009 and married his wife, Allison, during the run of “Guys and Dolls.” When not on stage, he works as an account manager for Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
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