Josh Davis: The Beast Graduates

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Josh Davis: The Beast GraduatesThere are those cherished moments in the theater when a performer grips the audience in such a manner that the evening not only becomes the talk of the town, but remains locked forever in the minds of the audiences who were  fortunate enough to witness it.  Such was the case recently when The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, NY presented their version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Without exaggeration, the production became the buzz of the community.  Not only were people enormously impressed with the stunning sets and costumes, but they were also bowled over by the brilliant performance of Josh Davis as the Beast.

Although Bellport, New York is located on the South Shore of Long Island, it has a definite New England feel to it.  Passersby greet each other with a friendly "good morning" on the sidewalks and shopkeepers regularly tend to the flowerboxes outside their establishments.  In short, it could easily pass for the Grover's Corners that Thornton Wilder created for his Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town.  It is not uncommon for residents to have coffee and a light breakfast at the Sugar Loaf Café on Main Street. Over coffee, the conversation tends to focus on who caught the biggest fish The Day Before or the damage the influx of cicadas have been to trees and shrubs in the area.   For three weeks this summer the morning conversation often centered on Beauty and the Beast and the dynamic performance that Davis was giving in it.  One regular theater-goer proclaimed that he'd seen at least five different actors play the Beast on Broadway and without a doubt, Davis had wiped them all away with his acting and singing.  Everyone seemed to agree that his rendition of "If I Can't Love Her" at the end of the first act was powerful and magnificently sung.  When Newsday reviewed the musical, Steve Parks declared that the Gateway had "discovered a new star in Josh Davis, who rips the kid-show ambience…into dramatic focus."                              

The regulars at the Sugar Loaf heartily agreed with Parks.  Most of them had seen the show and experienced how the audiences collectively exhaled at the end of his song before they broke out into rapturous applause. The buzz at the Sugar Loaf continued when WALK-FM's Cindy (she apparently has misplaced her last name) offered more encomiums about how the Beast was played in that production.  Davis' performance certainly was well above the norm for summer theater fare.  Little did the customers at the Sugar Loaf Café realize that Josh Davis often stopped into the place during his stay in Bellport but the patrons never recognized him without the prosthesis he wore in the show!

Meeting with Davis several weeks after his stint in Bellport had ended, found him to be a tall and very good-looking man. His brown eyes show sensitivity as well as depth. A mass of curling brown hair crowns his head giving him just a touch of roguishness.  Davis has just come from a matinee performance of The Fantasticks Off Broadway and couldn't get the tunes of that classic show out of his head. Although he was familiar with the score, it was his first time seeing the show and he was impressed with its sweetness and simplicity.  The experience made him put the role of El Gallo on the top of parts he'd like to play.  "El Gallo is the guy who comes into the story and becomes something of a manipulator. He always knows what's going on.  He also makes you think things are going one way and they turn out another.  The fact that he serves as something of a narrator and draws the audience into the story is also interesting.  Besides that, the music would be a good fit for my voice."  One can only hope that at some point Davis does get to play this role because his rendition of "Try To Remember" would be memorable.

Settling down over a dinner of onion soup and chicken marsala, the young actor talked about how he became interested in acting and singing. "I was born in Delaware and have a younger brother who's 29.  My family moved to Maryland when I was about three years old.  I'm fortunate to have parents who have been supportive of anything I've ever tried."  He recalls pretty much the exact moment when he realized he liked performing:  "I was in second grade and the first show I did was called 'Mr Popper's Penguins' and I played Captain Cook, who was like main penguin.  I remember getting a laugh out of people.  I remember that as being very exciting.  I didn't have any lines; all I had to do was 'quack', but I still made people laugh."

Reflecting on those days, Davis recalls that he was a skinny kid.  "I wasn't frail; I was just really skinny.  I was pretty tall when I was Josh Davis: The Beast Graduatesyounger, too."   Those attributes can be difficult for a child to accept in himself, but his stage debut seemed to put an end to that.  "It was the first time in my life that I felt comfortable being in front of people."

From there Davis got involved in sports in middle school:  volleyball, baseball and basketball  "I really liked it but I was always out in the field looking at the bugs and the flowers rather than waiting for the ball.  I was always daydreaming.   When I got into high school I wasn't as competitive as all my other friends were.  I remember talking to a girl that I was dating in my freshman year and told her that all my other friends were playing sports but I didn't know what I wanted to do.  She reminded me that I was always singing and suggested that I try out for a part in the school musical.  I was taking drama at the time but I never really thought about auditioning.  I didn't know any actors.  I didn't grow up thinking that going to the theater was an important thing.  I found the song 'Ease On Down The Road' from The Wiz and auditioned with it for West Side Story.  I got cast in the role of Baby John."

Looking back on the experience, Joshua Adam Davis recalls it fondly, "Number One, I was around older people, which I liked.  I thought that was really cool.   I was the youngest in the cast and everyone else was so much older.  Secondly, there was great camaraderie among the cast and I didn't feel there was a competition:  everyone was working and everyone was winning.  It was really neat."

Davis also recalls being seduced by the sound of applause in that production.  "We had maybe a 1,200 seat theater and I had never performed in front of a large audience before.  After Tony died, I crossed behind the set to the other side of the stage for my bow and I remember hearing clapping and cheering over the intercom and it was an awesome feeling."  Was that what made him decide on an acting career?  "Well, I did all the shows in high school.  At Centennial High School in Columbia, Maryland, we had a great drama teacher.  His name was Mo Dutterer.  He knew how to challenge me.  If something was easy, I sometimes had a way of kind of half-assing it. There was a time when we had to perform a song in my drama class and I sang 'The Music of the Night."  I had dressed in a tuxedo but I forgot my dress shoes so I wore sneakers.  I sang well but Mr . Dutterer. gave me an 'F' which was obviously disappointing because I had really practiced that song.  He told me that although I sounded great, by wearing sneakers I wasn't giving him the whole package.  I realized, begrudgingly, that he was right and that served as a valuable lesson for life in this business - come prepared and be professional."

While at Centennial High School, Davis had a faculty member named Robin Norton who was his English teacher for two years.  "She was this petite, tough as nails woman with a raspy voice that I can still hear in my head to this day. You know there is that one teacher that you think back on and say - man she really inspired me? - Well that was Mrs. Norton.  We were working on scenes from Hamlet in her class   I did a scene between Hamlet and his mother and Mrs. Norton videotaped  all of the scenes we worked on in class.  She took them home and one day she called me up after class and told me that she had shown her husband all the videos and he felt that I really stood out.  She said that I should really consider pursueing this at some point in my life. Again, I never thought of acting as a career, but this instance made me realize how acting could affect the audience.  I was doing it because I enjoyed doing it, not because it was affecting others.  Sadly, she passed away from a brain tumor after I graduated college but her voice and enthusiasm always stayed with me and was a motivating factor when I made the decision to pursue this professionally. Ironically Mrs. Norton's son Ed was a few years older than me and he too went on to become a professional actor."  The world has surely gotten to know Edward Norton.

After high school Davis went to the University of Delaware where he was a Business major.  "To be honest, I was nervous about pursuing acting.  I felt that I needed something to fall back on in case it didn't work out.  In college I did the musical The World Goes 'Round and that was the only show I did. "   He didn't totally abandon his singing, though, because in his first year at Delaware he founded an all male  a capella  group called The Ychromes and they're still going strong today.  "We'd take music off the radio and arrange it for 12 parts and percussion and all that kind of stuff.  We traveled all over the East Coast. It was basically my version of a fraternity"

Upon leaving college, Davis took a series of jobs, among them was working in a casting office and another was as a ski bum out in Colorado.   He also produced science shows for the Discovery Channel.  None of these jobs had him performing, yet he constantly found himself singing the scores to Jekyll and Hyde and other shows as he drove to work.  At the suggestion of his friend, Kosha Engler, he auditioned for This Is Our Youth at the Studio Theater in Washington, DC and got cast as an understudy.  As luck would have it, the engagement was extended and Davis played the leading role for the last part of the show's run.

In Washington, there are "League Auditions", where actors audition for all the theater groups in the area.  "Basically, performers are given 90 seconds to do their thing and be seen by a whole bunch of institutions," explains Davis.  "I did that and was called in to do an opera for children called 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.  It was a tour sent out by the Kennedy Center."

In 2004, Davis was cast in a production of One Red Flower in Virginia's Signature Theater.  Directed by Eric Schaeffer, the musical was based on the book entitled Letters From Vietnam and Davis played opposite Broadway veteran Florence Lacey.  Purely by happenstance, Ms. Lacey had attended that afternoon's performance of The Fantasticks and the two performers shared a warm reunion during intermission.

Moving to New York, Davis began auditioning and was cast as The Beast in the Oklahoma Lyric Theatre's production of Beauty and the Beast, and in the ensemble of the first regional productions of Les Miserables at pioneer Theatre in in Salt Lake City, Utah.  That was wild," says the actor, "because that show was the first big musical I'd ever seen in Baltimore."  Davis also got to go on as Javert for several performances in that production. "The irony is that the guy who played Javert when I first saw it back in high school was Merwin Ford - and he was Playing Javert again in this production and I got to go on for him. It was beyond cool."

Josh Davis: The Beast GraduatesWhat was it like playing The Beast in two separate productions of the same show?  "I initially found myself going into the second production and saying to myself, 'that's not how I did it,' so I let that go and quickly realized that this was an opportunity to explore the role even more and also to let both my guard and ego down which would allow new things to happen.  When I played The Beast in  Oklahoma, he didn't behave as much like a spoiled child as I played him in the Bellport production.  That came out of  experimenting with the role a lot more, as well as having done the role before and being comfortable with it.  Oh, I definitely brought things with me because there are bits that I knew the audience would find funny."  Playing that particular role is no day at the beach for any actor.  "It's a tough, demanding role," comments Davis.

The handsome actor has a new project on the horizon and he's extremely enthusiastic about it.  In between his stage commitments, he played a leading role in a Feature film called The Graduates, which he also produced.  Within days of closing his show in Bellport, he headed up to New England, where The Graduates was shown in the prestigious Rhode Island Film Festival.  The actor was thrilled that the movie played to a packed house at the festival.  However, filling the theater took work.

"The Graduates" is targeted for an audience of 16-35 year olds.  We talked it up on the street, we handed out postcards and passed out condoms with the movie's name on them.  Everyone really took to it.  I was very proud."  The film had been premiered in Baltimore, but that was a private event.  In Rhode Island, the crowds were people who had come in off the street and their response was very enthusiastic."

Davis has every reason to be proud of The Graduates.  It's a very entertaining and insightful coming-of-age story that takes place during "senior weekend" at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland.  Each character seems to come away from the weekend a bit wiser from the experience.  Josh Davis plays a character of the same name who seems unable or unwilling to face the responsibilities of life.  However, the character does mature, thanks to a scene that Davis suggested to the director, "I talked to Ryan Gielen a lot about it and we both agreed that there should be some hint of hope for this  character so Ryan wrote that little scene where I say goodbye to my younger brother."  The result is a touching moment that brings Davis' character into focus.

Watching The Graduates impresses the viewer with the amount of talent that is on the screen, there are stand-outs throughout the film, but it is Davis who seems to dominate the movie.  He comes across very well on the screen and the camera seems to capture his looks and talent as though he was born for cinematic stardom..  The part calls for something of a ring-leader and the actor rises to the demands very well.

What's it like to play a character named   "Josh Davis"?  The actor laughs when the subject is broached.  "That was all a mistake. We'd been shooting that scene forever and were really tired.  My character had always been named "Josh" but when the other actor referred to me by my actual last name, we just let it go."  This, of course, could be a problem at some upcoming point when awards are being handed out, but that's something that can be pondered in the future.

The Graduates has just gotten into the Omaha Film Festival  "The more laurels we get, the better it is, obviously.  We're hoping that we'll be able to get some kind of distribution.  If we could sell it and make the money back that we raised for this endeavor, it would be a success for us."

It would be nice if The Graduates surpassed Davis' expectations and became a truly popular film-it has all the makings for it.  Then the morning crowd at the Sugar Loaf Café would have bragging rights as to how they recognized Davis' talents when he was playing in Bellport.  It would be even nicer, though, for him to walk into the café and be recognized by the people who'd seen his performances.  One thing is certain, though, Robin Norton's husband certainly had an eye for talent when he viewed that videotape so many years ago!

To view Josh Davis' website, go to www.thisisjoshdavis.com To view information on The Graduates visit www.graduatesmovie.com

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Joe Panarello is one of those people who have most certainly been born with theater in their blood. As an actor, Joe has played such varied roles as Harry Roat in Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Jimmy Smith in No, No Nanette and Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof a vehicle he's performed in several times and designed the sets for on one occasion. He's also directed productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Henrich Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Joe is a respected author and although his latest work, The Authoritative History of Corduroy won't be published until this summer, it is already being translated into several different languages by a group of polyglot nuns in Tormento, Italy.. The proceeds from their labors will go to the restoration of the nearby Cathedral of Gorgonzola.


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