BWW Interviews: A Chat With THE LITTLE MERMAID’s Rogelio Douglas Jr. – Starring in Upright Cabaret’s RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT at The Annenberg Theatre, April 27
The Annenberg Theatre presents Upright Cabaret's RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT tonight, April 27 at 8:00 pm. RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT is the third installment of Upright Cabaret's "American Icon" Series and will star Olivier Award-Winner Lesli Margherita, Lexi Lawson (Rent, In The Heights)) and Rogelio Douglas Jr. (In The Heights, The Little Mermaid)). I had the chance to chat for a few minutes with Rogelio Douglas Jr. He was NOT at a loss for words!! Here are a few highlights from that interview.
DG: Give me a little of your pre-Broadway background. How did you get started?
RD: Oh wow. How did I get … that's a long story. Just kidding. I'll try to give you bullet points if I can. (He laughs) I was an inner city youth in New York with dreams of being on Broadway. I went to LaGuardia School of Performing Arts – I went there for voice but I was exposed to this whole new world – and I said to myself was I going to sing Opera or was I going to be a backup singer or be a lead vocalist? --- and I ended up getting over to Broadway Dance Center where I got to take classes with Frank Hatchett and Savion Glover and all these amazing people, and just by being there – my teacher Germaine Goodson at the time --- she told me I was finally ready to audition for an actual show --- and my first audition was actually for Riverdance on Broadway. I ended up booking that and that started my career. I went on the national tour and then they I got to travel all over the world on the international tour – that was considered a promotion for the company – I got to travel to Italy, Japan, China, Portugal – my goodness, you name it and I got the chance to go there --- I lived in London for a very long time with Riverdance. After that I had an injury. I hurt my ankle-it was pretty bad and they told me I probably wouldn't be able to get the full use of it anymore and I'd have to come up with something else to do with my life. My mother – who has always had to be both my mom and my dad – she took the tough route with me and told me "God has given you other talents and you need to just get out there. This is life." I never had confidence in my voice, to be honest, and so I started to take voice lessons and sing wherever I could -- at all the open mics in New York City – and then I decided I wanted to go back to Broadway and give it a shot. I opened up a Backstage and saw this audition for IN THE HEIGHTS – this new show that was supposed to be cutting edge and blending the worlds of hip hop and salsa – and I was so excited when I finally got the call --- I didn't think they liked me – I has auditioned for the Off-Broadway company and then four months went by and I got the call to audition for The Broadway Company and then three more months went by and I got it. (HE takes his first breath). Yeah, my heart was really beating at the time.
DG: Who were the primary influences on your career? Did you have any specific role models or mentors?
RD: Wow. Yes. To be very, very specific Gregory Hines was one of them. I never got to work with him on a project but I was very fortunate to be his audience, so to speak. There was a place in New York City, that unfortunately has been torn down -- which is sad because it was sort of a landmark for the tap dancing community, and Gregory would be there rehearsing and, at the time, I was in a tap dance group – and Gregory would come into our rehearsals and encourage us –and he was such a humble guy -- and at the time I remember just praying and saying "Oh God, if I ever, ever" --- and Gregory was being honored in 1998 at the Tap Extravanganza and they did this whole tribute to Gregory, and it was amazing to see him dance, and what stuck with me was that, even though he was clearly very tired, he didn't leave until everybody got a moment with him --- even if it was just a few seconds -- he'd talk about his love of dance and sign autographs --- and that was my prayer – if I ever was blessed to be on a stage like Gregory I would always do the same thing – I would always meet and greet people. I thought that that was such a wonderful quality. He has always been my idol.
DG: What was it like being a part of the creative process of two original Broadway Shows – IN THE HEIGHTS and THE LITTLE MERMAID?
RD: Well with IN THE HEIGHTS I landed a spot on the ship, as I call it, and I was an offstage understudy and swing – I understudied the role of Benny and I covered six other dance roles. And as that went on – you know, as on offstage understudy it can be grueling – it's a lot of work, you're at the theatre more than anybody else in the show but you don't get to do the show – but it was a great lesson – not only humility, but how to work together with a team and how to really do your job to the best of your ability. It's a dream to be a part of something like that. Everybody wants that kind of an experience to be a part of a new hit musical and here I was living my dream. We won four Tonys and a Grammy. Later on that year I got to go on – finally. It's like just waiting for the Universe to align correctly for you. When I finally got my opportunity to go on as Benny, how fortunate was I … the head of casting for Disney happened to be in the audience – and I didn't have an agent or manager at the time for my Broadway career --- it was always just me going to open calls and trying to live the dream – and they were looking for someone to play Sebastian the Crab and they brought me in for a meeting and it worked out and then my next show on Broadway was a principal role in THE LITTLE MERMAID. I did that for close to a year. And then I booked the national tour of IN THE HEIGHTS as Benny --- they tailored the role for me --- and that show brought me to LA which opened up a lot of doors for me – and one of those doors happened to be Chris Isaacson which, I didn't know at the time, would later lead to me being in one of his productions. (HE laughs) I don't even know if I answered your question.