BWW Interviews: Rod Roberts Talks About PETER PAN & Houston's Local Talent
As consumerism ruled the streets of Houston on Friday, November 23, 2012, the cast of PETER PAN was preparing for a six show weekend in San Jose, California. PETER PAN, with Cathy Rigby back in the titular role by popular demand, is known for being a fun-filled, family friendly extravaganza. The current tour is headed to Houston and will open at Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) on December 11, 2012. To get more information about the show, like the casting of local Houston youth in the production, I chatted with the Dance Captain, Rod Roberts.
Me: PETER PAN will cast 10 local children for its run in Houston. What was the impetus for that idea?
Rod Roberts: They have a great performing arts school for kids [The Humphreys School of Musical Theatre], and in cooperation with the school that we decided we could add some of the kids from the school because they've got a lot of talent there. They had auditions last week or two weeks ago. I wasn't actually able to be there, but they picked 10 kids I believe, 10 or 12, and we're going to add them in any time The Lost Boys are on stage. They're really talented kids too. I just worked at TUTS in March, doing ANNIE, and we used 17 little girls from the school. They were all very professional kids—some of the most professional kids I have ever worked with and very talented.
Me: In your opinion, what is the benefit of using local children in the show?
Rod: Actually, from a business perspective it obviously drums up more business because the kids invite their families, but it also gets more interest into the theatre I think. People who might not necessarily have come to see the show are going to come see their nieces, nephews, or whoever might be in the show, you know. It opens up a whole new door to them, I think.
Me: PETER PAN will be in Houston this holiday season. What makes it such a good holiday show?
Rod: I think—it doesn't necessarily have a Christmas theme in it—but the whole feeling of family and wanting to be with your family...[Pauses]...It's more or less just about the family, how strong the family unit is, and not taking that for granted. It really is about having a strong family and loving who you are with. And, if you want to look at it a different way, you can make a family out of anyone. Like, The Lost Boys aren't necessarily related, but they actually consider themselves to be a family unit, if that makes any sense.
Me: This is your second time through Houston with the show. Are there any changes that audiences who have seen the show can expect?
Rod: It is pretty much the same show, but we've incorporated, in the flying of the show, more of the elements from the DVD, which means the flying sequences are a little more spectacular, I think. We've kind of rechoreographed some of them, and our fly guy, Paul Rubin, is who choreographs those and flies Cathy [Rigby] as well, has redone a few of those things. And we've also added, as part of Neverland, silks. Silks [for aerial acrobatics] come down, and Tiger Lily starts off on that. Other than that, it's pretty much the same show. But actually the talent... I've done several incarnations of this show, and this is a very strong cast, as far as I'm concerned. Everyone is incredibly talented. Everyone brings something different to the show, and, I think, we've gotten really great reviews with this version as well. I think that audiences are going to be able to tell a difference, and I think they're going to be happy.
Me: What is your favorite aspect of the show?
Rod: I like a lot about the show. Basically, I'm not in the show every night. I'm the Dance Captain and Swing, which means I cover, I understudy, all the guys in the show. So, if someone is sick, injured, or something, I go on for them. When I go out there, I like the aspect that, as one of the guys in the show, you're always doing something different. In one scene you're a pirate. In the next scene you're an Indian. You're switching back and forth. You're not just an Indian or a pirate in the show, you're actually doing both. A lot of people are surprised by that; that we're able to do that. It makes it more exciting for the performer to be able to do different things, you know. We're always one or the other in scenes. So, I think that's the thing I like about it. You're not just one thing in the entire show.
Me: In the United States, Cathy Rigby has pretty much become a household name. What is it like getting to tour and work with her?
Rod: She is a great, great lady. She is one of the hardest working people I've ever worked with. I mean, she gets out on that stage and from the moment she flies in through the window, she is on. There is very little downtime that she has in the show, and when she does have her downtime she is changing or doing something that she has to do in the wings to get back out on stage. She raises the bar, actually. She really raises the level of energy in the performance because if you're out there and you're having a hard time, you just look at her and you're like, "Ok, well, she's out here doing this [Laughs], and she is her age, you know, which she is very proud of, and she has grandkids, ok, and this woman is doing interviews during the daytime and coming and doing shows at night, and she doesn't miss. She doesn't miss the show." She is a great, great lady. Both she and her husband, Tom McCoy, who is one of the producers of the show, try and treat everyone as if they are a part of their family.
Me: How did you get involved with this PETER PAN tour? Is there a story behind that?
Rod: I worked with the choreographer of the show. I am her assistant. I first started doing the show back in 2004, and they had already done a previous tour of it. I just called her and asked her, you know, when they were having auditions. I knew they were coming up again, so I flew myself out to Los Angeles, put myself up, and did the audition. I think it was like a week long process, which is pretty short considering some of the things you do in this business. So, yeah, it was probably about a week long process from auditioning to callbacks and Cathy [Rigby] in the room—Cathy is in on the audition process the whole time. She's there behind the table putting her input into it. That's not an incredibly exciting story, but that's pretty much what I did. So, now, when this version came around—we started again last year—they asked me if I wanted to come back and do it again. So, I came back and helped teach the show and put it back together, so it could go out on tour.
Me: As an artist, what inspires you?
Rod: I would say talent inspires me. I find when you're around that kind of energy and people who are talented, you can feed off of that. It makes you work harder. Like I said with Cathy [Rigby], as well, she knows this role inside and out. She knows it better than anyone, but she brings new things to it. Even though she's done it so long, she brings new things to it every day. She changes it up, does little things here and there. Does a line reading a little differently, and that makes you have to think. So you don't get stuck in a rut, you're thinking the whole time. And that kind of thing really inspires me—people who don't get stagnant.
Me: As someone who helps with auditions, especially in the past where you have helped pick out talent for the show, what advice do you offer to young artists who are looking to break into the business?
Rod: This is always a hard question to answer [Laughs] because it's different...[Pauses] I would say, learn...[Pauses] Study. First of all, study whatever it is you're going to do. Whether you're going to be a singer, a dancer, or a singer and a dancer, really study hard. Study. Take classes. Audition as much as you can because you learn a lot from auditioning. You can go to school and study how to be a dancer, an actor, or a singer, but once you get out in the real world there is always rejection. You learn from rejection. One day you might be extremely nervous in the audition room, and then when you leave you're like, "why was I so nervous?" And then you learn from that. You say, "ok, well next time we'll know this is what I have to do, and this is what I have to think about." Or, you know, "I don't necessarily want to look at them when I'm singing." You know, that kind of thing. You learn a lot from auditioning. So, I just say get out there and throw yourself into it.
Filled with magic, energy, and a lot of pizzazz, PETER PAN will be triumphantly soaring back into Houston this December. The production, hosted by TUTS and featuring local talent from their Humphreys School for Musical Theatre, will run in Sarofim Hall at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts from December 11 to December 23, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.tuts.com/ or call (713) 558 – 8887.
Photo courtesy of the PETER PAN Press Office.