BWW Interviews: A Chat With THE LITTLE MERMAIDÂ's Rogelio Douglas Jr. Â– Starring in Upright CabaretÂ's RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT at The Annenberg Theatre, April 27
The Annenberg Theatre will present Upright Cabaret's RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT on 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.
DG: So, Is this your first appearance with Upright Cabaret?
RD: Yeah. He (Chris) got this idea about four months ago. He was like, hey I've always wanted to work with you – when you gonna work with me? Let me know when you've got something. And he had this idea for Rhythm of The Night and he said it's the music of Rocky Martin and Gloria Estefan and I said that sounds like a lot of fun. And my good friend Lexi Lawson , who was also on tour with me with IN THE HEIGHTS – it's so great that she's in the show with me. She's just my good buddy as we both pursue our careers out here. I am so excited about doing this show with all this amazing music – I just can't wait to do this show --- the arrangements that Jamison is working on are pretty hot and we've got some surprises for people as well – the audience may be used the songs but the new arrangements are on fire! I think that audiences are going to be surprised and, pardon me if I'm biased, but I think this is going to be one of their hottest shows. It's going to be a blazing show. It really is.
DG: What will you be singing on Friday night?
RD: Oh, a whole lot of things. I'll be singing "Black Magic Woman". I'll be singing "Smooth". I'll also be covering a few Ricky Martin hits including – what is his big hit, I can't even think, we just went over it, I'm so sorry – (HE laughs) – "La Vida Loca" – that's it. There'll be a lot of surprises for the audience as well.
DG: What is something that unique about you that doesn't appear on your resume?
RD: What a great question. I think some people don't know that I can actually speak Spanish, That I … I'm trying to think of something cool about me but I'm such a nerd. (HE laughs) Oh, I train with professional fighters out here in LA. I'm a huge fight fan and no one would ever know that. I've been training and fighting in the ring --- well, to pursue action films to be honest, but I've learned a new discipline noW. Maybe that's cool. I'm getting punched and kicked very morning now form 6:00 -9:00.
DG: Besides acting, what are your passions?
RD: Oooh … I love music. I love creating and art and I'm always thinking of something. I have a notebook of fresh ideas – ideas for songs and movie musicals and things --- I love to create. I also love video games but my poor X-box has been neglected for about a year now. I spend most of my time creating now.
DG: What advice would you give to other aspiring young Broadway hopefuls?
RD: Stay encouraged. Keep working on your craft. Never get complacent and feel like you've got it. There's always room for growth. Just definitely stay encouraged and if you're pursuing your dream it's a big choice. And if you make the decision to pursue it you have to completely commit to it and constantly work on it. There's always something to work on. But I would encourage them to just absorb as much as possible. Get around everything. Cause you don't know what your path is going to be. Everybody's path is going to be different. You start out doing Broadway and then you may end up having a career as a songwriter. Always create a new possibility – even if it's for the same goal.
DG: You're very young – but flash forward -- How do you want to be remembered on your tombstone?
RD: Wow. That's a great question. How would I want to be remembered? (Long silence). Hmmm. I don't know how to phrase it, but I would want to be remembered as someone who truly loved the at of performing. And just loved being an entertainer. I always strive for three things – to touch, move and inspire.
Upright Cabaret seeks to celebrate old style cabaret while simultaneously turning it on its ear, bringing young Broadway and young Hollywood together in a live setting. IN addition to Palm Springs, RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT will be performed at the following Southern California venues:
Sun, April 29, 2012 at 7:30pm LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR PERFORMING ARTS La Mirada, CA Box Office (562) 944-9801
Sat, May 5, 2012 at 8:00pm (Cinco de Mayo) THOUSAND OAKS CIVIC ARTS PLAZA Thousand Oak, CA Box Office (800) 745-3000
Sun, May 6, 2012 at 7:30pm CATALINA JAZZ CLUB Hollywood, CA Box Office (818) 736-5600
RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT is presented at The Annenberg Theatre, uniquely located within The Palm Springs Art Museum, on Friday, April 27 at 8:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased at www.annenbergtheater.org or by calling the theater Box Office at 760-325-4490.