Broadway's Marc Oka is Featured in Hollywood's Frankenstein - A New Musical
Obsession, Desire and Ambition explored through the eyes of a madman. Frankenstein - A New Musical with music by Mark Baron, lyrics by Jeffrey Jackson, and a book by Jackson and Gary P. Cohen, is based on the Gothic Horror Classic by Mary Shelley, and brought to life with panache and flair. This musical follows the ill-fated life of an ambitious Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster and is forced to face the monster within.
Ray Buffer: Please tell us about yourself and your bi-coastal life.Marc Oka: I was born in Los Angeles, spent my childhood in Carson and went to UCLA. I am the only child of second generation Japanese-American parents and grew up in the 1970's. I played the cello in high school, but I was an engineering student in college. It was at UCLA when I was introduced to dance. I switched majors to music and was a cheerleader for the big games. I taught cheer-leading camps in the summer and someone told me to take a class at Dupree Dance Academy in LA. Once I started, I fell in love. I got on scholarship at Dupree and tried to do my classes at UCLA at the same time. Needless to say, I didn't have the time to do both. I made the very difficult decision to finally tell my parents that I wanted to dance full time and leave UCLA. They were very upset and told me that I had to do this on my own. My parents were afraid for my future and couldn't support my decision. It sounds harsh in today's standards, but it was the best thing they could have done for me. It made me grow up, start being an adult and I thank them today for doing it. I never thought of being an actor. Back then, the only time we saw Asians on TV was on 'MASH? or 'The Courtship Of Eddie's Father?. Even though they said, 'No one looks like you on TV?, I had to do it.
I look back to when I started in 1983, and I have been very blessed in my career. I studied very hard at Dupree. Within a year, I was dancing at Disneyland as a 'Kid of the Kingdom?. After a year at Disney, I got my Equity card in the LA production of Cats at the Shubert Theatre. When the show closed, I was hired for the 4th National Tour. This was when I moved to New York. i toured for a year and a half, saved my money and went back to NY. I think I was at the right place at the right time. Also, I didn't see any Asian dancers back then. I got a Broadway show within a few months and went from show to show. After about 20 years of this, I decided to come home. I think I burned out. I was getting older and my knees were not good. As fate would have it, when I came back to LA is when my mother started her journey with cancer. I am grateful that I was here to help.
Ray Buffer: You've performed in a number of shows on Broadway, in touring productions and in LA professional theater, in addition you have worked as an assistant choreographer and dance captain on Broadway - do you get greater enjoyment from designing and teaching the dance or performing it?Marc Oka: After my mother passed away, I tried to do other things. I taught for a summer at Idlewild, I did some choreography at East West Players and other theaters. I also quit the business for a while and worked in an office. I couldn't find anything that gave me as much joy or passion as performing. The year my mother died I had met my husband and with his support I started taking acting class with William Alderson. I had studied Meisner in the early 90's but didn't finish the two year program. I asked the teacher I studied with in New York if he had any recommendations here in LA. Bill was Sanford Meisner's assistant and also taught at The Neighborhood Playhouse. I knew that transitioning from a dancer to an actor was going to take time. Bill says that acting is hard work and it takes years to be a good actor. So I finished the two year program with Bill, and I continued to study with him afterwards. Some years later I started to audition and was cast in a few roles at East West Players. I found the passion I was looking for. My agent in New York asked if I was interested in a role in The King And I. As an Asian performer, I was always proud that I had never done the show. But as I age, I find pride to be somewhat silly. I had performed as a dancer on Broadway in many shows. I am grateful that I got to come back to Broadway last season as an actor. Not only that, but I came back to the place where I made my Broadway debut back in 1989.
Ray Buffer: What attracted you to doing Frankenstein - A New Musical?Marc Oka: The King And I closed in June. I was in New York for 18 months and I was glad to be home with my husband and my dogs. While in New York I was hearing about this scuffle with the 99-seat theatre agreement. I saw the notice for the audition and I said to myself, 'You should go check it out?. I always wanted to work in one of the theaters on Santa Monica Blvd. I came to the audition with no expectations and here I am. After being cast, I was grateful to see not one, but two Asians in the cast. I always tell myself, 'You never know until you go? and I'm so glad that I did. I'm having such a great time.
Ray Buffer: In Frankenstein, the idea of having the power to bring back the dead is presented. If you could bring back someone who has passed, would you, and who would it be?
Marc Oka: When my mother died, the hardest thing was to see my father. I thought abouT Loving and living with someone for 60 years and then not having that person. Fortunately, my dad is very spiritual and always positive. He is always telling me to count my blessings. He is turning 90 in January and he is still going strong. He has a girlfriend that makes him happy, but he misses my mother deeply. I drive him to the cemetery to visit my mother and for his sake, I would say I would bring her back.
Ray Buffer: Does your previous experience playing the cello help you in your role of The Blind Man? Do you still play?Marc Oka: Music has helped me with everything from reading music to having discipline. I play when I can, however, I sold my cello during the recession.
Ray Buffer: Some of your experience has been working as an understudy or swing, can you talk about the unique preparation you have to do in order to be prepared at a moment's notice to "go on" and do you have a story to share regarding this?
Marc Oka: My most dramatic story of being an understudy was during Shogun: The Musical on Broadway. I was the understudy for one of the principals who also understudied the lead. Everything is focused on the cast on stage and as an understudy, you don't get rehearsals until after the opening. We were still in previews and the show was constantly changing. During Act I the lead dislocated his shoulder, and during the intermission we had to go on. No rehearsal, no costumes, we wore what we had. The stage managers followed me with the updated script and I went over my lines and my song between scenes. It was very exciting and a major rush.
Being a swing is overwhelming at first. Miss Saigon was the first time I was a swing and dance captain. It feels very thankless and you don't feel like part of the cast all the time. But, I can't stress how valuable a good swing is and how much I learned and still use today as a performer. I learned a lot about patience, the process of the creative team, how important it is to bring something into the rehearsal, and how to pick up information quickly. I was really good being a swing and as a result, I was a swing for most of my Broadway shows.
Ray Buffer: What advice would you have for new actors who want to go to New York and gain Broadway experience?Marc Oka: My advice would be do it now and do it when you are young. It gets much more difficult when you get older, I think. When I was young, I felt I could do anything and nothing stood in my way. As a result, I made things work. I don't know how people do it today as New York is so expensive, but they do. So, I know it is possible. There is nothing like New York.
Ray Buffer: Why should people come and see Frankenstein - A New Musical?Marc Oka: I think it is important to support theatre in Los Angeles. I am very excited about this show. The music is wonderful and the cast is amazing. I'm thrilled and honored to be a part of this production. Plus, it's great for Halloween.
Audiences can see Marc Oka as 'The Blind Man? and as part of the dynamic ensemble cast of Frankenstein - A New Musical, produced by Art-In-Relation at the Flight Theater within the Hollywood Complex. The show opens Friday, October 7, 2016 and plays through October 30. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays have performances at 8pm, in addition to 2pm matinées on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Complex - Hollywood is at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90038
Tickets may be purchased at artinrelation.com or by calling: 323-320-2898.
Art-In-Relation is a performing arts group formed by Jonas Sills and Ray Buffer in 2014, based in Long Beach. Art-In-Relation is a proud member of the LA Stage Alliance.
Featured in the ensemble cast is Broadway's Marc Oka, one of the cast's four Actor's Equity Association members. Director, Ray Buffer sat down with Oka to discuss his journey.
Andrew Lippa'S WILD PARTY 9/9 to 10/2 | Dorie Theater
FRANKENSTEIN - A NEW MUSICAL 10/7 to 10/30 | Flight Theater
133 The Promenade North - Suite 103
Long Beach, CA 90802 VENUE:
The Complex - Hollywood
6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90038 BOX OFFICE: 323-320-2898