Interview: David Burnham on his Return to Garner Performing Arts Center

By: Nov. 13, 2017

Coming back to the Garner Performing Arts Center on November 18th to open their 2017-18 season of Broadway Voices is David Burnham, who will be making his third appearance on the GPAC stage. I was recently able to get in touch with Mr. Burnham via email, so today, you shall be reading our conversation.

David has performed with symphonies all over the country and his solo concerts has been seen in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has recorded two solo albums, his self-titled CD and 'One Day'. David works extensively with kids through vocal and acting workshops and hosts a summer program for young artists called 'Camp Sing'.

On Broadway, he has appeared in the original cast of The Light In The Piazza, even performing on both the 2005 Tony Awards and the Live from Lincoln Center broadcast on PBS in 2006, before going on to play Fabrizio in the national tour. His most recent stint on the Great White Way was in 2008 when he played Fiyero in the blockbuster musical, Wicked. He also provided the singing voice of Prince Chulalongkorn in Warner Brothers' 1999 animated feature film adaptation of The King and I, and can be heard on the soundtracks to the Disney films, Gepetto and Home on the Range.

How excited are you to be coming back to GPAC?
I am thrilled to be return to Garner with my "Broadway Christmas" show. This will be my third concert at GPAC and each time I've been there, I have had so much fun. They treat me like family. So I'm so excited to bring some Christmas joy to my new family in Garner.

Would you mind telling us what you like about the Triangle area?
My favorite thing about the Triangle area is the people. They are so friendly and have been some of the greatest audiences I've ever encountered.

What songs can audiences expect to hear from you this time around?
The audience at my "Broadway Christmas" can expect to hear a lot of their favorite Christmas songs but done in a new and fresh way, as well as some of the Broadway hits that have I've performed on the Great White Way.

Going back to the beginning, how did you get yourself started in the theatre?
I was a junior in high school and it was time to register for my classes. I wanted to take woodshop, but the class was full. The only other elective they had available was choir. So into choir I went. I opened my mouth and found out I could sing! The choir director, Mr. Friberg was thrilled to have a new boy who could sing in his choir, so he took me under his wing and encouraged me to try out for the upcoming musical. It was The Sound of Music. I auditioned and got the part of Friedrich the oldest Von Trapp boy. And on opening night during the curtain call, when I heard the audience applaud, I was hooked.

I read that your first big job as a performer was in a national touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar, where you got to appear opposite Ted Neeley & Carl Anderson.
One of my very first professional jobs was the 'bus and truck' national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. They call it a "bus and truck" tour because you travel on a bus and the set is loaded into trucks as you traverse the country doing mostly one-nighters. My body got a little beat up sleeping on that bus, but it was so much and I have a ton of great memories. I guess, as they say, I was "paying my dues."

I also read that you went on to take over for Donny Osmond on tour in Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. How did that opportunity come about for you?
I was young and didn't have an agent yet, so I decided I would crash an audition for a new musical that was being produced called Ragtime. I showed up with long hair, ripped jeans, a t-ship and flip flops. They took one look at me and said, "You are not right for Ragtime". But I begged them to let me sing. They said yes and I sang 'Any Dream Will Do'. After I sang they said, "You are still not right for Ragtime, but you're perfect for something else we are casting." They were looking for someone to replace their star Donny Osmond in the national tour of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The next thing I knew I was on a plane to Toronto, Canada, to sing for the director and the producer. I got the job! And for the next year I wore the dreamcoat with pride!

You've also got to contribute your voice to a couple of Disney films, Gepetto and Home on the Range. What was that like?
I love to do voices for animation. There is not the same type of pressure as live theater. You can show up in sweats and if you don't do it right the first time, you get to try and try again until you get it perfect. It is so much fun.

Burnham with Elena Shaddow.

In 2005, you got to make your Broadway debut in the original cast of the Tony-winning musical, The Light in the Piazza. What was that experience like?
I did The Light In the Piazza for a year and a half on Broadway as the understudy for the character Fabrizio, originally played by Matthew Morrison (I went on sixty times!). And then they gave me the role of Fabrizio for the national tour where I got to do it for another year (earning the Helen Hayes Award for best actor). This was a dream job for me. I loved playing Fabrizio because I got to do everything I could ask for as an actor. I got to sing big glorious music (with lots of high notes) and do very serious and romantic acting work, but I also got to be funny, which is one of my favorite things to do!

You're also a former Fiyero from the Broadway production of Wicked.
I played the part of Fiyero on Broadway, but I also originated the role of Fiyero in the workshops of the show. It takes a long time to create a mega musical and I was thrilled to work on the project for five years before it made it's way to Broadway. I got to see how the writers changed the show and each time we did a workshop, it got better and better. But I always knew that this musical was something special from the first moment Stephen Schwartz sat down at the piano and played a new song he had just written called 'Defying Gravity'.

So do you have any other projects coming up that you would like to let my readers know about?
I am doing a ton of concert work right now. My next stop is Toronto where I get to sing with a group I perform with called "The Broadway Tenors". We are doing a Christmas show with a symphony. But Garner is my first concert of the holiday season, and I'm really excited.

What advice would you like to give any aspiring young performers out there?
My advice to young performers is to work on your craft. If you really want to do this, study and practice, practice, practice! Being a performer is not easy. The competition is intense and you get a lot of rejection. But if you love to perform, keep at it and keep studying acting, singing and dancing and someday your dream will come true!

David, I thank you very much for devoting your time to this interview, and I hope you have a great time (back) in Garner!
It was my pleasure! I can't wait to get back to Garner and kick off the holiday season!

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