Forever Dashing and Debonair, David Engel is Crushin’ It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

Known on stage and screen, David Engel last year celebrated his 40th year with Actors’ Equity. He started out as a dancer and primarily does theater, plus some television and film along the way. You can spot him as one of the football players in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

Engel grew up in California, moved to New York in 1982, and got the first role he ever auditioned for – in “La Cage aux Folles,” which he stayed with for the entire 4-year run. He went on to have another successful run as Smudge in “Forever Plaid,” the show that Engel says changed his life. Engel met his husband, Larry Raben, during “Plaid” and since they both have authorship in the show, they have remained involved in its many incarnations throughout the years.

A production of “Singin’ In the Rain” turned Engel into a leading man and started him off on a string of song-and-dance-man roles, many at regional theaters putting on Broadway-caliber shows.

One of Engel’s favorite roles is playing Gomez in “The Addams Family” musical, which he’s done several times. He’s also enjoyed performing in “Mary Poppins,” “Mamma Mia,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” and many others.

“I love a show where it has some real depth and real heart to it,” he said. “I love doing high comedy and it’s great when it actually has heart.”

In 2014, Engel did the two-hander “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” at the Laguna Playhouse with Leslie Caron, the iconic actress from the golden age of MGM musicals.

“I was MGM musical obsessed as a kid – it’s what led me into theater,” Engel explained. “No one could have told me as a 15-year-old kid that I would ever be doing that. It was a phenomenal experience.”

Caron has notably danced with the greats Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mikhail Barishnakov, and Rudolf Nureyev. At a Q&A event during the run of “Six Dance Lessons” she explained to an audience member that Fred Astaire would take her in his arms and dance her, as if she had no choice but to go along with him.

“She pointed me out in the back of the theater and said, ‘dancing with David Engel is just like dancing with Fred Astaire,’” he said. “That was such a huge compliment to me and one of the greatest experiences of my career.”

Both Engel and Raben had light cases of COVID-19 over Thanksgiving. They rode out the bulk of the pandemic in a little beach cottage near Long Beach, CA.

The duo is like family at Musical Theater West, having each done about 15 shows there. To help the theater survive the pandemic, as well as stay visible and productive, they created The Green Room with David and Larry, a variety show that streamed live online once a week for 5 months.

One fan asked about a “Forever Plaid” reunion right before the 30th anniversary of the show opening Off-Broadway happened to be coming up. The reunion special caught the eye of a producer who suggested a reunion concert. Engel, Raben, and the original cast got together for three nights at the Ventura County Fairgrounds for a rocking “Plaidiversary.”

Engel used his video editing skills, which he’s always done as a side hobby, to edit the footage into a phenomenal concert video and subsequently sold it to dozens of theaters to offer to their patrons as online content, with plans for a wider release.

Engel said, “That’s where I’m putting all my energy now,” as well as into more live, outdoor “Plaid” concerts that are lined up.

Of everything he’s done in his successful career, Engel says “Forever Plaid” is nearest and dearest to his heart.

Both Engel and Raben are all vaxxed up and ready to get back to work. As the pandemic winds down, Engel is looking forward to interacting with his colleagues again.

“The thing I miss the most is backstage. I love the dynamic that happens backstage,” he said. “I keep my dressing room door open as much as possible because I love to be with everybody and I love the energy that happens before and even during the show because no night is the same.”

He’s also looking forward to auditioning for roles again, even though he knows the competition will be stiff with every actor clamoring to work again.

“It’s really tough to survive in this business, but I have been very lucky,” Engel said. “The business has been very good to me.”

 

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