Man of A Thousand Talents - Vincent Ortega is Crushin' It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

Vincent Ortega has nearly done it all in the music and theatre industry. His credits range from actor, singer, and dancer to dance captain, director, and choreographer, and there’s no telling what he’ll do next. Growing up in California with a musician father who toured around Mexico, he got an early taste of a life in entertainment, but it was not until he met other kids involved in the performing arts that he started on the path.

Ortega attended Orange County School of the Arts, notably attended by Broadway greats including Stephanie J. Block and Lindsay Mendez. At age 17 he was hired to dance with a Ricky Martin tour and his father told him to go for it. Ortega worked for a number of pop artists and spent time as Aladdin for Disney, a role he was hand-selected for by then-CEO Michael Eisner.

Getting more comfortable with choreography and the production side of stage shows, Ortega’s agent suggested he head to New York City to audition for Broadway.

“Being from California, you think there’s nothing but Broadway out there,” Ortega said. “Then when I moved to New York, I did regional theatre and realized there’s such great theatre all over the country, and a lot them look for talent out of New York City.”

One of the first shows he was involved in that enlightened him to the wonders of regional theatre was “The Wedding Singer” at Gateway Playhouse, located in Suffolk County on Long Island.

“I happened to be at the same studio where Gateway was having auditions, and ‘The Wedding Singer’ had just closed on Broadway,” Ortega said, describing how he essentially crashed the callback and made a good impression. “The director loved me and I ended up getting it.”

Ortega’s friends encouraged him to accept the job because of the theatre’s great reputation.

“I went and out of all the shows I’ve ever done in my life, that show has brought me my closest friends to this day,” he said, specifying one of his best friends is director Keith Andrews and they frequently work together.

Click to read Broadway & Main’s exclusive interview with Keith Andrews.

 

Ortega fell in love with how choreography and movement can tell a story in a musical. Always up for a challenge, he works with performers of all skill levels to tell that story, whatever it may be.

“When you are working with more singer-actors rather than dancers,” he explained, “I pride myself in making non-dancers look really good,” and gets compliments all the time.

One of Ortega’s most memorable moments is when Michael Jackson attended a show he was doing in Los Angeles.

“He came backstage and told everybody how great they were,” Ortega said. “When I was young, he was one of the people that you looked up to as a dancer and performer. His style was so theatrical.”

When the pandemic struck, Ortega was working on an Off-Broadway show called “Four Guys Named José” and also filming “The Many Saints of Newark.” Both productions shut down and Ortega found himself working with Dr. Karen Thornton, who closed her family practice in order to help Covid patients in underserved areas.

“She was going to parts of the city that didn’t speak English, and I spoke Spanish,” Ortega said. “I volunteered to help her translate for Covid patients.”

The pandemic and lockdown period is where Ortega’s career “gets all over the place,” as he puts it. He got a call from Nickelodeon, which was in need of a Spanish-speaking director-choreographer who could put up shows at their new resort, Riviera Maya, just outside of Cancún, Mexico.

“There were 36 different shows that they did and I was there for about four months in Mexico putting up these shows,” he said. “We were in our own little bubble and everything was being created right there, which kept me pretty busy and was very exciting.”

In the fall of 2020, he participated in “The Christmas Caroler Challenge,” a CW competition show.

“Christmas caroling groups were challenging to become the winner, and the winners won money for Toys for Tots, so sort of everybody was a winner on that project,” Ortega remarked.

Since the program was filmed in Los Angeles with a lot of LA-based singers, it felt like a reunion.

“It was the first time that we could all be together because of Covid,” he said. “It was just like hanging out with a whole bunch of friends.”

Ortega enjoyed watching the uplifting holiday show in December when it aired.

Check out clips of “The Christmas Caroler Challenge” on Ortega’s YouTube page.

 

In addition to these projects, Ortega choreographs the showcases for AMDA, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan. He recalls preaching to his students to be ready for theatre to reopen.

“Be ready. You have to be ready for when we’re back. You can’t sit around and use lockdown as an excuse anymore,” he would tell them, and took his own advice by continuing to train and practice.

Having spent most of that time period in California, when he did come back to New York for work, it was another reunion.

“People were crying,” he recalled. “Being able to hug your friends again for the first time was just incredible.”

This past year, Ortega toured with a holiday-themed Cirque du Soleil show and, one cross-country road trip later, his next production will be “Head Over Heels” at one of his favorite places to return to – Gateway Playhouse.

He ran auditions for the show adapted from 16th-century prose set to the music of the Go-Go’s and remembered what auditions were like before everything went virtual.

“Teaching a dance call in person, I was like ‘oh my god, I’ve missed this so much,” he said. “I love it – seeing people dance in person.”

Like many others, living through the pandemic made Ortega more appreciative of working, and he has a positive philosophy about the work that he and his colleagues do.

“The joy that we feel performing is the joy that people get coming to see the show,” he said. “I’ve always said when you’re doing a long run, somebody out there has never seen this show before. There’s always the first time.”

He continued, “Some people right now when they come see ‘Head Over Heels,’ that might be the first show they’ve seen since Covid [began].”

Ortega truly appreciates the patrons of theatre who have come back to enjoy it as the industry bounces back from pandemic closures.

“When I was doing the Cirque tour, I was saying to people all the time, ‘Thank you for supporting. Thank you for coming. Thank you for taking care of this theatre and looking out for them.’”

Looking forward, he hopes to work with and share his wisdom with new performers entering the world of musical theatre.

“What I like about this business is how when you do a show, you become really close with your cast,” Ortega said. “I’m excited to meet a whole new young generation of actors, singers, and dancers, just starting their career out.”

 

 

 

 

 



Ryan Rodiño's Talent Has Him Dancing Around The World - and CRUSHIN' IT!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

It all started with “Blue’s Clues LIVE!” When young Ryan Rodiño saw the loveable little puppy and his colorful friends at Radio City Music Hall, he was captivated.

“I told [my mom] that I wanted to perform and that I wanted to do what they were doing on stage,” Rodiño said.

She promptly got him in acting and dancing classes and he hasn’t stopped since.

Growing up in Bellport, NY, was a lucky break for an aspiring theatre performer. Home to the Gateway Playhouse, the oldest professional theatre on Long Island, Bellport is a vibrant community full of artists. He even performed on the main stage as a kid when parts for children were available.

“I realized how fortunate I am to have grown up in a place where the arts was so accessible to me,” Rodiño said. “We’re the lucky ones on Long Island because we also have Manhattan right in our backyard.”

Rodiño began to get recognition for his talents in high school, when he was given the

program for Long Island students following in his footsteps.

“I owe so much of everything that I know to mentors, people I took classes from, and people that I looked up to, so any opportunity that I have to give back to the community that gave so much to me, I love doing,” Rodiño said.

Since graduating from college with a BFA in musical theatre, he has performed in a number of musicals and concerts in theatres around the country and abroad, with “A Chorus Line” playing a tremendous role in his life.

Playing Bobby and understudying Paul, Rodiño was part of the national tour of the classic show, directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee, who originated the role of Connie in 1975. The international tour brought them to Japan, where it caught the attention of Chinese producers and led to a 2019 engagement in Shanghai — a first!

“We got to bring the show to China for the first time ever,” Rodiño said. “Getting to be part of the first company…was pretty special.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into lockdown, Rodiño got by taking virtual classes in order to keep up with his craft.

“It’s such a community everywhere,” he said. “Being able to take virtual dance classes with so many friends and colleagues and peers when they’re all over the country quarantining in different places, we can share something together. I think that’s one of the best parts of technology — that we can stay connected.”

Rodiño says his “Covid journey” was difficult, but also put things in perspective about what not to take for granted.

“I truly have a whole new appreciation for the community and what we do and how we can bring joy and entertainment to others when times seem a little rough,” he said.

His first show back in 2021 was a production of “42nd Street” at The Rev Theatre Company in Auburn, NY.

“ʻ42nd Street’, other than all the glitz and glam of it being a Broadway spectacle, the storyline is about Broadway returning from the Depression,” Rodiño noted. “It was really special to be able to revisit a show that I think means a lot during this time as we’re all trying to figure out what this new chapter of the industry is.”

Since then, he’s done a workshop and been in several regional productions, including a role as Race and dance captain in “Newsies” with his Gateway family on Long Island and another successful run of “A Chorus Line” in Atlanta, GA.

Check out Ryan’s personal tour of the City Springs Theatre

The up-and-coming actor and dancer has a few exciting projects planned and is thankful that live theatre has bounced back.

“I’m just looking forward to continuing what I’ve started with my life and my career goals,” he said. “I am grateful that we are figuring out how to navigate this and move forward because I don’t wish to stop doing this. It’s what I love to do, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to keep doing it.

Keep up with Ryan Rodiño online at www.ryanrodino.com, on Instagram @ryrodino, and YouTube.

 



An Electric Talent with Infectious Energy— Robert Anthony Jones Is Crushin’ It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

Robert Anthony Jones likes to tell the story of how he first got involved in theatre. In sixth grade, his sister, a senior at Islip High School, invited him to audition for “Oliver!” the musical, as a fun activity for them to do together before she went off to college. He was cast as an orphan in the ensemble. The director told his mom he couldn’t be Oliver because he was “too healthy looking.”

No one ever questioned why he wasn’t ‘too healthy looking’ to be Oliver’s understudy.

Jones, or RAJ as he goes by, went on to get a BFA in Theatre Arts at Hofstra University and made his Broadway debut in “Finding Neverland” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. With about 30 friends and members of his family in the audience, that night is one of the most memorable moments in his career.

“There is just no feeling that was like that. It’s kind of difficult to describe, but I was exactly in the place I had always dreamed about since I started in sixth grade,” RAJ said.

Hearing his family cheer for him, signing autographs at the stage door, and going for a drink with friends at Joe Allen down the block made it the most “magical night.”

In addition to his time on Broadway and off-Broadway, the actor has toured nationally and internationally with several well-known shows and brings his talents to regional theatres around the country, including his home turf of Long Island.

“I love coming back and doing what I do for people who know me, who I’ve grown up with, who I went to school with, they all come out and see the shows,” he said. “To be someone who grew up on Long Island and to come back and perform for the community is a special thing.”

During the holidays in 2021, RAJ starred as Santa and Mr. Greenway in “Elf the Musical” at The Argyle Theatre in Babylon Village, and was kind enough to do a Q&A with a group of drama students from Brentwood High School, facilitated by the theatre and Islip Arts Council.

“Anyplace where I can talk about myself I love,” he joked, but the event meant a lot to the kids. “I love to talk to kids because they have this excitement, and love, and drive for it. That’s really exciting for me to see, because I used to be like that, and I still am.”

Having attained his Broadway dreams, he can speak first hand about dreams coming true.

“It’s always cool to go back and talk about that and say, you know, your dreams can absolutely come true,” he said. “You can’t dream big enough in my opinion.”

“Elf” was RAJ’s first time back on stage following the pandemic that shut down live theatre everywhere for nearly two years. During that time, he was able to film a virtual production of “Kris Kringle the Musical,” which brought a lot of holiday cheer to viewers at home. He also started a play-reading group with friends, taught some remote classes, and, most life-changing of all, adopted a son with his husband.

Getting back to performing, with “Elf” and then “Something Rotten!” at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, renewed RAJ’s appreciation for his craft, something many actors experienced.

“It brought us back to the love of what we do,” he said. “Coming back and really being grateful for the ability to do this again, that’s what I felt…Going to rehearsals and performances and tech, I was really present for all of it because I was just so excited to be there.”

Looking forward, RAJ is open to whatever the universe throws his way, excited by the possibilities and opportunities to make people laugh.

With everything going on in the world, he said, “It’s nice to be able to bring joy to people.”

Keep up with RAJ on Facebook, Instagram @justcallmeraj, and Twitter @justcallmeraj.

 



Always Evolving & Inspiring, Kate Chapman is Crushin' It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

Kate Chapman can’t remember ever not being interested in musical theatre. Growing up with a mother who loved musicals and singing in the church from a young age primed her to become the illustrious songstress she became.

Chapman’s first role was Brigitta in “The Sound of Music” at age 10, and she made her professional debut at 19 in the world premiere of “O Pioneers!”, which was recorded for television by PBS, an exciting project for the young actress while still in college for music education.

With a decades-long career on Broadway, in the New York theatre scene, concerts and musicals around the country, and more, Chapman has had many memorable moments on the stage. In her three-and-a-half years in Mary Poppins doing stints as multiple characters, she’d always be on stage for a big number towards the end.

“There was this lighting cue that was so beautiful,” she said. “Just being up there with all of the ensemble members, just about to start the big huge dance number that we all do together, I could feel the energy in the audience every night – that moment was just true magic.”

That particular cue was lavender and looked like a painting.

“Lighting designers are some of the most undercelebrated artists in theatre because they really paint with light,” Chapman said. “It was a moving piece of art.”

While Broadway has rebounded from the pandemic with live performances every night, Chapman took the time to reevaluate her priorities.

“Covid has completely shifted my perception of what I want to be doing with myself and for myself,” she explained.

Chapman has been living “in the middle of nowhere” in Colorado for the past two years and spent some of that lockdown time making an original web series called “Little Kate On the Prairie.”

Despite having had several offers to return to the stage, Chapman has been focusing on other areas of her professional life. She has been working on writing her second book. The first one, “A Pixie’s Prescription: A Fun Toolkit For A Feel Better Life,” was published in 2014 and Chapman has plans to record an audiobook too.

In addition to being an actress, singer, and author, Chapman has been a health coach for the past ten years, recently expanding her expertise into the field of life coaching as well.

“Over time I noticed that my work was kind of shifting more towards life-centric things rather than just health, so when Covid first started, I immediately enrolled in a program to get my life coaching training,” she said.

Consulting with clients all over the world by phone and videocall, she’s able to support them through a difficult time.

“My way of working is through play and fun, and focusing on resilience,” Chapman said. “These one-on-one interactions with people have felt like their own special scenes in a way.”

Her approach is not simply to give advice.

“The techniques are really about that we already know what’s best for ourselves,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s just hard to admit that to ourselves because of culture or family or family pressures, or all kinds of things put us in boxes and it’s hard to say this is who I am! So in life coaching all I do is help people to learn how to access that part of themselves that gives them their answers.”

Chapman’s desire to inspire and help others to live their best, healthiest lives is evident in her writing and YouTube channel. Beyond her books, she writes for several organizations, including Broadway Inspirational Voices (BIV) a, a professional choir of Broadway artists that believe in the power of music and service to change lives.

Having been involved with BIV for about a decade, Chapman recently started a monthly motivational email, delivering encouragement and positive feelings straight to thousands of inboxes.

“It’s been really great because I can use the work of my life coaching to support a greater community,” she said.

Multitalented and multifaceted, Chapman has long been involved in education, as a college professor at the University of Hartford Hartt School of Music for several years and a teacher at international schools in Uganda.

“I worked with the Ugandan community over there and we made a Broadway-style musical collaborating the international and local arts communities together,” Chapman said.

In nearby Colorado communities, she has worked with students at a performing arts school who hope to go on to be professional artists and hopes to get more involved with regional theatres in the area. Denver and Colorado Springs have particularly vibrant arts scenes.

“I feel like what I am transitioning to a lot is to make sure that I’m helping to pay forward what I’ve been given all these years…and spreading it around a little bit,” she said.

Chapman is not done with performing all together, just on a break while she shares her other gifts and wisdom. She says that theatre should be something she does to renew herself rather than something she depends on to build her up.

“Theatre is hard work,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years I need to treat it with respect and care, and part of that respect and care is making sure that I’m nourishing myself in all different ways outside of theatre.”

While theatre does have the ability to build people up, the industry also has a way of tearing people down sometimes. Chapman has experienced body-shaming, misogyny, and been relegated to work that didn’t challenge her in the way she’d like to be challenged. Going forward, she’d like to be the one telling the story, in her own voice, and has several projects in the works to do that.

Chapman has a one-woman show that she continues to refine and has been in the process of writing a musical for a few years.

“I feel like I get it in a good place, then I just stop for a little while. Part of it is because I don’t really know what I’m doing,” she joked, “and part of it is that I’m having so much fun writing it, I don’t want that to end!”

To keep up with Kate Chapman’s evolving career, visit her website at thekatechapman.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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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