A Talk with Actor/Dancer Eric Anthony Johnson of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella: ASU Gammage, Tempe

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The promise of dreams and of wishes that really do come true will play nightly on the stage at ASU Gammage in Tempe from Tuesday March 10 until Sunday March 15.  The National Touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella comes to the valley with what promises to be one of the biggest and certainly the most magical production of the season.

Eric pic 2Among the cast in this spectacular show from Broadway is singer/dancer/actor Eric Anthony Johnson whose role in the musical is arguably the one person who holds everything together.  Eric not only performs in the ensemble, he is also the dance captain and swing, and in a recent interview while gearing up for his Arizona visit, Eric was only too happy to explain to me exactly what those roles actually mean.

This is the only musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for television and not originally for the stage, isn’t that right?

That’s absolutely true, it was a live telecast with Julie Andrews, and I believe they did everything in about sixty minutes.  It was very short, very short, and it was viewed by millions of Americans; something like a hundred million viewers.  It was crazy how many millions watched this TV show live, but it was never a Broadway production until this revival.

Did you ever see the 1997 TV version with Whitney Houston as The Fairy Godmother?

Yes.  Oh, my gosh, yes, it’s great.  That version also included some Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that were not necessarily a part of the 1957 original version, like Falling in Love With Love.  I believe it was a song for Bernadette Peters who played the evil stepmother.  They put a few twists and spins in that production as well.

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Are there extra layers to the story in this production that were never before explored?

There are.  There are some extra layers that we don’t want to spoil.  Our show is still the story of Cinderella as you know it, but it’s updated; it has a few, new interesting twists and turns with some of our step-sisters and new characters in the village.

One article I read described the script as being a little Monty Python mixed with Les Miserables.

Oh, wow.  Well, yeah, I can see that.  It’s definitely very funny.  It’s Douglas Carter Beane’s book and there’s a lot of humor in his writing.  Our show has a little twist on politics and, you know, kindness as you know it, kindness to others, but told in a different way.  So, yeah, it’s very funny, and it has a little touch of the classes in it.

How about the expanded score? Are there additions from other areas?

Oh, yes.  David Chase, he’s the music supervisor, did amazing things with this Rodgers and Hammerstein docket.  He put some stuff from South Pacific in.  There’s Loneliness of the Evening that was cut from South PacificNow Is The Time is another song from South Pacific, but you can still hear it in the underscoring.  And there’re other things.  We have this lovely pursuit that comes from a couple of different Rodgers and Hammerstein pieces, something from Do-Ray-Mi; I mean, it’s all in there.

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I recall seeing some magical effects when a scene was once played on TV.  Are there several-slight-of-hand tricks throughout?

Well, our show is so magical.  It all happens right in front of your eyes.  I can’t divulge the secrets of magic, but it’s such a memorable, memorable moment in the show watching Cinderella become a princess for the first time, and it happens right in front of you, right there. It’s amazing.

Have some of those tricks failed you at a crucial moment on stage?

(Big laugh) Well what can I say?  We’re all human, and the show must go on no matter what happens.  Hopefully, when those things happen we cover our tracks well and act our way out if, right?

Now, you’re credited as ensemble, plus you’re both the dance captain and swing.  First, explain the difference between a dance captain and the choreographer.

Eric pictureOkay.  So, my role as dance captain, it’s… once we’ve set the show in New York with our creative team, with our choreographer… you know, it’s such a common misconception; it’s so true.  People think I’m the choreographer, but I’m not.  So, once our show is set with our director, our choreographer, they don’t travel with us on the road.  It’s the same with Broadway; they’re not constantly at the theatre, so they employ a dance captain to preserve the show.  I’m basically middle-management; I mange the show, creatively.  And I teach the understudies so that they’re always ready to go on when a principal is out.  We make it function.

And how does your credit as swing differ from an understudy?

So, an understudy is exclusively for a particular role, whereas a swing usually understudies the ensemble or anyone who is not necessarily a name part.  So, instead of me going on for Cinderella – not that I ever would – or the Prince, I would go on for the understudy in the ensemble who is the prince’s understudy.  It’s a chain effect on how things go into our show.

So, you must know every role?

We have twenty-seven parts in our show, from ensembles to principals, and I know everyone of them – wherever they change, what props they walk on-stage with – and I have a very big binder to keep it all in-check.

You can never be sick.

Right. (laughs) I take my vitamin C.

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You were in a national tour in 2011 with West Side Story.  Is life back on the road any easier the second time around?

It is very different.  Even though 2011 was not that long ago, it is so, so different.  With the technology with the apps for getting around in a city you’re not familiar with or you haven’t seen for many years, there’s so much more that you can do.  Life on the road is easier now, I think.  You know, finding food, finding interesting cafes to go to.  It’s great.  It’s really great.

And finally, the most common question asked of any budding performer who wants to follow in your shoes is this: What’s the most important advice you can give anyone before heading to New York?

Okay. (Big breath) Okay.  There are lots of things, but, really, the number one thing – I think this is it – is don’t get discouraged.  You will get a ton of rejections, but that does not mean you’re not great.  Every performer of every caliber has faced rejection, so, knowing that that’s part of it – the rejections and the feeling that comes with it – as many no’s as there are there will be yeses.  You’ll get a yes.  You will.  You just have to stick it out.  And that’s my most important advice.

For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the ASU Gammage website.

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