Playing Gaston at Disney World had its definite "up side". But there was a down side too; singing to a tape gets really, really old after a while. I always stick very strictly to the recorded tempo, to try to create the illusion that the tape is following me. But it can only ever be an illusion, and singing along to recorded accompaniment is, ultimately, the antithesis of "live theatre". My contract was up in May, and I began to look for something else to do.
But first, I was asked by Disney to be a part of a very neat show in New York. It was a Beauty and the Beast-themed performance at the Waldorf Astoria presented to honor Michael Eisner. Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford were the hosts, and the show starred Paige O'Hara and Jerry Orbach, singing their songs from Beauty and the Beast. I got to be Gaston. For a little boy who used to sing along with his Disneyland records, to hear Paige sing "There must be more than this provincial life" — and to get to be the actual guy who answers "Just watch, I'm going to make Belle my wife" — was a thrill. But as an added bonus, I got to give one of the very earliest performances of "A Whole New World" from the then-upcoming film Aladdin. Joining me was none other than the singing voice of Jasmine from that movie, Lea Salonga. Together on top of a grand piano played by Peter Duchin, we sang the duet.
So, that was a real highlight in what had become a monotonous job. When my contract expired, I wanted out. Now, it's a given that an actor's life is full of rejection. So what happened next really, truly, almost never happens. Looking at local Florida auditions, I saw that on the same day the Mark Two Dinner Theatre was holding auditions for The King and I, and Seaside Music Theater was holding auditions for their summer season. I figured I could play Lun Tha in The King and I, and Seaside was doing both Evita and the Yeston/Kopit version of Phantom, so there was good stuff for me there, too. I auditioned for both companies, and within the week, I had job offers from both. Seaside was offering Tito in Lend Me a Tenor, Che in Evita, and the title role in Phantom, so the man at the Mark Two said he didn't blame me one bit for choosing them!
What followed was, quite possibly, the greatest summer of my life. I loved all the people I worked with, and cherish so many friendships from there to this day. Seaside really became my "artistic home". I got three fantastic roles, so I finally felt my full abilities were being utilized. I was a working Equity actor. And Seaside had a full orchestra! (Live!) A fantastic place, and a fantastic experience. Laura came down and saw each show!
So it was back to our beautiful Park Slope apartment after that. I had a strange feeling of accomplishment after that season at Seaside. A feeling of: "Okay...I did that. I know what that's like. Now what?" I certainly wanted to be in more shows, no question. There were bigger fish to fry in that arena, certainly. But I have to say that an odd, perhaps unwarranted sense of "fulfillment" in terms of being a musical theatre actor, made me wonder what else I could do.
My friend Brian Maffitt — he was Nicholas in Nicholas Nickleby — was in New York too. He had gotten into creating computer graphics, and was experimenting with animation. This, I found to be quite intriguing.
I turned 29, and of course hit the audition scene again. I got hired to replace another actor for the last few weeks of The 1940s Radio Hour at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. Once again I was Johnny Cantone, a role I've never felt I was an ideal choice for.
And the wonderful folks at Seaside offered me a role in their winter season, to play Man 1 in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. I eagerly took the gig. The show was baffling to me, and I never really "understood" it until we started performing it. But it was fun! And that's how the year ended: In Daytona Beach.