The perennial Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite SOUTH PACIFIC with its magnificent songs and its oh-so relevant messages will light up the stage at The Soraya April 13 to 15, and then on to La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts April 20 through May 13. John Cudia, the first and only actor to have performed both The Phantom in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, will once again impart his vocal and acting talents to the role of plantation owner Emile de Becque at both venues. John took some time to answer my inquisitive queries.
John, thank you for taking the time for this interview!
You have a strong familiarity with SOUTH PACIFIC as not only have you played Emile de Becque before (as you will at The Soraya), but you also had the role of Lt. Joe Cable. How wonderful the experience of playing different roles in the same show! Did you find taking on the role of Emile was easier or harder after tackling Cable before?
I love playing multiple roles in a show! I've had that privilege with PHANTOM, LES MIZ and SOUTH PACIFIC. I really enjoy getting to know a show from many different angles, learning all the secret ins and outs. Emile felt more difficult just from the amount of material and responsibility, but also because the vocal range of the show is a lot lower for me. But it is certainly a benefit to have been on both sides of the conversations with Lt. Cable and our discussions of race and prejudice.
Have you sometimes sang along backstage to the actor on stage singing Cable's "Younger Than Springtime"?
I sing along with everybody in this show. I adore the score and have since I was a kid.
Would you say that even though Emile and Cable were raised in much different backgrounds, they have many positive character traits in common?
They both have strength and conviction and drive. When pointed in the right direction, they are formidable men.
Do you remember the first time you saw a performance of SOUTH PACIFIC?
I never saw a live production of SOUTH PACIFIC before I was in it. My mother and father are big fans of the 1958 film, and I had seen that a couple of times growing up.
I didn't realize the seriousness, the significance of racial bias portrayed within this musical when I first saw it. I also didn't realize SOUTH PACIFIC won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. Would you agree that lessons to be learnt can be easier digested when entertaining, like SOUTH PACIFIC?
Certainly, and most especially when those lessons come packaged in the writing of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. For me, music is a quick key to the heart, and when the heart is open, it can receive these messages more easily. With a show like SOUTH PACIFIC you know all the tunes, you'll find when you're singing them and thinking of them in context, their lessons will surprise you. You didn't know you were learning all along! But, yes, the show addresses very serious subjects, not the least of which is finding ways of overcoming our own ignorance and prejudice. In this case, the greatest lesson is that love is the only cure for racism.
You have sung the leads in some pretty established musicals (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, LES MISERABLES, among many others). As a theatre lover, you must have seen previous productions of a lot of the shows you're later cast for. Do you 'steal' from the best? Or consciously try to block their performances out of your creative mind?
In long running shows, some things just plain "work" for a character, and you don't mess with what works. But i insist on trying to learn the lesson from what has been done before, then discover my own way of getting there. I think I owe the audience the due diligence of exploring a moment fully and making it personal so they are not seeing a museum reproduction. In my approach to well-known roles, I like to imagine that no one (including me) has gotten it exactly right, and there is room for the director, conductor and I to find new and wonderful things to play.
How old were you when you realized your vocation was singing?
I knew that music, and specifically musical performance, would be a part of my life as far back as I can remember. I started singing publicly in school at the age of six, took up the drums at ten, was a part of a Top 40 cover band at 14, and doing plays and musicals through high school. Being a singer and musician was my entree to the world, the basis of most of my friendships and relationships. Put most simply, it was a natural thing and I never really questioned it.
Which musical field did you initially see yourself in - opera? Or musical theatre? Today you perform in both mediums.
As far as the medium I perform in..that developed over time. At first, I followed my heart towards the material or the show and tried to mold myself to it. Like, for instance, LES MIZ hit me like a sledgehammer, so I knew I had to do whatever it took to get me there - including training my voice and getting my theater degree. But then the voice as an instrument develops on its own and becomes more appropriate for different material. Opera came to me as a fan first. After college, then later as a student in earnest (and I'm still and always will be a student.) What I prefer is to try to make my living as a singer. Singing beautiful music. In a musical or an opera or in concert, for as long as an audience will tolerate me.
Which do you prefer, performing as a scripted character? Or as yourself, John Cudia?
No preference really. I enjoy both very much. It's great to lose oneself in a character, but it's also fun to let your own story come out, like in a concert or cabaret.
When you perform as one of The Broadway Tenors, are singing in your own voice? Or in the show's character's voices of the selected songs?
A little bit of both. We try very hard to give our audiences a taste of what it was like to see us in the roles we performed on Broadway. We want the audience to feel like they saw the whole Broadway show while having only seen a small piece of it. But we also feel it's important for them to leave with the feeling that they have gotten to know us personally and that we've all enjoyed the evening together.
What vocal exercises and maintenance would you strongly recommend to an up and coming vocalist?
Good health habits help the voice. Sleep/rest is as important as singing. Hydration, avoiding smoke and excessive alcohol. Regular singing is the "going to the gym" for the voice. You can fall out of shape vocally very quickly, so consistency will actually help you over the course of a show/season. Never pushing the voice before its warm and ready, and never trying to force the voice to imitate a sound that isn't yours. Whatever the exercises are, the development of the sounds should come from you and your heart, and a teacher should then guide you to make those sounds the best they can be.
Are there any 'must-haves' in your dressing room in regards to preserving your vocal cords?
Tons of water. I love warm water with honey and lemon. I also use a massager on my neck and throat in between scenes to relieve any tension.
Any particular song from one of the shows you've been in that you never mind singing again and again and again? (i.e., "This Nearly Was Mine," "Bring Him Home," "The Music of the Night," "Some Enchanted Evening")
I think "Bring Him Home" tops that list personally. However, I love singing the songs from the shows that hold such special meaning for the audience. Like for me, these shows changed people's lives. I respect that and am awed and grateful to have shared in their history.
Thank you again. I look forward to spending an Enchanted Evening with you and your fellow artistes at The Soraya.
For ticket availability April 13 to 15 at The Soraya, log onto ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org
For ticket availability April 20 through May 13, 2018 at La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts, log onto LaMiradaTheatre.com