2007 was a great year for musical theater star Stuart Ambrose. There was a national tour of Camelot, starring Michael York, an amazing production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in Thousand Oaks, CA, a concert with the Salt River Brass in Chandler, AZ as well as many appearances at Los Angeles and Phoenix area churches. Ambrose got to honor our country’s veterans to a sold out crowd at the Chandler Performing Arts Center in Arizona, singing songs like An American Hymn and Josh Groban’s Oceano. He also performed again on his high school stage with his high school music director, where he received his musical education.  I first met Stuart, and his lovely wife Megan, when he went on for Bryce Ryness in 2005, and have been a big fan ever since, so it’s with mixed feelings that I learned of Stuart’s plan to leave musical theater for the world of politics. Here are his answers to questions about performing in a Broadway classic, recreating a classic MGM movie role, and being in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve.

Hi Stuart. You were part of the original cast of the still running National Tour of Camelot, starring Michael York.  What was the best (and worst) part of touring for you?

I was on tour from January to July, 2007.  It was, as you would expect, an amazing experience.  The worst part of life on the road is easy to answer – being away from home and away from my wife.  We made a strong effort to see each other every 3-4 weeks, but it was  still difficult nonetheless.  The best part about tour, I felt, was being able to get a “snapshot” of America in 2007. As a country, we have had a lot of serious issues confront us in the last few years.  The tepid economy, the credit crisis and of course the war in Iraq all weigh heavily on Americans’ minds, and there’s no question that Americans are anxious about their future; polls show as much.  That said, we are not hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass.  While on tour last year, in every region of the country, stores were busy, restaurants were full and planes were packed.  America is an amazingly resilient nation that has the power and strength to overcome so much.  Believe it or not, being on tour reinforced that image for me.
It’s great that you were able to “discover” America while touring. Getting back to Camelot, you’ve understudied major roles in several productions, including Lancelot in the Camelot tour. Did you ever find yourself wishing that say, the actor you’re covering would get caught in a massive traffic jam?  

You never want to wish the actor whom you’re understudying any ill will. That wouldn’t be right.  Still, when you do get the chance to go on, as I did during Camelot, it is a thrilling experience, although pretty frightening the first time!  I was fortunate enough to play the role of Lancelot eight times on the road, six of those in Toronto, where the show originated over forty-seven years ago.  I was so lucky to perform that role in that show in such an historic theater. 

I would have loved to seen that! Luckily I was able to catch your starring role as Adam in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks.


Photos: Ed Krieger

How did this job come about, and had you seen the MGM movie growing up?

Thank you so much. I had a wonderful time playing Adam, and I’m so glad you liked the performance.  I actually had never seen the movie growing up and I didn’t watch it once I was cast.  I like, if at all possible, to come to the rehearsal process with a clean slate on the character.  I think the character can grow and develop more organically that way. 
Shannon Warne, your gorgeous costar in Seven Brides, was on the Camelot tour too.  How did you end up working together again so soon after leaving the tour?

Shannon and I actually did three shows practically back to back. Hippolytos at the Getty Villa, Camelot (in which we played opposite as understudies) and then, of course, Seven Brides at Cabrillo.  It was all just pure luck, but I think it helped during the audition process of Seven Brides that we knew each other so well and could gel so quickly together in the audition room. She is a wonderful actress and she and her husband have since become dear friends of my wife and mine.  

Your gig soon after Seven Brides was Musical Theatre Guild’s As Thousands Cheer at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.  I hear that MTG shows are put together in just 25 hours? How it is possible to stage a full length Broadway show in such a short time?

MTG is amazing for the fact that they are able to do so much with so little. To answer your question, I think MTG is able to produce their shows in 25 hours because (1) They have very talented members who can work extremely quickly and (2) they know their limits and curtail certain production values (in other words we do staged readings and not full productions) to keep to the essence of the storytelling.

Your solo CD Making It Through came out last year, and it’s wonderful by the way.  You truly have a “signature” voice.  You surprised me by not choosing show tunes, which most musical theater performers usually do when they make their CD debut.  Why was this?  (Click here to purchase Stuart’s CD.)

I decided against a show tune themed album, because I wanted to make the album somewhat more mainstream.  I market the album not only to theater audiences, but also to churches and symphony concertgoers.  I needed to make an album that had wide appeal, and I think I’ve done that. I do, however, want to make a second album in the somewhat near future, and I think that album will have several show tunes on it with some terrific arrangements that I’m coming up with. Stay tuned!

I’m excited to hear that there’s a second album in the works!  So, Stuart, what made you decide to pursue a career in musical theater?  Were you a drama geek in school?

No. I was never a drama geek, but I think I’ve always been performing one way or another since I was quite young. I decided initially to pursue a career in the theater because it was at the time the most natural nexus of my talents and passions.  More recently, I’ve been able to diversify my career with my recording and solo concert work and that’s been exciting and fulfilling as well.

You’ve also been, until very recently, a member of the Marine Corps reserve, which is quite an accomplishment! How long were you active in the Corps, 

I was a member of the Marine Corps Reserve from July or 1998 until January, 2008, and I cannot overstate the significance of that experience in my life. The Marine Corps is an amazing institution that taught me the value of discipline, courage and leadership and instilled in me an intense desire to serve that I will always hold with me. Hopefully, my service will continue in the coming years as I’m in the midst of pursuing a commission as a reserve officer in another branch. I should know more about that in the coming weeks. 

Please keep us posted. So, which came first, the military or the musical?

As for which came first for me, the military or the musical, it was the musical, oddly enough.  In some ways, though, I think that that was one of the reasons I joined the Marines. At nineteen I had had plenty of experience in the arts, but I knew there was more to my personality than that, and I discovered that other side of myself in the military.  I always tell people, though, there’s more in common between the two groups — Marines and musical theater actors — than you would ever think. Both groups of people are disciplined.  They take care of their bodies. They are very passionate, and they know what it means to work for an idea that is larger than yourself.  Lastly, both groups of people have had numerous on-lookers say to them along the way: “Why would you ever do that career – you’re crazy.” I found that both groups of people are a little “crazy” and that’s what makes them so much fun.

I hear that you’re about to make a major career change.  Can you tell us something about it, and why you’re planning to quit musical theater now, when these great roles are coming your way?

I love politics and government, and have always known that sooner or later I would pursue a career in that world. I have been so fortunate and blessed in the entertainment world with many wonderful opportunities, but increasingly, I wasn’t very happy. My other calling kept tugging at me and I finally felt it was time to move on. That fact that certain roles were starting to come my way was somewhat less relevant to me.  I was just simply something I have to do. I’m still in the search  process, deciding exactly which direction to focus my energies, and I should know much more about where I’m headed in the next 3-6 weeks.  I will say this, though.  As a Republican who spent the last seven years as an actor, I’m now having to navigate some very new waters.  That said, having been an actor and having worked with so many people who have opinions different from my own has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  It has forced me to listen to and appreciate the other side of the political debate.  I think we need more listening and less demagoguery in America today. We can disagree — we should disagree with one another, that’s good for the political process, but we should also take the time to listen and never forget to be respectful of those with whom we disagree. I am so grateful to all my fellow actors and artists who took the time to talk with me and listen to me over the years. They taught me more than they will ever know, and wherever I head in the future, I will take those experiences with me and be better for it.

I’m sure the Republican Party will be better for having you as one of its upcoming new leaders, but I know I speak for many when I say that I hope we’ll get to see you back on stage again as well. Best of luck to you, Stuart!

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