He’s appeared on Broadway Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and In The Heights.  He’s starred regionally in The Drowsy Chaperone, Evita, The Fantasticks, Nine, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, and many others.  L.A. audiences know him most recently from his title role in Cesar and Ruben, CLOSBC’s Twice Upon A Time, and a pair of appearances with Musical Theatre Guild. On film and TV, he’s been seen in The Hitcher, Viva La Causa, “Ghost Whisperer,” “Ally McBeal,” “Malcolm,” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” Now, Danny Bolero arrives in Costa Mesa for the Orange County leg of In The Height’s first national tour, following a smash L.A. engagement, and took time from his busy schedule to sit down and chat about his professional life—from his growing up years in East Los Angeles to his current onstage life in Washington Heights.

Hi Danny.  So, when and how did a kid from East L.A. decide on a career in show business?

Acting and singing started as an escape for me.  

How is that?

You see, during my early years I was painfully shy, but performing gave me an outlet.  It gave me a method of communication. It gave me the strange permission to imagine, and pretend to be who or what I wanted. I also discovered at an early age that I had an unusual voice for my age. 

What was special about that voice?

It was more developed than most. It also was higher than any of the other boys in school. When I was chosen to sing solo in the Christmas pageant, I felt the power of performing, to hold an audience in the palm of your hand. I’d found my home. I could express my inner most feelings and not be judged.  

So, was there a moment when you said, “Yes!  This is what I want to do with my life!”?

It was when I saw the movie West Side Story, when I saw Rita Moreno do her thing, the excitement I felt inside. I wanted to do that. I wanted to give other people that feeling. I realized it was possible for someone like me to what she did.   It didn’t matter how hard it might have been, it was now possible.

You made your Broadway debut in the 1993 revival of Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Michael Damian. What had your theatrical experience been leading up to that major event?

Well being an L.A. native, I’d made the round of auditions.  Back then there were more CLOs and I’d probably worked at all of them at one time or another.  But most of that time I’d spent studying my craft, honing my skills, learning technique and scene study, voice and speech. 

And before those first professional gigs?

It really began during my junior year of high school when I was introduced to an incredible woman.  

Who was that?

Her name was was Margo, and she was born in Mexico City. 

Wasn’t she Mrs. Eddie Albert?

Yes. She was also an exotic actress who starred in the Ronald Colman version of Lost Horizon in 1937.  She knew the uphill battle faced by artists of color. It was Margo’s dream to create a center of arts education for young people of all cultures in East L.A.  She started the Margo Albert Players. At that time, I’d just entered my junior year in high school, and had auditioned for and was accepted into the company. 

Tell me more about what that was like for you.

We were a group of young hopefuls of varying experience and disparate backgrounds who studied technique, scene and character study under her personal tutorship at her home in Pacific Palisades. Luminaries such as Gordon Davidson, the legendary Garson Kanin, and filmmaker Gregory Nava, director of El Norte, came by to watch some of our work. I’ve been blessed throughout my life with spiritual angels.  Margo was one.  From that moment on, my path changed.

You’ve been able to play a bunch of iconic roles in regional theater including Ché in Evita, El Gallo in The Fantasticks, and Guido in Nine.  Which role is your favorite among them?

If I had to choose, one of my favorite roles has been Ché. 

Why is that?

I enjoy that music, although it’s quite difficult. It’s an incredible release to sing that show. And I love what Ché represents in the show, what he says, his weakness and his strengths.  In researching the role, I learned a lot about the injustices that were taking place in Argentina at that time. It’s not too different now in many places.  So it was never too difficult to find motivation.

You were among the very first people to support StageSceneLA when you invited me to review Cesar And Ruben almost three years ago. How much did that project mean to you?  

I treasure that experience.  It was a huge step for me, both personally and professionally, 

What was it like working with Ed Begley Jr.?

I love Ed Begley.  He’s a brilliant actor and an incredible soul.  Playing Cesar Chavez for me as was a long, wonderful journey.  

Was that your first time playing Cesar?

I’d  actually been involved with three separate productions of the show, the first being in 2004, in which I came close to getting the role but was offered understudy.  

That must have been a disappointment.

It was tough.  I was devastated when I didn’t get it.  But determined, I accepted the understudy. Then in 2007, Ed asked me to play Cesar in a workshop production in Austin for St. Edwards College, which won me the B. Iden Payne award given by the Austin Circle of Critics which led to the NoHo production in 2008.  

Was the role of Cesar Chavez particularly challenging for you?

Cesar was probably one of the toughest roles so far. It required that I bring a lot of “stuff “to the table, more than ever had been asked of me before. It was the first time I think I’d really dealt with the death of my parents, and a lot of it happened every night on that stage.  I really believe things happen when you’re ready for it. And that lesson keeps proving itself to me time and time again.

You’ve also done shows with L.A.’s Musical Theatre Guild, including (not so long ago) See-Saw and The Fix.  Can you talk a bit about what it was like putting together a musical in just twenty-five hours?  How do you guys do it?

Three simple words, I don’t know! The first time is always a crazy experience. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, so The Fix for me was a night of anxiety!  The vocal parts on that show were especially intricate.    But during See-Saw, I’d learned to calm down quite a bit and just enjoy the experience.  It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun. Rehearsal-wise, we get two nights of music learning—solos, choral parts, etc… And a weekend that’s set for just staging, with book in hand, a pencil and a lot of erasers.   But everyone in MTG is incredibly supportive and fun.

You must have had a blast playing one of my favorite roles, Adolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone.  How did you go about making that role your own (and not too much of a stereotype)?

Thanks for asking about this.  I adore that show and that role.  I’d never seen Drowsy, so I had no preconceived ideas about Adolpho.  I kept thinking Groucho Marx mixed in with Rita Moreno’s Googie Gomez. I had the best time doing that show. I love that type of comedy.  It’s a dream to play. I’m a huge fan of Lucille Balls and so anytime I get a chance to play, I do. 

You also keep busy doing film and TV work. Are there any projects you are particularly proud of? 
Two years ago, I worked on a documentary, Viva La Causa. It was one of eight being considered by the Motion Picture Academy.  Again, I got to play Cesar Chavez.  It was such a moving experience.  We shot up at Forty Acres and re-enacted many of the key moments in Cesar’s life.  So to be in the exact locations where it all took place was unbelievable.  Many of the extras were friends of Cesar’s.  Once I was in make-up, I have to admit I was a dead ringer for him. I remember this lovely lady came up to me during filming and asked if she could hug me because I was bringing back such great memories for her.  It was a special project. The documentary is being given to schools nationally, to help teach tolerance.  

I would imagine that being in In The Heights resonates for you as a Hispanic American.  How much is life in Washington Heights like your growing up in East L.A.?  

It’s very similar. I lived in a working class neighborhood.  My Dad came from Mexico to the United States in the mid 1920s, while my Mom moved here at the same time from Arizona.  They both had a limited education but had worked very hard to provide for us. Early in their marriage, my father worked three jobs while Mom was pregnant with my older brother.  They always insisted that we get an education.  They brought us up as Americans but always made sure we would never forget where we came from. That struggle for identity is similar to that of the character Nina in show.  I totally get this show!  It’s very close to home.  There things that are said on that stage, that I’ve said, literally!  

You’ve been touring with In The Heights for a while now. How has that experience been for you?

The experience has been amazing. To have to opportunity to take this story across the country, Japan, and Puerto Rico is an incredible gift and an honor, especially in light of the controversy in Arizona. I don’t expect everyone to like the show, but that fact that they bought that ticket and sat in that seat is big first step.

Have any of your stops been particularly memorable?  

The most memorable city is of course Los Angeles.  Not only is it home, so my family and friends could finally come out and see the show, but the audiences were so appreciative and incredible. Los Angeles just embraced us.  I will never forget those five weeks in LA. 

Why do you think In The Heights has been so phenomenally successful? 

First of all, the In The Heights music is phenomenal.  Lin Manuel Miranda has a rare gift of touching your soul with his lyrics. It’s rare when all the right people are in place and make an event.  And I believe that’s what happened with Heights. The music, lyrics, direction, dance, lights and costumes made magic happen.  

Do you think that because of this show, we’ll be seeing a greater number of young Danny Boleros entering “the biz”?  

This question makes me smile.  I do hope so. It’s why this show is so important.  I hope it inspires young people to believe it’s possible.  Lin Manuel wrote of what he knew, his life and experiences. I hope it gives strength and inspires our young people across the country to take their voice and create their stories.  As Margo use to say, “If you want work, make it happen, write it.”

What career advice would you offer them?

Well, you have to want to do this business.  You have to want it so badly and never let anyone tell you no.  If you don’t have training, go out and get it.  Use all the resources you have, schools, scholarships, mentorships.  If it doesn’t happen, go out and make it happen. If you don’t know, go out and find the answer.  Never settle. It’s your life.  Make it happen. My mother used to say one of my biggest downfalls was that I was very stubborn.  It turns out that she was right, but what I’ve learned with regards to this business is, it’s also one of my biggest strengths.   

How much longer do you plan to continue touring with In The Heights? 

We’ve just extended the tour another six months, and some of the stops include Puerto Rico, Washington DC, Miami, and Philadelphia. 

What goals have you set for yourself over the next few years?

I’m thinking of moving back to New York but don’t really know. Right now for the first time in a long time, I feel empowered. There are plans for a 2011 Evita.  I would love to be a part of that. 

Anything else?

I really want to finish work on two very important projects I’ve been working on, but we’ll see. Right now I’m just taking it one day at a time and am enjoying it.

It’s been great talking with you Danny.  Can’t wait to see you on Opening Night!

Click here to purchase tickets to In The Heights
Orange County Performing Arts Center
August 2 through 15 

In The Heights photos by Joan Marcus

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