Southern California audiences know Doug Carpenter from the many roles he played on our coast freshly arrived from the University Of Nevada, Las Vegas, but the tall handsome leading man has called New York his home for the past several years. Thus Doug’s return to SoCal in the National Tour of Dirty Dancing The Musical is big news indeed for those like this reviewer who’ve missed seeing him onstage these past years. I was excited to get to catch up with Doug and find out how life has been treating him since our first two interviews, in 2007 and 2010.
Doug, the very first time I interviewed you back in 2007, you’d just arrived in L.A. fresh from graduating as an Opera major at UNLV and were making your professional musical theater debut as the Prince in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Civic Light Opera South Bay Cities. Was a career in musical theater the one you envisioned before your princely debut?
I thought I wanted to be an opera singer up until I did Cinderella at CLOSBC, and I fell back in love with musical theatre. I just didn’t know what I was missing in my artistic life I guess.
A lot of folks outside Southern California aren’t aware of how vibrant our musical theater scene is here. If you had to pick a single role or production of the many you did here that had the biggest impact on you, which one would it be?
That’s a really hard question. I probably learned and grew the most doing Camelot [at the Pasadena Playhouse] with David Lee, but each production was truly important in my journey to become a better actor. The opportunities I had with Roger Bean [Life Could Be A Dream, Summer Of Love] really enabled me to get to NYC and transition from college to real life.
Since becoming New York-based, you’ve gotten to play some iconic roles (like Joey in The Most Happy Fella at Goodspeed Opera and Joe Cable in South Pacific at Papermill Playhouse), and now you’re recreating a role that many of us got to know in the Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Gray movie. Do you feel any particular pressure stepping into someone else’s shoes?
That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m so different from the guy in the movie that I couldn’t reproduce what he did if I tried.
Dirty Dancing’s stage adaptation had previous hit runs in Australia and the UK before touring the U.S. back in 2008. How close does Dirty Dancing The Musical stick to Dirty Dancing The Movie?
We try to honor the movie pretty closely. Every scene, moment, and line you love is in our play.
I’m used to seeing Doug Carpenter get the girl, with the notable exception of Lancelot in Camelot, and even there he got Guenevere for a while at least. Since I don’t recall Billy and Baby being an item in the movie, can you refresh my memory about his role in Dirty Dancing? I understand that you get some great songs to sing.
I do have a little love interest in this show too, but I don’t want to give any of it away. The part is expanded from the movie a little bit, but I’m Johnny’s cousin who introduces Baby to the “downstairs” world. (I carry the watermelons). I have some great songs near the end of the show, so you’ll have to wait til the end to catch them!
I asked you about your first time dancing onstage in Cinderella in that very first interview, and here you are in what I’m guessing is about as dancy a musical as they come. Will we see you doing any Dirty Dancing in Costa Mesa?
Haha! I do a tiny bit of dancing that is choreographed and some “freeform” dancing of my own at times…
You were L.A.-based for quite a few years and now you’re calling the East Coast home, but I believe this is your first National Tour. Having played well over a dozen cities since the tour began in August, how have you taken to the experience so far?
I’ve really liked touring. My family was in the military, so being uprooted doesn’t bother me. It’s also a great chance to revisit friends and places I’ve been before.
Any favorite stops along the way?
I really liked Austin and San Diego, but I’m most excited about coming home to SoCal.
Costa Mesa is the closest to L.A. the tour is scheduled to be, so I imagine you’re particularly excited to be back “home.” Any special plans for your two weeks in Orange County?
I’m hoping to see some friends and eat at some of my favorite LA restaurants. That and soak up a ton of sun and good weather.
You were a musical theater newbie when you played Curly in Oklahoma back in 2008, a role you returned to just a year or so ago. I’m curious about how different the experience was for you the second time around, or getting to reprise the role of Lancelot on a couple of occasions since the Pasadena Playhouse back in 2010.
I was really happy to do Curly again because I really felt like I didn’t understand acting and performing at all the first time. I was glad to finally get into that show and do it some justice. All my Camelot experiences have paled in comparison to Pasadena though. That was a special experience as an artist and human being.
Since last we met, you have gone on to be the only singer to win both the American Traditions Competition (2011) and the Lotte Lenya Competition (2013). Can you talk a bit about this very special achievement?
I won money! (Doug says this with a laugh.)
One last question, and one I’ve asked you twice before. How would you like to see your life and career develop over the next five years?
I’d love to get a Broadway credit and end up in Los Angeles teaching voice and Musical Theatre at a university.
I’m guessing that at least the first part of your dream will be taking place much sooner than later. I can’t wait to see you onstage and at the stage door on Opening Night!
Dirty Dancing plays at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. February 3 to 15. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30. Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30. Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 714 556-2787
Click here to purchase tickets.
Doug’s Dirty Dancing bio: Education: BM in Voice from UNLV, MM in Voice from UCLA. Regional: South Pacific(Cable) at Papermill Playhouse, Most Happy Fella (Joey) at Goodspeed, Dallas Lyric, Camelot (Lancelot) at Pasadena Playhouse, Oklahoma (Curly) at Penn Shakes, FCLO, West Side Story (Tony) at FCLO, See What I Wanna See (Thief) at Blank Theatre, Cinderella (Prince) at CLOSBC, Miss Saigon (Chris) at Moonlight Amphitheater, and Summer of Love (Curtis) at Ogunquit. NYC Theatre: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy) at NYMF, Skip in Life Could Be A Dream (Skip) LADCC Winner. Doug is the only singer to win both the American Traditions Competition (2011) and the Lotte Lenya Competition (2013).