by Wesley Ian Cappiello
My entire life I’ve always known one thing to be true: I want to dance on Broadway. My mother likes to remind me of our VHS tape of Annie that I destroyed from rewinding it hundreds of times so I could learn the dances. She says I obsessed over mimicking every detail, then rehearsing endlessly to perform “full-out.” I remember my kindergarten classmates looking at me cockeyed when I asked if they wanted to dance to “Easy Street” (and of course, not understanding how they couldn't possibly know what I was talking about).
I remember listening to Original Broadway Cast recordings of iconic musicals on long road trips. I used to belt out “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” in my living room when I was eight years old. (I have since learned Robyn Hurder and I have this in common.) Anytime in college when I would have doubts about pursing this career, I would watch Every Little Step, the riveting A Chorus Line documentary; It was a therapeutic reminder of why we endure the physical and emotional pain to do what we love. For as long as I can remember, A Chorus Line was the reason I wanted to be in theater. It is the only show I could happily do over and over again. This show has always held a very special place in my heart. However, it wasn’t until my senior year of college that A Chorus Line would change my life.
It was a September morning right at the beginning of my final year of college. I had only been home for a week after doing a summer stock production of A Chorus Line where I had my first opportunity to play Paul, my ultimate dream role. Still on a high from the summer, I took a day off from class, got on a Trailways Bus and headed to the Big, Bad Apple. I went to an open call for the Non-Equity tour of A Chorus Line directed by Baayork Lee and Peter Pileski that was set to start in January of 2018. I knew I had to be on this tour. I needed to be on this tour. I had read every book written on the show, I was basically a walking A Chorus Line encyclopedia.
It was also my first opportunity to be in front of the legendary Baayork Lee. Ever since watching Every Little Step, I dreamed of learning the show under her direction. I remember every detail of the audition. I danced the opening jazz combination for the first three hours. They made their first cut, narrowing us down to twelve from the original 80 boys. Somehow, I made it through. I could barely contain my excitement. We then learned the ballet combination and just as my confidence was at an all time high, I tripped, fell on to the floor, and slid under the casting table. It was absolutely humiliating. I quickly thought, “I know, just say something witty and maybe they’ll laugh.” And laugh they did!
I had to skip class the rest of the week to come in for callbacks to read for the various characters. I loved exploring and learning about the vast and unique men on the line. At the end of the week, I got a call asking if I would be “Wrong Arms” Roy Rogers and one of the male swings. I was able to graduate early and even walk with my class at graduation. I couldn't believe it, I was on the national tour of my dream show.
Swinging is no simple task, especially in an ensemble dance heavy show like A Chorus Line. The national tour was my first time swinging ever, and saying I was terrified would be an understatement. I was covering four roles and learning a role of my own. Initially, I was convinced my brain would explode, but with the help of Baayork and Francine Espiritu, our wonderful dance captain/mother hen, I made it through. Now I’d love the opportunity to swing more giant ensemble shows, something I never thought I’d say.
Our company on the road was different than most previous companies of this show. We were all very young, with the average age being around 23 years old. Most of us were recent college graduates or were taking time off of school to do the tour. It was quite comforting to be with such a spritely, fun cast all at the start of our young careers.
As far as the show was concerned, there were many abysmal failures on my part. Tripping people, forgetting entire paragraphs of lines, not knowing where to stand and (the most embarrassing) looking down to see what costume I was in when I forgot what role I was on for. Stepping into completely different tracks that all faced their own individual challenges, sometimes at a moment’s notice, was complete mental gymnastics.
Being forced to learn quickly from my mistakes made me a more well-rounded performer. It allowed me an opportunity to get to know the show in the most intimate way possible. It has been the most rewarding challenge I’ve faced as a performer so far.
After about five months in the United States, our tour shipped out to various cities in Japan. I assumed the role of Don Kerr for the rest of the run, while still understudying Paul and Al. I also got to wear the best jeans I’ve ever worn eight times a week.
When we returned home from Japan, a private dance call was arranged for the cast of our tour to audition for this gala presentation of the show at New York City Center. I was even more terrified for this audition than the first time. Everyone I had looked up to and admired from Every Little Step was sitting right in front of me watching my every move. This was a moment I had literally dreamed about, but never expected to happen. We did the opening jazz combination one at a time, and everyone stayed to sing and read. My nerves got the best of me in the room, and I left that day feeling defeated. I was very hard on myself, immediately believing I had lost the job. I assumed they would be looking at seasoned Broadway dancers who I had no chance competing with.
Three days later, I got a call that put to rest all of the demons in my mind. The creative team who I admired so much, wanted me to be a part of this acclaimed production. I was offered Roy Rogers and would cover Al, Mark, and Greg. My heart stopped. The New York City Center? Me? On that stage?! I was in utter disbelief.
Sure, you never know where you’ll be when you get a call making your dreams come true, but let's just say the people at the Shop Rite in my hometown of Hamilton, New Jersey were very confused when they saw me sobbing over the cold cuts. Tears of joy, of course! I cried all the way home thinking about how thrilling it was going to be to perform my favorite show with Broadway stars that I’ve idolized my entire life.
When I tell you this cast is jaw-dropping, I mean it. Every single day when I come into work, I am astounded by the performances from these incredible actors. There are so many standouts, I could go on forever. The level professionalism from the cast and crew onstage and off has made a huge impression on me, I feel lucky to have such wonderful cast mates to look up to.
This entire experience has been surreal. I pinch myself every day and keep asking myself how I got to be so lucky. I have made a promise to myself not to take any of it for granted. I am beyond grateful for this incredible opportunity.
I have many fond memories from this rehearsal process from becoming friends with my favorite Broadway performers to watching Bob Avian direct this brilliant cast. I even made it the closest I’ll get to my dream of being a Radio City Rockette, they rehearse next door. However, there is one singular memory I will cherish the most. On the first day of rehearsal, I joined the Actors’ Equity Association while the rest of my cast cheered me on. I wish someone got it on film. This moment will be engrained in my mind forever.
I don’t know what happens for me next, that’s the beauty of this crazy business. One day, you’re working your ass off and sharing a crucial story with the world, then in the blink of an eye you are trying to find a 9-to-5 job to support yourself while auditioning. That’s where I’ll be next week, and I’m okay with that. I’ve spent a year and a half of my life with this show. I can’t wait to take everything I’ve learned and put it into every show I work on in the future.
If I told that five year old dancing to Annie that he’d be performing at the New York City Center, he’d just about die. And look, I may not have achieved my dream of being a dancer on Broadway yet but I know some day I will. And I especially can’t wait for the day I get the call saying I can revisit this show that has been with me through the most important stages of my life. Until then, I’ll just keep dancing.