by Christopher Faison
In 1989, I was obsessed with a song called “Tomorrow” by Tevin Campell. Tevin sang in his sweet tenor:
I hope tomorrow will bring better you, better me
I know that we'll show this world we got more we could me
So you should never give up on your hopes and your dreams
You gotta get up, get out, get into it, get it on to be strong
What I didn’t know then but soon came to learn, was that those lyrics would become a mantra for my life: Never give up on your hopes and your dreams.
That was 1989. Fast forward to 2017. I was no longer the 11-year-old boy singing along to Tevin Campbell. In fact, I was a full-grown man about to turn 40 with just enough money in his bank account to live day by day and facing eviction due to non-payment of rent.
I had lost an incredible amount of money due to poor investments, poor budgeting, and poor spending. Having never been one with the greatest financial mind, my finances were nowhere near where they should have been, especially after just completing a 3-year production contract tour. I was in an unspeakably and embarrassingly large amount of debt. It was no one's fault by my own. I was living the life of a starving actor, going to auditions and getting nowhere, working two jobs: one as a restaurant host, the other selling candy at Groundhog Day on Broadway. To make ends meet, I was dog sitting for friends, shopping at Discounts and Deals, participating in paid surveys, receiving donations from the food pantry at Episcopal Actors Guild, and accepting support from Actors Equity. I was at my wits’ end. I’d had it. Officially.
An opportunity arose for me to direct a local community theater production of Songs For A New World in my hometown, where I first started doing theater. The show proved to be a success, and I felt as though the universe was telling me to come home, to press reset, to get myself out of the financial rut and leave the city behind. I resigned myself to the idea that Broadway wasn’t going to happen for me, at least not now, and I very much wanted off the ride. I was, in short, ready to do precisely what Tevin told me NOT to do.
Before my planned November move, my agent Rikky Fishbein emailed me with one more audition. It was for the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, at Lincoln Center Theater. I wasn’t immediately thrilled but figured, “why not?” I had already made up my mind about moving home, and there were no stakes in it for me. To be honest, I didn’t expect to land it anyway. In preparation for the audition, I started doing my research (I hadn’t ever seen the film or stage versions) and learned a song my friend Paul suggested. When I went into the room, immediately energy washed over me. It was as if I had already auditioned and I was there to chat with old friends, reminisce about the good ol’ times, and catch up. I left thinking I might actually book this job.
After my audition, I tried to do what most of us do and push the anxiety out of my mind. I focused on leaving, packing up my apartment, and saying goodbye to New York City. A week or two later, an email from my agent popped up in my inbox. My Fair Lady wanted me in for a callback. I took the subway back to Lincoln Center, walked into the same room, and saw the same faces. Their smiles and jovial nature made me feel as if the callback was all a formality. I sang, smiled, and left. Again, I prepared to leave the city and Broadway behind.
As I stood in line at Discounts and Deals waiting to return a pair of $11.99 jeans, my phone rang. It was Rikky.
“This is the Broadway phone call.”
Inside, I ran laps and did jumping jacks. Outwardly, I returned my jeans, (thank you very much) bought a bottle of Champagne, and the rest, as they say, is history. Suddenly I’m in rehearsal at Lincoln Center Theater, working alongside Tony Award Winners. I celebrate my 40th birthday just 4 days before our opening night. I’m in the recording studio, laying down vocals as part of an OBC recording. I’m featured on Broadway World in the “Day in the Life.” I make my Broadway principal debut . I’m flying to Baltimore and Louisville to represent the show at conferences. And then I’m in the opening number of the Tony’s and am featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
We’ll close our beloved show soon, and I cannot begin to express how immensely grateful I am for this show and this experience. To say this show saved my life would be a gross understatement. I’m finally at age 41, living my hopes and dreams.
And it’s all because I listened to Tevin Campbell and didn’t give up.