Current show: "Triassic Parq"
By: Marshall Paliet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo
Produced by: Ray of Light Theatre
Featuring: Robbie Cowan, Javi Harnly, Chelsea Holifield, David Naughton, Leis Rawlinson, Alex Rodriguez, Monica Turner
Directed by: Alex Kirschner
When: May 29 through June 28, 2014
Where: Eureka Theatre: 215 Jackson Street (at Battery), San Francisco
Tickets:$25-$36. Visit For www.rayoflighttheatre.com.
Next up: "Mary Poppins"
When: Fall 2014
Where: Berkeley Playhouse, Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley, California. Visit berkeleyplayhouse.org.
John Orr's review of "Cabaret" in Regarding Arts.
Joanne Engelhardt's review of "Evita" in The Daily News.
Alex Rodriguez is a very impressive actor.
Here's what I said about him when I reviewed the excellent production of "Cabaret" at Broadway By The Bay in September 2013:
"Alex Rodriguez is the steel-cored, gold-plated heart of the play as the Emcee, with fabulous pectorals and a face that tells us everything, helping guide us through this comedic then tragic tale with leers and knowing looks."
He commanded that show with a swaggering bravado. Surrounded by beautiful women in sexy clothes, all eyes were on him.
When Joanne Engelhardt saw him in "Evita," again at Redwood City's Broadway By The Bay, in March 2014, here is what she had to say, in The Daily News:
"But because of Alex Rodriguez' strong, indelible performance as Che Guevara (in real life the freedom fighter and charismatic sidekick of Fidel Castro), it isn't unreasonable to suggest renaming this version 'Che.' Rodriguez is that remarkable.
"Whether or not it was the musical's original intention, time and again director Jason Hoover places Che at the center of nearly every scene, wandering in and out like a one-man Greek chorus while providing an angry, edgy commentary about what's going on with Eva. He is what gives this show its gravitas."
There are only a few actors I have seen with that kind of power and charisma on stage. Zero Mostel in "Fiddler on the Roof" comes to mind; Anthony Hopkins in "The Tempest"; Wade McCollum in "Fly By Night."
What gives an actor that kind of power?
I asked Brandon Jackson, who was Rodriguez' director for "Cabaret":
"A good director," he said. "Duh."
And, when I talked with Rodriguez by phone recently, as he was preparing for "Triassic Parq," which just opened at Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco, he agreed with Jackson.
"I hadn't anticipated I would play it," he said. "I was scared to death! It's hard to get such iconic roles out of your head, a role played to almost perfection by my predecessors, such as Joel Grey. People are going to compare you, no matter what.
"How do you get out of that shadow? I really credit it to Brandon Jackson, the director, and Angela Schiller, the dramaturg. "They had all these ideas. Angela helped me understand the environment, what these people were living ...
"And Brandon, he was absolutely incredible. He helped me understand things about me that I didn't even know.
"All the specifics, every little gesture. For the Emcee to control the stage, you have to know what everybody is doing. I studied everybody's tracks, all their blockings because even if the audience didn't see it, I had to know every single piece of information, because the Emcee calculated everything."
It was tough. Rodriguez said he actually cried several time during the process of learning every little detail of the massive show. "It was very challenging. In the end, I am grateful for it. Absolutely.
"With an actor, it always has to be a collaboration. It's Brandon's version of 'Cabaret.' To get there, we had to understand how to work together.
"I credit Brandon, because he challenged me to find it he was, like, 'No, that's not it, find this!' And I was, 'OK, I will look for it.'"
Rodriguez came to that "Cabaret" through a side door he'd been assisting choreographer Amanda Folena at Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco, with "Carrie: The Musical," when he hear rumors about 'Cabaret." Folena is artistic director at Broadway By The Bay.
"I'm always looking to stretch my artistic boundaries," Rodriguez said, so he talked with Jason Hoover, the "Carrie" director, and with Jackson.
"'Is this possible?' I asked. They let it happen."
So, Rodriguez was very busy for a while, still working on "Carrie," and tooling up for the huge job of "Cabaret."
But doing "Evita" was a different story, although still very involved. The Broadway By The Bay show was Rodriguez' fourth time doing the show, and his second turn as Che. The first time as Che was five years before, when Rodriguez was in his late 20s, and he didn't think he was really ready for the part.
But in his early 30s, a different matter.
He'd done plenty of preparation for that earlier production, at Contra Costa Music Theatre 'I'd read the novel, watched 'Motorcycle Diaries,' things like that.
"But, having some time away from him, it was a marination period. It sits in my psyche. I realized some things about choices I made last time. "This time, I was smarter about my approach, more mature about what Che is, where he needs to be.
"I'm not a method actor who needs to live that life all that time ... I thought, 'What is he to me?' Like Meryl Streep, I try to find a piece of him that's like me, and try to work from that."
Rodriguez sees the problems of "Evita" playing to his advantage in the Che role.
"It's one of those things where she is so strong in the show, the way it was written, that she is not relatable to the audience at times. People wonder why they should be watching her.
"It really creates an advantage for Che. I am standing there, like the audience, asking Evita, 'Why are you screaming?' That is neither the fault of any actor who plays Eva or Che. The material is so challenging, but yet doesn't say a lot, and so you're just trying to make it coherent for the audience to understand. Che is the everyman, but no one says anything about him in the show."
Regarding his current show, "Triassic Parq," the charming and friendly Rodriguez is rather coy.
The musical, which was a hit at the 2010 Fringe Festival in New York, is vaguely related to the Michael Crichton novel and Steven Spielberg movie "Jurassic Park," but is told from the dinosaurs' perspective.
All those dinosaurs are supposed to be female, remember? So they couldn't breed. But the scientists had mixed in some frog DNA, and when frogs run out of frogs of the opposite sex, they just change sides, so to speak.
"The whole catalyst of the show," Rodriguez explained, "is what happens when one of them grows a ... [he wouldn't say it]. In the movie, it was the frog DNA. They could change sexes. That's how the show got started.
"I play the Velociraptor of Science/Morgan Freeman."
"I can't tell!" he said. "It's a surprise!"
He'd actually auditioned for a different part in the show, but they offered him the role he took, one "supposed to be played by a woman," he said.
"I like to play different things," Rodriguez said. "I'm at a place in my life now where I have stopped the dictating thing. My goal just kind of flipped. I let directors say what they see me as, and I use that as a challenge. It's the challenge that interests me."
After "Triassic Parq"?
"I was just offered Bert in 'Mary Poppins,' at Berkeley Playhouse. 'Really? You see me as that?' Another iconic role. How do you get out of the shadow of that DVD?" (The Disney movie, with Dick Van Dyke.)
"I'm just lucky that directors are making these choices," he said.
Rodriguez grew up in Southern California, in Buena Park "Between Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland," he pointed out. (He was friends there with Amie Shapiro, who was Sally Bowles in that great "Cabaret" at Broadway By The Bay.)
From a musical family his uncle ran a "Ricky Ricardo kind of band" he started as an instrumentalist , but then somebody pointed out he had a really good voice when he was humming.
"You're silly!" was his response.
Still, before long, there was a community college production of "Bye, Bye Birdie," which eventually led to him being cast in the non-Equity national tour of "Miss Saigon."
"I hadn't gotten to college yet," he said. "Most people on tour have just gotten out of college. So, I just absorbed everything, just really worked on all the stuff."
It was some heady training, with two- to three-week sit-downs at every stop, and included a visit to New York.
"It was interesting to hear stories from other cast members," he said. "I had the luxury of going to New York with a job, instead of the other way around."
That Cameron Mackintosh production drew infamous flak, including from Equity.
"Equity was so pissed off with our tour they began to act against us," Rodriguez said. "They sent actors to stand outside the show, to say how badly treated they were."
Actors who weren't actually in that show.
That experience left a bad taste in Rodriquez' mouth, which may be part of why he still hasn't joined Actors Equity, despite doing a lot of shows on a regular basis in his adopted home of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The other reason being that there just aren't enough good Equity contracts in the region. Not enough jobs.
After that "Miss Saigon" tour, Rodriguez finally got to finish college, at Arizona State, where he earned a degree in communications not theater.
"I don't need a degree or piece of paper to know what I already know. Going back to school to get a theater degree would be boring. I'm not saying that to be stuck up or anything, but it wouldn't be practical.
"I've done so many shows, the music directors and choreographers end up being my teachers."
His day job is as an HR generalist at a start-up in San Francisco.
But he points out that his college degree in communication has been useful in other ways.
"Theater is also all about communication, knowing how to understand and read your audience."
He lives in San Francisco with his significant other, Alex Kirschner, who is an actor who mostly does plays.
"An actor understands the craziness of being in theater all the time," Rodriguez said. "And we're not in competition for roles. So it works out for the best."
Email John Orr at email@example.com