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Richard Vida speaks about Drowsy Chaperone
Richard Vida speaks about Drowsy Chaperone
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Richard Vida is an enthusiastic supporter of The Drowsy Chaperone, where he plays a tap-dancing best man, calling it, "two hours of nonstop laughing." The Drowsy Chaperone dances into the 5th Avenue Theater, October 29-November 16. It's a musical within a play story, about a man who puts on a certain record, when he's down, of his favorite musical. The musical, from 1928, comes alive in the man's living room. Vida says, "For me to tell you exactly how would ruin the surprise of the show. And while it's happening, we in the musical are in 1928, and he is in present day."

The Man in the Chair (his name is never said) explains and comments on parts of the musical and he gets in the way. Vida explains, "He removes the needle from the record and we have to stop. We could be mid-dance number and have to freeze."

Seattle is the 29th city in a 30-city tour of this homage and parody to musical theater. While the theatrically savvy will truly get the joke, someone who has no experience with musicals will also get it. "There are many shows that go touring with scaled down versions of the Broadway shows," Vida points out. "We are the full-scale show. Original sets, original costumes, nothing has been scaled down from Broadway. We have some of the original stars from Broadway."

Vida talks about the history of the show itself. "This show, written by Bob Martin about Robert and Janet's wedding and what goes wrong, was a wedding present to the real Robert and Janet. A few friends at the rehearsal dinner & thought it was hilarious, they regrouped and wrote a bit more and took it to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Nine years later, the New York producers brought it to the Ahmanson Theater. It ran for two years on Broadway, and we've been running for 15 months. They wanted me to come into the Broadway show, but I had knee surgery so I couldn't. So when they asked me to join the tour, I agreed immediately."

Vida started dancing when he was 10. When asked about whether he got teased about being Gay as a child dancer, he says, "I didn't know I was Gay till I was in college. I was always respected as a dancer and I was good at what I did. My parents were more concerned than I was. I went to ballet, but I played soccer, also. My high school had a great musical and drama department - Newington High in Newington, CT, a suburb right outside of Hartford. There was also an incredible children's theater that I was a part of. My community, my friends, the arts were very well accepted, so I didn't have a horrible identity crisis if people knew I went to the ballet.

"I didn't experience that until I was older and in college, and people were closeted and I didn't understand that. That was when I first understood there was discrimination. At that point, I remember knowing I was different and was emotionally more connected to men than women. It wasn't sexual. I started dating my first love, who was in the ballet with me. When I started touring I realized it was not cool to be out. That in some cities it was not cool to be open with who you were, because of fear of being beaten up, fired, completely segregated from what was considered the norm.

"I never was terribly effeminate. Even now, people are surprised when they meet my partner and say, 'I didn't know you were even Gay.' I don't hide. I'm in a predominantly Gay business. I've been told I'm not Gay enough by other people in the industry. Maybe I'm not promiscuous enough or cute enough. Live on the radio, I went in for a Gay talk show, and the host said, "Finally, not a cute chorus boy!' And I [laughed and] said, 'Now that you've insulted me&.' I find it's more offensive when I'm criticized by my own, by the Gay community. When I am criticized by other Gays [about not being Gay enough], I find that extremely offensive."

In high school, Vida started going to New York City to take dance class. "In an hour, I was in Midtown Manhattan. I'd go jump on the train and go take class with all the major Broadway people and choreographers, and that's how I started networking. You try to go to the teachers who have the greatest number of dancers working. Most of these teachers were also choreographers. In the '70s, there were industrials, live shows that these teachers would choreograph for enormous corporations, and it was not unusual for students to be flown on a moment's notice to Japan or Singapore to perform live in a huge show. You'd rehearse for a week and perform two or three shows. You'd make $2,000-$3,000 in a week. Full expenses paid. It was great. I was good and I worked hard and I had what they wanted, so I was marketable. I always worked. I never wanted to do anything but this [dancing, singing, acting on Broadway]. From my first memory, I knew I was going to be an actor on Broadway. I knew it innately. I never even worried about it - much to the chagrin of my parents. They didn't stop me, they just didn't understand it. My father was the football coach at the high school and my mother worked at a hospital and they had this creative son and didn't know what to do, they'd just give me the $20 and I'd go to New York. They just think it worked out for the best." Vida travels all over the world. He says he has a lovely apartment in New York that he shares with his partner, Robert Billig, but, "I'm a total gypsy. Have a trunk, will travel. I've been on the road 15 months. My partner is currently the musical director and conductor of this show and we've been on the road together for the first time in our 15-year relationship. He's a very famous Broadway conductor.

"We met doing a Broadway show called, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, the sequel. It was a big bomb and only ran 11 performances, so I always like to say I met him [my partner] in a whorehouse. He used to always come up to the dressing room - my dressing room was on the fifth floor - and I'd ask if he had notes for me, but no, he actually climbed five flights of stairs to see how I was doing. I was not going to mix business with pleasure, so I was not going out on a date until we knew the show was closing. I didn't want people to be saying, 'Oh, he's sleeping with the musical director.' We've been inseparable ever since."

For more information, go to www.5thavenue.org or call 206-625-1900.

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