A recent grad of the Ray Bolger Musical Theatre Program at UCLA, Michael Starr has caught our eye over at YB. Playing “Don” in the Hollywood Bowl’s A Chorus Line this weekend, Michael is having no trouble living up to his presumptuous last name.
Let’s get right down to it. Given your last name, have you ever really had a choice but to pursue a career as an actor?
It’s funny since most people assume incorrectly that I changed my name to “Starr” once I became an actor. Which sounds pretty ridiculous to me! Yet, I am the only one in my family who has gone out to pursue a career in the arts. I guess I’m just trying to live up to what people think when they hear this kid has “Starr” as a last name!
What was the first role you ever played on stage?
I believe the first role I ever played (and I think a lot of us actors are in the same boat here) was a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. I couldn’t have been more than 5 and yes, I saved my costume! It wasn’t until a few years later that I played some character parts in youth Shakespeare productions of Romeo & Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado … in my hometown of Sonoma, CA. I think that’s where the acting bug really bit me, I loved disappearing into those characters and I went on to crave performance more as I went into high school.
What was the first Broadway show you attended?
Growing up in Northern California it wasn’t easy getting over to NYC to see the best of Broadway. I found myself waiting for a lot of tours to pass through San Francisco. I of course have seen my fair share now, but when I was very young I saw the tour of Phantom of the Opera as it passed through Cali. That show’s spectacle and story telling will forever be my first introduction to the bold and electrifying world of musical theater. It is now well understood in my family that whenever we are all together in a town currently hosting a production of Phantom, we will have to get tickets! It’s just part of my life now!
What’s your favorite role to date and why?
I would play Riff in West Side Story for the rest of my life if someone would let me! I’ve played the role twice already and I don’t feel I will ever get enough. West Side…continues to be one of my favorite musicals of all time and the amount of pride and joy I feel when performing that character has yet to be matched! Plus you get to fight/die in a rumble/dance battle, I mean, thats the greatest thing ever!
Tell us about a few teachers that really left a mark on you and why:
I have to thank my dance teachers first and foremost because they essentially started it all back in NorCal and have kept me going down here in LA. From Amee Alioto introducing me to my love of tap back when I was 6 in summer camps in Sonoma, to Lisa Clark Schmeling letting me act a fool in jazz class in high cchool. All this leading up to amazing teachers and choreographers Lee Martino and Peggy Hickey who taught at UCLA and both went on to hire me and my girlfriend (fun bonus) in some of our first professional work outside of college. These women are my true dance moms and have helped me through more than just performance. They have been great mentors to me throughout my career thus far.
What is one piece of advice about a career in the arts that has really stuck with you?
It was about auditioning. It’s just a terrible fact of the business but we all have to do it so we gotta figure out a way to not psych ourselves out. I forget who passed it along to me, but I will never forget it. “You already don’t have the job.” And its true, the worst thing that could happen is you continue to not have it. A casting director is having a “problem”, they need to cast a show. Just put your best foot forward and see if you can be the “answer” to their “problem”.
Tell us about your biggest acting/singing/dancing fumble and how you recovered from it ?
It was a dress rehearsal for Little Shop of Horrors back in high school. I was singing “Suddenly Seymour” with my Audrey and for some dumb reason I was compelled to change my blocking and throw off my glasses to make a funny joke. Let’s just say my director was less than thrilled. He stopped us mid number. Threw down his clipboard and, since my role was double cast, told me to get off stage and put the other Seymour on. I learned to save my bold choices for earlier in the rehearsal process and maybe not one of the final dress rehearsals…oops.
If you could only sing one song for rest of your life what would it be and why?
It’s so silly but Fred Astaire’s “Steppin Out With My Baby” is just one of my go to classics. I love singing it and it always puts a pep in my step. It was first introduced to me by Lainie Kazan when I was working on a show with her back at UCLA. She is a cabaret master and she brought out so much life in my voice and performance. That song will forever bring me back to just the joy of singing and dancing!
Who is your dream collaborator and what would you create together?
Alive or dead? We’ll if I’m dreaming, I think I would just want a day dancing alongside Gene Kelly. I know it/s less of a collaboration, but I find all of his work so inspiring. Growing up as a boy dancing in the theater I’m constantly looking up to his work in those classic films like An American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain. It always warms my heart and reminds me why I love to do what I do!
Why Los Angeles and not New York?
It’s more of a soon rather than a not. I’ve been in California my whole life and I know NY will come with its challenges because of that. But honestly I cannot wait to make the move! It will happen soon I’m sure. I’ve been able to get a lot of work out here in LA and it even got me my Equity card just a year out of school. Right now it’s about saving money and getting ready for the move. My family and friends will always still be out here so I see a lot of red-eye flights in my future. I’ve already done a few NYC projects here and there and those connections are slowly growing. My dream is to have work on both sides of the US and live the gypsy housing life!
Are you having a “pinch me” moment working with Broadway legend Baayork Lee this week on “A Chorus Line” at the Hollywood Bowl?
Oh yes, yes indeed! She and Bob Avian and the rest of this amazing production team and cast has left me with many a sleepless night staring at the ceiling thinking wow dude, don’t mess this up, only about 20,000 people are watching!
Tell us about what it’s like to be working with Lee. Is she like you expected? How has she surprised you?
Baayork has been nothing short of breathtaking to work with. I expected a lot after seeing Every Little Step a few years ago but her energy and passion for this show is something that I’ve never seen matched by any director/choreographer. The fact that I get to be up there on the line with this phenomenal cast and hear her stories and feel her ferocity for the work is monumental. She takes the time to get to know her dancers and though the Bowl rehearsal is a nightmarish 2 weeks, I have always felt taken care of by her and her team.
Given the Los Angeles heat wave and fires, how do you prepare to perform such a high-octane musical like A Chorus Line outdoors?
It’s gunna be hot, no doubt about that. But we have be rehearsing in a gym with no air conditioning all week so we are getting pretty beat up indoors too. I think at night on that stage hopefully with a nice breeze will be perfection!
Michael is playing “Don” in A Chorus Line at the Hollywood Bowl July 29, 30, 31. Get tickets here.
Aside from A Chorus Line Michael is currently playing Hans in the world premiere of Frozen directed by 2016 Tony nominated Liesl Tommy with performances daily at Disney California Adventure and will be tap dancing with the wonderful Cheryl Baxter-Ratliff at Pasadena Playhouses’s One Starry Night, a one night only benefit dedicated to conquering ALS, in August (he’s handsome, talented AND kind…swoon).