Along with plenty of talent, Carolee Carmello and Kevin McGuire had one more thing in common as they pursued a career in professional theater. They both wanted it very badly.
"The thing I tell young people is that if there's something else you can see yourself doing that would make you happy, then do it," said Carmello, a three-time Tony Award nominee from Albany. "But if the theater is the only thing they can visualize, the only thing they can see themselves doing, then they should go for it."
While Carmello considered other options outside the theater, a life on stage was the only thing that interested McGuire, a Hoosick Falls native who played Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables" on Broadway in the 1990s.
"I didn't know what else I could possibly do," said McGuire, who also played the lead in the Toronto production of "The Phantom of the Opera" from 1997-1999. "I wasn't very good at anything else, so I felt like I was born to perform. The first time I was on stage I was struck. I said, 'yes, this is what I want to do with my life,' so I have no idea what else I could have done."
The choice for Carmello wasn't always so clear. She stayed close to home for college, graduating from the University at Albany in 1983, and then before heading to New York City to look for theater work, she contemplated going to law school or pursuing an MBA. She also thought about those options early in her career, even though she was finding a lot of work and snagged her first Broadway credential in 1989 in "City of Angels."
"For the longest time, I would still think to myself between jobs, 'maybe I should take that test for an MBA or law school,'" said Carmello, who has also done some television work, including a 2017 episode of the hit Netflix series, 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.' "Whenever I was unemployed I'd get that feeling. But then something would come along and that would convince me to stay at it a little longer."
Carmello now has been in 14 Broadway shows, often playing the female lead, while McGuire has the iconic role of Jean Valjean on his resume from a 10-year run with "Les Mis," his "Phantom" gig in Toronto, and countless regional credits.
Cathryn Wake, Heather Lind and Kelley Curran are three women who after immersing themselves into their high school drama programs inside the Capital Region, then headed to college and New York City to pursue an acting career. Wake, formerly Cathryn Salamone, grew up in the town of Niskayuna and went to Colonie High School, Lind is a Guilderland High graduate, and Curran was raised in Slingerlands and went to Bethlehem Central.
Here's a portion of what they had to say about their experience as a professional actor.
Cathryn Wake (2009 Colonie High, 2013 Pace University) performed in "The Fantasticks" off-Broadway in 2013-2014, "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" on Broadway in 2016-2017 and is currently performing in "The Hello Girls" off-Broadway, a show which may end up on Broadway.
"'Hello Girls' has been a great experience, and there are hints of the show having a continued life in 2019. But I'm still auditioning extensively and waiting and looking forward to what the future holds for me. I'm so grateful for all of the experiences I've had, and I had the privilege last year of returning to Colonie High School and working with the high school drama club, talking to them about what it's like being a professional actor. My whole introduction to acting was at Lisha Kill Middle School, so I want to give back as much as possible."
Heather Lind (2001 Guilderland, 2005 Fordham) has played Eliza Doolittle in Williamstown and performed with Al Pacino on Broadway in "The Merchant of Venice" in 2010-2011. After starring in the AMC series, "Turn: Washington's Spies," she returned to New York City and performed on Broadway last year in "The Nap" and also played Desdemona in "Othello" at The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park.
"After I finished shooting 'Turn' two years ago, I've craved getting back to camera work. It's challenging in different ways than theater while also feeling familiar and essentially like the same study. Nuance is very important on camera, and I would love to explore that more this year if I can. And no, I don't have a preference with what medium I work in. Often I simply follow the jobs, but if I have a choice between the two, I always go with the better role. Luckily, right now there is a lot of fantastic material on TV, film and in theater, and I enjoy going between all three when I get the chance."
Kelley Curran (Bethlehem Central 2002, Fordham 2006) shared the Broadway stage with Kevin Kline and Kate Burton in a revival of "Present Laughter" in 2017, and has off-Broadway credits for "Sense and Sensibility," "The Winter's Tale" and "Angels in America," among others. In October of 2018 she added another impressive off-Broadway credential to her resume when she shared the stage with Glenn Close in "Mother of the Maid."
"I worked in a lot of regional theater around the country the first five years after college and then I made the commitment to stay in New York. Doing 'Present Laughter' was great and getting to Broadway was one of those life dreams you hope to accomplish. But this line of work is certainly hard because no matter what job you get, you're always looking for your next one. When I was young I kept law school in mind, but then I really committed myself. 'Present Laughter' was a delightful comedy and it was great to work with Kevin Kline and Kate Burton and that whole cast. And in 'Mother of the Maid,' I had two great scenes with Glenn Close. What an awesome opportunity and a thrill it was to work with her."
While Wake, Lind and Curran were obviously blessed with talent, McGuire says he's hesitant to tell anyone, even those with loads of potential, to pursue a career in the theater.
"I've also had a lot of success teaching young actors, and I make sure I don't discourage or encourage anyone," said McGuire, who is now also an associate artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. "If they ask me, I might say, 'well, look at me, I've had a remarkable life. Who knew.' If I'm a good example then that's a good thing, but you can never be sure what's inside someone, so encouraging or discouraging them is not my job."
"This kind of career can be pretty fickle," said Carmello, who joined the Broadway cast of "Mamma Mia!" in 2004 to play Donna Sheridan. "It's not a very stable life to raise children, but my oldest is a senior in high school now so my schedule will become a lot more flexible and I'm looking forward to what's next."
There are dozens of Capital Region natives making a living in professional theater these days, and they're scattered around the country, not only as performers but also as directors, stage managers and choreographers. While Niskayuna's Happy McPartlin is currently performing on Broadway in "Come From Away," more than 100 years earlier Schenectady's William Clyde Fitch was one of the top writers and producers in New York, overseeing more than 50 productions from 1890-1909 when he died suddenly at the age of 44.
Over the last 25 years or so, the Capital Region has continued to produce plenty of Broadway talent. While Carmello's 14 Broadway credits tops the list, David Hyde Pierce, a Saratoga Springs High School product who is well known for his television and film work, also has nine Broadway shows on his resume, including one Tony Award and three nominations. Next in line is Schenectady's Michele Pigliavento, co-director of the Orlando School of Dance with her sister, Debra, another Broadway veteran. Michele has seven Broadway shows on her resume, including "Gypsy," "Mame," and "A Chorus Line," back in 1980.
Here is a list of other Capital Region natives who have performed on Broadway over the past 40 years.
CAROLEE CARMELLO (Albany)
"Tuck Everlasting," 2016; "Finding Neverland," 2015-2016; "Scandalous," 2012; "Sister Act," 2011-2012; "The Addams Family," 2010-2011; "Lestat," 2006; "Mamma Mia!" 2004-2009; "Urinetown," 2003-2004; "Kiss Me Kate," 1999-2001; "Parade," 1998-1999; "The Scarlet Pimpernel," 1999-2000; "1776," 1997-1998; "Falsettos," 1992-1993; "City of Angels," 1989-1992.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE (Saratoga Springs)
"Hello Dolly!" 2017-2018; "It Shoulda Been You," 2015; "Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike," 2013; "La Bete," 2010-2011; "Accent on Youth," 2009; "Curtains," 2007-2008; "Spamalot," 2005-2006; "The Heidi Chronicles," 1989-1990; "Beyond Therapy," 1982.
MICHELE PIGLIAVENTO (Schenectady)
"The Goodbye Girl," 1993; "Gypsy," 1989-1991; "Anything Goes," 1987-1989; "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," 1985-1987; "Mame," 1983; "Woman of the Year," 1981-1983; "A Chorus Line," 1975-1980.
JESSICA McROBERTS, also as Jessica Leigh Brown, (Niskayuna)
"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," 2011-2014; "Nine," 2003; "Follies," 2001.
COREY JOHN SNIDE (Colonie)
"Carousel," 2018; "Cats," 2016-2017; "13," 2008-2009.
DEBRA PIGLIAVENTO (Schenectady)
"42nd Street," 1980-1989, "Hello Dolly!" 1978
ANDREW GROSE (Ballston Spa)
"Jerome Robbins' Broadway," 1989-1990, "A Chorus Line," 1988.
DONELL JAMES FOREMAN (Albany)
"The Book of Mormon," 2016-present
CHARLIE FRANKLIN (Loudonville)
"The Bridges of Madison County," 2014; "The Book of Mormon," 2014-2016, 2018-2019.
HEATHER LIND (Guilderland)
"The Nap," 2018; "The Merchant of Venice," 2010-2011.
HAPPY MCPARTLIN (Niskayuna)
"Come From Away," 2017-present; "Hands on a Hardbody," 2013.
BORIS MCGIVER (Schoharie)
"War Horse," 2011-2013; "Desire Under the Elms," 2009.
GABRIELLA PIZZOLO (Niskayuna)
"Fun Home," 2015-2016; "Matilda the Musical," 2013-2014.
JACOB CLEMENTE (North Greenbush)
"Billy Elliott: The Musical," 2010-2012; "Gypsy," 2008-2009.
KEVIN MCGUIRE (Hoosick Falls)
"Les Miserables," 1987-1997.
LYDIA CLEMENTE (North Greenbush)
"The 101 Dalmations Musical," 2009-2010.
KELLEY CURRAN (Slingerlands)
"Present Laughter," 2017.
MICHELE TIBBITTS (Loudonville)
"Hello Dolly!" 1995-1996.
CHRISTOPHER FLAIM (Clifton Park)
"Mary Poppins," 2009--2012.
SOFIA TRIMARCHI (Niskayuna)
"Fun Home," 2016-2017.
CATHRYN WAKE, also as Cathryn Salamone (Niskayuna)
"Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," 2016-2017.
LAWSON YOUNG (Saratoga Springs)
"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," 2006-2007.
ALYSON LANGE (Guilderland)
"La Boheme," 2003-2004.
BRITTNY KISSINGER (Ballston Spa)
CONNOR GALLAGHER (Clifton Park)
"Beauty and the Beast," 2006-2007.
RICHARD GATTA (Niskayuna)
"Bright Star," 2016.
GEORGE FRANKLIN (Loudonville)
"A Christmas Story the Musical," 2012.
MONICA M. WEMITT (Chatham)
"Hello Dolly!" 1995-1996.