From left in photo above are Kevin McGuire, Lyn Philistine, Christopher Sutton, Eddie Maldonado, Patrick John Moran, Kimberly Doreen Burns and Christopher M. Howard. Kneeling are David Socolar and Reggie Whitehead.
Christopher M. Howard felt confident about his singing responsibilities in the 2004 Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High school production of "Singin' in the Rain." Trying to cover Gene Kelly with his feet, however, was another matter.
"I got the role in 'Singin' in the Rain' and I knew zero about dance," said Howard, a veteran of three national tours who is back in the Capital Region this month to perform in "The Full Monty," opening Tuesday at Capital Repertory Theater and running through Aug. 11. "I thought, 'I better take some private tap lessons quick.'"
Fortunately, at Burnt Hills, Howard had a voice teacher and director in Ann Derrick who realized that Howard was a bit special, and someone who might soak up everything a talented dance instructor might be able to teach him about dancing.
"One amazing memory I have is casting him as the lead in 'Singin' in the Rain' and he did not know how to tap," said Derrick, who directs the Burnt Hills High School Concert Choir. "In fact, I don't think he had taken any dance at all. In eight weeks, that kid tapped like a professional. I have never in all my years of teaching seen another student learn things to quickly."
Following a crash course in dancing with the Orlando School of Dance in Schenectady and a successful high school production of "Singin' in the Rain," Howard went off to SUNY-Buffalo where he majored in dance and musical theater.
"When I was considering where to go for college, I wanted to be a performer but I also looked into pharmacy school," said Howard. "I was passionate about the arts, and my parents supported that passion, but the theater is such a volatile business. I figured I would concentrate on the theater, and if I didn't do as well as I hoped, I could always go back to school. I figured I had to give performing a shot."
After graduating from Buffalo and spending almost two years at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, Howard got a job performing on a cruise ship. He then landed a gig with the national touring production of "Billy Elliot: The Musical," in 2011, and followed that up with roles in national tours of "The Phantom of the Opera" and "An American in Paris."
Howard, who grew up in Ballston Lake an only child, said all three experiences were wonderful, particularly "The Phantom." As a kid with his parents out of the house, he would often act out scenes from that musical.
"My mother took me to see 'Phantom of the Opera' in sixth grade, and that was always my favorite musical," said Howard. "When my parents weren't home, I'd put it on the stereo and act it out in my living room."
Howard went to see plenty of touring productions at Proctors in Schenectady while in school, but never managed to get to Capital Rep in Albany for a show.
"I wasn't quite sure what to expect at Cap Rep but I am now overwhelmed at how professional this company is," said Howard. "Everyone is so talented. The theater has really made a space for themselves in downtown Albany. It's so beyond what I expected and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
Capital Rep artistic producer Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill is happy to have him in the cast.
"It was our luck that because he has family in the Capital Region and was looking to come back home and enjoy himself during the summer he was able to do our show," she said. "You're not given the responsibility of being a dance captain in 'American in Paris' without being a top of the line performer. He is extremely versatile and a very talented dancer. I'm thrilled he's here working with us and so happy this all worked out."
Tom Ralabate, Professor of Dance at SUNY-Buffalo, isn't surprised to see Howard doing so well.
"Chris was a diligent student who approached his work with intelligence and passion," said Ralabate. "He was extremely focused in the classroom and a sponge for information and thirst to develop and find his artistic ability. Chris was a joy to choreograph because, being a double major in dance and music theater, he approached learning movement combining the tools and sensitivities of both the actor and dancer. He was a choreographer's dream because he enjoyed the process. I consider Chris to be one of UB Dance's finest."
At the Orlando School of Dance, Debra Pigliavento and her sister Michelle back up Ralabate's assessment.
"He was taking a jazz class with me, and Michelle said he should study ballet," remembered Debra Pigliavento. "So he did, and he was a natural. He had a beautiful facility for it, and once he went to SUNY-Buffalo and immersed himself in training, he became the gorgeous, accomplished, versatile dancer he is today. We are so proud of him. He was already an accomplished singer, so his dance start with us was the springboard that propelled him into becoming an inevitable triple threat."
In "The Full Monty," Howard plays the professional male stripper who inspires the unemployed workers to dance.
"I hadn't seen the movie or seen a stage production, but I knew what I was getting into," said Howard, who is joined in the cast by Capital Region favorite Kevin McGuire and New York City-based actor Christopher Sutton. "It's great storytelling, and it's definitely a different kind of musical."
When his Capital Rep gig is complete, Howard will return to New York City and continue to audition.
"That's the volatility of this business, but I do love what I'm doing," he said. "I've been so fortunate, and I was incredibly lucky to have a wonderful, supportive group of teachers at Burnt Hills. Ann Derrick was an incredible voice teacher and a huge inspiration for me, and Dennis Harrington was great, directing me in a couple of shows, and there were others, too. I'm so happy to see the Orlando School of Dance doing so well because they were a big part of my success. I had a very nurturing environment."
'The Full Monty'
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Preview on Sunday, show opens Tuesday and runs through Aug. 11; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; a matinee will also be performed at 2 p.m. July 17 and 24
HOW MUCH: $62-$27
MORE INFO: Visit www.capitalrep.org or call (518) 445-7469