What: “42nd Street”
When: Wednesdays through Sundays, through Feb. 16
Where: Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Ave.
O pposites attract is the best way to describe University of Colorado senior Johnny Stewart’s fondness for his role in “42nd Street,” the musical currently playing at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.
Stewart, a theater and business major, said youth is about the only thing the student has in common with his character, Billy Lawlor — an arrogant, shallow, 1930s hotshot.
Finding a hidden innocence in his character helped Stewart connect with the role but theater staff said there is no reason the talented student shouldn’t share his character’s ego.
Stewart is one of the first students to successfully balance a leading role at the local theater with a full-time course load, said Michael Duran, producing artistic director at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.
“We’ve had other students worked into the ensembles so we can swing them in and out as need be based on their schedules,” Duran said. “But it’s rare to have a student as one of the leads in our show.”
Duran said it’s not that local students are lacking the talent to perform at the theater — balancing a full-time course load with a professional job is a difficult task that requires a certain finesse.
Class schedules often interfere with rehearsals, especially for lead performers like Stewart, who are expected to be at the theater every day for a performance or practice, Duran said. After discussing the schedule with Stewart, Duran said it was worth some adjustments to include the talented Buff in their latest show.
“There were a few conflicts but I wanted him badly enough so I was willing to make concessions for him,” Duran said. “When someone does what a role requires and then some, we try to bend over backwards to make it work.”
CU is filled with students trying to balance work and school, but Stewart said the theater creates the added stress of maintaining a healthy body. Getting sick is not an option for someone whose job is to perform every day.
“A lot of kids don’t care if they get the flu for two weeks or lose their voice, as long as they can get to class and get their homework done,” Stewart said. “For me, that’s not good enough. I have to be fully capable to sing and dance and I have to do it well the whole time.”
Stewart has had some practice balancing school with smaller roles in university productions and shows at the Arvada Center for the Arts, but never one that required 90 performances in less than four months.
Strict organization, healthy eating and plenty of sleep are some of Stewart’s keys to success, which CU professor Angela Thieman Dino said must be working. Besides his impressive tap-dancing skills and vocal talents, Stewart is also an exceptional student who somehow finds time to participate in some of CU’s top scholar programs, she said.
“He is so grateful for what he has and for the opportunities to learn,” Thieman Dino said. “So I think that’s part of the reason for his success.”
On top of school, acting, dancing and singing, Stewart has to find time for waiting tables — performers at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre are also responsible for serving the guests dinner, coffee and deserts between acts.
“I get there around 5 p.m., take their orders, perform first act, which ends with four back-to-back-to-back costume changes, and then put up the costumes and put on an apron to serve desserts and coffee and drop off the bill,” Stewart said. “Then I go back to do the second act and usually get out around 10:45 p.m.”
Luckily, both of his jobs at the theater fit into Stewart’s passion for service, making it possible for him to find the strength to survive another grueling month.
“I’ve never done this for my ego,” he said.
“For a two-and-a-half-hour window of their day, I get to make the audience smile. That makes it all worth it for me in the end.”
Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.