Broadway is an exclusive club. Once you're in, members treat you differently.
Since the Allegiance marquee went up at the Longacre, I've noticed that industry veterans light up when I meet them, as opposed to scanning over my shoulder looking for someone more valuable.
Sure, there are still those who behave like the Pilgrims who wouldn't name their children until they were certain they'd survive infancy. But then Michael Urie will be as sweet to me and adorable offstage as he is on at Lincoln Center's Shows for Days and I feel like I've been asked to sit at the cool kids' table.
In the words of Allegiance star and inspiration George Takei, I'm "a debutante." And while our show includes a number of them (including composer/lyricist Jay Kuo and director Stafford Arima), one of the fastest tracks ever to Broadway was laid for Christopheren Nomura, who will play the father of Lea Salonga and Telly Leung. Chris was contacted on a Friday morning and hired the following Monday. It started during auditions when we had trouble locating the perfect singer to match the power and beauty of Lea and Telly. Our music supervisor Lynne Shankel told me she had extended the search to the opera world, staying up late the night before Googling the globe for "Asian opera baritones."
Coincidentally, I was an opera singer before I became a writer, and so I instantly thought of Chris, with whom I shared a dressing room in Eugene, Oregon in 1997 during a production of Die Fledermaus. "Fledermaus" means "bat" in German, so we called our dressing room "the Bat Cave."
We hadn't spoken during the past 18 years but opera, like Broadway, is also a fairly small club and it didn't take much Googling of my own to locate him.
In a complete Dorothy-look-in-your-own-backyard-for-your-heart's-content moment, a quick look at Facebook revealed that Chris lives in Maplewood, NJ – less than a mile away from Lynne.
Born in Oakland, CA, to Japanese immigrant parents, Chris usually plays "an Italian prince or some other European," he says. "But this audition was about myself as a person, as a Japanese American who happens to sing as opposed to a singer who happens to be Japanese American."
We already knew what kind of singer that was. Here's video of Chris killing "Largo al Factotum" from The Barber of Seville:
(For those of you who are opera-deficient, that's the "Figaro, Figaro" aria from Bugs Bunny's "Giovanni Jones").
But the question remained: Could the guy really act? As a former opera singer, I know how many singers simply "park and bark." But Allegiance is based on real people; it's a musical that requires a level of authenticity. We got our answer quickly after one simple question from Jay:
"Tell us about your father…"
The result was what Chris describes as the "most unbelievable audition of my life:"
"I've never cried in an audition before," he admits. "Maybe I would've wanted to, for many other reasons. By the end, I felt like we had all opened up ourselves to each other in a way that was so freeing and real."
In other words, he wasn't the only one crying. Welcome to Broadway, Chris.