It’s been a watershed year for the career of Manoel Felciano. After receiving stellar reviews last fall for his intensely intricate (and violin accompanying) portrayal of Tobias in director John Doyle’s revisionist Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd, this past spring the young actor collected his first Tony Award nomination for the performance.
"I think it’s important to keep a sense of perspective about it all," Felciano now says, looking back on the season of Tony fever. "Just to hear your name mentioned in the same breath with some of those people is a little surreal. But rather than shut myself off from it," Felciano says he’s tried to savor every moment, "because who knows when an opportunity like this is going to come along again. I mean, people wait years and years to get a Tony nomination, and I may never get another one. Or if I do, it may be 25 years from now. There’s just no way of predicting these things." And, while the success of Sweeney, which ends its Broadway run Sept. 3, has certainly elevated the San Francisco native beyond his ensemble work in such Broadway productions as Jesus Christ Superstar and Cabaret, Felciano hasn’t lost track of his true love: songwriting and club performing.
Indeed, on Sept. 25, Felciano returns with another evening of (mostly) original compositions at the downtown room that he sold-out twice last spring, Joe’s Pub.
Eager to keep pushing himself as a composer, Felciano reports he’s been using the summer to develop new material for the September outing. "I was in bands for many years where you’d play the same 12 songs over and over over for six months to your same 12 friends in the audience," he says. With a six-member band (including back-up singers—and Company-bound actresses—Heather Laws and Katrina Yaukey), Felciano cites such musical influences as U2, Prince and the Beatles as major inspirations. "But my tastes are really varied," he admits. "I grew up with a classical musician [Dad Richard Felciano is a composer, pianist and retired professor of music], but I only really listened to pop and rock. And now I have this career in musical theatre. So I feel there’s all these different things that can go into the pot. What’s really been gratifying to me is to see that the audiences are absolutely willing to go along for a ride that detours into all kinds of different genres and styles. Every time someone comes to see one of my shows, they’re going to hear something familiar, but they’re also always going to be challenged to hear something new.”
One of those in a recent audience was Sweeney composer Sondheim. Says Felciano: "I'd told him beforehand, 'I'm not going to be doing any musical theatre. I'm not going to be doing any of your tunes—well, I’m doing one,'" Felciano recalls with a laugh. "And Steve said, 'I don’t care! I’m here to see you!' It was so incredibly sweet and incredibly generous of him. He’s a wonderful, wonderful man. After-wards, I heard from people who were sitting near him that he was laughing and doing a lot of pleased 'Mmm-mmm’s' and 'ah-ahh's.'" The memory makes Felciano very proud, and may even one day allow him to slip Mr. Sondheim one of his own compositions for inspection. "Some day, if I find something that I’m particularly proud of in the lyrical twist,” he confesses, "I may submit it to him—for approval."
—Actor-writer David Drake contributes a monthly column, "The Cabaret Beat," to the Playbill subscription issue.