From the moment he saw the Phantom & Christine take the Broadway stage in The Phantom of the Opera, Michael Dalke fell in love with live theater. As he takes the stage during the National tour of Pretty Woman, the impact of live theater in today’s world is not lost on this multi-faceted performer. I sat down with Dalke to talk about being part of this nostalgia-filled production (with one of his icons, Rent superstar Adam Pascal), the dynamic Broadway icons that inspire him, and why “strong female leads” have always been his biggest inspiration.
Michael Cook: Congratulations on being part of the production of Pretty Woman, that includes Broadway legend Adam Pascal (Rent) and the music of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. It must be a surreal experience.
Michael: Absolutely. I was born in 1983, so it is just the right time. I was in high school when Rent came out and was a total musical theater kid. I have been singing and dancing since I could. I was obsessed with Rent in high school. I was in all of the musicals, and all of my choir and musical theater friends in high school, we would go to lunch singing the Rent soundtrack, every word, at the top of our lungs. To be in a show with Adam Pascal, to be at dinner with him, to be just joking with him or just talking about his life and seeing him at the gym, it is a trip. I have gotten used to it now, it’s like “there’s my castmate and friend Adam” but it is still such a trip; it is just amazing.
MC: So for someone like you who was a dedicated fan of Rent, hearing one of the leads of that landmark show now singing in Pretty Woman, which you are a part of, must be absolutely surreal.
M: The first time I heard him sing during a read-through sitting the songs, just sitting there in rehearsal, I got emotional.
MC: Everyone seems to have one cast album that made them fall in love with musical theater; for me it was the cast album for the big screen version of Annie. What was the album that made you fall in love with live theater and want to be a part of it?
M: You know, The Phantom of the Opera, people can say what they want about it, but it was the first show that I saw on Broadway in seventh grade; it was pure magic. The show opened in 1989 and had only been on Broadway for about six years, so seeing it sitting in the second or third row and watching that as my first Broadway show… Being a kid from Normal, Oklahoma and going on a dram club trip to New York City, staying in Times Square, and seeing Phantom of the Opera, that for me was the tipping point of where my life was headed. “I am going to live in New York, I am going to be up there on Broadway”. I made my Mom buy me the cd in the lobby and I wore that thing out, I listened to it over and over as high as the volume could go on my CD player, I wore out the Original Broadway Cast album.
MC: Is Phantom the show that made you realize the Broadway stage would be your destiny or did that one take a little bit longer?
M: I would say that took a little bit longer. I’m an introverted/extrovert, so I am always shy in a new environment or around people I don’t know, I am always hesitant to open up. I just feel like everyone on Earth has a life purpose, and that has always felt like my life purpose, to be on stage performing for people. I just feel that it is this reciprocal act, which is why people that go to theater and the people that perform in theater love it. You are giving something to the people watching and they are giving something back to you; it is this reciprocal act that is otherworldly; it is everything to me.
MC: In theater, everyone has their icons, such as Adam Pascal, who are their North Star or their touchpoint. Who are the theater legends that have helped set your own path?
M: You know, I don’t know how much theater she actually did but Lucille Ball. I love doing comedy and I love villainess characters, I just think they are so much more interesting, which may have been what drew me to Phantom so much. In general, Lucille Ball for me, her physical comedy. Everything that she did on I Love Lucy could be transferred to theater, it was so big. In theater, probably Bette Midler. Seeing the movie version of Gypsy, I made my cousins perform it with me in front of a very patient audience of our family members, we reenacted the whole thing. Also, Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters; Bernadette Peters, I just love her voice, her energy and anything that she touches, I just love as far as theater goes.
MC: In Pretty Woman, what role are you inhabiting?
M : I am in the ensemble and you can see me on Hollywood Blvd. I am also one of the bellman in the hotel. We do a tango number called “On a Night Like Tonight” so I get to dance with a tall, dark, handsome man named Brent, we get to tango together. I also am an understudy for one of the leads for the role of Happy Man; understudies and swings are going on more than ever, and that can be like a ticking clock until I go on for that part (laughs).
MC: Hugh Jackman’s recent video on the importance of swings and understudies went viral; how true his words were about them being the backbone of live theater.
M: Absolutely. Recently, the understudies for Vivian Ward went on. We opened in Philadelphia on Tuesday January 4th and they went received notice Tuesday morning that they would be on, and they have been just killing it. It is a huge role, it is the title character and they are in the entire production. We have had some rehearsals, but to go up there never having done it with the full band and the full set, lights, and an audicned and just absolutely kill it is so impressive. Same with our swings, they have been going on so much and it just blows me away.
M: The music for Pretty Woman is absolutely fantastic, and it comes from the mind of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. While it may be a heterosexual love story, it truly seems that everyone falls in love with the music.
M: Absolutely. It is Bryan Adams, first of all; “Summer of 69” and countless hits that he has written with his writing partner. I think because it is Bryan Adams and because the film Pretty Woman came out in the 90’s, it has that nostalgic late 80’s early 90’s musical feel to it, so it is so appropriate to the time period that it is in. I think the nostalgia there is really why it works so well.
What I love about the character of Vivian is that she is so familiar. Strong female leads that I personally as a gay man have looked up to my entire life. He meets her on Hollywood Blvd doing her thing and she has a line in the show where she says “I know who I am, I’m just a little bit confused about who you were”. She’s so strong in knowing who she is and she does not change; she changes the world around her. That is so empowering; growing up as a gay man myself, you look to those characters and icons to find you power to be inspired. She is just another one of those characters that is so much fun to watch.
MC: If you were to be able to manifest a dream role to play, what would be it?
M: I would love to play Hans in Frozen, that would be so much fun because I love villains and he has such a fun role to play in that show. Also, Willy Wonka, he is just so fantastical and weird. I just think that would be so much fun to play.
MC: In such a truly unparalleled time for performers and artists, how have you stayed the course and started a New Year with a fresh perspective and a positive attitude?
M: It is really the love of live theater, which I find so inspiring about our industry. It finds a way no matter what. It is not from the performer or the production side, it’s from people who want to be in the seats and watching. Even if there is not a full house every night, there are people there, despite what is happening. The theaters are requiring vaccinations and negative tests and the theaters and patrons are doing what they can to support live theater. It is the passion and love for live theater that keeps everything going. Its is so inspiring for the performers, getting that standing ovation every night is everything. It is the reciprocal act; we can’t do it without the people that want to be here laughing and cheering; it keeps us all going.
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