Broadway! The Great White Way!
It’’s where every actor wants to get, and once there it’s where every actor wants to stay and stay and stay. For some it becomes and almost desperate pursuit full of danger and pitfall.
Meet Andrew Varela.
“Les Miserables” on Broadway. He’s played both Valjean and Javert. National tours of Les Miz and “Phantom of the Opera.” He played the Phantom. He met his wife, the accomplished actor Susan Spencer during a national tour of “Evita”.
And then, Bang!
They pack up their son, Oscar, who is now 15, and move to Wisconsin where his wife grew up in Greendale. They have been here seven years now and Mr. Varela has become an absolute standout in the world of Milwaukee theater.
“We were doing a show and I meet my wife and we are living in New York” he said describing the journey. “And when you have a kid New York changes.I remember once I was in Miami doing a show and my wife sent me a picture of Oscar when he was tiny, and he was standing. It was a beautiful picture of him, but all I can see is the rusty chain link fence with trash behind him. It jarred me.
“The private school (where they sent Oscar) was like bad daycare and super expensive and it was an hour each way to it. It was like “‘what are we doing?’ We are working in a community where we don’t want to live. I was on tour, getting these roles and one day I said to my wife, we we’re at the end of our rope, let’s just go to Wisconsin. We’ll settle in and we’ll see what happens. I knew I didn’t want to stay in New York. Because I had reached a certain level, I was getting calls. So we didn’t have to be in New York.”
But what about acting, getting roles, continuing to make your living with your skills.?
“As far as creative outlets for me, I’m lucky that I’ve developed relationships, like the one with Skylight. I have roles and my wife and I are doing a Valentine’s Day concert at Sunset Playhouse. Then I’m going to In Tandem to do “The Fantasticks.”
Mr. Varela also is in the pipeline for commercial work, both in Milwaukee and Chicago as well as film and television in Chicago. He has a relatively rare combination of talents. Chief among them is his powerful and expressive tenor that is versatile enough to do both Sweeney Todd and Daddy Warbucks.
“I always could sing,” he said. “I was always the loud kid in school. Always in choirs. I’ve been singing the whole time. It’s been a part of my identity for years, as long as I can remember. I If I didn’t sing I don’t know if I would have gotten the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve been doing a lot of different roles. Valjean and Javert are very hard roles. Very hard.”
Mr. Varela may have been a natural born singer, but he is studious about his craft and admits that acting didn’t come as naturally.
“It used to be pretty hard to do the acting,” he said. “Having the empathy for the person I’m playing. You find places that haven’t been done in a song. I feel a responsibility to the person I’m playing to give them that depth. So that you show the layers of the character.”
Mr. Varela’s performance in “Sweeney Todd” was a magnificent and multi-layered one, capturing the most difficult parts of the character of the terrorizing barber. His singing was wonderful but the acting diligence he uses found parts of the barber that are rarely on display. He has a deep commitment to getting everything out of a character he can.
“What I get real satisfaction from is doing it right,” he said. “Hitting all my marks. I remember singing the end of “Stars” (in Les Miz) with its big overwrought ending, and just feeling my voice click into the right position and all the notes came through and the breathing was right. I can kind of equate it to being a figure skater where you have to have precision and athleticism to hit everything you planned on hitting and doing it right when it counts.”
Watch Mr. Varela sing “Stars” here.
Doing right when it counts is a treat for Milwaukee theatergoers, especially this holiday season when he does his Daddy Warbucks role in “Annie,” the holiday production at Skylight Music Theatre. It’s a show that entire families should see.
And Mr. Varela, who has been under the bright lights of Broadway, seems perfectly happy in Milwaukee.
“We came back here and looked at a school.” he said. “It’s great, they are all angels, so sweet. And we’ve been here 7 years since then. And it’s great. I lack nothing. I want for nothing. There is everything in Milwaukee. It’s like New York. There may be 4 Cuban restaurants here of here, and 24 of them in New York. of them. But I wasn’t going to 24 in New York. There all the outlets here.
“The flip side of it is that I have wonderful neighbors that plow my driveway if I can’t get to it. They don’t even ask. They show up with a cooler of beer and we’re doing the yards today.’
“The living I can make here is certainly less than New York. But the nut here is a third of what it was in New York.
“It’s been a great change for me, my wife and my son.”
He might also have said, but I’ll say it for him. It’s also been a great change for Milwaukee.