For Pittsburgh Theatre
September 2, 2018
Alex Dorf is what all good actors are: a chameleon. This summer he performed in every one of the five shows that the Pittsburgh CLO produced, yet each character he played was distinctly different from the previous, making it hard to believe that it was the same actor. Not only was the schedule grueling, especially for a featured dancer doing everything from ballroom dancing to acrobatic leaps, the diversity of shows required him to taken on entirely different personas weekly. With the CLO, Dorf performed in Titanic, The Full Monty, Brigadoon, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Thoroughly Modern Millie in a time span of about two and a half months.
Luckily for me, because Dorf was in the ensemble at the CLO for all the shows while I was interning there, I got to know him pretty well. He’s young, funny, good-natured, and hard working. He is supportive of his castmates and made friends with all the CLO staff. When he isn’t dressed in costume as a fishmonger or a salt shaker or a repossession man, Dorf is tall, thin, and has light brown hair kept short. He had a smile on his face and a kind word for whomever he passed in the hall. When we talked for this article, he was backstage getting ready for a performance of Beauty and the Beast, getting his wig cap on and stretching out his muscles.
In Maury Yeston’s Titanic, Dorf played a bellboy; in The Full Monty a cha cha instructor and repossession man; in Brigadoon a sword dancer; in Beauty and the Beast a fishmonger and a salt shaker, and in Thoroughly Modern Millie a “speed tappist.” Every role required intense dancing and while he was performing a show at night he was rehearsing the upcoming show during the day.
“Titanic was the first show, so we were able to come in and focus on that show and learn the music. There wasn’t a lot of dancing, so it wasn’t too taxing physically. When we got to The Full Monty the ensemble didn’t do that much so the rehearsal process wasn’t too tough. Then while we were doing Monty we practiced the music for Brigadoon backstage.”
It is true that the hallways of the Benedum Center rung out with voices disguised by thick Scottish accents for the few weeks of Brigadoon’s rehearsal and run. “That transition made it easy and the time enjoyable and not too hectic. I will admit that going from Brigadoon to Beauty and the Beast was a whirlwind of an experience and exhausting. We were dancing at night and doing a lot during the day. That was when it got tougher, but when the show was up and running it was a blast.”
Dorf’s dancing abilities really shone during the final three shows of the season. In Brigadoon he was one of three sword dancers who dancing carefully between crossed swords on the ground. In a kilt and knee-high boots, he skillfully did a fast-paced footwork combination without touching the blades. In Beauty and the Beast he performed difficult high energy leaps and tricks. In the number, “Gaston,” he performed a complicated sequence involving mugs. He and the other ensemble members rhythmically clicked mugs together while constantly moving in Busby Berkeley-like ways, mesmerizing the audience. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, he got to show off his tap dancing chops in a throwback to old Hollywood musicals.
Dorf was born in Lancaster, PA even though both of his parents are from Philadelphia (and diehard Eagles fans). He is the middle child of five kids, with two older sisters and two younger. At four years old, when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Dorf would respond “Mary Poppins.” He laughs and says that now he doesn’t want to be Mary Poppins, but would love to play Bert because he would get to tap dance on the ceiling and he’s admired Dick Van Dyke’s performance in the movie. He’s performed in Mary Poppins but not as Bert and would love the opportunity to revisit it.
At eight years old, he played Tiny Tim in Fulton Opera’s production of A Christmas Carol in Lancaster. The director told his parents to put him into dance class, which they did. In addition, though, his older sister had begun dancing the year before and performed in a Little Red Riding Hood-themed dance number. Dorf was tapped to be the wolf, performing, he says, jazz squares and maybe one chaines (a series of turns on both feet). After that, he was hooked. He began tap classes, then jazz, then ballet and lyrical. He performed in his school musicals and competed on a dance competition team in high school.
Despite his love for dance and theater, however, he began to doubt in high school whether he could make theater his whole life. He began taking lots of biology classes and was interested in becoming a veterinarian. He’s always loved animals and science, and the settled, stable lifestyle of a vet appealed to him. When it came time to choose a college, he went to the University of Delaware for pre-vet.
When he got to Delaware he stopped doing theater, though he did do improvisation comedy. It was difficult, though, for him to stop dancing, and he suffered a “mid-life crisis” while going through dancing and theater withdrawal. He realized that he couldn’t give up theater and transferred to Penn State. In 2017 he graduated from Penn State with a degree in Musical Theater and peace of mind from being secure in his career choice. He now lives in New York City and is still adjusting to New York life, he says, doing all of the auditioning and traveling. He’d love to go on a National Tour.
At Penn State, he studied all three aspects of being a musical theater performer: dancing, acting, and singing. While he considers himself a dancer first, he says that acting is involved in being able to accurately tell a story through song and dance. He credits his professors with teaching him that. At Penn State, he was always busy, but his friends and classmates became like family. At the CLO he performed with multiple fellow Penn State alums include the lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Laurie Veldheer.
In the summer after he graduated, Dorf also performed with the CLO in Disney's Newsies and Mamma Mia!. “I’m thrilled to be back here! It was such a blast. Those are also two super fun shows. Mamma Mia! is very happy-go-lucky and the music’s amazing. Newsies was a dream come true; to dance and to work with Ricky Hinds [Director/Choreographer] was awesome.”
Since he was here for a longer period of time this summer, he got to explore more of the city, finding new bars, kayaking on the river, discovering new parts of downtown, and going to Picklesburgh. He says, “It was nice to come this summer and have more time to get to do real Pittsburgh-y things. It’s cool to come to a new city and explore it. Pittsburgh has a lot to do.”
His favorite shows this summer were Titanic and Beauty and the Beast. Titanic because it was special. The show is not produced often because of the difficulty of the music and the production aspects, so being a part of it was important to Dorf. In addition, he enjoyed the cast and director he was working with. He even got to dance in it as the featured dancer Mr. DaMico, doing beautiful ballroom dancing across the stage.
Beauty and the Beast was just fun to perform in; it just took the cake he says. He got such a thrill coming off stage from “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston,” big, colorful ensemble numbers full of flashy costumes and intricate, athletic choreography that had the audience cheering at the end. He also enjoyed getting to dress up like an inanimate object and go leaping across the stage with his counterpart Davis Wayne, who played the pepper shaker.
I was backstage for a performance of Beauty and witnessed Dorf’s dedication to his craft up close. During the scene before “Be Our Guest,” Dorf and Wayne took a small corner near the stage manager’s podium and began stretching their muscles. After doing a couple splits, they stood, looked at each other, and then began dancing through the complicated dance break. They danced through the entire thing, jumps and all, three times before they were satisfied. Dorf gave me a smile and simply said about their run through, “Every time.”
In Thoroughly Modern Millie, he and Wayne were the two “speed tappists.” When I asked him what that meant, he laughed. “There’s a section in the show where Millie becomes a stenographer. Millie does some pretty fast typing because she’s such a fast stenographer. Then Davis and I go over to Millie while she’s tapping and sort of start this little tap-off – a tiny tap battle, kind of.”
Dressed in orange dress shirts, black and orange checkered vests, yellow bow ties, grey slacks, orange spats, and heavy framed, round, black glasses, Dorf and Wayne flanked Millie and tapped back to her in the unbelievably fast Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, “The Speed Test.” Their little tap battle led into a wonderful ensemble number of fast, syncopated tap dancing meant to imitate and project the sound of typing by typists at their desks.
Dorf’s talent and hard work was not only apparent to me but to the CLO. He was awarded the 19th Annual Julia Deberson Award, which is given yearly to the outstanding ensemble member who best exemplifies professional skill, high work ethic, an optimistic attitude, the ability to work well with his castmates, and a passion for his work. Dorf was chosen by the directors and production staff, and he received the award from CLO executive producer Van Kaplan at the opening night cast party for Beauty and the Beast in front of his castmates, the CLO staff, and donors.
In his future, Dorf wants to work on children’s theater. It was a production of Cinderella that sparked his interest in theater, and he’d like to help do the same for others. “Growing up and doing shows at Dutch Apple Dinner Theater [in Lancaster], I was involved in a lot of children’s theater, doing camps and shows for children. I have a soft spot in my heart for it. I remember going to see shows when I was little and having it stick in my mind. I saw Cinderella when I was really little, and the stepsisters had these fake butts on. I remember thinking the whole time, ‘Are those real or did they put those there?’ I couldn't wrap my head around that being something that a costume designer thought of. I know how impactful that was for me, so it’s always been something that I’ve thought about doing in the future.”
He’s interested in choreographing, directing, and writing in addition to performing, and he would like to write a piece of children’s theater with his dad. In particular, he wants to write an informative piece, one that teaches greater themes like Earth conservation and gender equality while still getting kids interested in theater.
You can see Alex in Chicago in Marriott Theatre’s production of Sweet Charity September 5 – October 28!
Follow Alex on Instagram