Let Dan DeLuca Capture Your Imagination

July 18, 2018

              For all of last week, Dan DeLuca went onto the Benedum Center stage and took off most of his clothing in Pittsburgh CLO’s  The Full Monty. He plays Ethan Girard, a man who joins an amateur strip group formed by unemployed steel workers after they witness their wives going crazy over a professional stripper. The call themselves “Hot Metal” and their selling point is that they will go “the full monty,” further than any professional strippers will go. They will go totally nude, though it won’t be visible to the audience. Ethan is dedicated and delightful, if not a little ditzy. Whenever DeLuca is on stage he has the audience laughing in their seats, whether it’s from his quickness to lose his clothing, his love for  The  Sound of Music, or his eagerness to be like Donald O’Connor of 1950s musical fame.

              When Ethan first truly takes the stage, he is auditioning for “Hot Metal,” an amateur strip group formed by his former coworkers. Dressed in black sweatpants and a blue tank top, he walks on and declares that he can’t dance, but he’s always wanted to be like Donald O’Connor, who runs up a wall and does a backflip in  Singin’ in the Rain, which really isn’t dancing. He then eyes the wall on the side of the stage and begins to run at it. He jumps, suspended for a moment above the stage, the audience breathlessly waiting to see if he completes the backflip. He falls to the ground, and the audience laughs when he bounces right back up and says he can do it at home; these are funny walls. One of the men on the audition panel asks him what he can do, since he can’t sing or dance. DeLuca promptly turns around, back to the audience, and says, “Well, I thought maybe this?” and drops his pants. The men on stage all drop their jaws, and their eyes go wide. Jerry Lukowski, played by Andy Kelso, slaps his hand over his son, Nathan’s, eyes.

               “It’s so funny, though, that Ethan is so fearless and eager, that I can’t have one ounce of hesitation or one ounce of nervousness because, if I do, it just doesn’t work for the show. Luckily, I get to channel his fearlessness and openness. 

That’s what gets me through it every single time. It’s turned out to be so much fun. I try to take Ethan on completely. I’m not the first one to drop my shorts in that situation, but he is absolutely the first one, so I had to do a lot of prep work on his mentality and where his brain is in every single scene, so Dan doesn’t get caught up in what to do; it’s Ethan. Ethan wants to do his best for his friends and make the most out of this opportunity. I really try to set Dan’s brain aside, because if Dan’s fear gets in the way it doesn’t read – it doesn’t play right at all. It just has to be completely exposed – literally. I was very nervous at the beginning, though. I was a little terrified, but everyone is loving it. I wish the show could run longer!”

              On stage, though, it’s hard to believe that DeLuca ever had any reservations. He is perfectly confident, stripping his clothes off without hesitation. During Hot Metal’s first dress rehearsal, Jerry orders everyone’s shirt off. The second that he finishes speaking, Ethan rips his shirt off and stands proudly, glancing around at the other men. When all the men are shirtless, the pants come off. Ethan immediately pushes his down leaving him in blue briefs, pants around his ankles, caught on his sneakers. The audience laughs hysterically when, later, he, and the rest of Hot Metal, come out in briefs and red thongs to scare away the repossession men. DeLuca says, “I love making people laugh. I found I enjoy bringing a lightness to the room.” Not only is DeLuca extremely talented at making people laugh, he himself likes to laugh. He is affable and accompanies almost every story with a hearty infectious laugh. (He can do wonderful impressions, too. During our conversation he obliges me with a hilarious Nathan Lane impression that has me suspecting he’d be a wonderful stand-up comedian.)

              It’s that same commitment to comedy that had DeLuca falling from the walls in the audition room. “I’m doing my job if I’m making people laugh. In the audition room when I was auditioning for the role, I was actually doing Ethan’s audition scene for Hot Metal where he tries to run up the walls, and I completely ran in the casting office and ran up all the walls. In the show I’m doing it off-stage, but in the audition room you can’t do it offstage. So I kept running up the wall and crashing to the ground. They thought it was hilarious, but they kept asking, 'Are you ok?'    I said, 'I’m very good at falling. I’ve done it many times in my life.'”

              DeLuca not only falls from a wall during the show, he also wipes out around the piano during one of the scenes. He plays it so convincingly that, when I saw it during the rehearsal, I thought he had actually tripped and fallen. He’s scared co-star Anita Gillette too with his falls. For those in the audience wondering if he’s been bruised during the rehearsal and show processes, he has. When I ask him, he sounds amused as he answers. “I have a few bruises, for sure. I have a few bruises on the right side of my body, but the more you do it the more you find ways to do it in a safe way, so I’m not hurting myself. It’s just trying to find different ways because you can’t fake it. It’s not funny if you fake it, so you do it for the art. You get some bruises for the art, the laughs, the physical comedy.” He jokes, “So in that way I’m glad that we only run until Sunday because otherwise I’d have to invest in some skin-colored pads or something like that.”           

              Unlike the ditzy Ethan, DeLuca is eloquent and well-spoken. Like Ethan, DeLuca is sweet, humorous, and friendly. During a break at the dress rehearsal when I have been taking pictures he looks around the dark theater, shields his eyes, and points at me. “Are you getting any good shots?” He asks. He then walks over to the side of the stage, squats down, introduces himself with a handshake and a smile, and flips through my camera. He grins at the photo of him captured in mid-air – his body folded almost into a pike, “Can I get that?” he asks, and chats for couple minutes before he’s called back. He waves as he jogs back to center stage to join the other five actors playing the rest of the Hot Metal gang.

              Only in his mid-twenties, DeLuca is a great physical actor. He’s able to use his lithe body to garner laughs. Off stage, he has the same big presence that he does on stage. He’s friendly, easy to talk to, has a charming smile, and a youthful yet mature face. His eyes are blue and his hair a light brown. He’s kind and has an infectious laugh. He can’t keep his passion and excitement out of his voice when he speaks, his words tumbling over each other as he delves into subject he’s particularly passionate about.

              DeLuca grew up here in Pittsburgh, in Peters Township. When he was six or seven he saw Cathy Rigby in  Peter Pan  at the Benedum Center. It was a magical experience for him, and he knew then that he wanted to be a performer when he grew up. Throughout high school he worked hard at honing the craft of musical theater. He studied at the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory and performed with Pittsburgh Musical Theater. With PMT he performed in  Godspell  on the Byham Theater stage. Armed with talent and determination, he moved to New York City when he graduated and began taking classes in New York. At twenty-one he was cast in the First National tour of  Disney’s  Newsies  as the seventeen-year-old lead, Jack Kelly.

                         Newsies  tells the story of the real-life newsboy strike of 1899. Overworked and underpaid, the newsboys – affectionately called “newsies” – finally decide to stand up for their rights when newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer raises the price they have to pay for newspapers. Under Jack Kelly’s lead, the newsies band together to form a union.  Newsies  opened on Broadway in 2012 (Kara Lindsay, wife of  DeLuca’s  Monty  costar,   Kevin Massey, starred in the Broadway production), and the First National Tour began in 2014. With  Newsies, DeLuca toured the country singing songs that have become staples of musical theater, including Jack Kelly’s heart-breaking Act I finale number, “Santa Fe.”

                         “It was a dream come true. It was the show that I wanted to do; it was the role that I wanted to do; it was the company I wanted to work for. Tour had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day my best friends in life were from that tour. It was pretty much my college experience. It was so much fun. It felt like a crazy Disney boy band touring across America. The fans were amazing, the show was fun to do. It was exhilarating.”

              DeLuca stopped in Pittsburgh with  Newsies  and performed on the Benedum stage, but this is the first time that he’s performing at the Benedum with Pittsburgh CLO. “It was the most wonderful full-circle moment. My heart was so happy being back in the theater where all the magic started. The last show I did here was  Newsies and that had a very different subject matter,” he says with a laugh. DeLuca was with  Newsies  for about a year and has done regional theater since.

              What a show boils down to for DeLuca is the story. He grows more serious and says, “What I love about theater is the storytelling. We can tell a really good story that has some nice underlying tones of making the world a better place, which I think  The Full Monty  does. I’ve had numerous uncles, friends, men who said that they didn’t want to see it because it seemed like a show for the girls, and they expected it to be a strip show.” He grows more excited and speeds up, on a roll, “But I’ve found that it’s extremely important for the men to come see, because it has things that men really don’t talk about as far as their insecurities go. We have these identities with our jobs, especially with men being the breadwinners, but what happens when you don’t have a job? What happens to a man when he doesn’t have a job and he can’t support his family? How typically emasculating that can be, and I think it’s so important for men to see, because these guys find camaraderie and more humanity in themselves that’s extremely empowering.”

              Perhaps the most vulnerable moment of the show is a funeral scene late in Act II.  Throughout  The Full Monty, DeLuca’s Ethan grows closer to his fellow isolated and suicidal Hot Metal member, Malcolm played beautifully by Kevin Massey. Their friendship begins when they both sing a line from The Sound of Music and discover a shared love for the movie. Later in the show, Malcolm’s mother passes away and it is during that scene that the depth of DeLuca’s acting and vocal ability shines.

              At the funeral, Massey begins to sing the mournful “You Walk With Me,” but breaks down in tears halfway through. Dressed in a dark suit and blue patterned tie, DeLuca walks over to him and begins to sing. His clear baritenor [mix between baritone and tenor] voice cuts over Massey’s sobs as he takes his place next to him, reaffirming that Malcolm will not be alone, for he will have Ethan by his side. Though it’s a sadder moment in the show, it holds a lot of weight.

                         “It’s extremely important, especially for Ethan, to have that moment because up until that point he’s just there for laughs. It has this sense of humanity and if you track the show, you can see Ethan and Malcolm’s romance budding from the get-go. Kevin and I plant these seeds throughout the different scenes. Whether or not it’s the focal point, you can see them start to bond and make a friendship.         Whenever his mom dies, she was really the only person he had in his life besides from the guys – which is recent. He discovers that he has friends.” DeLuca pauses for a minute then says with a chuckle, “And he sings that multiple times in the song “Big Ass Rock,” which is hilarious. So “You Walk With Me” is a moment for my character to reassure Malcolm that he isn’t going to be alone, because he has me and the other guys.”

              It’s a large plot point when, during the song, one of the other Hot Metal members notices Malcolm and Ethan holding hands, and Jerry, who had been homophobic earlier in the show, simply says, “Good for them.”

              “They become so vulnerable by taking off their clothes and accepting things that they didn’t before. Jerry had problems with homosexuality. In his first scene he calls [professional stripper Keno] a fairy. By the end of the show he’s best friends with two gay guys, and it’s a story of acceptance and growth. That’s why I love doing theater: to show compassion and humanity in an extremely fun way. It’s not preachy, it’s just showing humanity in the most beautiful light possible.”

              The Full Monty  can sound like a silly show about male strippers, but it is actually a show full of heart. It explores the stagnancy of marriages, the meaning of masculinity, the importance of having an open mind, and friendship. It also handles the sensitive topic of mental health, specifically about the importance of having support. For DeLuca, who went through a period of depression, it’s an important aspect to the show and one that relates to his work outside of acting.
              DeLuca works as the Field Speaker and Visual Director for The Field Consulting. He’s currently creating a curriculum for theater conservatories to teach emotional intelligence to their students. DeLuca believes that it’s important for schools to teach students how to take care of their mental health. He’s currently working with a school in DC to develop a package to train teachers so that they can teach mindfulness in their classrooms.

              “We’re not taught how to take care of our mental health. Therapy is still taboo, and they don’t want to talk about what’s going on inside their heads. I’ve found that that’s literally the most important thing that we can be talking about, especially in this day and age with all these shootings and suicides. It’s because people are afraid to really look at themselves. We have these shadows, these demons, that live inside of our minds that are literally killing people, but it’s not being discussed. This is something that’s so important to me. We have to learn not to be victims but be heroes, so we can live happily ever after.”

              That’s basically the theme of  The Full Monty. The men, instead of continuing to complain about being unemployed, take matters into their own hands. They learn to communicate with their wives and learn how to be vulnerable with each other. By the end of the show they have grown as men and given the audience an unlikely group of heroes to root for.

                         Be sure to catch Dan in Lerner and Loewe’s  Brigadoon, which opened yesterday at the Benedum Center. He plays Charlie Dalrymple, an excited young Scottish man on the day of his wedding. He sings the rousing “Go Home With Bonnie Jean” and croons the beautiful love ballad “Come to Me, Bend to Me.” His acting abilities are showcased by his jump from the goofy Ethan to the charming ladies’ man Charlie. He so embraces Charlie that it’s hard to believe that he was the same actor from  The Full Monty.  Don’t miss Dan’s wonderful performance in this stunning production of  Brigadoon!

 

Follow Dan on   Instagram  and   Twitter

 

Buy tickets    for  Brigadoon

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