Daniel Quadrino: A Performer as Rare as a Golden Ticket

February 24, 2019

              The audience for Pittsburgh’s opening night of First National Tour of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory   has a lot of children in it. Before the overture starts, they’re craning their necks at the stage where a screen is pulled down instead of a curtain, a projected purple curtain pulled to one side to reveal a picture of the back of Willy Wonka in his signature top hat against a blue sky. The din of the audience is relatively high pitched, little kids asking their parents about the chocolate factory and if they’ll really see squirrels on stage (the answer is yes).

                          By the time that Daniel Quadrino as Mike Teavee takes the stage, the kids are already mesmerized by the spectacular production unfolding in front of them. They’ve seen Charlie, played with astonishing maturity by Henry Boshart, Willy Wonka, played with the right mix of insanity and sincerity by Benjamin Howes, and three of the other kids. Mike Teavee rolls onto the stage strapped into an arm chair, eyes glassy staring at an imagined screen as he intently plays a video game.                             He’s dressed in black Converse with neon orange laces, camo patterned pants, a black skull t-shirt, black fingerless gloves, and a bright orange zip-up sweatshirt on top. Quadrino’s own natural dark brown hair is hiding under a black wig with bangs that fan up under the shimmery, opalescent brim of his black and neon yellow hat.

                At the start of the number “That Little Man of Mine,” that introduces his character to the audience, Quadrino is hyper-focused on his video game, completely ignoring his mother while she sings about him. In the middle of the song he springs up, leaps off the arm chair, and then tumbles across the floor, beginning to sing. The pop style to the song lends itself well to Quadrino’s distinct voice, and the audience knows they’re in good hands.

                The Broadway production of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  opened in 2017, though it opened on the West End in 2013. The show is based on the 1964 children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl.

Sweet and poor Charlie Bucket wins the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a golden ticket to tour candy creator and connoisseur Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie is one of five children to win the prize. The others are: spoiled ballet dancer Verruca Salt, gum-chewing champion Violet Beauregarde, mama’s boy and insatiable eater Augustus Gloop, and the self-absorbed Mike Teavee, who likes to film the disasters of the other children on his phone.

                 Unlike the obnoxious character that he plays, Quadrino is vivacious and friendly with a voice that sounds like he’s constantly smiling. I had the pleasure of speaking with him by phone the weekend before he arrived in Pittsburgh. He was in Baltimore, Charlie’s first one-week stop, with his dog Jackson, a Cavapoo – Cavalier-Poodle mix – who’s along for the tour, asleep on his lap. Quadrino was hiding from the weather in his hotel room playing video games, joking that he’s more like his character Mike Teavee than he thought when he first started the job. Earlier that morning he was playing Mario Odyssey on his Nintendo Switch that he is “obsessed” with, and he has his PS2 with him on tour as well to play a few “throw-back” games.

                           He sounds relaxed and happy before heading into a show-heavy weekend. It’s hard to believe that the affable Quadrino can find the brattiness inside himself to play the role of Mike. “The last time that I was home I asked my family about what I was like as a kid, and I was definitely a little bit of a spoiled brat. And, I’m not usually mad but if I’m upset or frustrated by my day, I’ll use that to inform Mike’s delinquency and anger and bring it to a new level. I try new things every night. We all have a little bit of these characters in us from when we were younger, so it’s fun to explore that again.”

                Quadrino grew up in Long Island, New York. While growing up, his older brother Michael was a competitive ice skater so Quadrino quips that he got to tour the country as a kid through ice rinks. Originally, being a performer wasn’t on his horizon. It wasn’t until his neighbor got him into a dance class that he got the theater bug.

                “One of my neighbors was a Rockette, and when I was in middle school, she signed me up for a dance class. I was like, ‘I’m not going to go to a dance class.’ But my mom was like, ‘Just go, she signed you up,’ and I ended up falling in love with it. I took six dance classes a week for a really long time and then I got really into singing. I was a little into it since elementary school with American Idol.”

                Quadrino let dance take a bit of a backseat around eighth grade when he began to focus more on singing and acting. He started to sing in talent shows and made his musical debut in seventh grade as Ambrose Kemper in  Hello, Dolly!  He performed in all of his high school musicals and community shows as well. His big break, though, came his senior year of high school when, after twelve auditions, at seventeen, he was cast in the ensemble of the Broadway revival of  Bye, Bye, Birdie    while understudying the supporting role of Hugo Peabody.

                After graduating high school and finishing his run with  Birdie, Quandrino attended Pace University. During his senior year, he was again a student by day and a Broadway performer by night. In 2013, he joined the Broadway company of the hit musical  Disney’s Newsies  and performed alongside original lead    Kara Lindsay, who became one of Quadrino’s closest friends.

               “I auditioned for  Newsies  twenty-four times before I got it. I was in finals for it at Paper Mill Playhouse but didn’t end up getting it,” he says. “And then I went in for every replacement on Broadway and got it after twenty-four auditions. It taught me to never let anyone tell me no and to use the rejection to fuel the success.”

               Once he was cast in  Newsies, Quadrino danced every night in the ensemble and understudied two of the main roles in the show, Davey Jacobs and Crutchie. “I was a senior at Pace at that point, and I did it full-time. It was pretty crazy. I would go to school at eight in the morning for my 9ams. I’d be finished with class at 1:30 and then I’d go to understudy rehearsal. I would do the show at night, do my homework, and be up at 8am the next day. It was exhausting, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was a dream of mine to be in that show, so every day, no matter how tired I was, I didn’t take it for granted.”

           After graduating from Pace in 2014 with a degree in Musical Theater, Quadrino performed in NBC’s production of  Peter Pan Live!  as Bunting, one of the Lost Boys. He danced and flipped his way through Neverland and performed in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with the cast of  Peter Pan Live!, singing “I Won’t Grow Up” while performing tricks on two wooden tables.

             After leaving the colorful Neverland, Quadrino traveled to the mystical greenified land of Oz in  Wicked  on Broadway. The “untold story of the witches of Oz,”   Wicked  is a wonderous, fun-filled musical with serious political symbolism. Quadrino performed in the ensemble of Wicked and understudied the munchkin Boq who’s desperately in love with Glinda. (A fabulous new #OutofOz video just came out on YouTube with Quadrino and four other Wicked alums singing a ‘90s boyband version of the musical’s hit song “What Is This Feeling?”) For about a year of Quadrino’s time with  Wicked, Glinda was played by his friend Kara Lindsay.

             Wicked  was the craziest gig because I remember seeing it in eighth grade and turning to my mom after “Defying Gravity” and saying, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to be in this.’ Getting to be in that show for two and a half years is something I’m extremely grateful for. It means a lot to me, and it’s so relevant today. Kara is one of my dearest friends. It was great to reconnect with her and just be together.”

              Now on his first tour with  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Quadrino is reimagining the role of Mike Teavee. There’s an expectation, he acknowledges, but says that characters are up for interpretation. The musical is closer to the book than it is to the two Hollywood movies, he says. There’s a bit of darkness.

                        “Yes, it’s a family show, but it’s not all lollipops and rainbows. There’s real stuff that happens. It’s awesome to bring this story. I’d always understudied for principle roles, and this is my first full-time principle role that’s “mine,” that I have ownership of, in a way. It’s so exciting. Going out and doing this new version of the show for the first time was incredible. It was a blur, but I love bringing theater to people. I love the fact that we get to do a show that’s going to directly inspire someone to do theater. I remember seeing my first show,  Aida, and every time I go out on stage I think, ‘This could be someone’s first time seeing a musical.’ I try to tap into that energy and remember what that felt like. It really helps me, especially when I’m nervous. I’m always nervous on a first show in every city, but hearing the audience connect with the show is really amazing to witness.”

              In the show, Quadrino gets many of the best lines including (to Wonka), “Yo, doofus, you got Wifi?” He plays the role of Mike with the perfect amount of entitled punk and “coolness.” He pushes the other kids and pokes them when they’re listening to Wonka, plays on his iPad, and desperately searches for a signal on his phone. Often when his mom speaks, he looks bored, skeptical, and horrified all at once. In addition, Quadrino is given a lot of physical comedy that has the audience in tears. His dance training is evident in his awareness of his body and the hysterical physicality of his comedy. Quadrino is so deliciously cocky and insolent in his role that you are just waiting for him to get his comeuppance, but he’s such a talented performer that you also dread the moment that he’s served his just desserts.

              “I can’t wait for Pittsburgh to see this show. Visually it’s been updated since Broadway so it’s really exciting to bring those changes. There’s the iconic moment in the show when we first see the chocolate room, and hearing the energy from the audience and feeling the audience rooting for Charlie is really great.”

              Teasingly, I ask if he minds people rooting for Charlie over Mike and he laughs heartily. “I mean, I hope that people want Mike to go a little bit further, but, you know, – well, you know. Mike is not the nicest kid. He’s completely a brat – more than a brat. It’s hard to root for him, but it’s fun to laugh at him, though.”

                        This isn’t Quadrino’s first time in Pittsburgh. He was here in the summer of 2017 with Pittsburgh CLO’s Summer Season. He played Crutchie in the CLO’s production of  Disney’s Newsies. In Newsies his comedic talent shone. He delivered Crutchie’s solo “Letter From the Refuge” with the perfect blend of sincerity and comedy and let the full power of his voice soar in the duet “Santa Fe: Prologue.” He brought an innocence and an endearing quality to the character without turning him into a “cute” sidekick. He’s excited to be back in Pittsburgh and wishes he was staying longer than the show’s one week run. Because  Charlie’s whole creative team will be in town for Pittsburgh’s run, Quadrino and the cast will be in rehearsals further fine-tuning the show.

             “I’m excited to be back in Pittsburgh and to bring the Factory to Pittsburgh. I loved the CLO; it was so much fun and my first regional show with a schedule and process that’s so fast. [CLO shows usually have only about a week and a half of rehearsals before performances.] The Benedum Center is gorgeous. I can’t wait to be back. I can’t wait to bring this there. It’s so fun and good for families, but there really is something for everybody in it.”

             Despite his impressive resume in musical theater, Quadrino is not just a musical theater performer. He’s a multitalented musician, able to play a number of instruments; he loves pop music, often singing at the famous Feinstein’s 54 Below in New York; and he writes his own music. There are great videos of him singing at 54 Below, including mashups of “Last Friday Night/Domino” and “Letter From the Refuge/Santa Fe.” Quadrino loves giving concerts and calls them “a big party” (he’s sold out four or five solo shows at 54 Below and would like to tour eventually), and he wants to get into a studio to record some work. He’s thinking that maybe after his run with Charlie ends he’ll have time to focus on his own music. His single “Where to Begin” is available on   iTunes, and a number of his other songs are on YouTube.

             “I would love to record more. I write music as a therapeutic thing. It’s funny, I say that I write sad, breakup tunes, but I’m always inspired to write when something big happens in my life, and usually it’s after a break up or when something happens emotionally. There’s only one original song of mine really out right now and that makes me sad.”

             Quadrino gets a chance to really showcase his voice in the pop-infused score of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The show includes favorite songs like “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” in addition to a plethora of new songs written specifically for the musical. The show is a visual feast with fantastical sets but also cleverly infused digital aspects. Quadrino even gets his face projected on a big screen at one point.

             Quadrino’s “sweet” performance really “hits the spot” (if you’ll forgive the puns) in this beautiful, delectable, enchanting show. Whether dancing/singing/acting in a musical or giving a concert, Daniel Quadrino is a force to be reckoned with. We’re lucky to have him back in Pittsburgh, so be sure to catch him in the tour of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  at the Benedum Center now through Sunday Feb 3! It’s a treat that will leave you happy, humming, and craving chocolate.

Follow Daniel  on   Instagram

Get tickets to the show   here

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