March 11, 2010 | by Patrick Folliard
Gay actor reflects on a booming career

Out actor Nicholas Rodriguez plays Fabrizio in ‘The Light in the Piazza’ now featured at Arena Stage. (Photo courtesy of Arena Stage)

Out actor Nicholas Rodriguez can’t shake the bad memory of a gay bashing that ended with a trashcan full of garbage being poured over his head. Fortunately, the hate crime wasn’t real, but rather a dramatization on ABC’s daytime drama “One Life to Live.” While Rodriguez describes playing earnest but sexy activist Nick Chavez, the third man in a tumultuous gay love triangle, as an intense but positive experience, the Broadway hunk is happy to return to his musical roots for now.

Through mid-April, Rodriguez is at D.C.’s Arena Stage playing Fabrizio, the handsome Italian lover in Adam Guettel’s gorgeous musical “The Light in the Piazza.” The Tony-winning work follows the experiences of American matron Margaret Johnson (Hollis Resnick) and her daughter, Clara (Margaret Anne Florence) as they tour Italy in the early 1950s. When Clara and Fabrizio fall in love, Margaret is torn over whether or not to reveal her daughter’s well kept secret that might surely end the young lovers’ happiness, as well as her own.

“Playing Fabrizio, I get to use my full palette of colors,” says Rodriguez, 31. “The show’s soaring, deceptively uncomplicated score taps my operatic training and musical theatre experience, and it’s an emotional role that requires real acting too. I’m confident in my performance, but once or twice during rehearsal I had misgivings, it’s not an easy part.”

Penned by gay playwright Craig Lucas “The Light in the Piazza” is based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novel. The show premiered to acclaim at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2005. At the time, Rodriguez was considered for the coveted Fabrizio role but didn’t get the part. So, when the opportunity came up for him to be part of the Arena Stage production, Rodriguez jumped at the chance: “Working with Molly [Smith, the show’s director and Arena’s artistic director] has been great,” says Rodriguez. “Arena possesses both artistic integrity and equally important — resources. I worked with both an Italian instructor and a dialect coach [Fabrizio and his family speak in Italian], allowing me to get the accent right and concentrate on my performance.”

A native Texan, Rodriguez holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in vocal performance from the University of Texas at Austin. Though educated in classical voice, he knew that his professional path would lead elsewhere. “I absolutely love opera, but as a career, it requires rigid discipline — it’s a tough life,” says Rodriguez. “Early on I envisioned a career that included musical theater.”

He saw correctly. Shortly after arriving in New York City, affable Rodriguez with his good looks and golden throat began to get cast. In addition to originating the role of Tarzan on Broadway, he has appeared off-Broadway in “The Toxic Avenger,” “Almost Heaven,” and “Bajour” and toured in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Jesus), “Evita” (Che), and “Hair” (Claude). This summer, he can be seen in the film “Sex and the City 2,” about which he’s unfortunately been sworn to secrecy and would not divulge any details.

“Being out professionally is very freeing,” shares Rodriquez who lives in New York City with his partner of seven years. “You no longer have that nagging worry about slipping up or blowing your straight cover in some way. Instead, you can simply be your authentic self and put all that energy into the work and your life in general. What’s more I’m able to serve openly as a positive force in the gay community, especially gay youth.”

At home in New York, he’s volunteered at the Harvey Milk High School, and while in D.C., hopes to do some work with SMYAL.

After the Arena production, Rodriguez doesn’t have any immediate plans. He may take a breather at his getaway in the Catskills, but mostly he likes to work. “With every new part,” he says “Comes an adventure and a lesson. I never, ever dread starting my next job.”

‘The Light in the Piazza’
Through April 11
Arena Stage in Crystal City
1800 South Bell St., Arlington
$25-$74
202-488-3300
arenastage.org

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