Don Darryl Rivera, Brandon O’Neill ride ‘Aladdin’ magic carpet to Broadway
Among the cast of the Disney musical “Aladdin” on Broadway are 2 faces familiar to patrons of the 5th Avenue, Seattle Children’s and Village theaters: Brandon O’Neill and Don Darryl Rivera.
Seattle Times theater critic
The Tony Awards
8 p.m. Sunday, CBS
NEW YORK — Amid all the folderol and ballyhoo in the crowd-pleasing New York musical “Aladdin,” you can spot two guys from Seattle’s theater scene who are fitting right in on Broadway.
As a raffish street musician in this glitzy spectacle based on the 1992 Disney animated film, strapping singer-actor and Spokane native Brandon O’Neill bares his chest, wins plenty of laughs and aces a couple of impressive vocal solos.
Also drawing cheers is pint-size comic powerhouse Don Darryl Rivera, a Blanchet High School and Cornish College grad who plays to sneering perfection a bad guy he describes as “the goofy comic sidekick” of the show’s villain.
“Aladdin” is nominated for five Tony Awards (including best new musical), and the winners will be revealed Sunday in a ceremony televised from Radio City Music Hall. It airs at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Rivera and O’Neill won’t hear their names read out among the nominees. But they are hardly griping. Chatting and joshing recently in a New Amsterdam Theatre dressing room crammed with faux-Arabian costumes, the two are grateful to be the latest in a string of Seattle stage performers to land in the Broadway spotlight.
Years of hard work at the 5th Avenue Theatre (where they appeared in a 2011 tryout run of “Aladdin”), Seattle Children’s Theatre, Village Theatre and other Puget Sound venues have led both to Times Square.
“The audiences have been incredible here, with not an empty seat in the house ever,” Rivera reported joyfully. “It’s kind of surreal.”
“I want to soak up this experience, and see how many inroads I can make in the business,” declared O’Neill. “Ultimately I want to do film, maybe TV, and this could help make that happen.”
Bill Berry, producing artistic director at the 5th Avenue, is not surprised the “Aladdin” producers and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw took the two players along for the show’s revamped run in Toronto, and its New York debut in March.
“We’ve watched them shine in Seattle, paying their dues as part of the ensemble, in small parts, in leads,” said Berry. “They’re delightful onstage. Both of them are so funny and quirky and charming.”
Rivera studied theater at Cornish, and he got his start as an intern for Seattle Shakespeare Company. In part because of his size, musical talents and ability to play offbeat roles, he became a regular at Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT), which he also writes for, adapting the storybook “Harold and the Purple Crayon” into a musical he starred in.
“At SCT I’ve played a mouse, a fox, a pig, all these quirky animals,” Rivera recalled. “Great training for Disney!” chimed in O’Neill.
It took O’Neill longer to find his way into theater. He began his career as a singer in rock bands, but after uncorking his hearty baritone and charismatic stage presence at Village Theatre, he became an in-demand leading man — most recently in 5th Avenue’s 2013 production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Performing featured parts six times a week in a hit show at the historic New Amsterdam Theatre would be a happy fantasy for most musical-theater artists, says the 5th Avenue's Berry.
But life isn’t all standing ovations and fan mail for actors in Broadway hits. O’Neill, the married father of two sons, ages 15 and 10, hopes to someday move his family from their current upper Manhattan digs to more family-friendly, (relatively) less-pricey Los Angeles, to seek new opportunities.
And Rivera, now a Brooklyn resident, noted that, eventually, he and his wife “want to to have a family, and raise our children in Seattle.”
In the meantime, though, both are relishing their hard-earned good fortune — and Rivera admits he's a little starry-eyed.
“I get to live in New York City and be in a Broadway show,” he marveled. “It’s like living a dream.”
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org