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Michingan native maintains theater "Tradition" in "Fiddler on the Roof"
It's a long way from a childhood barber shop quartet as a child in Michigan to the touring companies of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "42nd Street."
And David Scott Curtis has reached the latter path later in life than most, coming to full-time theater just five years ago after doing it as a sidelight throughout his life.
"It's always been part of what I've done and something I've loved doing very much," Curtis, who plays the village rabbi and others in the production of "Fiddler" coming to Detroit's Fisher Theatre this week, says by phone. "When I met and married my wife, this was not part of my life. It's been a challenge to integrate it into our life and relationship, but I know it's what I'm supposed to be doing."
Curtis knew that much when he was 11 and became part of an a capella quartet with his father and two older brothers that performed around Adrian and other areas in the state. "When we'd finish everyone cheered, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life," Curtis says. "My family always enjoyed singing and participating in entertainment things."
In short order he performed in a local production of "Cheaper By the Dozen" and hung out at his brothers' rehearsals for shows such as "Oklahoma!," "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Damn Yankees." He acted and was part of bands in high school as well, but the idea of a career in entertainment was not encouraged. "When it came time to go to college, first of all, there really weren't a lot of musical theater programs in schools at that time," Curtis recalls. "And I got the message from my family that it's something we do because we love it and it's fun, but you should move into the real world for a job."
Curtis got his degree in massage therapy from Sienna Heights University in Adrian and worked in the field for 20 years, and also teaching. He kept a toe in theater with regional productions of "Elf: The Musical" and other shows, but he didn't go for broke until he and his wife, Andrea, moved to New York after she took a job in Columbia University's finance department. Their children, now 26 and 28, were grown and out of the house, and Curtis took advantage of the relocation to devote himself full-time to theater -- with a first audition for Radio City Music Hall's famed Christmas show.
"There was a learning curve I had to go through," Curtis recalls. "I studied how to write a theater resume and just how to present it when you're singing up for an audition. And I learned a lot about auditions. You place a lot of focus on them early on in your career, but as I've gone through more years and done literally hundreds of auditions you prepare and do your best, but when you're done you're just done with that one. If you hear back, great, if you not you move on to the next one."
Curtis has also been buoyed by the reception he's received from the professional community in New York. "I've never felt any opposition or animosity towards me coming to the career later in life," he says. "In fact, when people learn I'm new to the professional business it's always greeted with, 'Congratulations, and good for you for finally following your dream."
Curtis' first big break was the "42nd Street" tour starting in November of 2016. With "Fiddler," meanwhile, Curtis is part of another epochal, iconic show that won nine Tony Awards in 1964 and was the first musical ever to top 3,000 Broadway performances. "It's a wonderful show," Curtis says. "It's very powerful. It's great to see how it impacts audiences and how much outpouring we get -- people who say they saw it back in 1964 and people who say 'This is the first time I've ever seen it, and it was amazing!'" The current production has been updated in spots, though is still rooted in the original book and choreography.
And Curtis finds its themes of persecution and identity still ringing true, and maybe moreso, in the current world climate.
"I think it puts forth the idea that these issues are still happening," he says, "not as a direct political aim at anyone in particular, but that we have to continue to recognize the plight of people who are put in the position of being refugees. That's not going away. It's continuing to happen, and we have to recognize that."
Being part of touring productions keeps Curtis away from home, both past and present, but he recently was able to come back to his Michigan home during a "Fiddler" stop in Fort Wayne, Ind. There he and his brothers reconvened with their 90-year-old father to do a bit of singing together. "My dad has trouble remembering what day it is and what’s going on, but as soon as we started singing, he was right there -- the notes, the words, everything came right out," Curtis says. "That was pretty moving."
"Fiddler on the Roof" runs Tuesday, March 10, through March 15 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. $45 and up. 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com.
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