INTERVIEW: MICHAEL CAMPAYNO Turns Back Time About Working On "The Cher Show"
(Michael Campayno Headshot)
The Cher Show opened on December 3rd at The Neil Simon Theater and has been the hottest ticket in town since opening. With it's elaborate staging and exquisite costumes designed by Bob Mackie and three powerhouse Broadway women in the role of Cher, the show is a rip roaring good time and a must-see for every Cher fan.
One of the characters in the show is Rob Camilletti, one of Cher's (less famous) boyfriends. Rob is played by the talented Michael Campayno (WICKED),who also plays Lee the Stage Manager in Act 1. Michael chatted with RyeTheNewGuy.com about his time with the show so far, how he prepares for the role, what advice Cher gave him about the role, and his advice for struggling performers.
What has the experience been like being in "The Cher Show" and having the show become so popular? We've worked so hard from rehearsals in Chicago, and from the opening out of town in Chicago it was all a pretty quick turnaround. I think we only had about a month or so before we started back in rehearsals in New York. And then in New York we only had about two weeks of rehearsals before it opened on Broadway. But even now we're just starting to really sit in it and find a lot of new moments and get really present. But up until opening night we were making changes, the day of opening night we changed some of my stuff. It's such a show to share with the audience that we didn't really know what we were going to get back. And especially during previews because we were changing SO much of everything. Yes, I understand A LOT has changed from the out of town in Chicago to opening night on Broadway. I've heard it's almost a new show. We say its changed about 80 % which is pretty wild and unusual for a show. It's such a show where we break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, and there's so much that the audience gets to come along for the ride for and see; that were just trying to find the right structure on how to tell that story
And that's mainly what we decided on. We decided on really spending a night with Cher and getting to know her, and how everybody would kind of go along for the ride with her, and get to know her more and have it be " a night of Cher." I feel like that's kind of what's really changed from Chicago to here.
Where did you get the inspiration on playing Rob Camilletti There is not much out there about him. I know Cher has had a lot of input throughout this process, so did she have any insight? That's a great question, and that was my biggest challenge for this part. When I first came into it I was just researching as much as I could because we are all imitating people and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I watched so many YouTube videos and I watched a lot of the music videos he was in and I looked up his IMDB page because when he was with Cher she got him into a lot of little acting pieces, and there's just truly nothing on him. Like I found one YouTube video of him speaking for like a second. So I focused on a lot of what his essence is and how he antagonizes her and how he helps her change and move forward. In terms of physicality, I kind of just played around with that myself. He's from Queens so I get to play around with like a Brooklyn Queens accent. But I just picked a lot of buzzwords like "grounded" and "supported." I also thought he's like a volcano because all the press is coming at him and it's bubbling up and he just explodes. And I'm actually extremely nervous for when he comes and sees the show. He hasn't seen the show yet? Not yet, but he is definitely coming soon!
That's exciting! Yeah, and Cher actually came up to my dressing room during previews and she talked to me one-on-one and she really- Wow, what was the experience like? Oh my gosh, it was wild. The company manager came in before the show and said "so Cher's going to come talk to you about Rob," and I was like, "oh, okay, are you going to be here?" And the company manager was like "no, she just wants it to be you two." So she came in and I said "do you want to sit down?" And she was like "No." She just stood there and in all her glowing glory. It was so surreal, but it helped me so much. I'm pretty like jumpy with my body- you know, I'm an Italian guy, so I talk a lot with my hands and I move my body a lot, and Cher was like "Just stand there and just be grounded in and own your space." It was a wild arc.
Stephanie J. Block "Star" and Michael Campayno "Rob" in The Cher Show
Yeah, it sounds like it! What is your favorite song from the show? Oh man, I love this question. I'm so into old school Cher, I love "half breed." I love how it's used in this context, and we slow it down and use it as a balad to uplift Cher when she is getting bullied. I love that stuff and I love that theatricality of that, like switching into a concept because it gives it so much more depth and real life. So I love how they use half breed. I think it's so beautiful. And Emily's (Skinner) voice is one of my favorites in the world. What are some of your pre-show rituals and what is something you always keep in your dressing room to keep you grounded every night? So all four principal guys are in the same hallway. We all come in and we always check in with each other and say "Hi" to each other. And it's really nice. And those guys (Matt Hydzik, Jarrod Spector, and Michael Berresse) are most supportive, loving people. Just having them say hello or like just check in really grounds me and really just make me feel safe. But other than that I always play music and I have my little oil diffuser that really grounds me. I have pretty bad anxiety and I deal with that, So that's been a challenge for me as an actor in my whole career. I diffuse oils that really helps me for some reason. Before I go on as Rob I play the Stage Manager, so before I go on I always come up and I have a couple of pictures of him and I try to look at him and get in the center of my body where I think he is. He had this little chain, so I'll just hold it and like endow it with a lot of things, like where it came from, and who gave it to him, all that stuff.
It's hard because he's only on stage for like 10 minutes and I come on and off and it goes from zero to 100 really quick. So I just have to be so ready for it, you can't like warm up into it. It was the same thing with when I played Fiyero, it was so hard because like when you come on you're on, and then when you're off you're off. So people would be like, "oh, he's not even on stage a lot" But when you're on, it's like climatic.
In closing, what advice would you have for performers who want to either pursue Broadway and are just trying to be successful but they've had some ups and downs. What do you say to them? That's a really great question too, and something I was thinking about a lot. For me, I came to the city and I was like, "I'm going to be the leading man" whatever that even means, and I let "type" lead me. And I honestly think type is not even a real thing, it's not real anymore. But I think in saying that, the biggest piece of things people can work towards is really just finding out what's special about them and using that to their ability and when you go into a room, don't even worry about what those people think because theater is so subjective. You'll find the people who really love what you do and you'll be happier doing it.
From left: Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, Jarrod Spector, Micaela Diamond, Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, Michael Berresse, and Michael Campayno
Editors Note: Some of the conversation has been edited to fit for this piece