Alums Discuss Broadway dreams and life in the Big Apple
Dustin Fitzharris (left) and Daniel Johnson (stage name Daniel J. Edwards) in front of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, home of the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Anything Goes.
Daniel Johnson, a 2010 musical theater graduate of Point Park, was in a New York PNC Bank branch withdrawing the remaining of his savings. He couldn't believe how much money he had spent in just one month of living in New York to pursue his dream of performing on Broadway. Nervous about how he was going to make it through, his phone rang. It was Roundabout Theatre asking him if he wanted an ensemble role in the Broadway revival, Anything Goes, starring Joel Grey and Sutton Foster. Upon hearing the news, he jumped up and down in the middle of the bank. Security came running over to him and asked if everything was all right. Johnson, 23, yelled, "I'm going to Broadway!"
Dustin Fitzharris earned a degree in education at Point Park in 2002, went on to receive a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University, and is now a writer for ABC television in New York City. He caught up with Johnson (whose stage name is Daniel J. Edwards) on a rainy, fall Monday-his only day off. They discussed Dan's New York adventures, his memories of Pittsburgh and why he chose Point Park:
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Dustin Fitzharris: What was your audition like for Anything Goes?
Daniel J. Edwards: They hold all of you in a waiting room. You get a number and then you wait. This was a dancer's call, so they call maybe 30 of you in a room. Then you dance for them, maybe four at a time after you learn the combination, and then they decide from there.
You graduated in 2010. How soon after graduation did you move to New York?
As soon as I graduated I was lucky enough to catch CLO's [Civic Light Opera] Miss Saigon. I did that. They did a mini Toronto tour, so we went there for the month of July. Right after that I went home for a month, and then I decided to move because it was getting boring at home.
Why did you decide to move to New York?
It was kind of a spontaneous move. It was either move to LA or New York, and I was reaching to LA because I'd really like to learn the scene there, but I didn't have a car. So at the last second I found someone on Craig's List and said, "Can I please move in for the month just to test out New York?" With a carry on I went on a plane, and it ended up working out.
Once you moved to New York, what were your first experiences like?
A little crazy. I come from a really small town, and in a big city there are so many people, and it's easy to get lost. Doing the auditions and constantly trying to find work was great. As soon as I got this job I had about three months to do nothing, so I worked at Game Stop for three months to pay my rent.
Now that you're in the show, what is a typical day like for you?
I wake up around 11 a.m. because I like to sleep. I go to the gym for about two hours. Then after that I'll get some food. If my friends are around I'll hang with them for a couple hours and then head to the theater, get ready, and then just do the show.
Since being in the show, what has been the most memorable experience?
That's hard. There are a lot. Opening night was just fantastic. The first rehearsal was just an amazing beginning. The most memorable night, even though it was the fastest, was the Tony Awards. Just how speedy it was and how amazing it was to be on that stage. And winning the Tony for best revival.
Growing up in Manistee, Mich., did ever imagine you'd be performing on the Tony Awards?
My goal was when I was 40, I would've liked to have been on Broadway, but that was it.
What were you like as a child?
Hyper, full of energy. I attempted to play sports when I was in elementary school, but I would always do cartwheels, sing and dance.
And how did that go over?
It didn't go so well, so I stopped doing that, and I started tapping. That is how I got into performing.
You were 9 at the time. How did your parents react?
They actually kind of suggested it to me because I had so much energy, and I was performing on a sports field. So, they were like, "Why don't you try tapping?" I was always into Lawrence Welk as well. There was a tapper named Arthur Duncan, and I would always try to move my feet and try to tap like him.
Why did you choose Point Park University?
I went to Wright State [Dayton, Ohio] for a year, and it just wasn't working out. I didn't really like the environment. So, I was looking for a new school, and I heard about this amazing dance program. I don't consider myself the best dancer, but it's fun. I heard it was an amazing school, an amazing city, right in the center, and I never really lived in a big city before, so I wanted to give it a try.
What did you love about living in Pittsburgh?
A lot of things. Primanti Brothers. They have just amazing sandwiches. I think the training was amazing as well. I love just absorbing what the teachers had to teach us and sitting in a practice room trying to figure it out. Being a transfer as a junior, I only had two years there. Luckily I was cast in the musicals. I think Rocky Horror [Picture Show] was the most memorable musical I did there.
What do you miss about the city?
There is a sense of Steeler Pride, which I thought was cool. I think it's clean. I had a place to sit and chill every day. The park was nice.
What advice would you give to others who want to pursue a career on Broadway?
Just do it. Don't be afraid. I know for auditions some people don't consider themselves dancers, so they won't go to the dance call, but it's not always about that. It's about seeing you move and then from there, they'll see you sing. So, you can do your strength. It's about hitting all your auditions and being confident in yourself. Just do it because you love it, and don't worry if you don't get the job right away.
How did you deal with rejection?
You take a deep breath and continue on. It's all you can do.
After everything you've accomplished thus far, what are you the most proud of?
Landing this show and being a part of this amazing production. This is just the beginning for me. This show has been a big step forward toward my career.
Q&A by Dustin Fitzharris
Photo and video by Charles Moss/Callejero Films
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University.