Performer Christian Douglas plays Alfredo and is part of the ensemble in the national tour of “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” After growing up in the Baltimore area, Douglas discusses life on tour and what it’s like performing back in his hometown.
Tell me about yourself and your background.
I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been interested in music. I started on the piano, and then as I got older, I started singing in choir. And then I went to college as a vocal performance major, started studying classical voice. I was always writing music on the side and had an interest in musical theater. But it wasn’t until college that I did my first production and started falling in love with the process of being part of an ensemble and putting a show up and telling a story and all that. After college, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do professionally yet, so I, of all things, joined the Army. They have an amazing Army Chorus in DC that I auditioned for and got in and served and sang for one enlistment. And then I left and moved to New York City and started auditioning and blah blah blah, and now I’m here on tour.
Can you explain how the Army Chorus works? Are you actually enlisted in the Army?
You enlist and go to basic training like any other soldier. But as a civilian, they put out an audition notice and you go audition for whatever spot they have open, which can be sort of rare, since a lot of people stay in those positions for twenty plus years. So you apply for the opening, audition, and if you get the job, then you actually go to a recruiter and get a time to go to basic training and do that whole thing. And then you get out of basic training and your job is to sing and perform and represent the country and the Army in a variety of different performance venues.
Is there a venue or performance that stands out as being particularly cool or exciting?
Near the end of my Army career, I had the opportunity to sing “Nessun Dorma,” from the famous tenor opera “Turandot” at the White House for the president of Italy for a state visit. It was one of the most incredible, nerve-wracking, exciting moments to just be in the White House, singing at the top of my lungs. It was pretty incredible.
Looks like you’ve done a lot of performing in the Maryland-DC area. Can you talk about the transition from choir to theater and working back in your hometown?
Toward the end of my time in the Army Chorus, I kind of realized that I wanted to explore more of myself as an artist. So I auditioned for some theaters in DC, like Signature Theatre and Arena Stage. I booked two jobs; one being “Newsies” and one being a production called “Gun and Powder” at Signature. So I was able to do both of those productions while I was on my way out. Now this was pre-covid, so I didn’t know everything was going to shut down. I was planning on leaving a lot earlier but yeah, I auditioned for that production. This was actually at the same time as the “Nessun Dorma” thing at the White House. I was rehearsing a musical, and then I finished rehearsal and I hopped in an Uber to the White House. It was a crazy time. But it was definitely a good reinforcement that I was making the right choice in continuing to pursue a career in musical theater. It was a pretty important experience, and also great. Great connections, great experience at a fantastic theater.
Can you talk to me about getting involved in “Newsies?” I know that production got a lot of attention around here.
It was my first professional show. Arena Stage is just incredible – the building itself is just really beautiful and the kind of theater they put on, from top to bottom – the artistic team, the production staff, and the way they treat their actors is just fantastic. “Newsies” itself as a show is just so much fun. I’m not particularly a dancer, but getting to work with all of these incredible dancers – I also understudied the lead Jack Kelly and was able to go on for a performance – it was an incredible learning experience and joy to come into work and have fun and tell a story and get to sing this awesome music every day.
Was there anything that proved to be particularly difficult when making the transition to theater?
For me, it’s just a confidence thing. I’ve always sung in a lot of different styles, I’ve always been curious about a lot of different styles – jazz, pop, musical theater. So for me, it was tough to put myself out there in a new way and gain the confidence and believe that I belonged in that arena, no pun intended.
You are a singer/songwriter, piano teacher, and now work in theater. That’s a pretty broad range of artistic pursuits.
That was my struggle when I graduated college. I had so many different interests. It took some time to figure out what I wanted to pursue, but the piano has always been a big part of my artistry. It helped me learn how to write songs, and that’s another huge part of my journey as a songwriter. I’ve been writing for theater. I wrote a record while I was in quarantine during the pandemic.
What show did you do that sparked that interest in theater?
I did a summer opera company during the summer. It was a learning type of experience- it wasn’t a professional engagement, but it was in North Carolina and we put on “Sweeny Todd,” which is a famous musical by Stephen Sondheim. It was really the first time I got to play a role that was so extensive – I played a character called Tobias. I’ve always been a process oriented person, really loving getting into details. I really found a lot of joy and satisfaction in getting to sit down and get to know this character and find out how I was going to play it. It was the first time for me that I did that in that capacity, and it sparked something, that curiosity that maybe yeah, I could do this, maybe this is something for me.
Most people in theater start at such a young age. It’s interesting that you got into it later in life.
Yeah! I’ve always loved it. I used to listen to “The Sound of Music” – the soundtrack – when I was a kid. Every time I would go to bed, I would put on the CD and would just listen to “The Sound of Music” movie soundtrack.
Now that you’ve more into theater, do you have a new favorite?
I can always sit down and watch “The Sound of Music.” During the pandemic, I watched it for the first time in a while and cried like a child. It’s just so beautiful and nice. But let me think. I really loved “Waitress.” I love the music in “Waitress” and obviously the Sara Barellis connection. I love “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is another one. I love his works and it’s sad that he passed aways recently. But yes, “Into the Woods.” I always like to listen to that soundtrack and watch the original Broadway production, so that’s definitely one of my favorites.
I did listen to your album on Spotify. Can you walk me through the process of writing, recording, and releasing an album? I know you recorded it during quarantine.
I didn’t set out to write an album. I was just trying, essentially, to not go crazy. I wanted to keep doing something that felt artistic and creative. I have a practice of writing a song every week – every Monday – that I do with a friend of mine. We’ve been doing that the past couple years now. I was like “I love these songs and I want to do something with them,” and so I started making demos at home and really loving the process. This was summer 2020 and as it kept going on, I kept writing songs. They were topical, they felt important to the time I was in, and I just decided to put out a record. I recorded it all from home, with the help of some friends of mine recording at their home setups. We pieced it all together and it was really just fun. I didn’t really do it for any reason other than to be creative and put something out into the world.
Can you elaborate on your weekly songs? Are they always serious or are they ever something silly, like a song about what you’re eating for lunch that day?
The beauty of it is that it can be really anything. My friend Andre and I started, I guess it has been like two years, with the intent to just stay creative and keep writing and take the pressure off of writing. When I was younger, and most people have experienced this, if you try to sit down, you put all this pressure on making something for it to be this incredible thing. And it can be really limiting because you’re so judgemental. You write a melody and say “Oh that’s crap,” or “Somebody else has done that,” and you start judging everything every step of the way. So to get in the habit of just doing it and taking the pressure off, just let it be a bad song. Just put in the time and make a song. Make something complete. It’s been really profound in terms of helping me move forward as a writer. If I hadn’t been doing that, I don’t think I would have been able to write an album in quarantine. So it was meant to be, I suppose.
How often would you spend writing these songs?
That also depends. When I first started, sometimes I would spend hours, even into the wee hours of the night, trying to make the perfect song. I would almost be in tears like “I can’t do it!” But the more I did it, sometimes I would take an hour, or fifteen minutes. Sometimes I would take lyrics that had come to me early in the day and I would make a melody and sit down at a piano and boom, it was over. But I tried to always put a limit as I kept going, and now I put an hour or so limit just to make myself move forward so I’m not tearing myself apart.
Are you still writing weekly songs?
Yeah! It’s a little tougher on tour. I have a little music setup with me, but I still try to sit down. They look a little different. The production value, I suppose, is a bit little less fancy, but I definitely keep writing. Some of them are kind of topical, like I wrote a song about Chicago when we opened in Chicago. I listened to it recently. It’s really sad, but it’ll be cool to go back and have those musical markers of my time on tour.
What is your recording setup like on tour?
We have trunks with us that we can put a bunch of stuff in. I have a small, mini keyboard – I think it’s maybe 60 keys? I fit it diagonally in my trunk, so I have a keyboard and then I have a microphone, an audio interface – what else do I have? I have a shaker, because every song needs a good shaker track, and that's pretty much it. I also have a travel guitar that I bring with me. It's a no-body, you can just plug it in and it still works. So it’s limited, but effective.
How does that compare to your studio setup at home?
I have a few bells and whistles. Primarily, I have more firepower in my Mac desktop at home. A lot of these Logic Pro and little plug in things are hard on my little laptop. At home, I’ve got some good keyboard software. I have a full length keyboard with weighted keys, a couple guitars, a really nice microphone, things like that. Kind of just expanding on what I’ve brought with me on the road.
Is there a particular style or artist that influences your writing?
My favorite artist is Sara Barellis because I love the way she writes and tells stories in her music. Her melodies are beautiful and it always stirred something in me. So I get a lot of influence from her, especially after she started writing for musical theater, and that’s something I’m doing as well now. So I’d say she is probably my biggest influence.
Can you talk about how you transitioned to “Pretty Woman” and what it was like being part of a national production after working locally?
It kind of happened all of a sudden. I had booked a couple of jobs through my agent. It must have been in August, I was going to go to DC to do a production of “Rent” at Signature Theatre and had to come back up to the city to do an Off-Broadway production called “Harmony.” Last minute, my agent sent me this notice for “Pretty Woman: The Musical” national tour. I went in thinking “Yeah, that’d be great,” not really knowing much about it. Basically, I went in for the audition and it was sort of the perfect track for me because they needed someone who could sing opera, as well as contemporary musical theater, so sort of right up my alley. The next day, I got the offer to do the tour, and kind of hard stop on a dime, “Ok, I’m going to do this now.” Couple weeks later, I started rehearsals for the tour and everything changed quickly. It was a really quick turnaround. It was like I was in the audition, and the next day I got a call from my agent saying they wanted me for the tour.
Can you walk me through a day in your life on tour?
Typically, I start with coffee. I’ve become sort of a coffee snob. I try to keep some coffee grounds and I have an electric kettle with me. It’s my morning zen routine. I usually sleep in kind of late, and then if it’s a nice day, I’ll go explore. First day in a new city, I like to walk around to see what a city has to offer – different restaurants, things like that. And then, in a perfect world, I would write for some time. Sometimes though, it gets pretty tiring so the creative juices aren’t flowing. But yeah, sort of hang out, maybe hang out with my girlfriend on tour. We actually met on tour, which is another favorite part of the tour. Anyone else in the cast, sometimes we do stuff during the day. But a lot of times, it’s conserving energy, finding that balance between doing things that fill me up. I’m sort of an introvert, so I like to recharge when I can, and then go do the show.
This is your national tour debut! Anything you want to say about that?
It’s really exciting! This whole experience has been a testament to never knowing what’s around the corner. Especially in an artistic pursuit, there’s a lot of unknowns in theater and you can never predict the next big thing for you, and this was definitely that. So it’s been a great opportunity to work with a fantastic director like Jerry Mitchell and the artistic team that’s a part of this. It’s been a blessing.
How is a touring production different from your previous theater experiences?
For me, a lot of it is the repetition. This is the longest that I’ve done one show, so it’s staying fresh and finding new things and keeping your perspective in the right place. All of us are really fortunate to be employed at such a high level. Just keeping your spirits and your mental focus is the biggest challenge, I think, compared to a three month engagement. So it feels like after three months, you gotta keep trekking.
This is your first time performing at the Hippodrome. How do you feel about getting to come back and perform on this stage after growing up in the area?
It’s really cool! I remember being a kid and hearing on the radio “‘Wicked’ coming to the Hippodrome.” I feel like when I was a kid, I pictured the Hippodrome as this massive arena place. It’s incredible to now be one of those shows that’s coming to the Hippodrome, and to be a part of that is really special.
You play Alfredo, as well a member of the ensemble in the show?
I play a variety of characters in the ensemble. I play one of the Hollywood Boulevard party guys, I guess you could call them. I play a lawyer, I play the opera singer, and they’re all very different and serve the story in different ways. But it’s really cool to be playing the opera singer. It’s like “Oh, go do the thing that you have done for most of your life. Cool, I can do that.” The switch from theater to opera and back at this point is something that I’ve done a lot, and honestly the Army Chorus was great training for that. We would sing in a lot of different styles. I would sing stuff like the “Nessun Dorma,” which is obviously opera, and then the next day be singing “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel, or just a lot of back and forth sort of singing. So it’s become a bit second nature to me at this point in my career.
How did you feel on opening night of the tour?
It’s kind of hard to describe what we all felt, being able to put a show up at that capacity. The response of the audience was really surreal. Getting to line up for our bows at the end and getting to see a full house of people cheering and, we think, smiling. You couldn’t see their full faces, but it was really moving, I think for all of us, to be able to come back to that space that was so uplifting.
Do you have a favorite part of the show to perform?
I do love the opera part, but honestly, there's a moment at the beginning when Kit De Luca comes out – she’s Vivian’s friend obviously – and she’s got this big moment and she’s flanked by me and another actor playing her two friends from the club. We come out and it’s just this raucous, fun moment. It’s my first moment on stage and it's just super fun. For me, it’s like “Here we are! We’re doing the show!” I get to dance like a fool and pretend like I’m taking shots and it’s just a fun time.
What’s something you can’t live without backstage?
Honestly, water and a little bit stillness, when I can find it.
How often can you find it?
There are some good stretches when I can go to my dressing room and put in a podcast or read and just kind of settle. Especially a couple weeks into a run, it’s sometimes essential to take those little breaks when you can find them and save energy.
Is there a particular city that stands out, whether it’s because of a memorable performance, great food, etc?
In Minneapolis, people were out for different reasons and we had to keep the show afloat and modify certain things. Swings were on and there was this kind of new energy because it was like “Ok, the show must go on. How do we make this happen?” People were doing a variety of different new things in the show and injecting the show with new excitement. I think it was Minneapolis, if I’m not mistaken.
How do you feel about getting to work with Adam Pascal?
It’s really cool! And also really normal. You go into it and it’s like, obviously, it’s Adam Pascal. The legacy of “Rent” is just huge and kind of hard to describe. But then you’re working with him and he’s a normal guy. Sometimes we, especially members of the ensemble, we’re like “Oh yeah, we’re working with Roger from ‘Rent.’ That’s pretty crazy!” But it’s also like he’s just another guy, but bringing a wealth of experience at the same time.
Where do you see your career going? Do you think you want to stay in the realm of theater or leaning more toward songwriting and recording?
I think only time will tell for me. I still have a lot that I want to experience and accomplish on this side of the theater world. I’d love to be on Broadway. To play a lead on Broadway would be a dream. But I think ultimately, my heart is more of a writer, in terms of the long term. But who knows? I’m going to just keep following where doors open and I’ll keep stepping through. I’m going to just keep doing me, and hopefully the universe has something in mind.
Do you have a dream role that you’d love to play?
I’d love to play Fiyero on Broadway. “Wicked” was the first show I saw on Broadway, and recently, right before I went on tour, I saw it again. It’s still so magical. But seeing it now with a new perspective, like I’m now in this industry, I’m not just a kid, I can picture the backstage happenings. I can see myself on the stage and it’s kind of a new perspective. So I would love to be able to do that role to have that full circle moment for me.
Has covid impacted ”Pretty Woman?”
It’s impacted us a little bit. We had to cancel shows in Chicago and Washington DC over Christmas. But otherwise, we have been, knock on wood, able to keep pushing through, despite the covid.
What were you doing when covid hit?
I was ready to transition. I was in the Army. I was planning on getting out in April of 2020 and I had, I think, three shows lined up for that year in DC. Obviously all of those shows went away and it just pushed everything off a year, as with everybody. I ended up staying in the Army and extending my contract, so it really just postponed the inevitable.
What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
I would probably just say “Relax. You’re good.” Everything’s going to be ok. I give that advice to myself now. Growing up, I had a very driven older sibling, and I was a go with the flow kind of guy. I always felt like “What am I after?” and I’ve learned to trust that I’m the kind of person that follows my curiosity. As things come up in my life, I can trust that I’ll make good choices and keep exploring new things.
Do you see yourself staying with “Pretty Woman” for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, I’m going to be staying with them through the end of this tour, the first year of the tour. I signed on for another six months, so it’s exciting. There are a lot of cool cities, like LA; Portland, Oregon; Denver, so that’ll be exciting. There’s already stuff for the second year, so it’s got a life. Audiences are really loving it.
Feature Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Hippdrome
Full review of “Pretty Woman: The Musical” can be found below.