"I do it because I love it". Many performers remain in this highly competitive and sometimes ruthless industry because of this reasoning. David Elder is no exception. The theater business can be a cruel place. Shows can open and close in a period of days. Grueling rehearsal time, constant auditions among thousands of hopefuls, and the fear of never working again face actors all the time. Amidst these realities, David Elder says "I followed my heart." "It is a dream come true."
Yes, indeed there are rewards. One single performance can have a tremendous impact on an audience. This describes David perfectly. You see, his stage presence is exhilarating and powerful. It is no wonder he has fans waiting for him after each performance. This alone can validate a career in theater.
David is a southern guy, hailing from Houston, Texas. He's lost most of the accent, but still shows that famous southern hospitality and kindness. His brother, sister, and parents are still down there but David, being the determined, driven individual that he is, realized the limitations of living in Houston and moved onward and upward. His parents, who he describes as "simple folk" are a "bit shy and distant of what I do, yet completely amazed and supportive." From the time he was a youngster and was in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the passion never ceased. He followed the advice of his dad who simply said "do something you enjoy."
David describes himself as a singer, actor, dancer, and comfortable at all three. He is inspired by quality work and only this is what he gives, be it in Broadway productions of Guys and Dolls, Titanic, Beauty and the Beast, or as Joe Hardy opposite Jerry Lewis in the acclaimed national tour of Damn Yankees. David was last seen on Broadway in Once Upon A Mattress, starring Sarah Jessica Parker where he covered and performed the role of Sir Harry.
I met up with David in his dressing room at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre just a couple of days before his last performance in Titanic.
EF - Where are you from originally?
DE - I'm originally from Houston, Texas.
EF - Wow, not even an accent.
DE - Nah, sometimes when I get really tired it comes out (laughing). I was there for about 20 years. My parents are still there. My dad works with cars. He fixes the bodies of cars and has been for over thirty years. My brother and sister are both married and they both still live in the out-lying areas.
EF - How was it growing up there? Did you like it?
DE - Yes, I definitely liked it. When I got old enough to realize that I wanted to perform, I realized the limitation of living in any city other than New York. It starts to feel like a really small town when it comes to options of what to perform. That is when I started to get tired of where I was because I felt there was nothing there for me.
EF - So, you moved up here?
DE - Well, I was going to school down there and got a job at Opryland USA in Nashville. I was able to start working on different crafts associated with the performing arts.
EF - Where did you go to school?
DE - University of Houston. I was a major in voice performance.
EF - When did you graduate?
DE - I didn't graduate. I went for three years and everything was very classical, from the musical training to the piano. It didn't feel like that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to dance, move, perform. I was into gymnastics since I was about eight years old. A friend of mine did it and I tried. It became a passion. For a while I thought I was going to be Jimmy Connors since I had been playing tennis since I was seven. Singing, however, was always a constant since kindergarten. I decided to go to college to be a singer. I wanted to be on a Broadway stage, singing at the top of my lungs. I felt like I got to do that with Damn Yankees. I reached that dream.
EF - Is there a story your parents always tell about you? You know parents always have some incredible story they always tell about their kids.
DE - The only thing I can think of that is interesting is about my dad. Every time he came to see a show I was in, he was boggled. He was amazed I could do it because he didn't know where I learned it from. He didn't pay or knew I was taking any kind of lessons. It is sort of funny when I think of their reaction. They are just simple folk. They are a bit shy and distant of what I do yet completely amazed and supportive. I know they are proud. My dad always said "do something you enjoy". I followed my heart, not really knowing I could make a career out of it.
EF - Do you remember your very first production?
DE - In my senior year, the first real show I ever did was You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I played Snoopy. It was a simple thing with the drama club. It was a lot of fun. I remember thinking how euphoric it felt to do everything in the show, whether it be the singing or the handstands. This show planted the seed for me regarding my interest in performing arts.
EF - How do you prepare for an audition? At this point, are you at ease at an audition?
DE - No, never. What has happened to me is when I was at Opryland I was told I was a dancer but my love was singing. When I moved to New York the dancing got me in the door doing the Radio City Christmas and Easter shows. I was working with Linda Haberman who was assisting Kristen Chadman on Guys and Dolls. They lost a guy right in the beginning and they needed somebody to be a member of the ensemble and cover Scott Wise. That is how it all happened. It was electric to be in that show.
EF - How long were you in the show?
DE - I was in it for about a year. I did six months at first. This guy came back from disability and I left for two months to do the Miss America Pageant.
EF - That is cool!
DE - Yeah, I danced on the Miss America Pageant for four years. It was really fun. I came back to Guys and Dolls because Scott Wise left to do The Goodbye Girl. They needed somebody to take over for him so I did that for 6 months. To this day it is the hardest number I've ever had to do.
EF - Was there someone who had a big influence in your life, perhaps a mentor?
DE - For me without a shadow of a doubt, it would be Gene Kelly. I've always felt connected to him and his work. He embodied what I wanted to be.
EF - Is there something specific that inspires you?
DE - Quality work. You see something that is good and it stands on its own. That has an impact on me. I'm inspired by people who want to do good work.