Popular SF Bay Area stage actor takes a crack at Hunchbackadmin
Now playing Quasimodo in Bay Area Musicals’ production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” based on the Disney movie of the same name, Alex Rodriguez has been a consistent standout in production after production all over the Bay Area in the last decade.
Not to be confused with the baseball player of the same name, the charismatic Rodriguez has delighted local audiences as the Emcee in “Cabaret” and Che in “Evita” with Broadway by the Bay, Bat Boy at Altarena Playhouse, the flamboyant Mr. Paravicini in Shotgun Players’ “The Mousetrap,” Gomez Addams in Berkeley Playhouse’s “Addams Family” and Morgan Freeman and a campy velociraptor in “Triassic Parq” with Ray of Light Theatre. The list goes on and on.
He’s also an up-and-coming choreographer, as seen in Ray of Light’s recent all-female “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Victoria Theatre, where “Hunchback” is playing now.
Growing up in Orange County, Rodriguez says he came to theater relatively late.
“I actually started off as an instrumentalist when I was a child,” he says. “Theater wasn’t essentially something that I grew up with, because those programs had been cut. It was my days in marching band when I had to hum melodic lines, and people were like, ‘You have a really great voice!’ I was like, ‘Pfft, whatever.’”
An impromptu try-out changed all that.
“On the spur of the moment I auditioned for a community college production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ after I graduated from high school, and that’s kind of how I got started in theater,” Rodriguez recalls. “It was the perfect amalgamation of all the things I love to do, to really feel emotion, to really sing, to really express, and everybody there wanted to do the same thing. And then I went from production to production to production. Fast forward to a couple years after that and I landed the national tour of ‘Miss Saigon’ and toured with that for many years.”
Although the hump itself is taken care of in costuming, playing the musical’s titular character offers a very different set of demands than the roles Rodriguez has played in the past.
“It’s probably one of the most demanding physical and vocal parts I’ve played in a very long time,” he says. “I’ve played some great parts that just happened to be standing upright, but this part actually requires me to remain in a semi-squat and hunched over for two and some-odd hours. In addition to that, he’s climbing ropes, swinging from ropes, picking up people, throwing them around — all this in addition to belting some beautiful songs.”
Meanwhile, Quasimodo is a different person when he’s on his own, as he has been for most of his life, than when he tries to communicate with anyone else.
“One of the trickier parts is that when Quasimodo is talking in his inner world, he sounds a lot like I sound right now, but when he actually interacts with the world outside of that, his vocal mannerisms and the quality of his voice are completely different,” Rodriguez says. “He hasn’t had a lot of interaction with people, and the bells are so loud that it’s made him almost completely deaf.”
Like a lot of his past roles, Rodriguez says the lead in “Hunchback” wouldn’t have occurred to him as a part for him to play until someone suggested it.
“The more that I dove deeper into it, I was like, this really speaks to me,” he says. “Because he’s an outcast. I think it says a lot about accepting people that are different from us. For me that really resonated. Especially in this time now, it’s more important than ever to really start to show that compassion to others that we maybe perceive as different from the rest of us.”
Contact Sam Hurwitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.
‘THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME’
By Peter Parnell, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, based on the Disney film and the novel by Victor Hugo, presented by Bay Area Musicals
Through: Aug. 5
Where: Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., San Francisco
Tickets: $20-$65; www.bamsf.org