“There’s a wonderful park in Little Rock, Ark. And a really good one in Columbus, Ohio. I do feel like I should write a book about dog parks.”
Staudenmayer is not a dog-walker, nor an author, but rather an actor — an actor who, instead of flying from city to city on national tours, drives cross-country, accompanied by his 6-year-old Shetland, Mac.
Watching Staudenmayer adeptly wind his way to Seger Dog Park at 11th and Lombard streets, you’d think he was from the area, but the California native does his travel homework — researching the dog parks and dog-friendly spots in each of the cities he visits as he plans his trips.
Staudenmayer is a member of the cast of “Phantom of the Opera,” dazzling audiences at the Academy of Music through next month. He’s been on the road for four months as Monsieur André — one of the two new owners of the opera house that serves as the classic tale’s main setting — visiting such cities as Providence, R.I., Chicago and Columbus.
During his time in Philly, he made a stopoff to his lakehouse in suburban New York, which he shares with his partner of 17 years, Tom Hewitt. Before that, he hadn’t been home since before Thanksgiving — and won’t spend more than a few days home until his contract is up in November.
“It’s tough,” he said. “[Hewitt] really misses us. He comes out as much as he can; he just drove me to Columbus and was there for a week. We try to not go too long without seeing each other, six weeks is usually the max.”
Having Mac with him on the road, which he’s also done for tours on such productions as “Anything Goes,” helps ease that separation.
“The hard part is really being away from home and your loved ones and your normal life. But one of the reasons I love having the dog with me is I have something to go to that’s home,” he said. “Most people on tour don’t. Everyone takes some of their job home with them, but on tour, you’re with your coworkers all the time, and I think you take a lot more of your job home with you. So it’s been good to have him here. I’ll always have a piece of home with me.”
Before arriving on each leg of the tour, Staudenmayer makes sure to identify pet-friendly housing — whether it’s a hotel, group rental, a stay at friend Sally Struthers’ house or, in the case of Philly, a visit with his cousin — and plot out the local parks.
The day after opening night at the Academy, Staudenmayer and Mac took advantage of the finally seasonal temps to check out Seger; Mac, a skilled squirrel-chaser at home, spent nearly a half-hour chasing the reflected light from a mirror Staudenmayer carries in his pocket for the dog’s amusement.
After dropping the dog back at his cousin’s and grabbing a bite, Staudenmayer headed to the Academy, where he and Julia Udine, who plays Christine, fielded questions from reporters about the retooled production and their roles in a press junket in the Academy’s lobby.
By 1:15 p.m., as crowds amassed on the Academy steps for the 2 p.m. matinee, Staudenmayer was off to vocal warm-up and then back to his dressing room, whose mirror is adorned with a photo of Hewitt (and several of Mac), for makeup and costuming.
Getting prepped for the stage is old-hat for the theater veteran.
Staudenmayer, 43, was bit by the acting bug as a freshman in high school, when he was cast in “The Music Man,” still one of his favorite musicals.
“I was cast as Tommy, one of the supporting characters, the young dancer boy. I knew everybody’s line in that entire play.”
He went on to balance his extracurriculars with shows in the spring and football in the fall. By senior year, however, much to the dismay of his coach and his father, he opted for the fall production over the sport.
“It was a real dilemma at school and at home; my parents hated my drama teacher for it,” Staudenmayer said. “But she was a really great mentor, an ex-actress. I learned so much from her. And we actually ended up getting to bring that play to L.A. That led to a big competition in which we got first runner-up; I got a big scholarship from it. That was something that really helped me develop as a person and know where I wanted to go.”
That was to UCLA, where Staudenmayer studied acting.
He came out during college, to mixed reactions.
“It was eventful,” he said. “Mom said she always knew but she was upset about how people were going to treat me. She’s definitely a momma bear; my parents divorced when I was 5 so it was always me and her. She was a single mom and I was her latchkey kid. She wanted to do everything she could to protect me.”
The news was a bit harder to traverse with his dad, a “6-foot-4, 244-pound ex-cop” with whom he said he had a rocky past.
“He was the Hulk for Halloween and just painted himself green. He had these muscles. I didn’t really get all his genes; I got some of my mother and my uncle Larry — I know I have his ass,” he joked. “I play my father a lot. I was Gaston in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I knew how to play the chauvinist really well. But he changed a lot and really grew in his last few years and we became best buddies.”
After college, one of Staudenmayer’s first big breaks came with being cast in “Cats” in Hamburg, Germany. He spent a year-and-a-half in the show, which was cast with an amalgamation of non-German-speaking folk.
“It was a real melting pot. Germany was real big then on British musicals like ‘Cats’ and ‘Phantom,’” he said. “We spent two months rehearsing, which was in large part learning the language. They taught it to us phonetically. I learned to speak it well, but couldn’t really converse. I spoke German like a child; I called it Kinder-Deutsch.”
His time in Hamburg got Staudenmayer accustomed to big-city living and, upon his return, he made the jump to New York City.
While he occasionally does television commercials, live theater has always been his primary passion, he said.
“It was what I was good at. I always liked doing musicals and loved to sing. I’m a good queer, I love my showtunes,” he said. “But with commercials, they’re great and it’s good money, but they barely talk to you; you’re thrown out there and it’s not about creating a character and rehearsing. That medium is not an actor’s medium, it’s a director’s medium. I love being a live artist. I’m in charge of my performance. When I get on stage, I’m there and alive with the audience.”
The “live” part of live theater comes with its own ups and downs. Like all stage actors, Staudenmayer said he’s had to improvise for falling sets, grappled with technical problems and flubbed lyrics and lines.
“I lived the actor’s nightmare. I was an understudy in an off-Broadway show and was only a couple days into it and the other actor didn’t set his clock forward for Daylight Savings Time and didn’t show up, so they threw me on and I was still not ready to go,” he said. “I started laughing because I just didn’t know what I was doing and then I started to cry. But after it was over, it was the biggest high of my life; I lived the actor’s nightmare and I survived. It’s live theater and anything can happen. That’s the thrill of it.”
Staudenmayer’s Broadway credits include such roles as the White Rabbit in “Wonderland” and a spot opposite Martin Short in “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me,” and he’s also taken on roles in national tours of such shows as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
After landing the “Phantom” role, Staudenmayer and the rest of the cast spent about a month in rehearsal in New York City, followed by two weeks of rehearsals in the space where they opened in Providence.
“The whole process was about two months. We’d do previews and then learn what we could from the audience and make changes. We’re still in rehearsals; I have rehearsal tomorrow. I keep wondering, Didn’t we open this play? It’s like it never stops.”
Despite the hectic schedule, Staudenmayer said it’s been rewarding to be part of such a well-loved show, the first-ever production he saw on Broadway as a teen.
“I don’t get to do operas and I love classic opera pieces. Our number in particular is very intricate. It’s an octet and reminds me of Rossini operas with all the people singing. What Andrew Lloyd Webber did is brilliant; he took pieces that sound similar to old operas but aren’t the actual pieces and incorporated that sound into ‘Phantom.’ The music is fantastic and gorgeous and evokes that feeling of opera but it’s all in English so people can understand what we’re singing about. You get the joy of opera but you get to understand it. It’s thrilling to sing.”
When the Philly run ends April 12, Staudenmayer and Mac will pile into his car for the next engagements in Rochester, N.Y., and then it’s off to Ohio, followed by South Carolina.
While the tour has given Staudenmayer a firsthand look at the USA, he said traveling with a production like “Phantom” has also illustrated to him the impact theater can have on audiences.
“Traveling around this gorgeous country really makes you appreciate what we have and makes me proud to be an American. I get sentimental driving through some places, especially places that you don’t think are going to be great, like Kansas. Kansas is freakin’ gorgeous. When the sun hits the right way, it’s beautiful,” he said. “Bringing this big show that people love so much in this new version is really exciting. You see people at the stage door and they’re so excited, and that really makes you feel good, like you’re doing something important.”
Catch Staudenmayer in “Phantom of the Opera” through April 12. For more information or tickets, visit www.kimmelcenter.org.