But not Michael Coale Grey. It’s what he knows and how well he can deliver it that got him the job as a member of the ensemble in “Elf,” this season’s holiday offering at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ.
Grey, 22, spent nine years as a member of Paper Mill’s Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory — “I grew up there!” — getting to know members of the artistic staff and his way around a theater.
But for the Union, NJ, resident, it was his fourth audition for a show at the “Broadway in your backyard” theater that earned him a coveted spot in the “Elf” cast. (His previous PM auditions included “Newsies,” “High School Musical” and “Grease.”)
“People like Patrick Parker (Paper Mill’s Associate Artistic Director) knew me and we had a good relationship, but the casting director didn’t know who I was,” Grey explains. “They don’t cast you just because you worked there when you were a kid.
“I knew ‘Elf’ was on the schedule this season and that auditions were going to be late summer/early fall. I checked Playbill.com to figure out exactly when there were auditions for the open dance call. I got called back in to read, and dance again. Then a week and half later I got a call I got the job.
Check one off the bucket list
“It’s kinda surreal coming back as professional working here. It’s been kind of a dream of mine that when I grew up and was a professional, I could check working here off my bucket list. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Every day I’m thankful for the fact I was able to learn my craft at Paper Mill.”
Grey, who earned a BFA in Music Theatre at the Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre (the performing arts conservatory of the University of the Hartford, West Hartford, Conn.), considers himself mostly a character actor. At school, he played PT Barnum in “Barnum,” Cosmo Brown in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Ugly in “Honk,” King in “Big River,” The Governor in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and Phaedra in “La Cage aux Folles.”
He plays many roles in “Elf,” — including an elf, office worker, pedestrian — and has about a dozen costume changes, some of which have to be accomplished in 30 seconds.
“There is definitely a whole separate show going on backstage. There’s a lot of specific tracking so we know where to be at all times. One wrong step and you can get hit by a set piece. Everyone is very good at their job and are watching out for each other and it all comes together. It’s definitely exhilarating.
“I have nightmares about it, though. You have to trust you have all the right pieces on when you walk out onstage, but sometimes you don’t have time to look down and check yourself out.”
What’s next for Michael
At the time of our telephone interview just before “Elf” opened Nov. 31, Grey had no idea what his next job would be after the show closes Jan. 4.
What he does know is that he wants to do it all.
“I’ve been focusing on the stage. That’s what I went to school for and that’s where my passion is. I definitely have a strong interest in TV and film. I’m also writing my own scripts.”
Meanwhile, Grey plans to keep auditioning, auditioning, auditioning.
Learn more about Michael Coale Grey:
To visit his website, click here.
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Check out his Facebook page here.
“Elf” is based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell with a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. “Elf” is directed by Eric Ankrim with choreography by Josh Rhodes.
The production also will feature an autism-friendly performance, coat and toy drive.
For tickets and more information, click here.