Long before Glee hit the airwaves, the high school choir was widely recognized as the best place to hide out for those who were a little different.
When David Hohl, performer in the new musical revue Off-Broadway On Stage, was growing up in the tiny southwestern Ontario town of New Hamburg, he, too, found solace among his school’s warbling misfits. Not a performer by nature, he stumbled on the club by accident when the teacher in charge, hoping to boost membership and clocking him as a bit of an outsider, encouraged Hohl to join.
“I wasn’t exactly the coolest kid in Grade 9,” he laughs. “I wasn’t good at sports and I was kind of fat. But I was never bullied by the artsy kids. The choir and the drama club were the places where I found a lot of my confidence. By the time I was in my last year, I was pretty popular and I was able to develop a sense of self I could take out into the real world.”
Not unlike a storyline in the aforementioned Fox oeuvre, Hohl’s extracurriculars also nudged along his coming-out process. His first gay experience was in Grade 10, when he and another drama student decided to get it on one day after rehearsal.
“I have to make sure my parents don’t read this,” he laughs. “I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time, and I went back to dating girls after that. If I had gotten a girl pregnant in high school, I might very well have stayed straight. But it’s a good thing I didn’t because I would have been lying to everyone.”
Thankfully there were no unexpected buns in ovens, and Hohl departed for Sheridan’s musical theatre program after his senior year.
He wrapped up there last spring, and Off-Broadway is his first big gig since graduating. An intriguing launch pad for a budding musical theatre geek, the program features songs from numerous shows born in New York’s smaller theatres rolled into one evening. Don’t come expecting Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim. This night features the talents of folks like William Finn and Jason Robert Brown. If those names aren’t familiar, don’t worry. Though they’re virtual unknowns outside musical theatre circles, they’re also some of the industry’s best.
“Off-Broadway shows are working with smaller budgets and can’t have the wow factor of the big productions,” Hohl says. “But they’re often a lot more interesting because of that. They can take bigger risks because they don’t have to worry about selling 2,000 tickets a night, and they also pay a lot more attention to craft.”
The evening is at once a greatest-hits package and a dig through the crates for some curious rarities. Some of the shows featured, like Avenue Q and The Fantasticks, have turned out to be big moneymakers, going on to long runs and becoming household names. Others, like Violet and The Wild Party, are virtual unknowns that failed to get a second production after the premiere. Unfortunately for would-be composers and lyricists, the dog-eat-dog world of New York theatre often means shows that fail to turn a profit fast are quickly relegated to the dustbin of history.
“Some of these shows were almost Fringe-type productions that were in development but never took off,” says Hohl. “If you love musicals, it’s an opportunity to hear some things you would never have the chance to otherwise. All of these shows are a little different from the standard fare most people are used to. But that’s what makes them great.”
Off Broadway On Stage
Off Broadway On Stage
Wed, Dec 7-Sun, Dec 11 at 8pm
Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre
5040 Yonge St