RICK FAUGNO- SONG AND DANCE MAN
By Jennifer Buonantony
I met Rick Faugno at a PT's Gold restaurant just south of the Las Vegas strip, a favorite chain for a town with more glitzy establishments. But Faugno, doesn't need all the song and dance. He's humble, down-to-earth, and to my pleasant surprise shows up with his equally talented wife Joyce (a Broadway star in her own right) by his side. Ironic, for a man who truly is bringing the 'song and dance' back to Sin City starting at his new home at the iconic Las Vegas Hilton.
Faugno, is no stranger to the limelight. He has been performing on Broadway since age twelve, boasts a degree in fine arts from the prestigious New York University, opened Jersey Boys here in Vegas, and was named the 'Best Singer in Las Vegas' in 2009 by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His recent film turn as Alexander Mann in the feature Virgin Alexander, currently in the festival circuit, is racking up awards and buzz including a 'Best Performance' nod for Rick at the recent Orlando Film Festival. But his current one man show Body & Soul at the Las Vegas Hilton is the real testament to his career as an entertainer.
Q: When did you first start your career as a performer?
R: I started off with my first Broadway show when I was twelve years old. I just sort of fell into the audition. Actually, prior to that, when I was four years old I had my first dance lesson. My parents just put me into a dance class, a tap class, and wanted to see how I would take to it. I really enjoyed it. I started with tap which developed into me taking jazz and ballet and then I started taking voice lessons. Then when I was twelve, I just fell into an audition for this show called Will Rogers Follies and it was this big brand new Braodway show. Tommy Tune was the director/choreographer and all these big heavy hitters where putting it together and I got the role without even really trying. But it didn't phase me at the time because I hadn't really done anything before that. I'd only done an industrial for Sesame Street Vitamins when I was ten. So I was like, 'Okay, yeah, Broadway, no big deal; it didn't phase me'.
Q: After that initial show, what was your career trajectory?
R: I haven't done as many shows on Broadway as my wife. She's done twelve and I've done five. (I turn ever so slightly to Joyce, 'Don't worry, we will interview you next!') She kind of puts me to shame. I shouldn't be doing this interview with her sitting next to me. But I really enjoyed performing on Broadway and once I did that first show I knew that, that was what I wanted to do for a living. I knew I didn't want to do anything else; I couldn't do anything else. And so I did it... I started auditioning, started really going for it full time and being a show biz kid. I grew up in Sparta, N.J. which is about an hour from the city but with traffic it could be almost two hours either way. My parents were supportive and would drive me back and forth. Then I did another show on Broadway when I was fourteen and throughout high school, I did shows here and there. Soon after, I started working as an adult professionally. I did some more Broadway shows and regional theater. My wife and I met on a show that Julie Andrews directed called The Boy Friend. We were dance partners together so that's how our relationship started. We subsequently did a few more Broadway shows together.
J:(Chiming in) We did a Broadway show called Wonderful Town together and then I opened Jersey Boys with him here. That's when we made the move out to Vegas.
Q: How do you like living in this town?
R: It was a culture shock when we first moved out here.
J: It was a big adjustment the first six months. Also when we arrived, summer had just hit. It was an early summer and a very long, particularly hot summer that year. So it was hard.
R: It was something we weren't used to coming from the east coast. The weather can be really extreme, it can go to 115 degrees in the summer to 30 degrees at night in the winter.
Q: What was it like for you both opening up Jersey Boys here and how long did that show run for each of you?
J: I did Jersey Boys for a year because we started in San Francisco before Vegas, but seven months here. Then I went back to choreograph some tours and a Broadway show and do some other performing on the east coast.
R: For me, I made a career out of it here. I was with the show in Vegas for three and a half years. So really, five years total because we did a national tour for a year or so and then they brought me to Las Vegas to open the show here. Last month was my last show.
Q: When did you decide to go on your own and start your solo act, your current one-man show Body & Soul? How did that come to be?
R: It's been happening for a while. A couple of years ago, I put together my first one-man show and Joyce helped me on it. She sort of acted as artistic director. It was my first thing outside of Jersey Boys and it was just me.
Q: There must be a lot of pressure when carrying a show by yourself. What is that like?
R: It is.
J: It is a lot of pressure, especially with what he did. It was a real 'song and dance' show, like major dancing. Even though he does dance in his new show, in his first show he was doing triplet pirouettes and tours and leaps and he was really dancing. He doesn't do that extent of dancing in the new show.
R: It was more Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly dance stuff.
J: More theater. The second show is more vintage Vegas.
R: I liken my new show to more of a modern day Sammy Davis Jr. kind of club show. It's a real variety act because I do everything from singing to tap dancing. I play the drums sometimes; I play piano a couple of songs- I wrote a few songs on the piano. I have a rapport with the audience and it's really an old school Vegas type of show. It's fun I'm having a blast and one of my main motivations for doing this is because, and even with the last show, I was looking around in Vegas and seeing that no one was really doing this kind of thing anymore. Coming from New York, that's all people do, is what we do, and when we came out to Vegas we didn't really see the song and dance man or woman anywhere. I really wanted to bring that back and show people that this kind of entertainment still exists.
Q: When you think of song and dance performers that are mainstream, even in television and film, the one that comes to my mind, off the top of my head, is Hugh Jackman. Do you see yourself as having that type of stage and screen career?
R: Hugh Jackman is amazing. He's really mastered that craft of being able to perform on stage and in films and do exactly what it is that I want to do.
J: And be really good at it, he's really good at it.
R: Yes, he is. He can act and sing and dance; that's exactly what I want to do.
J: Don't forget, Jackman started in musical theater like us.
Q: What's your favorite thing about being up on stage and performing live?
R: My favorite thing is the energy and the connection I get from the live audience. Especially....well, my most favorite thing is when I am really in the groove and I can feel the audience is there with me. It's that energy that you feed off of and you know the audience is right there for the ride.
J: You are in creative control and can feel everything that you are doing.
Q: How do you keep the performances fresh night after night, even though your are performing the same show?
R: It's a lot easier with this type of show because I have total creative control over whatever I do.
J: And (to Rick) you've been changing things. He says, 'You know what, I am going to try this song' and works it in.
R: That's true. I say to my band, 'You know what guys, let's not do this song this week. Let's put in this song instead and we work it in. We'll work on one song over the course of two or three weeks and we'll shift that one in and take something else out. We'll change up the dialogue that I have and put in different jokes and change dance numbers. So creatively, it's freeing. When you do a show eight times a week with other cast like with Jersey Boys it's locked in. It has to be and you can't change it. So this is different.
Q: You just shot the film Virgin Alexander. Tell me about that film and your role?
R: The writer-directors Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon actually live here in Henderson and they came to see me in Jersey Boys one night and saw me in the role of Frankie Valli and thought I was perfect for the role in their film. So they cast me from the show, which 99% of the time never happens, and in this one occasion, it happened to me. I read the script and I loved it, so I took three weeks off from the show and went to film it in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Q: Virgin Alexander just won awards at both the Vegas and Orlando film festivals. What was that recognition like for you? Are you busy promoting the film?
R: It won 'Best Feature' at the Las Vegas Film Festival, the Black Hills South Dakota Film Festival, and Washington D.C. Film Festival. I won 'Best Performance' at the Orlando Film Festival. We really just hope to see it go to theaters now and I think it will. I'm doing a little bit of promotion. I went to the screening in NY for the Friar's Club Film Festival. I know the writer-directors are going to the Chicago Film Festival next. They are building an amazing buzz and I think they've been at practically every film festival that there is across the country these last few months. Like every two or three weeks they are at another one; they are hard working.
R: It is totally different. Being in front of a camera is a completely different art form then being in front of an audience on stage. One's much more broad and one's much more subtle, but I really enjoy doing both. I really would love to do more films and I love that form of performing, acting as much as I do being on stage.
Q: What type of roles do you see yourself playing? Do you have any upcoming film or television projects?
R: At the moment nothing is set. I am busy with the show, but I am actively working to line up future film projects. As for roles, I am open to anything really.
J: I see him playing the James Franco type roles. Also, he can be very nerdy and goofy.
R: Let's not say that in the article (chuckles).
J: He can come off as a serious guy, but he can also be very silly.
R: I would love to have a career like Franco has or a wide range of roles like Al Pacino or De Niro where they can go from say Cape Fear to King of Comedy. To be able to do that wide of a range as an actor is really what I'd like for my career.
J: Also with Rick's musical talents and there being so many more movie-musicals being made, I think it's a good time and a good fit for him.
R: I'd love to do a movie-musical remake like An American in Paris.
Q: Is there anyone you really admire or hope to work with, be it actors or directors, stage or film?
R: That's a hard and interesting question. There are a lot of different people I'd like to work with. But one of the film directors I want to work with is Martin Scorsese. I've always enjoyed his films and his directing. For actors, probably Daniel Day Lewis. He always comes to mind for me because he completely transforms. I think it would be interesting to work with someone like him because I think he comes from where I come from as far as his approach to acting goes. I am maybe not as extreme as him, but he is somebody who totally becomes the character. The line between the actor and the character disappears because he doesn't just pretend to be that person, he really becomes that person. I think that is the best way to become a character, to actually live it.
Q: What do the two of you like to do in your spare time when you are not busy on stage?
J: Well I just got here actually this week. We've been apart for nine months because I was back east working. I've been in NY performing in Anything Goes playing Virtue. But I left to come out here and be with Rick. After nine months of being apart, we couldn't do it anymore. So I am just getting used to Vegas again.
R: We are just getting used to being in the same house again (chuckles)!
J: So yeah, I am just moving back into the house and having my stuff shipped out.
R: It's definitely an adjustment but it's nice to have her in the same house again because, the texting and Skype and those things help, but it's just not the same.
Q: What's your favorite song that you perform or part of the show you look forward to each night?
R: You know this is actually the first time anyone has asked me this question. I used to get asked about my favorite Jersey Boys song all the time but never for my new show. Probably, I really enjoy singing the songs that I wrote, the originals that I get to sit down and play at the piano, that are my songs. I get to have a band back me up and that's a first for me, having written songs that are completely my own and play them for the first time that anyone is ever hearing them and have a live band back me up; it's really special.
J: - I have to say that this came about because of Virgin Alexander, him playing the piano again. I didn't even know that he could play the piano.
R: My character in Virgin Alexander is a scrap hauler. They have a truck and he and a co-worker pick up all this bulk crap. And then one day, they come upon a piano in an alley way. They basically steal the piano because the guy in the bar isn't really getting rid of it, it just happens to still be in the alleyway when they come by. So they tie it up to the back of the truck and they take it to his house. And what he really wants is to be a music teacher, that's his real passion. He auditions for a college to get a scholarship.
J: So Rick had to play for this film. So every night after filming, Rick would be in the Virgin Alexander house where a lot of the scenes were filmed and he would be working on stuff he'd have to film later in the week with the film's musical director Simon Katz. Then the day of the shoot, I was in the theater when they shot it, and I was thinking, 'Who are you, playing this piano?' And then, the directors Charlotte and Sean had the piano sent out here as a gift when they finished filming. They shipped it here and it now lives in our house. And it's kind of possessed Rick I have to say.
R: It's like an old honky tonk piano. It's a piano that's had a long life, it's from 1928 and it's an old upright piano. They had it shipped on a trailer hitch all the way form NY and they actually originally got it for free off of Craig's List. So they paid it forward to me.
J: I just think it's interesting...because of the movie, there was this piano and it awakened this music in Rick and now it comes into his show with his original songs.
Q: What do you like about playing at the Las Vegas Hilton?
R: I really enjoy playing in the Shimmer Lounge. I think it's a great room. The Hilton is a landmark. It's got a lot of history with all the acts that have been there over the years, specifically Elvis who performed there back when it was the International Hotel in the 1970's. That was his main home when he was in Vegas, so that's something I always talk about in my show. It's just a neat piece of history that I get to be a part of. But I also love the club itself because it's kind of like stepping back in time in a way. It's got that old Vegas feel and it's a great club. I like being in that atmosphere; I feel like I am at home.
Q: What do you want your fans to take away from your show or what is the best compliment you've received from a fan?
R: My best compliment would be that they thought that I was like Sammy Davis Jr., like the white Sammy Davis Jr. (laughs). But that is the best compliment that I could receive. I just hope they appreciate the many things that I enjoy doing, the versatility that I have as a performer. That's the best compliment that I could get.
Q: I recently read a review of your show in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Mike Weatherford that praised your performance and also drew comparisons between you and Caesars Palace headliner Matt Goss, who I actually also recently interviewed. Have you seen his show and how do you think your shows compare and fit into the scheme of what Vegas entertainment has to offer?
R: Yes, I have seen his show and I do think we are similar in a lot of ways. He structures his show differently than I do. He has a bigger budget so he has extra things that are cool like a video screen and show girls. I don't have those elements but I think we come from a place that is similar. Matt is bringing back that sort of Rat Pack vibe, that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin kind of feel. And he's also feeding in his own material like me. Whereas we are not alike, is he doesn't dance and that is something that is a large part of my show.
J: They are both entertainers not impersonators and they both put on a great one man show and that is good for Vegas all around.
Q: Are you involved in any charity work? I heard you will be on air with K-Jewel radio coming up for a hunger drive.
R: Yes, we will be doing a thing with the local K-Jewel 104.7 radio station here to help fight hunger. I'll be on air for about an hour and we are also very involved with Toys for Tots. I also donate regularly to Three Square which is another food donation charity.
J: We're big into food!
R: It's my Italian background I think (chuckles). We want people to eat.
Q: Any fun or quirky things about you that your fans should know?
R: (To Joyce) Maybe she should answer that one!
J: You know, even though Rick doesn't really do impersonations in his one-man show, although he does do one maybe for thirty seconds, he can do great impersonations. He can do voices. He has this crazy ear for voices, especially cartoons and wild characters. He can do Family Guy to Beavis and Butt-Head to Austin Powers.
Q: Do you think you'd like to do voice-over work as you move more into a film career. Maybe voice a cartoon?
R: Hey, I'll take it (laughs)! I am a bit of a whore when it comes to that stuff. Any work you want to give me, I'll take it. As long as it's good and it's challenging, I will take it. But for now, I feel lucky to be doing what it is I have here in Vegas.
Q: Speaking of what you are doing here in Vegas, how much time do you spend rehearsing for your show?
R: It's a lot. My show is very high energy and it requires a lot of preparation both vocally and physically. I have to have a lot of stamina because I am singing and dancing a lot at the same time.
J: He will start going through his whole show at our house a few days before a performance. And he will say, 'I need some time alone'. He will go through the show from start to finish because it does; it takes a lot of energy and stamina to do it.
R: You can find yourself up there sometimes and not be totally prepared and feel like you are going to collapse because you haven't prepared enough even if you think you have. It takes a lot of focus.
Q: How long is your show running for and do you see yourself staying in Vegas?
R: It's open ended. And I do. I see myself on the west coast, Vegas, LA. We own a house in Vegas now. We bought a house last year and we've made Vegas our home so I will be between here and LA for the foreseeable future.
A future that will most definitely include a myriad of opportunities both on stage and on screen. But for now, Vegas is happy to keep this 'Jersey Boy's' song and dance in its midst. Perhaps, Sammy Davis Jr. said it best, "My home has always been show business."