Woodstock Playhouse’s homegrown stars highlight 42nd Street

Brittany Cattaruzza and Tommy Joscelyn.

Tommy Joscelyn’s legs seem to bound forever. A tall guy, he’s got the build and sense of movement of a Ray Bolger or Tommy Tune, the singing chops of a young Astaire or Kelly. He opens the Woodstock Playhouse’s new season’s opening musical 42nd Street with aplomb, running the dancing line/chorus through its stage moves like the true Broadway professional he plays.

Joscelyn knows this award-winning musical well, having come to the Playhouse production from a touring road version of it that’s filled much of his past two years.

Moreover, Woodstock Playhouse co-founder and vice president Doug Farrell recalls when a much younger Joscelyn got his own first shot in that line as a nine year old rising up through the ranks at the West Hurley-based New York Conservatory of the Arts, which Farrell and Randy Conti founded 30 years ago and still run simultaneous to their Woodstock endeavors. As well as when Joscelyn first showed up for dance classes at the age of four.

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“I grew up in the Uptown Kingston area,” the now-25 Joscelyn said after the recent weekend’s performances were done with and he and fiancee Brittany Cattaruzza, who plays the show’s lead Peggy Sawyer, readied to head back home to New York City for the week. “NYCA was full spectrum; it made me a triple threat in dancing, singing and acting. My dad had been with them in NYCA’s early years, and still talks about all the work he’d do on their shows. He had started acting at SUNY Ulster when he met Randy and Doug…”

Cattaruzza, also 25 and born and raised in the New Haven, Connecticut area, notes how jealous she is of the experience the Conservatory provided her soon-to-be-husband. She didn’t have the chance to get involved in theater until she was in high school, and even there was dissuaded from pushing her dance, singing and acting skills simultaneously.

“Growing up I didn’t know you could go to school for theater,” she said. “I took tap lessons, which I loved. And from there it snowballed. Finding 42nd Street was what I was always looking for, it played right into all my dreams.”

As the newcomer to Broadway, Cattaruzza’s Peggy Sawyer embodies the show’s audition-to-star plot, and holds down it’s fast-tapping, ballad-belting sense of classic musical theater style. But offstage, she’s quick to highlight the struggles she and Joscelyn, as well as all of the Woodstock Playhouse’s young casts, work through to keep their dreams engaged.

The two met in the well-respected theater arts program at Wagner College, on Staten Island. They say they’ve lived in three of NYC’s other boroughs since leaving school, and have learned how to match a theater professional’s “survival jobs” with their main focus of taking classes with notable teachers, auditioning as much as possible, and saving room for commercials, TV walk-ons, and the road shows that can make a career.

He toured with 42nd Street from August, 2015 through last July; she took over (understudying her present role) from December through May, with just two weeks off before her current run in Woodstock.

“The trick is surviving the survival jobs,” Cattaruzza  said with a laugh.

“It’s tricky for people our age, what with student debts,” Joscelyn added. “You have to focus on making money and save every nickel but also keep your focus on the theater.”

Both said that the all-inclusive nature of touring shows and summer repertory helped. They both felt the challenges involved, learning productions in a matter of days, was part of their training…and dreams.

He moves on, after 42nd Street, to the role of Bert in Mary Poppins. She doesn’t have a next role lined up yet. As for their wedding plans…no date yet. But their sense of commitment to each other seems as strong as their triple threat commitments to the stage.

Farrell, after reminiscing about the four year old Tommy Joscelyn taking classes with “Miss Connie,” went on to note how mature the young man has become, always pushing himself further “as theater folk do.” And he added how special it’s been to have two people come to the Woodstock Playhouse from the touring production of 42nd Street this year, including a NYCA graduate who, it turns out, also appeared in the Playhouse’s very first production, of A Chorus Line, seven summers ago.

He said that to date, there’ve been about 140 performers in Playhouse productions, some repeating season to season, and thousands of NYCA students now gone on to careers all over the theater world, from the Broadway production of Book of Mormon to teaching positions at Yale and other top schools.

“They’re all over the place,” Farrell added. “Just this Spring we had somebody join us for Seussical who’d started with NYCA at age 12, went on to study theater in college and then time in the military, and then returned to our stage after moving back to the community.”

Joscelyn  mused about how he still likes to go over to the Conservatory when he returns to his Kingston-area home “every chance I get.” He’s taught workshops there, including all he was learning while on the road tour of 42nd Street, and has even been back to Kingston High regularly to check in with teachers there.

“I grew up at NYCA,” he added. “They’re my theater home, just like Woodstock Playhouse is my theater home, too.”

Cattaruzza noted how she first met Randy and Doug from NYCA/Woodstock Playhouse when the national tour hit West Point and they came down to get to know her.

“I’d gotten all the background,” she added. “It was like meeting family.”

Asked how they were moving forward, beyond auditions and classes, the couple mentioned how up-and-comers were also learning gymnastics now, as well as playing instruments.

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“Our job is to soak up as much of this world as we can. Our job is to live life and learn from it,” she said. “I just love the chance to put shows up on stage in ten days. It’s a great experience, especially when you’re also helping kids younger than you along.”

She added that she was wanting to direct some, and serving as a dance captain whenever possible. He brought up his work as an assistant choreographer, a job he performs with 42nd Street, and the role all professionals play “cleaning” a show, ensuring that it’s always running as tight as possible.

“You know what makes me feel great,” added Farrell, speaking of the NYCA/Playhouse family’s latest proteges. “Someone came up to me during intermission this weekend and said he wanted to let me know how what we were doing was real theater. He raved about how we were capturing the excitement, the joy, the wonder of the stage. Then he introduced himself as a Broadway playwright who’d headed the writing program at Carnegie Mellon, my alma mater. Talk about a fantastic…he was heading off to urge everyone he knew to come up and see what we’re doing here.”

Farrell added that the Playhouse’s new season, which kicked off with a gala last weekend, is already doing “better than ever” with audiences, sponsorships, and partnerships. And more importantly, with getting he and Conti’s vision of musical theater’s undying benefits across to both audiences and performers.

“We share our love for a great show,” he said.

“They taught me what I want to do,” added Tommy Joscelyn.

At which point his leading lady, Brittany Cattaruzza, gave him both a smile and a hug… neither staged.