In Part Three of a series of interviews with the cast of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, meet Rinaldo Martinez who plays J. Pierrepont Finch.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers how long you have been in the Chorus and what the Chorus has meant to you. Also, tell us about one of the most moving experiences you have had since becoming a member of the Chorus.
My name is Rinaldo Martinez. It’s a mouthful, even for my parents, so they’ve always called me Rini, and most of my friends do as well. I joined the Chorus in September 2016, having just moved to DC from Manhattan the February prior. The move to DC had been in the works for years, and one of my goals if/when I moved was to get back into the performing arts, and I was able to do just that thanks to the Chorus.
There has been such a potpourri of wonderful experiences in the six months since I became a member of this family. The most moving of these, for me, happened on January 15, 2017, when we said good-bye to the visionary who cast our show: John Moran. His unexpected death in December left us all speechless. On that Sunday, in the space we rehearse, the Chorus held a memorial service to honor John’s memory. We learned of his countless contributions to the Chorus, and, really, to the world. We laughed. We cried. We embraced. That day was a testament to the sense of community that is part and parcel of the Chorus.
Why did you want to appear in the GMCW’s production of How to Succeed..? What did you perform at your audition?
When I auditioned for the Chorus in late August, our Artistic Director, Thea Kano, suggested that I should also audition for How to Succeed. At the time I had no idea that the Chorus did musicals from time to time, so it was a treat to learn that they did! I began listening to the soundtrack on YouTube every now and again until it was time to audition. For the audition, I prepared the song Right Here from the album I Could Use a Drink by the composer and lyricist Drew Gasparini. There is a YouTube video of my very good friend Alex Wyse, who most recently played Georg in the revival of Spring Awakening on Broadway, singing Right Here and hitting those sweet notes that I wanted John Moran to hear. I practiced a few dozen times, and on audition day I tried to channel Alex for a sixteen measure stretch, and it worked!
Have you appeared in any other productions of How to Succeed, and if so, who did you play and how is this production similar and different?
This is my first time doing How to Succeed!
How do you relate to your character? What do you admire about him? What do you despise about him?
Heh! When I graduated college my friends and I would meet up after work for drinks, and I remember we would always say to each other, “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s a theme that has followed us in one way or another, and I imagine it is not exclusive to my circle of friends and me. Look, we all go to work every day, do our routine and sometimes something comes our way and we don’t know what to do with it. We all want to get ahead, right? And we don’t want to disappoint to the boss. So, we do the best we can – we schmooze, we calculate, we take stock of our resources and come up with a plan. That is precisely what you see my character do throughout the show, and it works for him. He wants to climb that corporate ladder, so he fakes it until he makes it!
How would you describe Frank Loesser’s score?
It’s a versatile score, really. It is pure Broadway with a purely Broadway story, and with that timeless quality to it. We are able to adapt the show to modern times, and, importantly, to a same-sex love story line.
What do we learn about your character when you sing your solos or duets?
A lot of Finch’s song’s are a time of self-reflection. In the beginning solo, we get to see him as an ambitious, albeit naive, young guy. In the second act, he sings to himself in the mirror, telling himself “I believe in you” over and over, exhibiting a type of vulnerability that we don’t see up until that point – can’t see, really, because he’s always “on,” putting on a show for the corporate executives whom he’s trying to impress.
Tell us about working with Co-Directors Thea Kano and Eric Peterson. What was their vision of the show and their vision of your character when you first began rehearsals? Has it changed? And was there something new about their vision that surprised you? or thrilled you?
Thea is the artist I aspire to become, a mentor, an inspiration. Eric is an intellectual and a thespian. The vision for the show is that of the late John Moran, but the characters as you will see them in this performance are the product of Thea and Eric. They both gave us a big yard in which to run before pulling the trigger on any of our characters, and they allowed us to experiment with a lot, and I think that was their vision: to have us dictate how we wanted to play these roles. Did we want to do the roles in drag? Did we want to be nerdy? Serious? Funny? It could have all worked, and they let us pick while giving us important notes to ensure that the integrity of the story was not compromised.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer – while working on How to Succeed?
That I never want to take another 12-year hiatus from this ever, ever again. I enjoy singing and acting way too much! I haven’t had this much fun in 12 years!
How has Musical Director Jason Sherlock helped you with your performance and vocals?
Jason is a genius! Do you want me to hit a high G? Jason will make it happen. He has been a tremendous inspiration for me throughout this journey, as I sought to tailor the songs to fit the character.
Why do you think How to Succeed is still so popular? What does the show have to say today’s audiences?
As i said before, I think the show is timeless. Even in today’s world people can relate to the idea of working at a job, trying to impress the higher-ups, trying to not go crazy when the coffee runs out…
How would you describe Craig Cipollini’s choreography and what dance was a bitch to learn, and why?
As a new member of the Chorus, I didn’t know much about any one person, and Craig is a case in point. The man is a choreographer, does design work, does tech stuff…he’s a jack of all trades! He was a fantastic choreographer, and he even let me record him doing my dances so that I could practice them at home. (Confession: I am not the best dancer.) The only dance that gave me a really hard time was choreographed by Thea, so…
What would you say to a young actor who is preparing to play your role in his or her school or university production?
This is a good question because I think the role of Finch may be informed by someone who has had work experience, which many high school and university students may lack. My advice would be to think of it in terms of being in class where the exam is curved, and you’re trying to get that A+. Sure, you can settle for a B+ – lord knows I did in law school – but someone like Finch who wants to climb high can’t afford to settle like that. If you’re playing Finch, you’ve gotta be THAT guy while also remaining somewhat sweet and somewhat lovable.
If you could write a different ending for your character what would it be?
Not to give away too many spoilers, but the show ends with the suggestion that I should become President of the United States. I don’t think you can top an ending like that for a character . . . unless, of course, you have an ending where your character becomes Donald Trump. Oy.
Sell the show in 15 words or less…
I’m totally stealing this from our marketing materials because it’s late and I have lines that I need to memorize: The great American fairytale! With more fairies and more tail. Come see it!!!
The Gay Men’s Chorus performs How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays March 10-12, 2017 at The Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (877) 435-9849, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast: The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’: Part One: Michael Aylward by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’: Part Two: Shawn Morris.