Michael Mainwaring: Dancing up a Storm in Signature Theatre’s ‘Dreamgirls’

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I have been watching Michael Mainwaring perform since I saw him ‘steal the show’ at Ford’s Theatre in Shenandoah. I admire his talent, enthusiasm, and showmanship and I was so glad to be able to catch up with him while he’s performing in Signature Theatre’s production of Dreamgirls.Joel:

Tell us how you got involved with Signature Theatre’s production of Dreamgirls, who you are playing, and why you wanted to play the role.

Michael Mainwaring singing at Signature Theatre Open House. Photo by Weslie Woodley Photography.

Michael: I am being featured as an ensemble member, I play various characters throughout the show including Little Albert, a stage manager, and a film executive. I got involved through Signature Theatre’s Overtures program. Overtures is an amazing two-week musical theatre intensive where you essentially sing, dance and act all day and learn about the musical theatre industry and what it takes to break into the business.

Throughout the 2-week long program we had several master classes with different performers, music directors and teachers in the DC area. During Overtures all the students are assigned two songs that they are to learn and then perform one of them in the Overtures Showcase at the end of the program. I was given “Maria” from West Side Story and “King of The World” from Songs for  A New World. Matt taught a couple of classes in the program. He taught performing a song and a class on the industry itself. He showed us what a resume should like like and how to make a resume look more appealing. It was so much fun.

Overtures was my first Signature experience and during it I had the opportunity to audition for Signature Theatre itself.

Take us into your audition. What did you sing and dance? When did you find out you had the role?

Like I previously mentioned – during the Overtures program I had the opportunity to audition for Signature Theatre. I sang “Maria” from West Side Story for my audition song. I found out that I was going to be involved with Dreamgirls about 2 months after the Overtures program ended, and I remember being so excited that I couldn’t stop smiling for days!

Steppin To The Bad Side — with Michael J. Mainwaring, Jonathan ‘Jay Adriel’ Watkins, Cedric Neal, Iam Nova, Nickolas Vaughan and Shayla Simmons. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Frankly, I really didn’t know that you were such a great dancer until I saw you on press night of Dreamgirls. Where did you get your dance training? In what other appearances of yours did dance play an important role in your performance?

I didn’t dance much before the Overtures program. I was in show choir and the school shows in high school, but my only dance training came from the Overtures program. Brianne and Karma Camp were amazing teachers and really helped me bring out my dance ability. I have never played a role that relied so much on my dancing abilities than Dreamgirls. And even Dreamgirls has been such an incredible learning experience.

How would you describe Matthew Gardiner and Brianne Camp’s choreography for this production? How have they helped you to become a better dancer?

The choreography in this show is so amazing; it’s so much fun to do every night. Matt and Brianne did a great job capturing the energy of each song. They pull inspiration from the music itself and the era making it a very cohesive and energetic production. This production has immensely helped me become a better dancer. During all the dance rehearsals Brianne made sure that my movement was very sharp and helped me become more aware of my body. Its been incredible.

Which dance is your favorite? Which is the hardest to perform?

Michael Mainwaring.

I thoroughly enjoy all of the dances in the show, its very hard to pick which one is my favorite because all the choreography is so amazing, but my favorite to perform is definitely the Act Two Opening. This number also happened to be the hardest to learn, the dance style in this song is different in this song than it is in any of the others which made it a challenge for me. But after getting the dance in my body it quickly became the most enjoyable number for me to perform. There is also a lot of ensemble vocals in that song, and since I enjoy singing so much it just makes it that much more enjoyable.

Those dances demand a lot of energy,  so how are you keeping up your energy?

I naturally have a ton of energy at all times, but I am just so happy and excited to be at Signature that I have so much fun on stage and all that energy goes into my performance. I live in each moment and try to give as much as I can and do my best.

There are so many great songs in the score of Dreamgirls. Which song would you choose to sing if you were offered to be on the stage alone (with a spotlight on you)? And why that song?

I would definitely pick the song “Family,” which fortunately happens to be one of C.C.’s song, who I am understudying. I think the message of the song is incredibly moving and the melody is beautiful. I love that song so much!

You are understudying the role of C.C. Have you gone on yet? And if so, what was your favorite moment of that first performance?

I have gone on for CC one time, and I only got the chance to do the first 25 or so minutes. It was extremely intimidating, but once I started I tried not to think about getting everything right and just telling the story. CC is a great character and it was a pleasure to get the opportunity to portray him. It also was an amazing learning experience and if I get the chance to do it again I will be more prepared. Also, this cast is extremely supportive so they helped move me around the stage in case I wasn’t in the right place, they did It in character of course. I remember I was standing to the right of Nova and she says “CC come over here!” And pulled me to the left side of her. Haha, its such an honor to be with such incredible and fun performers.

You have a gorgeous voice. How would you describe your voice? Where are you getting your vocal training?

Thanks! I’ve been told my voice is clear, engaging and technical. I have been taking lessons for 3 years with Kristin Halliday. I have always been a singer first and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed doing the most. Thankfully this show has a lot lot lot of music so there’s always backstage singing and I love it so much!

Mike Mainwaring and Scott Bakula in Shenandoah at historic Ford’s Theatre
Photo by Charles Erickson.

You have appeared on the stage since you were a kid, and I have watched you perform in many of those shows and concerts. When did you first know that you wanted to perform on the stage, and what was your first performance on the stage that you remember?

I knew that I wanted to perform from a very young age. I was always singing or dancing around as a kid. I specifically remember getting kicked out of a karate class because I was always dancing in front of the mirror instead of doing what the rest of the class was doing. I was a very animated kid and I grew up knowing that I had to perform in front of others. The first performance I remember was in elementary school. I was in a musical about Lewis and Clark and I played Scannon the dog, and I had a big song and dance number, and from that point on I knew that I never wanted to leave the stage. I did all the school shows from that point onward.

You performed in Shenandoah at Ford’s Theatre in 2006. Who did you play, how old were you, and what fond memories do you have of that production?

I was 12 when I made my Ford’s Theatre debut. In that show I played Gabriel who was a slave. I have so many amazing memories from that show, and even that experience helped shape who I am as a performer today. I remember having so much fun during that show, I was getting to do what I loved every single day of the week and since I was so young it didn’t feel like work at all. One of the best things about that show was that there was a TV in my dressing room and I would play video games when I wasn’t on stage.

You performed in many Churchill High School productions. What were some of your favorite roles?

My favorite roles in High School were John in Miss Saigon and Christopher Wren in Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap.

Michael Mainwaring (Jean Valjean) and Abigail Adler (Fantine) sing in ‘ Fantine’s Death Scene’ at ‘Les Miserables’ at Act Two. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

You have also performed at MTC and Act Two. What were some of your favorite roles there?

My favorite role and the most challenging role for me to play was Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. That role was extremely demanding and it was a wonderful learning experience.

What roles that you have not played yet would you like to play in the future?

I really want to play Jack in Into the Woods. I love Sondheim!! I’ve always been drawn to Sondheim, so getting the chance to be Jack or participate in any Sondheim production would be absolutely incredible.

Why should your generation of theatregoers come and see Dreamgirls? How can they relate to this musical that is 30 years old since it opened on Broadway in 1982?

Dreamgirls is such an exciting show. Even though it is 30 years-old and takes place in the 60’s Motown era, the music is just timeless and exciting and the story is so easy to relate to.

Dreamgirls plays through January 6, 2013, in Signature’s MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available for purchase in person at the Signature Theatre Box Office (703) 820-9771, online, or by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-7328.


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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.

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