Native son proves it can be done

Patrick Wilson, who participated in the Broadway Theatre Project several years ago, comes back. This time, he's a teacher - and a star.

Published July 27, 2006


Debra McWaters remembers when Patrick Wilson was a student in the Broadway Theatre Project 13 years ago.

"He knew he was a singer and actor, but he said he was going to learn how to dance," said McWaters, artistic director of the project. "The last thing Patrick told me when we were breaking for the summer that year was that he was going to take more classes and get good at dance."

Wilson got good enough to star in several Broadway musicals with plenty of dance, including The Full Monty and a revival of Oklahoma! He has also had leading roles in several high-profile movies, including Joe Pitt in HBO's Angels in America and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. Last Friday he was back at the project, which convenes for three weeks in July at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"I think it really helps them to see someone who was here and has gone on to do various things, and it resonates with them," Wilson, 33, said between two master classes he gave.

Wilson, who grew up in St. Petersburg and is the son of WTVT-Ch. 13 news anchor John Wilson and voice teacher Mary K. Wilson, is not the only alumnus to go on to a big-time show business career. Others have included Josh Cooke, who has starred in the sitcoms Committed and Four Kings, and Katharine McPhee of American Idol fame. The project has been a steady source of talent for Broadway musicals.

"We have 30 alums working on Broadway at the moment, and we have a lot of people on tours," said McWaters.

Several years ago, there was an especially strong connection between the summertime classes at USF's dance and theater buildings and Broadway, because project founder Ann Reinking choreographed a pair of Tony Award-winning dance musicals, Chicago (which she also starred in) and Fosse.

"One year we had a Fosse company here to learn the (dance) vocabulary before it went out on the road," said McWaters, Reinking's longtime associate and a cofounder of the project in 1991. "One year we had probably five or six people who went straight from this project into Fosse companies."

Reinking was listed as artistic adviser to the 2005 project, but she did not attend and announced her resignation last August. This summer, there are a record number of students, 190, and much of the faculty remains the same.

"There's no difference in the way we do things" now that Reinking is gone, said McWaters, a former chair of the USF dance department who lives in Tampa. She was assistant choreographer for Chicago and Fosse and has written a book on Bob Fosse dance technique, to be published by the University Press of Florida.

Along with Wilson, Broadway actors Ben Vereen and Terrence Mann and Chicago director Walter Bobbie taught classes. The wattage of star power may be down slightly from years when Julie Andrews, Gwen Verdon and Patti LuPone were there, but McWaters isn't concerned.

"I think at the very beginning it was exciting to have big stars," she said. "Now I haven't had one question about who is or is not coming. One thing I've tried to stress is that it's not necessarily the stars you'll see, but you're getting the people who train those people."

Potential employment continues as a lure to the project. Some of the students have already been in Broadway shows and return not only to sharpen their skills but also to be seen by faculty.

"We try not to advertise it as a job area, but the fact is, they do know, and I do tell them, that many of the people who are here are employers," McWaters said. "I tell them that so that they will understand that they have to bring the best of themselves to class. I'm not saying they're going to cast you, but they may remember you down the road."

Wilson's classes were on song interpretation, and he pushed the students to get into the lyrics. "I love to take these kids, who have sung these songs hundreds of times, and worked on them in voice lessons, and make them completely reinvent how they do them," he said. "I always feel like it starts from the lyrics."

When Mollie Dolcimascolo, a student from Tampa, launched into Keepin' Out of Mischief Now from Ain't Misbehavin', Wilson stopped her a few bars into the perky song.

"You don't have to be cute with it," he told her. "In fact, I think it's better if you're harder with it. I don't want you to worry about smiling; just sing it."

Later, the class cheered wildly when Wilson and George Psomas, a student from New York, sang the stirring duet Lily's Eyes from The Secret Garden. "Hey, this guy's got a great voice," Wilson said.

Though musical theater is probably Wilson's forte, he has been in quite a few movies lately. Two upcoming films in which he has leading roles are Little Children, with Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly, and Purple Violets, written and directed by Edward Burns.

Wilson had a setback on Broadway this year when Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon comedy in which he starred with Amanda Peet, had a less than stellar run and closed in May. The upside: He was off work when his wife, actor Dagmara Dominczyk, gave birth to their son, Kalin Patrick Wilson, on June 23. The couple recently bought an apartment in Brooklyn.

Wilson's Broadway Theatre Project session nicely coincided with a trip with the baby to see family in the bay area.

"The last thing you want is to see your show close, but we were supposed to go to mid July with Barefoot," Wilson said.

"Since it closed three weeks before the baby came, for me, on a very selfish level, it was, 'Oh, great, I get to be home.' So we've just taken the summer off. Rarely do you get that opportunity to be able just to be home."