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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: De Pere native heading back to Broadway

Andrew Cao has a role in Disney’s “Aladdin.”

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Andrew Cao of De Pere will return to Broadway in spring in Disney’s “Aladdin,” based on the megahit movie. He’s in the ensemble of the show that currently is playing in Toronto, Canada, in advance of its New York City stint that will see previews starting Feb. 26 and an opening March 20 in the Amsterdam Theatre.

It’s the third Broadway show for Cao. He was in the 2011 revival of “Anything Goes” with Sutton Foster and Joel Grey at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre a stone’s throw from Times Square and the 2012 production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” with Matthew Broderick.

Broadway is, indeed, nice work if you can get it for a performer.

Family friend and performer Emily Paulsen of De Pere says, “It is mainly the drive, determination, thick skin, skill set and passion that takes people – who are talented – to the top. It is a commitment. If you are a great singer and actor and you want to be on Broadway, you need to take dance classes. If you are a trained dancer and you love to sing and want to dance on Broadway, you should take singing and acting lessons. There are so many people pursuing a spot – you need to be what they want or they will look right past you.”

Cao is a graduate of De Pere High School and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

In a 2011 interview with me, he kidded about his ’Point experience.

He said, “I had never had any dance classes before college, and I felt that Stevens Point would be a great place to get thrown in with the sharks.”

Bigger sharks followed his college days.

Among Cao’s credits is a 2009 engagement at the prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Stratford is a theater mecca for North America, and its focus is on Canadian actors. Not many U.S. actors are in its ranks. Cao caught attention playing the dangerous Bernardo in “West Side Story.”

Locally, Cao acted in at least one community play, Evergreen Theatre’s 1998 production of “Here’s Love,” generating “thunderbolts of energy” (my review).

He is from a musical family, including his older brother, Anthony (piano); twin brother, Aaron (bassoon); uncle (college music professor); mother, Nancy (cello and French horn), and grandfather (trumpet).

“I sometimes see Andrew and his wife, Sophie, when they are in town,” Paulsen says. They connect on Facebook mainly.

As “Anything Goes” was about to open, Andrew Cao was thrilled by another event, the impending birth of his daughter, Lua. Last year, Andrew and Sophie created a brief video, “Lua’s Big Holiday Adventure,” that is pure delight. Check it out at http://youtu.be/AuK6XgbOKDo. It’s just right for this time of year.

Next year will be a phenomenal year for De Pere on Broadway, with two actors (so far) in notable productions. West De Pere High School graduate Chris Henry Coffee will play baseball’s iconic Joe DiMaggio in “Bronx Bombers,” from the producers of “Lombardi,” which played on Broadway.

The Great White Way is THE carrot for many a performer, though not all. Paulsen provides a perspective:

“As a performer in Wisconsin, I work with some extremely talented and hardworking people – both on stage and behind the scenes. I see a lot of people who have what it takes and could pursue a career elsewhere, but choose to stay here – and thank goodness they do! We are very lucky in this community to have many talented people working to pass the love of live theater on to younger generations. In my opinion, it’s not that talent is a rarity – lifestyle choices dictate where you take your talent. Do you want to live in Green Bay or New York? Do you want a family and do you want to have to move your family with you to each gig or leave them behind if you get a touring gig?”

If the stars align, Broadway can be wonderful, and so can New York City. Take a look at that Cao family video, and you’ll see bundles of charm, imagination and affection.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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