Actor Dan Chameroy tackles two roles at Stratford Festival

Actor Dan Chameroy tackles two roles at Stratford Festival
Just moments ago, Dan Chameroy was holding a stiff upper lip while prancing proudly as part of the climatic group dance number that caps the musical Billy Elliot. You can see his hair is still damp underneath his grey baseball hat when he sits down at a table in the private Playwright’s Circle Lounge at the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ont., his long legs kicked up on a second chair.

Right now, the 48-year-old actor has the friendly confidence of that neighbour who hosts all the barbecues, catches every Frisbee and can help you install that thing you don’t know the name of. It’s a disorienting juxtaposition to the flamboyantly kinky mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter he played in the Stratford Festival’s The Rocky Horror Show last season. Chameroy was the mascara-ed face of that musical, a blockbuster that was extended through December, making it the longest-running show in the festival’s 66-year history.

Dan Chameroy as Orin, the dentist, in the Stratford Festival’s production of Little Shop of Horrors.  (Cylla von Tiedemann)

Dan Chameroy, left, plays Billy’s dad and Nolen Dubuc stars as Billy Elliot in Billy Elliot the Musical.  (Cylla von Tiedemann)

This year Chameroy is back for his 13th season with Stratford in two new musicals: he plays a miner who won’t have his son dancing ballet in Billy Elliot the Musical and the psychopathic dentist Orin in Little Shop of Horrors. Rocky and Little Shop share a camp sensibility and unabashed affection for trashy creature features, but Chameroy has found there’s a line of diabolical, manic energy that animates both of his roles in those musicals.

The biggest difference this year, he says, is that his role in Little Shop is more of a sprint than a marathon. “The pressure is a different kind of responsibility for me,” he says.

Chameroy’s Orin, a sadist whose mother encouraged him to funnel his deviant impulses into something productive, hence dentistry, is only onstage for a few numbers, but it’s a scene-stealing role charged by a lightning bolt of energy and some zany derangement in the character’s physicality that’s all Chameroy. He enters the stage butt first and borrows Elvis’s sideburns and head-to-toe leather look, not to mention his hip swivel.

“(Director) Donna (Feore) and I were trying to figure out who is this guy, where is he from, what’s his deal in terms of his look,” he says. “For me he’s very sharp, he’s very strategic, he’s very specific. There’s no wandering.”

It’s a totally different ethos from the role of Billy Elliot’s dad Jackie, an emotionally bottled-up single father who struggles to connect with his son, a gifted dancer. “For me as an actor it’s the greatest gift because you don’t have to do the same thing day after day for eight shows a week,” he says.

“And you are also continuing to investigate the characters. You go away and you have a little break and then you come back and you go, ‘What did I miss here? What am I learning from the other guy?’”

Chameroy’s own father was a welder; his mother a kindergarten teacher. They weren’t prepared for a son who was born to perform.

“A neighbour of ours saw me at a bus stop, I think I was probably 5 or 6,” he says. “She said to me, ‘What do you want to be?’ And I said, ‘An actor.’ I don’t even remember knowing why.”

“They were concerned,” he remembers. “What does that mean? There are people we see on television but what is it really to be an actor? But they never held me back. And I was always doing it. So they encouraged me.”

Now Chameroy is a parent himself with his wife, actor Christine Donato, to a 12-year-old daughter. She wants to be a songwriter.

“I want her to pursue her dream at her pace and continue to nurture that talent,” he says. “Put her in classes, take her to the theatre, let her see what that world is like so she can make an informed decision. As opposed to the blank idea I had, because no one in my family was in show business.

“It’s not an easy business. But if your heart’s in it and you want to do it, how do you tell someone no? You have to let them try.”

And while the wild comedy he gets to exercise in Little Shop is outrageous good fun, his role in Billy Elliot stirs up real emotions for him. “It’s the whole thing of letting your child go,” he says.

“That is tricky because I know in the future I will have to do that with my own daughter. I had to do that when I left my family. So I often have flashbacks of my own leaving. It’s very personal to me.”

Billy Elliot and Little Shop of Horrors are onstage at the Stratford Festival until November. For tickets, visit .
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