By Gabrielle Cohen
Ben Fankhauser is the sole Jewish cast member of Carol King’s Beautiful, a touring production coming to Atlanta’s Fox Theater May 24-29. The AJT’s Broadway corespondent, Gabrielle Cohen chatted with the Cleveland, Ohio native about his role of Barry Mann in the production. Fankhauser previously stared as Davey in the original Broadway cast of Newsies and was in the national tour of Spring Awakening.
AJT: Can you tell me about your Jewish background growing up?
Ben: I grew up in Cleveland Ohio and was bar mitzvahed in 2003, and then was confirmed in 2010-2011. I then went to college in upstate New York, Ithaca College, and went on a Birthright trip in the winter of 2010-2011. I loved that.
AJT: Any pre-show rituals?
Ben: Yeah for sure. I usually make a pot of coffee or have some cold brew from the night before. I’ll do some vocal warmups and I’ll stretch, sometimes do some yoga. I try to tailor it to each day rather than feeling superstitious about how if I don’t do a certain thing I won’t be good because then I’ll go crazy.
AJT: How do you practice Judaism while touring?
Ben: Well it’s hard. I have to work on holidays and on Shabbat. I think everyone is different, but to me, practicing Judaism is just staying true to who I am. If I’m unable to celebrate in a traditional way, I don’t count that as a loss of participating in the Jewish culture.
AJT: So what was it like to not only be a part of the original cast of Newsies, but also work on a Disney production?
Ben: It’s a cliché, but it was a dream come true. I loved that movie when I saw it in the 90’s. I’m like a cult fan follower of the movie and to get to do the musical and to sing that music and to work with Alan Menken and Harvey Feirstein and the director Jeff Calhoun and Chris Gattelli, our choreographer, was just truly a dream come true.
AJT: Out of all of the shows you’ve done what has been your favorite costume to wear?
Ben: I have some really good costumes in Beautiful. I have some very wide legged 70’s era pants that I wear and I like those a lot.
AJT: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to get into theatre or the performing arts?
Ben: Yeah I tell people that especially this fine art form, musical theatre, but also all of it, dancing, singing, and acting all require a lot of training and a lot of practice. It requires a mindset to plow ahead despite what anyone is saying. I guess my advice would be don’t let anyone tell you no. If it’s something you want to do you should pursue it with all your might and never give up. With that being said, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a fine art form and when you’re an artist as a career you don’t get to go home from your job. It’s a 24-hour 7-day a week gig. It keeps you up at night. It stresses you out in the morning. It’s a job you can never get away from. So if that sounds like something that you want to do, do whatever makes you happiest. If it’s acting or dancing or singing or whatever makes you happiest, then pursue it to the fullest with the knowledge that it’s going to be very hard.