Alums share advice about succeeding on the Great White Way

Rachel Zatcoff and Chris Newcomer know all too well the difficulty of carving out a Broadway career. So in October, the vocal program alums returned to Mason Gross to share with current students the secret to their success--and about never, ever taking a sick day.
 
Zatcoff, a soprano, stars as Christine twice a week in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera; Newcomer, a countertenor, made his Broadway debut in 2012 as Mary Sunshine in Chicago. Last year, he originated the role of Jacob Chicken in the Tony-nominated musical The Visit, alongside Chita Rivera.
 
The alums say they got to Broadway by seizing opportunities and, of course, networking like crazy. They both maintain an active presence on social media.
 
“I was at an opera audition, and the West Side Story casting director just happened to be in the room,” says Zatcoff, who performed the role of Maria in an international tour of West Side Story in 2013 and 2014. “He called me to audition after. It was a matter of right place, right time.”
 
“Work begets work,” Newcomer adds. “I booked The Visit because I played Mary Sunshine. The guy who normally plays Mary Sunshine couldn’t do The Visit, and so he gave them my phone number. My whole career has been about being prepared when the opportunity presents itself.”
 
Student Bernadette Burke says she found the visit encouraging.
 
“They just proved that people like us who are going to school at Rutgers, and who work very hard, can accomplish that too,” Burke says. “It gave me a bit more faith in myself.”
 
Newcomer says nabbing a part can provide years of work on Broadway as well as on tour. He says he’s been playing Mary Sunshine “off-and-on” for three years now, returning to the Broadway production in August.
 
Unfortunately, a musical-theater career is not all 11-o’-clock numbers and thunderous applause.
 
“I was on Broadway a few months ago, and there’s a part in my song where I sort of play with the audience,” Newcomer says. “I pointed at someone, and I looked down, and both people were asleep on each other; third row, just asleep.”
 
Becoming Chita
Of course musical theater has never been for the faint of heart.
 
“I’m the Christine alternate in Phantom, so I’m scheduled twice a week to perform, but I’m also on standby for the other six shows,” Zatcoff says. “I have to be within 10 to 15 minutes of the theater.”
 
And sick days? Forget about it.
 
“This girl called out on The Visit because she wasn’t feeling very well,” Newcomer says, “and Chita Rivera thought it was the most ridiculous thing. Chita was like: ‘That’s not how I became Chita Rivera.’ For the last three performances of The Visit Rivera had no voice, so she just spoke-sang.”
 
Newcomer’s not-so-tongue-in-cheek advice to would-be professional performers: Purge your social-media accounts.
 
“I had to go back and delete a lot of photos I took at this college,” Newcomer says with a laugh.
 
“If you want to be the lead, using social media is absolutely necessary,” Zatcoff adds. “I booked a job through someone seeing a YouTube video of me.”
 
Accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative
Newcomer and Zatcoff agree that remaining upbeat is essential.
 
“You have to hit the bat a lot of times before certain things happen. It’s a lot of rejection,” Zatcoff says. “You learn to deal with that.”
 
Be original, Newcomer says.
 
“You have to find something that sets you apart and makes you memorable,” he says. “People will call you back because they will remember that special thing you have.”
 
Student Brittany Stetson says she was comforted knowing that “finding that ‘it’ factor is something that could help you.
 
“Work after graduation is what I’ve been thinking about for months,” she adds. “Hearing their experiences really opened my eyes to the possibility of what I could do.”

Posted September 2016