From She’s the Man to If/Then – a Star’s Road to Broadway

By: Chaviva Freedman  |  December 11, 2014
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When you watch the film Shes the Man, most people recognize its principal actors – Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum. Remember Malcolm Festes? He’s the smart-alec character who attempts to out Amanda Bynes’ character’s secret- her faked gender. The actor who plays him, James Snyder, now has a way bigger role – playing the love interest of Broadway legend and “Let It Go” star Idina Menzel in the Tony-nominated Broadway show If/Then, currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Snyder in the lobby of the Paramount Hotel, and discuss not only Shes the Man and If/Then, but his journey to success.

With a passion for musical theater, Snyder decided that acting was his career of choice in his junior year of high school. He recalls sitting on his parents’ bed, watching the now long-over Aaron Sorkin show, Sports Night. “It finished and I remember just being like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I wanna do,’” he said. After acting in high school productions of Oklahoma and The Music Man, Snyder went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts. Right out of school, he was cast in a show called Star Wars Trilogy in Thirty Minutes (if you are a Star Wars fan, I suggest you look this up on YouTube…It’s pretty hilarious!) and a guest-starring role on the third episode of a new Disney Channel TV show called The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, which he looks back on as a “really fun experience.”

But Snyder’s big break wasn’t from the two aforementioned stints. At the time, he was working on a “weird little play or musical” with Kristen Bell, who had just finished filming cult TV show (and recent Kickstarter-funded film) Veronica Mars. “The director of that went on to direct She’s the Man, and then I booked,” he told me when I asked him how he got the part of Malcolm Festes in the movie. “From that, it got my foot in the door, and then when I auditioned for it, Amanda [Bynes] and I had good chemistry.” This gig led to a leading role as Drew in the pre-Broadway run of Rock of Ages in Los Angeles.

All of these jobs and connections led to Snyder’s first job on Broadway, playing the titular character in the Broadway show Cry-Baby, which was also the first show he did as an Equity member. (For those unaware, many Broadway shows are part of the Actor’s Equity Association and require a union card from its performers.)

Chaviva Friedman PhotoWhen I asked him about the experience being in a show that closed after only 68 performances he recalled, “It was so much work. I never had to work so hard on my dancing because Rob Ashford” – the famed Broadway choreographer – “Was the choreographer and it was super tough choreography.” Although the show didn’t run very long, he felt that the show was “rewarding nonetheless.”

While the experience may have been tough for Snyder, that didn’t translate to giving up on his dreams. “It always sort of breaks your heart and I quickly went back to Los Angeles and just tried to focus on film and television and didn’t work a ton, ” he said regarding the show’s close, “But [I] found some great teachers that really helped shape the way I act and the way I sing.” Those two teachers just happen to be Edward Sayegh, acclaimed vocal teacher and founder of the American Musical Theatre Workshop, and Raphael Sbarge, the actor most known as Jiminy Cricket in the ABC TV Show Once Upon a Time. “Those two people really I feel set me up for this next portion of my life,” Snyder said.

On to the big leagues: Snyder’s character Josh on the hit Broadway show If/Then, starring Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp, both former stars of Tony award-winning musical Rent. When I questioned him about how the process began, he pointed to another helpful connection. “It really started out when I was doing Carouselat the Goodpseed Opera House in Connecticut, and the producer of If/Then, David Stone, came and saw Carousel. That helped get my foot in the door too for the audition.”

When I followed up and asked what the audition was like, I found myself surprised by the answer. “Really, it was one audition. Idina wasn’t even in the room actually. She had a videotape made. I sang the songs “Hey, Kid” and “You Never Know” from If/Then.” The experience was emotional for the actor whose new baby was three months old at the time, “When I was auditioning for it, singing a song about having a baby. It was pretty amazing.” Hearing that got me thinking; if Idina wasn’t in the room, how were the producers assured of the chemistry they needed for the show? “I think they just went on faith, just trusting there was.” He recalled having one day of rehearsal with Menzel during the audition process before returning to Williamstown, where he was doing a show called Johnny Baseball. He said that he may not have known what to expect, but working with Menzel has only been a positive experience, “It’s such a great and lovely thing when you have somebody that you work with that you have really great chemistry with and I think Idina and I really do think and approach acting from a similar way, so it’s very nice.”

Besides his acting and Broadway star status, I turned to another topic for Snyder – his entry into the digital world with the video blog he films for Broadway.com called “Hey, Kid,” where he takes viewers behind the scenes of the show.

If you check out his social media (specifically his Twitter account – his handle is @thejamessnyder), he’s pretty on top of answering as many people as he can. How is the actor able to answer so many questions and yet still maintain at least some sense of a private life? When I posed this question, he thought for a moment before giving me an answer, “I don’t post pictures of my son and that kind of stuff. I think I have a clear vision of what I put out there and who I am and really what I try to put on social media is who I am.” He continued, “I am a bit of a dork, or a nerd I guess, and I am a goofball. But I think it’s a lot of fun and I think I’m very grateful for my job and so I think that gratitude comes through.”

The Broadway actor paused and won me over with his final line, “I just love sharing what I do ‘cause I love what I do.”

If/Then is playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre at 226 West 46h Street with performances most afternoons and nights until February. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online, or through Ticketmaster. Student tickets are also available!

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