David Burnham: vocal stage star at Feinstein's
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David Burnham recently recounted how making the most of a pair of adolescent disappointments led him toward his current career as a concert soloist and leading man.
"In junior high, I wanted to take wood shop," said Burnham who brings his cabaret act, Mostly Broadway, to Feinstein's at the Nikko next weekend, "but I was late registering and the only class I could get into was choir. I didn't know I could sing until then, but the choir director was really encouraging. He convinced me to try out for the school show, which was The Sound of Music. I really wanted to play Rolf," he says, recalling this second teenage tragedy, "But I ended up cast as Friedrich."
Said Burnham, "The only big moment that Friedrich has is at the end of 'So Long, Farewell' when he sings that prolonged 'goooodbye.' So at the second ¬-and last¬- performance, I stretched it out even longer and got jazzy with the notes. A ham was born."
But Burnham always wanted to serve beefcake along with ham.
"In high school, I thought all the guys sounded like girls, and I wanted to sound like a dude. I wanted to be manly. Tucked away in my brain was Annie Get Your Gun, which I'd seem on TV, which John Raitt was in. I went to the record store and got the original cast album of Carousel and worked at imitating the way John Raitt sings 'If I Loved You.' That's how I taught myself to sing."
Burnham's first big professional break came when he took over for Donny Osmond on a 1997 national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and he quickly went on to Broadway, moving from his native southern California to New York.
Cast in A Light in the Piazza, which had its pre-Broadway run at the Orpheum here in San Francisco, Burnham also understudied Matthew Morrison in the lead.
Following the close of that critically acclaimed but commercially challenged musical on Broadway, Burhham stepped into the role of Fiyero in Wicked, a role that's often a stepping stone to Broadway stardom, having been played by Norbert Leo Butz, Taye Diggs, and Andy Karl among others.
But Burnham felt the west coast calling, and not in regard to traditional Hollywood dreams.
"I'm very family-oriented," he explains. "And my whole family is out here. Also, I'm a gardener. I love to work in the yard and grow vegetables, and out here I can afford to have a little place with a garden. I came back here to regroup and I realized that acting on Broadway wasn't the only goal for me."
Rather than subjecting himself to the constant grind of auditions, Burnham has built a significant business for himself as a touring concert performer, doing solo shows and gigs with symphony orchestras.
Burnham also puts his Broadway-style singing chops to use in musical voiceovers for animation. He's been featured on South Park and done early demos during the production of Disney films.
"I'm on the road for concerts at least a couple times a month," he says. "I like the sense of creative control I get in putting together my own performances. That's why, if I go back to Broadway, I'd prefer to do it in a role I was involved in creating rather than replacing someone. Even when I worked on Light in the Piazza, because I was Matthew's understudy from the beginning, I got to really dig into the role and understand all of its dimensions."
Burnham's creative inclinations have also led him to some promising behind the scenes work.
"I collaborated on writing a musical called Happy 50ish. It's a midlife crisis story. That's been done Off-Broadway in Las Vegas and is running right now in Florida."
He's also recently begun a promising collaboration with Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's, who are currently represented on Broadway by Head Over Heels, on a new musical centered around the Stonewall Riots.
After his show at the Nikko, Burnham will spend August in San Diego, starring in a new production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
"I jumped at the opportunity to play Quasimodo," says the guy who once feared sounding too girly. "Because he's not your stereotypical leading man."
David Burnham performs at Feinstein's at the Nikko, July 27 and 28 at 8pm. $19-$45 ($20 food/drink min.) Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St. www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com http://www.davidburnham.com/