5 Questions With Tony Chiroldes
Tony is an original Broadway cast member of In the Heights and Paul Simon’s The Capeman. International and regional credits include Paris’ Chatelet Theatre (Carmen la cubana); Arena Stage (Señor Discretion Himself); Pittsburgh’s City Theatre (Elemeno Pea); and Geva Theatre Center (In the Heights). On PBS-TV, he’s the Hulamouse in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. As a full-time voice-over performer, he has added his voice to hundreds of English and Spanish commercials, audiobooks such as The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Earphones Award for narration) and Ricky Martin’s autobiography Yo, as well as the video games Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Bioshock, The Walking Dead and the just-released Red Dead Redemption 2. He regularly performs simultaneous translation into Spanish on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Please visit www.tonychiroldes.com.
How long have you been acting and where did you receive your training?
Does the Little Drummer Boy at a third-grade Christmas pageant count?
I’ve been performing professionally since November 1985, when I originated the role of Mickey Marcus in the Spanish-language premiere of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mind you, the production was still playing at The Public Theater in New York City; Rock Hudson passed away from AIDS-related complications that October, and audiences steered away from our theatre due to the subject matter.
In this career spanning 30+ years, I’ve been blessed with having worked in my native Puerto Rico in all media — radio, TV, film, theatre and journalism — as well as co-founding a professional reader’s theatre company, working alongside Paul Simon and Fred Rogers, and enjoying unimaginable experiences.
My training is threefold:
(1) My parents, stepfather, aunt and cousin all pre-dated me in the performing arts; meaning, I was surrounded by the discipline and craft from an early age. A director and mentor, the late Erv Raible, with whom I collaborated on numerous cabaret shows, put it thus: My father was a Cuban singer, my mother was a red-headed actress, but I am not Little Ricky. Truth be told, my father was a singer who left Cuba in the late 1940s; met my mother, a Puerto Rican actress (who was red-headed at the time); and they collaborated on the burgeoning field of television variety shows from the mid-‘50s to mid-‘70s. It’s a veritable parallel history to the one made by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball!
(2) I attended the liberal arts institution Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. There I obtained a B.A. in Media Arts, a special major comprising studies/skills in theatre and television production, journalism, photography and scriptwriting.
(3) Since moving to New York City in 1993, I’ve taken advantage of any and all opportunities to hone my craft: vocal coaching, cabaret performance, musical theatre performance, home recording, modeling, sitcom performance, clowning, Shakespeare, puppetry… You will find so many low-to-no cost workshop opportunities in the city: Why not take advantage of them?!
OK, I lied: There is a fourth training experience, and that is the performing — as well observing — fellow actors. Plus, you must never underestimate the power of plain ole people-watching.
Karmine Alers, David Kaverman and Tony Chiroldes in In the Heights. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor and what’s your favorite part of the job?
I never really sought acting as a profession… until I fell in love with theatre in college. My career goals went from being an EMT to becoming the first-ever Puerto Rican astronaut… which gives a totally new meaning to the phrase, “Houston, we’ve got a problem!”
I set out to study filmmaking, but the school that I attended had no film production courses. Instead, I started studying theatre and television production in their communication arts department, and I went bonkers over the “live” aspect of the theatrical medium. To date, I’ve been blessed to have worked in all media (internet included), both in front and behind the camera, onstage and backstage, and in front of the microphone. Oh, and I was the first-ever Puerto Rican journalist to cover the Academy Awards in Hollywood in 1989.
What is your all-time favorite role you’ve performed and why?
My all-time favorite role is the one I’m playing at the moment. That being said, I created a multimedia, live actor and shadow puppetry piece with music titled Before Icarus Fell thanks in part to a grant from The Jim Henson Foundation. In it, I played Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, considered in his country to be the true father of aviation. His experiments with balloons, dirigibles and aeroplanes in Paris at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century made him a celebrity. Though he is now a footnote in the history books, for a brief moment in history, he held the mantle as the first man to fly.
What role have you been dying to play and why?
Oh, I can tell you the many roles that have passed me by: Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, Tobias in Sweeney Todd, Alan Strang in Equus! Bar none, I’d really love to play Tateh in Ragtime.
Sophia Macías, Tony Chiroldes and Karmine Alers in In the Heights. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.
What has been the most interesting part of working on In the Heights so far?
My relationship with In the Heights goes as far back as 2004-05, when I attended a reading of act one for “industry people,” meaning, potential producers/backers and friends of the cast/creatives. I found the concept of a hip-hop musical as something so foreign! By the time they got to the musical number featuring the ladies at the beauty salon (“No Me Diga/Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”), I knew it was going to be a success and something I’d love to join.
It took my auditioning (and getting called back) many times and not getting the job before its off-Broadway run. It took the persistence of auditioning yet again (and being called back again) before getting an offer to open on Broadway. The offer came in on December 17, 2007… Talk about a Christmas gift!
I went on to perform in the ensemble of In the Heights during the entire three-year run, oftentimes stepping into the roles of Kevin and the Piragua Guy. In fact, I closed the run of In the Heights playing the Piragua Guy alongside Lin-Manuel.
To this day, the most interesting part about working on In the Heights is that we get to tell the story of Latinos with the dignity and respect that is deserved. These are not your stereotypical, gun-toting, drug-peddling Latino characters as portrayed in so many films and television shows. These are people like anyone else. This is the story of my parents. This is the story of us all; the story of America.
To learn more about the Playhouse’s production of In the Heights, visit our production detail page.