Of all the people at the superb production of Sweeney Todd at Springstead Theatre in Spring Hill last Saturday, no one was more excited than the woman in the first seat in the first row, Carole Poholek.
"My son is the star of the show," she whispered to me as she took her seat seconds before the curtain parted.
Turns out Ms. Poholek was referring to Zachary James, the tall (6 feet 5), muscular baritone doing a knockout job in the title role.
"His last name is Poholek, but he goes by his first and middle names on Broadway," she explained at the intermission. And, yes, he is indeed a Broadway performer — but more on that later.
It also turns out that Carole has lived in my neighborhood, Beacon Woods East, for more than 20 years, though we hadn't met before.
Zach, as he was known at Springstead High School, Class of 2000, spent part of his time with his mom in Hudson and the other part with his dad, Fred, in Spring Hill (thus the SHS diploma).
He was a star even back then, doing the lead in the school's musical Grease, among other shows, serving as drum major of the band, and winning statewide awards for his musical prowess — no doubt encouraged by his father, a professional jazz musician and guitar teacher.
After Springstead, Zach spent two years in the theater program at Florida State University, then went to Ithaca College in New York to earn his bachelor of fine arts in musical theater. From there, he went to the University of Tennessee to study opera for a year; then it was off to Broadway.
In between and during all this study, he performed with a dozen or more major opera companies, including New York's Metropolitan Opera, did studio recordings, and landed major roles in musicals and plays at top regional and local theaters.
He also did an episode of the sitcom 30 Rock with Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, and founded the New York City Metropolis Opera Project, which does new and different works of opera. (For a full bio and video clips, visit tinyurl.com/zacharyjames. Warning: The printout is 12 pages long. Very busy boy.)
Zach's first Broadway role was in 2007 in the choir of the short-lived Coram Boy, where he towered above the rest of the singers, both literally and figuratively. From there, he landed the role of Seaman Thomas Hassinger in the Tony Award-winning 2008 revival of South Pacific, but left the cast a couple of months back to do some independent projects, including Sweeney Todd for his former drama teacher at Springstead, Mark Pennington — who, by the way, did a terrific job as the vile Judge Turpin.
His biggest Broadway role comes in the fall, when he'll perform with Broadway legends Nathan Lane (The Producers) and Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago, Lilith in the television sitcom Frasier) to create the role of Lurch in the multimillion-dollar musical version of The Addams Family, which is expected to be the show to top all shows in the 2010 Broadway season.
Zachary James is on his way to Broadway stardom, but there were at least three other young actors in last weekend's Sweeney Todd cast who might be right behind him: Ashley Schoendorf (Mrs. Lovett), who will study musical theater at the Florida School of the Arts this fall; Mike Petrie Jr. (Anthony the sailor), who's a junior in the acting program at FSU; and Keith Meccia (Jonas Fogg), who's going to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City this fall.
And I'd bet my bottom dollar that 11-year-old P.J. Digaetano (Toby) will wind up on a major professional stage some day.
What wonderful, bountiful talent in that show.