Update: Adverse weather conditions have prevented “Legends Live On!” to run Mar. 19-21. Ticket holders can contact Thalian Box Office to reschedule. An additional performance has been added Thursday, Mar. 25, 6:30 p.m.
WILMINGTON — “New York gives you a reality check,” Tracy Byrd told Port City Daily Wednesday, ahead of opening Opera House Theatre Company’s “Legends Live On!” at the Thalian Hall Portico.
The local actor moved from Wilmington to the Big Apple four years ago to pursue his Broadway performance dreams. While the bold move paid off — Byrd landed a spot on the Broadway tour of “Motown: The Musical” — it didn’t come without its struggles. Juggling multiple jobs, while constantly auditioning and networking against thousands of other highly talented performance artists could be intimidating at the very least, he said.
“I’m glad I did it when I did it — because me being younger, I don’t think I would have made it,” Byrd said. “I think I would have given up and came back home.”
He almost did, too.
“It’s funny because I was at the point where I was packing up, ready to go, when I literally got the email from ‘Motown,'” Byrd said.
Byrd auditioned for the Tony-award winning musical seven or eight times. “Motown: The Musical” was relaunching on Broadway in 2018 and planning multiple tours. Byrd got callback after callback.
“They literally were measuring us,” he said of the costume department. “That’s how close it was every time I got a call.”
Byrd was cast as a Four Top, a Commodore, a Contour, as well as Lamont Dozier (best known for being part of the team that wrote, arranged and produced defining songs of the Motown sound). Byrd traveled through 45 states and Canada on the year-long tour.
“In the middle of it, they announced that they added dates and Wilmington was one of them,” he recalled. “It was just — yeah, it was crazy.”
Wilson Center’s executive director Shane Fernando announced Byrd’s return to the home stage in a curtain speech. When Byrd appeared for the first time, the audience erupted in applause.
“It was very emotional for me,” he recalled, “because I’ve always had support from everybody. And it is good to let them see how hard I’ve been working.”
Byrd got his acting, singing and dancing legs under him in Wilmington where he performed in musicals galore for more than a decade. He received four StarNews Theater Award nominations and won for his choreography in 2014’s “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
Even after he moved to New York, Byrd returned home to appear in Opera House shows, including “Five Guys Named Moe” during the summer of 2019. He won another StarNews Theater Award for its choreography in 2020.
Byrd also did a few stints on cruise lines, including Holland America, Princess Cruises and MSC.
When a friend from the “Motown” tour, Justin Reynolds (“Pride and Joy: The Marvin Gaye Musical”), created a singing and dancing revue, “Legends Live On: Songs from The Beatles to Bruno Mars,” Byrd joined the show. He was doing sold-old nights in Savannah, Georgia, in February of 2020.
Then March rolled around and the pandemic hit. Byrd said he was faced with the option to go through the shutdown in New York or come home to be closer to his daughter. He chose the latter and spent last year reconnecting with family.
Now, as restrictions are lifting, little by little, and the weather is warming up to allow for outdoor performances, Opera House Theatre Company is launching its first show of the spring season. “Legends Live On!” — now signed to L.A.’s TAD Management — will open this Friday night to Wilmington audiences.
It spans seven decades of music, performed from a high caliber of talented Broadway performers, all of whom have been out of work since Broadway went dark on March 15, 2020. In addition to Byrd and Reynolds, the show also features DeAundre Woods (“Hamilton”), Carson Rudisill Hobbs (“WICKED”) and Alex Hairston (“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”). The cast runs through 40 songs played by pianist Brian Whitted and guitarist Josh Marquez. Artists include The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Earth, Wind and Fire, and of course The Beatles and Bruno Mars, as its title suggests.
“Ma Cherie A’more” by Stevie Wonder is Byrd’s personal favorite. “It reminds me of my daughter,” he said.
Last fall when Opera House hosted “The Rocky Horror Show” and “The Piano Men” at the portico, the performers were restricted to the porch and steps (seats are set up on the grassy areas facing Princess Street, across from the county courthouse). A 6-foot platform has been built out from the steps this time around, so there is a little more room for actors to move and still follow Covid-19 protocols remaining 6 feet apart while performing.
“But we hope to keep the side stairs, just in case we want to come down and go into the crowd,” Byrd said.
After the shows wrap in Wilmington, Byrd will be heading out on the road once again. He knows for sure he will be in Savannah with “Legends” through April and May, but what lies thereafter still remains to be seen.
“I think God led me here, you know — to see how much will I have,” Byrd said, specifically referring to the industry’s competitiveness, and its ups and downs. “It’s all very rich, though — I’m blessed.”
“Legends Live On!” will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Thalian Hall Portico (check in is still on the 310 Chestnut St. side) on March 25-28; tickets are $40.
The show also will take place for one night only on March 24 at Blockade Runner’s main oceanfront lawn at Wrightsville Beach. Tickets are $75 and come with a prix-fixe three-course dinner from Blockader Runner’s chef, Jessica Cabo. Dinner seating begins at 4:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7 p.m.
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