Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘I wondered if I could do something so new [with “Rent”], but deep down I knew I could do it. I didn’t have anything to lose.’


“I got the audition for ‘Rent’ in 1995; I grew up in Woodbury and Syosset playing in bands, and it was a call from Idina Menzel that sent me an incredible detour, taking me off that original path and putting me into this life of doing theater. Now I’ve been doing it for 28 years. Idina had already been cast in ‘Rent.’ She said, ‘I’m doing this Off-Broadway musical; it’s going to run for about four weeks. They’re having trouble casting the role of Roger. The character sounds like you.’

“My band and I had just called it quits. I had never auditioned. Never in a million years did I think beyond the actual audition because I didn’t do it to get the part; it was just something to do. I thought, ‘This is interesting, how am I going to hold on to my job as a personal trainer for the next four weeks while we’re rehearsing?’ I was excited, but it wasn’t the culmination of a dream. I was supposed to be a rock musician! I wondered if I could do something so new, but deep down I knew I could do it. I didn’t have anything to lose. A lot of that was because it wasn’t my dream.

“Show business changed me because it’s not something people realistically dream about. The reality is very different from the fantasy. I enjoy the stability of having one job, which is predominantly why, in my theater career, I’ve pursued taking over roles, as opposed to creating new ones. I’m not interested in the development process and opening a new show. I’ve gone through that, and it’s so stressful to me. I just want a job, like when I was in Broadway’s ‘Memphis’ or ‘Chicago.’

“I’ve always been a person that has done well but still had to go from job to job. I learned a lot about myself because of the success of ‘Rent.’ I was immediately the golden boy. I thought I had thick skin and things would roll off my back. I immediately had the biggest success you could possibly have, which was the worst thing that could happen to me. It set me up for emotional failure. I realized I’m very sensitive and vulnerable, and I take things very personally, even though logically I know it’s not personal. Teaching young actors helps me with these feelings, which is why I’m enjoying directing ‘Rent’ on Long Island.”

This is the first full-scale production of anything I’ve ever directed, and it’s only natural that it’s “Rent” … It’s so fortuitous that I’m essentially where I grew up.

“Directing is a big part of the future of my career, so I came back to Long Island, and the pieces fell into place in a wonderful way. I’m directing ‘Rent,’ which runs July 28-30 at Five Towns College, through a performing arts academy [in Huntington] called From Stage to Screen. This is the first full-scale production of anything I’ve ever directed, and it’s only natural that it’s ‘Rent’ because that’s the show that I’m most intimately familiar with. To have the opportunity to mount the show with young actors who love the show and look up to me allows me to impart as much wisdom as I can to them, and it has been the greatest gift I can imagine. It’s so fortuitous that I’m essentially where I grew up.

“It couldn’t be a better chapter for an incredible story that also continues August 30 at 54 Below, my home away from home for performing. Growing up, I always wanted to perform there. I go back every so often to do my solo acoustic show, and they welcome me with open arms and a warm, embracing audience. I think that I bring my wisdom, experience and humor to my show, and there’s no scarier scenario for me in show business. I’m exposed and vulnerable, but it’s also the most rewarding show when it goes well. When you’re a solo performer, there’s no one else to blame it on when it doesn’t go well. If I’m performing or directing, I want it to be the best it can be, and I want to measure success in how people are entertained.

“I’ve learned that life gives you struggle and suffering, and you have to figure out how to exist within that framework and find the ways to get the reprieve from that. I have to accept that life is going to be hard. I impart that to my sons. The world is consistently going to beat you down on multiple levels, and the struggle is not to think that life is about happiness and figuring out how to deal with the hard stuff when it comes. It’s the reverse. I’ve found a way to find serenity in giving over to that reality. I hope that this is only halfway through my journey, and love that I’m back on Long Island for it. I moved back to New York and haven’t set up a permanent residence yet, but I’m really loving Huntington, so I may end up being a denizen of the area!”