Tommy star Manley Pope discusses journey to NAT

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114728787730893.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of‘, ‘Tommy star Manley Pope has performed on Broadway alongside Joey Fatone of N'Sync and toured the U.S. with Roger Daltrey of The Who.’);

Rock opera star performed on stage in New York and in studios in Los Angeles

From the New York stage and the studios of Los Angeles, a journey to Rockford and middle America is quite a jump, but Manley Pope began his theater career in North Carolina and feels very much at home here.

As a teen-ager, he and a friend decided to submit their qualifications to the casting director of Exorcist II. Hoping to become an extra, he was called back and became a part of the movie.

So began a career that, in spite of warnings from friends and family, “You’ll never make it,” has evolved into one that gives not only monetary rewards, but fulfillment as a person and artist. Pope exudes positivity, a rare quality not often found in those who strive for success in the theater.

As with so many aspirants, he went to New York, sharing a one-bedroom on the upper west side and acquiring a “day job” as a waiter in a sushi restaurant. Tips were fantastic, and he had time to audition and learn his craft.

From the very beginning, he knew that opportunities would come, and they did. He found small companies and often worked for little or nothing, but determination paid off. He played Roger Davis, the HIV-positive rock musician, the lead in Rent on Broadway, and toured nationally with the company.

The pre-Broadway production of Miramax’s All Shook Up and The Public Theater’s The Unknown brought him to the attention of casting directors and producers. He also worked two seasons on the hit UPN series Valley High.

Our conversation was especially stimulating. Pope is intelligent and knowledgeable about every aspect of performance and theater. Having worked for Miramax, he knows the impact of corporations. Interested in the “bottom line,” these companies often look for works that fit a specific pattern. Find out what the audience wants and give it to them. Success equals a sold-out house.

When asked how he came to star in Tommy, he said, “Director Tony Vezner had cast the part, and the actor was unable to fulfill the commitment.” Vezner called Equity and found that Pope recently starred in the role at Pittsburgh’s CLO Theater. Arrangements were made, and Pope arrived on Thursday before Sunday’s preview performance.

Having played the role in a 2,500-seat venue, some adaptations were made for the more intimate space at NAT. He loves working closely with the audience and deeply appreciates the professionalism of the entire cast and crew.

With a wife and child in Los Angeles, he plans to return there and possibly take some time to be with family and work on the development of a new CD. An admirable philosophy makes every day a joy.

He says: “When auditioning, I say, ‘Am I going to be happy doing the show?’ You have to really invest…love and visualize the character. Continue to knock on the door and realize every day that I am blessed to be where I am.”

Manley Pope is an exceptional gentleman and a fine actor. Do try to see him as Tommy at NAT.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

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