Now he's running the show; Former Broadway hopeful takes on the role of his life: high school drama teacher

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mitch Davis figured his show business days were behind him.

For seven years he pounded the pavement in New York City auditioning for Broadway musicals. He came close a few times, but did most of his performing on the dinner theater circuit while holding down the obligatory waiter jobs to pay the bills.

Eventually, the routine got old, and he decided to settle down, get married and teach English.

Davis, 35, did land a teaching job, but not teaching English. Having given up his own Broadway dreams, he is now nurturing those of students at Westminster High School, where he's a first-year drama teacher.

The quiet existence of the English instructor that Davis envisioned has so far proved elusive, particularly in the past three months. He's found himself right back in the thick of theater life, but he's seeing things from a different perspective: the director's chair.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", directed by Davis, will open Thursday.

"I've done some stage-managing work, but I've never been in charge of it all," he said.

Davis admits the project seemed intimidating at first: "My instructions were, 'Here's our stage, here's 2,000 students, here's the biggest auditorium in the biggest school in the county. Good luck!' "

By all accounts, he has met the challenge head-on.

Students say he's brought a new level of energy and professionalism to the school's drama department. Davis persuaded school officials to spend $80,000 for new lighting and $10,000 for new sound equipment in the auditorium.

His young crew appreciates the experience he brings to his work.

"Mr. Davis is all heart and soul," said Jason Krznarich, 16, who built the sets for the musical and also performs in it. "Twenty-four-seven, his mind is on this show. There's no stopping him."

"He makes us feel like professionals," said Julie Groves, a costume and props assistant for the show. "It doesn't feel like we're just high school students putting on a play."

Davis has thrown himself into his new career as a teacher, but he speaks wistfully of his theater years and still misses the thrill of performing.

"I really wanted to be on Broadway," Davis says. "If someone were to offer me a job in the cast of 'Les Miserables,' I'd seriously consider taking a six-month contract."

In some ways, he says, the transition from stage to classroom has been easy: His performing skills have served him well in holding the attention of a group of teen-agers.

However, he's still adjusting to some aspects of the job, like getting up at 5: 15 a.m. and being called "Mr. Davis."

"I love these kids to death," he said. "It makes me wish I was a high school student again just so I could be with them."

Since daily play rehearsal began over a month ago, Davis has been spending a good deal of time with the young crowd. Rehearsals are 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Although he's new to directing, Davis has twice performed the lead in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," first in sixth grade, then in college.

At a rehearsal last week, he drank Diet Coke and calmed anxious students who buzzed around him with pressing problems about costumes, sets and lighting.

He demonstrated a dance number, showed a student how to take a convincing fall and gave some constructive criticism.

"Wait till the 'sha-la-las' to come out or you're going to get kicked," he told the chorus.

Davis runs his rehearsals with the efficiency of a seasoned performer. Students are required to sign in, and goofing off is not allowed. Some chronic latecomers were bumped from the cast.

"I don't treat them as boys and girls," he said. "I treat them as professional actors."

Davis knows the routine well. From 1984 to 1991, he was a regular on the Broadway audition circuit. He honed his talent through years of acting, singing and dancing lessons.

"You name it, I auditioned for it, unless it was an all-female cast," Davis says. "I tried out for everything, from the singing plant in 'Little Shop of Horrors' to Tony in 'West Side Story.' "

Davis regularly got roles in dinner theaters in the Northeast and performed in Las Vegas-style revues on a couple of cruise ships -- "very cheesy" -- he recalls.

In 1987, Broadway seemed to be within his reach when he made it to the final round of auditions to replace the original cast of "Phantom of the Opera."

"It was an incredible experience," Davis says. "Andrew Lloyd Weber was in the room."

He kept trying for a few more years, but in 1991 gave up his pursuit of fame for love. He moved to College Park, where Risa, the woman he would marry was in graduate school.

After a brief stint in restaurant management, Davis decided to get his master's degree in education at Towson University.

He sings with a wedding band, but nearly all the remnants of his former theater life are gone. Davis has a steady job, a new house and a baby on the way.

He's looking forward to a long career in teaching and another production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

"I thought it was fitting that it's my first show," Davis said. "And thirty years from now, when I retire, it will probably be my swan song."

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will be presented at Westminster High School at 7: 30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Mar. 19 and 20. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children and seniors.

Pub Date: 3/08/99

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