When Baltimore-born actor Erick Pinnick learned that Center Stage was considering him for a role in Once on This Island, he assumed it was the role of Daniel, the aristocratic young swain. After all, he had portrayed Daniel in two previous productions.
But the first of those -- at the Hilton Head Playhouse in South Carolina -- was almost a decade ago. This time around, it wasn't Daniel, but his father, Armand, that Pinnick was hired to portray.
"Time marches on," says the thirtysomething actor, who acknowledges, "I felt I'd explored Daniel as much as I could in the other two productions [the second was at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1999]. It was exciting to come in and explore a different role. It was still odd in rehearsals when [the director] would address the characters, and he would say, 'And Daniel, you do this.' I was so used to being Daniel, and I would sort of look, and then say, 'Oh, it's not me this time.'"
Armand is Pinnick's first professional role in his hometown. His parents -- Stephen, who owns a clothing store, and Denise, who works for Social Security -- attended opening night. "It was something they had never experienced before," the actor says, adding that seeing their son on home turf "definitely makes it seem a little more real to them. You can tour all over Europe and get great notices, ... but there's something more -- they can touch it."
Pinnick credits his great aunt Elvira Gosnell with instilling his love of music, when he was her student at Westowne Elementary School. His family moved from Forest Park to Ellicott City when Erick was 10, and he saw his first live stage show, Oliver! at Mount Hebron High School with a group from Patapsco Middle School.
After he became a student at Mount Hebron, he began acting in school shows, and after high school he earned a degree in music performance from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., in 1991. Since then, Pinnick, who lives in New York, has performed at various regional theaters as well as in two European tours. He made his Broadway debut in A Christmas Carol in 2000.
At Center Stage, Pinnick is one of four cast members who have appeared before in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Once on This Island. Set in the French Antilles, the musical focuses on the romance between a peasant girl, Ti Moune, and a light-skinned aristocrat, Daniel -- a romance greeted with severe displeasure by Daniel's father.
Pinnick admits that he always saw the father as "the bad guy" when he played Daniel. "Now I really have no way around it," he says. "Now I am the bad guy."
Erick Pinnick may be playing a different role from the one he originally expected to play, but Sunday night, the cast of Once on This Island included a performer who didn't expect to be on stage at all.
Director/choreographer Kenneth Lee Roberson traveled from New York to Baltimore Sunday morning after learning that C.E. Smith, the actor who plays Ti Moune's adoptive father, had been taken to the hospital with an accelerated heart rate the night before.
Center Stage, which does not budget for understudies, had canceled the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon performances. But when stage manager Debra Acquavella informed Roberson of Smith's health problems, the director responded: "I'm getting on the next train. I've got the script. I'll know the lines. I know the steps ... I'm goin' on!" as Acquavella noted in her daily log.
A choreographer whose Broadway credits include Avenue Q and All Shook Up, Roberson has choreographed and/or directed a half-dozen shows at Center Stage. And he has maintained his performance skills with two one-man shows. But, when he signed on to stage Once on This Island, he never thought he'd be donning his dancing shoes.
Speaking of shoes, however, Acquavella also reported that, not only did Smith's costume fit Roberson, but the actor's shoes fit him as well. "A sign from the gods," as she put it.
Smith was released from the hospital Monday and returned to the show Tuesday. The theater has added a performance at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 to help accommodate patrons who missed shows over the weekend.
Once on This Island continues through Jan. 22 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Call 410-332-0033 or visit centerstage.org.
The Baltimore Playwrights Festival has announced three sessions of free staged readings of scripts under consideration for this summer's 25th anniversary festival. The readings take place at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., and are followed by discussions with the playwrights.
Here's the lineup -- Saturday: 11 a.m., Almost Vermilion by Sonja Kinzer, 1 p.m., Women Are Inherently Buoyant by Stephen LaRocque, and 3 p.m., The Living Years by Tim Marks; Monday: 8:30 p.m., My Dinner with Dre'-An by Michael Stang; Jan. 28 (times to be announced): 86 by Michael Cookson, Hope's Arbor by Rich Espey, and Tortured, or the Blessed Mother of War by Ty DeMartino. Information: 410-276-2153.