Off Stage: McDreamy McGill

Photo by Vince TrupsinPaul McGill is only 22 and already has a resume that would send most Broadway hopefuls reeling. It’s also a study in making the most of your opportunities.

There he was — a junior at Northgate High School, with a fistful of dreams and a camera-ready face. Six days later Paul was in New York City as a part of the original cast revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” covering 15 parts and going to the Professional Performing Arts School.

That whirlwind of a change was orchestrated by Rachelle Rak, daughter of studio owner Rosalene Kenneth and where Paul happened to be studying dance. A Broadway veteran herself (“Cats,” “Fosse,” “Oklahoma!” revival, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”), Rachelle happened to mention his name in a telephone conversation with director Jerry Mitchell.

That started a veritable avalanche of activity.

Paul got the news that he was selected on Monday and by Saturday was in New York City rehearsing. In addition to covering those 15 parts, he was attending the Professional Performing Arts School. When “La Cage” closed, Paul moved back to Pittsburgh, set on living a “normal life again”…but not for long.

He found time to appear in a brief role in the Oscar-winning “Man on Wire” (Best Documentary Feature) about high-wire specialist Philippe Petit and his daring walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. (Paul played Philippe as a young man.) Then someone suggested him to the powers-that-be at the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”  Two days after his graduation from Northgate, Paul headed back to New York where he played the role of Mark.

“I did that for two and a half years,” Paul recalls just prior to teaching a master class at Karen Prunzik’s Broadway Dance Studio.  “It was great — I could see how the cast changed.” The original cast members were “realistic about Broadway and life. Some got married, others had babies and three got engaged.”

So what was a newly-minted high school grad to do among these veterans? “I worked on myself — my body, my mind.” That also meant bending the ear of the company’s physical therapist about anatomy, something that went on for the duration of the run. But all good things, as they say….

Paul admits that he became frantic when the show’s closing notice was posted. However, within a week he had booked “West Side Story” and a leading role in the movie remake of “Fame.” What to do?

“It was easy,” he admits. “Snowboy, one of the Jets, or an original role in a feature film.” Without blinking, Paul picked up and moved to Los Angeles and filmed for what turned out to be a grueling three months. “We didn’t get time to warm up — it’s all up to the lighting and camera angles. But when they called ‘Action,’ you had to be ready.”

The worst came when the director filmed the graduation scene — 15 hours straight with just a lunch break. At the end of that action-packed day, the dancers had to do improvisational dances for the closing film credits.

Some of the “teenagers” in the cast brought friends to the set and drank in their trailers between scenes. But Paul was one of a quartet of New Yorkers in “Fame,” professionals who had a strong work ethic and lifestyle in comparison. “There’s a respect and discipline in the theater,” he says.

He also had inspiration from some “true professionals” on the set. Bebe Neuwirth played Sheila in “A Chorus Line” on Broadway in 1980 and took time to swap stories with the young dancer. MeganMullally, who “was funnier when the cameras were off,” also had some advice — “to not even look at the stuff that’s going on around you and keep being yourself, living your life.”

He followed “Fame” with six months of interviews and photo shoots. It also gave him time to think, whereupon Paul decided to come back to his dance roots. “I learned what it’s like to be employed and sit around waiting for things to happen,” he says. So he came back to Pittsburgh, beefing up on dance classes, voice lessons, acting classes and choreography. “I’m making an investment in the future — I have so many ideas and so many plans.” Although stage is his first love, Paul wants to do it all, like Rob Marshall and Gene Kelly, both of whom he labels as “Pittsburgh greats.”

But he barely had time to take a breath. Paul took a sidestep to appear on Nickleodeon’s series, “Victorious.” Then “Fame” came out on DVD in January. And right now he’s filming “House Hunting,” a horror flick, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I guess Paul will keep moving…in what direction is anybody’s guess.

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