When performer Christopher Fitzgerald (‘95) walked out of his audition for the Broadway revival of “Company,” a musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim, he wasn’t so sure that he had secured the part. Not only did he get the part, but Fitzgerald, alongside a cast including Patti Lupone and Katrina Lenk, took home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 2022.
“At the time I auditioned for that [Company], I didn’t know the director Marianne Elliott, who has since become a dear friend of mine,” said a chuckling Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is a Rollins alum of the class of ‘95. Less than thirty years after his graduation, he won Drama Desk Awards for his performances as Best Featured Actor in Broadway shows like “Waitress” and “Finian’s Rainbow” in addition to acquiring Tony nominations for Best Featured Actor. Some of Fitzgerald’s credits include originating the role of Ogie in “Waitress,” Boq in “Wicked,” and Ralph in the film “Girl Most Likely.”
Though auditioning is a mandatory part of his career, Fitzgerald says it’s still challenging.
“I went in and had to learn a couple of scenes and do a song, and [Elliott] was so tight-lipped and guarded, I walked out of the audition and thought, ‘I’m not going to do this show!’” he jokingly recounted.
Then he landed the part of David.
“It’s just so difficult,” Fitzgerald said regarding the audition process. “Especially when you do it over and over again, and the odds are always against you. The reality is, you’re going to fail many, many more times. But it’s like baseball failure: a great baseball player strikes out a lot.”
Fitzgerald auditioned for the Rollins Department of Theatre and Dance after receiving a brochure in the mail about the Priscilla Parker Scholarship.
He sent in his VHS tape, hopped on a flight to Florida, and ended up getting the scholarship. Attending Rollins allowed him to be an Amtrak ride away from his family, who had just made the move from Maine to North Carolina.
While the warm weather was a shock to the native New Englander, he felt at home at Rollins.
“I knew I wanted a liberal arts school. I didn’t want to do BFA training, I wanted to do really broad-based kind of stuff,” he said. “The thing that appealed to me the most was that you would be doing a lot of actual, hands-on shows in this beautiful theatre, and I thought — ‘that sounds really fun!’”
At Rollins, Fitzgerald got to act alongside one of his all-time favorite professors, Dr. Juergens, as they embodied drunk soldiers in a Chekhov play adaptation by Michael Frayn called “Wild Honey.” The bedrock of his acting technique developed in working with revered teachers like Juergens, as well as former Rollins teachers, Scott Lafeber and Jeff Storer.
“I think I began my journey to becoming an actor at Rollins, which is different than being a performer” Fitzgerald said. “With professors and in performance, I began to understand the foundations of acting and allowing myself to be seen more—allowing my own feelings to facilitate a character’s journey, and being more concerned with the story and a character’s journey than my own funny bits getting laughs, or singing songs to sound good.”
There was no scarcity of funny bits, though. Fitzgerald shared a memorable moment at Rollins in a production of “Candide,” the burly Bernstein operetta based on the classic novel by Voltaire, in which he landed the role of Candide himself. For the set, a bridge was built connected to the stage and meandering into the audience, creating a hole where the orchestra played.
“I caught my boot on one of the boards that covered the little bridge and I literally fell into the audience. I was around bodies and arms. I looked up right into the eyes of what must have been a 90 year old woman who was in stark terror, and I said: ‘If you’re hurt you need to leave the theatre.’”
“Then I jumped up and was like ‘Haha, hoho, I meant to do that!’ Or whatever I said” Fitzgerald whimsically laughed. His good friend Aaron was operating the spotlight that night—“He said he saw the whole thing and it was incredible; just the idea that I went face first into the audience.”
Now known for his roles both in film and on the stage, Fitzgerald’s first real gig was in a community theatre production of “Oliver” when he was just eight years old. Even before this, he was passionate about clown work, juggling, and theatre: “I was just a nutty, really outgoing kid thirsty for all kinds of expressive forms of performance.”
One of Fitzgerald’s all-time favorite roles to play was Ogie in “Waitress,” the musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. In creating the number “Never getting rid of me,” Fitzgerald came up with the song’s staple Irish dance choreography in a conversation one night with his wife, director Jessica Stone—who has just directed the hit 2022 Broadway musical “Kimberly Akimbo.”
“I had this one direction where I was moving from the table, and I was like ‘it seems like the song is asking me to express something physically. Like, I gotta dance! Ogie’s gotta dance!’” said Fitzgerald.
He said to his wife,“What if Ogie suddenly had this weird ballet passion?” Stone then reminded him of the impromptu Irish clogging he had done the other night, and the next moment the jig was a pivotal part of the number—that as well as opera singing, magic, and more of Fitzgerald’s favorite pastimes from his younger years.
“He was sort of a master of all—just nonsense! But it was so endearing because it was so sincere. He wasn’t funny—he was sincere. I loved doing that. It was always fun” he added.
Fitzgerald performed in “Waitress,” which opened in 2016 and again in 2021, for four years in and out of the show. He performed as Ogie over 900 times.
After graduating from Rollins with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater, Fitzgerald attended grad school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
He is now a Brooklyn-based actor and singer, where he lives with his wife, two sons, and their scruffy black dog, “Lolli.”
To students aspiring to find their way into the performance industry like he once did, Fitzgerald underscores the importance of “Finding out your taste, listening to your gut, and being faithful to your own sense of joy.”
“I love the spirit of community at Rollins in the theatre department. It’s kind of remarkable. The people are so diverse and different, but we all love this one thing and everyone chooses to be involved in it, and I got a lot out of doing that,” Fitzgerald added.
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