Santa Rosa native Lawrence Cummings made his stage debut at age 17 as the tenor soloist in Handel’s “Messiah” at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.
Cummings graduated Santa Rosa High in 1993 and went on to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the Manhattan School of Music.
He sings opera, musical theater and pop/R&B. He has appeared in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End.” He has played New York City’s Lincoln Center. He has performed duets with Carly Simon. He has been a cast member in a Broadway national revival tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And, under the name “SKOOTA,” he has released his own pop/R&B album.
Earlier this month in southern Utah, Cummings stepped onto the stage as the “Under-the-Sea”-singing crab Sebastian in a regional premiere of Disney’s musical, “The Little Mermaid.” He’s performing through Oct. 21 at the Tuacahn Amphitheater in Ivins, Utah. However, he’ll travel to Kansas to perform the same role from Aug. 5 to 14 at the Music Theatre of Witchita.
Think back for us to your days in high school and college (or earlier). When did you know you wanted to become a performer?
I think I always knew I wanted to be a performer since the age of 10 when I did “Peace Child” at Santa Rosa Players. That was my first show and from then I knew that I wanted to be a singer/actor.
What were some key things you did back then that eventually helped launch your career?
Some things that really helped were taking voice lessons and sight-reading at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a prep student; having a great high school music teacher, Mr. Dan Earl; and all the experience I got in musical theatre from Santa Rosa Players and the Santa Rosa Repertory Theatre.
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in entertainment?
First, I would say that you really do need to absolutely love this and can’t imagine yourself doing anything else because it is a very tough career. But that said, I would say to always take classes: Dance, voice, and acting. Never stop learning your craft.
What’s the best part of your career as a performer?
Knowing that even though what we do isn’t rocket science, that we still touch and change peoples lives and how they might view the world after hearing the words or notes that we say or sing.
Were there times when you weren’t sure what to do next or when you felt discouraged? What helped you in making key decisions and in not giving up?
There are always times when you feel discouraged, but as a performer you have to really believe in yourself and have a handful of people that you can trust their opinion on where to go to get that encouragement you need to go on. But that is also where good foundation in training comes in, because with training comes confidence.
Could you mention a highlight or two that’s going to stick with you for the rest of your life?
Singing in Handel’s Messiah at Davies Symphony Hall at age 17 was just a dream come true because I had been to concerts there and heard singers and wanted to be up there and all of a sudden I was. Another would be singing duets with Carly Simon in concert. It was just a very surreal and amazing experience. She is an icon. And one more I have to mention would be singing the role of Jesus opposite the renowned Carl Anderson as Judas in the Broadway National Revival Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. I mean…Carl Anderson as Judas was just …unreal.
You’ve done opera, musical theater, film and pop/R&B. Did you know in high school you wanted to try all those different areas?
I knew that I liked to sing and act, but I didn’t know where that would lead me, although even in high school, I sang in musical theatre shows as well as doing opera, and singing pop/R&B stuff.
Do you feel as if you’ve had to start each new area on the first rung of the ladder, or did your previous work help give you a leg up when crossing over to a new form of entertainment?
Each field has it’s own rules and what is expected of you. You do almost have to start at the first rung of each area, but at the same time your experience in one field does help you climb that rung a lot faster than if you hadn’t had those experiences in the other.
How did you happen to land the part as Sebastian in this showing of “The Little Mermaid”?
Well, I landed the first job with Musical Theatre of Wichita as Sebastian by a phone call. I had been hired there twice before and when they found out that they got the rights to do the show, the artistic director called me up and asked if I would be interested and, of course, I said, “Yes.” For the other, at Tuacahn Ampitheare, I went in and sang for them. They called me back for the next day to sing the last few pages of “Under the Sea”, which goes to high G’s above high C and to read some of the sides along with dancing. Two weeks later, after they had seen people in NYC and in Vegas, they called me up and offered me the job.
And what was your reaction when you saw that crab suit for the first time?
I loved it and was a little terrified. I had never been an animal or creature on stage so it was something new for me, but putting on the costume really does help in portraying this character.
What’s next for you?
Well, next is another Sebastian in Little Mermaid. I will be doing this role for another 4 months.
What goals or dreams are you pursuing?
I really would love to do more TV/film projects, and that is what my agent and I are working on.
What key lessons have you learned on your journey?
I have learned that you always want to give a good audition because even if you are not right for that particular job or don’t book it, you have the chance of possibly getting something else that that director or casting director is casting. I have also learned to stay focused on yourself and don’t look to how others’ careers are going according to yours. Your life and your journey are unique to you and when you focus on others, you get off track and lose out on the amazing journey that is all yours.