When you come to love a character on a television series, whether you see them repeatedly for many years or only fleetingly over a single season, itís in no small part due to the actor who once upon a time donned a costume, memorized a script and brought that character to life.  With that said, we were very excited and honored to have the opportunity to speak to John Lansing by phone and he was unbelievably generous with his time, patiently answering our many questions and sharing his memories of both C.A.P.E.R. and his impressive career!

I take a deep breath and pick up the phone in the middle of the second ring.  I have anxiously been awaiting the call, excited beyond words to have the chance to talk to an actor I truly admire and to ask him many of the burning questions I had formed during the past year researching both The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. and his career.  A friendly and familiar voice is on the other end of the line and immediately Iím at ease.  I thank John for taking the time to talk to me on behalf of the website and all the fans.  He asks me where Iím located and when he finds out Iím in the North San Diego County area he asks if it is cold here.  The weather has been unusually cold for Southern California, even for February, and John tells me he can see snow on the mountains in the distance from his home in Los Angeles.

I give John ample warning that I have many questions prepared for him, so he settles someplace comfortable and welcomes my inquiries.  Over the course of ninety minutes or more (during which he sacrifices the charge on one phone, the majority of the charge on a second and pretty much all of the feeling in his ear) he is open and honest about his career, offering as many details as he can.  But there isnít an ounce of conceit in his voice.  Itís passion for his work in all areas that fuels his generous responses.  One can see that in all of his endeavors he really strives to do his best, devoting himself wholly to the project, be it an acting performance, script or book.

I begin by asking whether or not acting was something he was interested in from an early age, and John explains that it really wasnít on his radar at all when he was young and his only real performing experience had been singing in choirs.  Acting wasnít even a consideration until he attended Delhi in upstate New York.  There he performed in his first role on stage, playing Nathan Detroit in the musical Guys and Dolls.  "I discovered I had a passion for acting; it felt right," John noted, adding that acting was also well-suited to his short attention span.  John later attended Oswego State University where he studied acting as a liberal arts major.  He performed in the stage plays at Oswego for one year before transferring to Hofstra University.

Balancing his time between college and acting jobs, John performed in many plays in and around New York, eventually winning his first on-Broadway role in The Sign in Sidney Brusteinís Window in which he played a singer (part of a choir which commented on the action taking place on stage.)  One of Johnís fellow singers in the show was Danny Beard (who would later perform with The Fifth Dimension.)  Beard is credited in the show's Playbill as being a "featured singer, actor, dancer and composer in the Free Street Theater."  Indeed it was Danny Beard who encouraged John to go to Chicago and try out for the famed performance group.

Formed in 1969, the Free Street Theaterís mission has been to take the highest quality art and art instruction to people where access is usually limited.  John won a place with the company and toured extensively, singing with the traveling show.  He described it as being very much a rock-and-roll type experience with the troupe traveling with a big electric rock band in a van from place to place.  He also reminisced fondly about his chance to travel to Europe with the troupe as well, including stops in Yugoslavia, Belgium and France, most memorably performing shows beneath the Eiffel Tower.

John also helped shed some light on his first feature role in a motion picture, the mysterious movie entitled Only a Game which was referenced in his various Playbill credits.  John recalled the film being shot by director William Ball in Puerto Rico at the same time Woody Allen was there filming his comedy classic Bananas.  It was financed by Banco Popular, the largest bank in Puerto Rico, and the plot involved a man with a camera obscura who had the idea to use the images projected on a screen to allow the actors in his movie to become a part of the picture.  Sadly there was some kind of disagreement between the director and producer and as a result the film was never released and has, to our best knowledge, never seen the light of day.  But John recalled the experience of working on the movie as being quite enjoyable.

Although he returned to New York to finish his studies, John eventually dropped out of college after completing three and a half years with only twelve credits to go before earning his BA, although to be fair it wasnít as if leaving school was a conscious and clear-cut decision.  "Itís just that the [acting] jobs were happening and you had to take the opportunities when they came," he explained.  And the opportunity that came up was one which would change his life forever; the musical Grease.

When asked how he won the role of Danny Zuko in Grease, John explained he worked hard on auditioning for the role.  "The street theater I had been a part of was great training for that, and I was cast as an understudy in the National Touring Company."  While John was with the show in Los Angeles, Barry Bostwickís brother was sick, so John had the opportunity to fill in the lead role for two weeks.

John was then offered the lead in the first bus and truck tour which eventually covered ninety cities in nine months!  The touring company even experienced the grueling task of performing thirteen one-nighters in a row!  But as John explained, "Every night was like opening night because the audiences were really excited to see the show."  This held true for just about every venue they played, except when they performed at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, affectionately known as "The Purple Cow," in Florida.  "It was like performing to a sea of cotton - the audience was made up of retirees and we didnít get a single laugh all night."  John recalls the grueling touring schedule as being "hard work but very exciting."

It was during this bus and truck tour that John became good friends with Cosie Costa, and they remain close friends to this day.  John recalls, "We hit it off right away."  Spending so much time on the road together helped them to become "blood brothers," in Johnís words, and he affectionately referred to Cosie as, "An old, old friend; quite lovely."

John was then offered the lead in the Broadway company of Grease and played Danny Zuko at The Royale Theatre for about a year.  By that time he had spent two and a half years straight working on the show and it was time for a change, plus there was an unspoken expectation for actors in the show to eventually give up their lead roles after a certain amount of time.  "As wonderful as it was to be working on Broadway, you were expected to move on."  Overall, John remembers his time in the hit musical as being "an interesting and full experience."

I wondered if John had ever received any formal training as a dancer.  John explained that he was not trained as a dancer but that he could be choreographed.  And while his gymnastic prowess was sometimes noted in past articles he said his only experience in that sport had been when he was on the gymnastics team in high school.

I then asked if John preferred stage acting over acting for television and / or movies.  "They are three totally different things," John was quick to point out.  "Work was work and when youíre working as an actor youíre basically on vacation . . . the hardest part is getting the jobs.  Once you do it for a living, itís not a lot of fun getting the jobs, but itís a lot of fun having the jobs."

Asked when his interest in song writing began, John explained that he started writing music while he was on the road with the touring company of Grease, writing music on the rhythm guitar.  But he insisted that he is far from being a proficient musician, although he wrote songs and sang lead vocals with a band called Fox which performed at the club CBGBs in New York.  Sadly none of these songs were ever recorded because this turned out to be at about the same time C.A.P.E.R. was about to happen.

Continue . . .

 

 

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