Dallas — He’s got rhythm. He’s got music. He’s got charisma. Could you ask for anything more?
Add boyish good looks and a classically trained voice and it’s easy to see—and hear—why Alex Ross is making the role of spirited singer-songwriter, Peter Allen, in The Boy From Oz, new again. The 28-year-old tenor is set to star in the regional premiere of the 2003 Tony Award-winning musical, presented by Uptown Players at the Kalita Humphreys Theater July 25-Aug. 10.
“This is one of the largest roles I’ve ever seen,” says Cheryl Denson, the musical’s award winning director. “We needed somebody who has a special kind of charm and Alex certainly has that.”
But there is another reason Alex has come so far, so fast: His family.
A British beginning
As a young boy, Alex spent his early years in Lancashire, England with his parents Barbara and Graham, and his older sister Melissa. Their home was frequently filled with visitors and the melodic sounds of music and laughter.
“We didn’t lock the kids away, we encouraged them to participate and join the fun,” says Barbara, revealing a chipper British accent. “Whenever we had people over, Melissa and Alex would put on shows—all on their own. We always encouraged them to use their talents.”
The “shows” were their own creation, Alex says. “I'm not sure who I played or what they were about, but I'm sure my sister tried to dress me up as a girl at some point.”
It was becoming clear that the Ross children possessed musical gifts, which their mother considers an inheritance of talent from her husband. “Graham loved to sing,” she says, "and had experienced a bit of show business when he was 17—as the lead vocalist for a group called The Bottles. They even performed on television in England, every Saturday, for a while.”
In 1993 Graham, who had become an experienced businessman, packed up his family and moved them to America. New business opportunities and good schools attracted them to Coppell where they spent the next 10 years.
Within six months Alex, then eight years old, had lost his British accent; although his early English upbringing enables him to play British characters with ease. Coppell is also where he played his very first baseball game. Loving sports, his parents encouraged him to play, but he was awful. Alex says his parents wouldn’t let him quit.
“My parents have always told me, whatever choice you make you must see it through,” he says. “They never allowed me to quit anything.”
As Alex’s passion for sports grew, especially for basketball, it was also apparent that he was gifted in music. Then one day Alex’s sister Melissa suggested he join the school choir as she had done. He was in the sixth grade.
“My sister paved the way for me,” Alex notes. So he followed his passion and became part of the school choir. When he did well in his freshman year he tried out for the top choir in Coppell—the variety show choir—open only to juniors and seniors at the time. He made the cut.
Then the day came to choose between sports and music. His father suggested he pursue both, but Alex wanted to put all his energy into the passion he desired most. “My parents always encouraged me to live my passion, so I chose music. Besides, there were more girls,” Alex says with a wry smile.
More School Days
Alex’s experience with choral music in high school led him into classical music and that is what he wanted to study in college. Although two prestigious schools wanted him, Southern Methodist University and Oklahoma City University (OCU), Alex chose the latter, whose alumni include musical theater stars Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O’Hara. Money for tuition was a consideration and OCU offered a more generous scholarship.
It was the right choice for Alex. The education he received provided a broader opportunity. “OCU prides itself on producing well-rounded people,” Alex says. Even though he was focused primarily on classical music, he performed in musicals as well as operas. “Even though I didn’t explore musical theatre, it was suggested that I should and I’m really glad that I did.”
In May 2008 after earning his degree in vocal performance, he headed home.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Thanks in part to his family’s continued encouragement, Alex was determined to audition for everything he could. At the same time he needed to earn a living. Once again, his sister Melissa helped pave more of the path for her younger brother. She suggested that he teach voice, as she was doing.
So at 22-years-old Alex became a voice teacher. He currently has 40 students ranging from second graders to adults.
“I get kids that want to be pop stars although I think the majority of the kids are there to be better singers,” he says. “The most rewarding thing is when I’m playing the piano and I’ve given some direction— and the student looks up and I can see by their expression that they got it!”
His work with his students has also helped him become a better performer.
“You learn a lot about yourself as a singer explaining singing to students. Not only do you find different ways to discuss technics you also find yourself trying them out.”
Since college Alex has been cast in several local professional theater productions, from A Christmas Carol to Cabaret to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But the one that was a turning point in his career was in 2009 when he was cast as Scripps, one of the unruly teenagers in Uptown Players’ The History Boys, a British comedy-drama about a class of gifted teenage boys being pushed by their school’s headmaster to get accepted into Oxford or Cambridge.
“Being cast in History Boys was huge for me,” Alex says. “[Director] Bruce Coleman took a risk on casting a kid he knew nothing about. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time, as we so often wish to be in this business. Bruce gave me my first opportunity, which has lead to bigger roles, and that means so much to me.”
His teaching and working in the theater has kept him busy and happy. Then, in 2013, tragedy stuck when Alex’s father died suddenly at 63. Alex credits his father’s encouragement for continuing to spur him on while his mother Barbara, continues to be his greatest inspiration.
“My mom has been there since the beginning, and seen it all,” he says. "She has sat through many a show (some good, some not so much) and always clapped at the end. My mom has always had a keen eye for talent and is quick to share what she liked or didn't like about a performance. She, like the rest of my family, keep me humble.”
Two months after his father’s death, Alex signed with the Mary Collins Agency to pursue television and film opportunities, something his father had encouraged him to do. “This has changed a lot of things for me,” Alex says. He’s already had a guest spot on Dallas, been featured in commercials and worked with Ashley Judd in a television pilot.
“I'd like to be a full-time working actor and if that means guest spots for the next 10 years, sprinkled with a few small roles in films, and the occasional play, so be it,” Alex says. “I'd like to provide a great life for my family while remaining passionate about the craft of acting. But if Scorsese calls for a lead, I'm in.”
Family for Alex includes his wife Jessica. Three years ago, when Alex was walking through the halls of Legacy Christian Academy where he taught voice, he spotted her. It was love at first sight for Alex, but admits he had to work hard to win her heart. Alex pursued, and they have been a couple ever since.
Now comes the role that may define his future.
The Boy From Oz
The musical tells the story of the life and death of Peter Allen, who was discovered by Judy Garland. Allen, who married her daughter Liza Minnelli, went on to become a beloved performer and Oscar-winning songwriter. The show includes many of his best-loved hits: "Everything Old is New Again," "I Honestly Love You," "Don’t Cry Out Loud" and the show-stopping "I Go to Rio." The book is by Martin Sherman, from the original book by Nick Enright.
The show ran for a year on Broadway, carried by its charismatic star Hugh Jackman, who won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, solidifying Jackman’s reputation as the rare action movie star who’s also a top-notch song-and-dance man. (He did perform on the Australian and London stage before making it big in the movies, winning an Olivier Award for playing Curly in Oklahoma! in 1998.)
For anyone who saw that performance, Ross is striving to make the character of Peter Allen his own. “Alex really does play the man that’s written on the page," says Denson, who has directed him in two previous shows. “I don’t know if you ever capture that person but we are working very hard to put the man [Allen] on stage.”
Besides rehearsing, Alex prepares by doing a lot of stretching and cardio work. After all, he will sing 13 numbers, dance and narrate.
“I also read the Stephen Maclean book The Boy From Oz to get further insight on Peter's life. As soon as I was cast I began to watch videos of Peter's unique performance style. YouTube became my best friend and I paid particular attention to both the way he moved on stage and the way he interacted with others.”
Barbara, ever the supportive mother, knows he is ready for the role. “It’s a huge challenge, he’ll be on stage an awful lot, but he will give it his all. Besides, he always comes up trumped.”
Translation: he does it better every time!