Clay Thomson and Christopher Rice typically spend show nights five blocks apart on Broadway.
Clay plays Matilda’s brother, Michael, in “Matilda” at the Shubert on 44th while Christopher is a Broadway “swing” on “Book of Mormon” at The Eugene O’Neill on 49th.
On Monday night, the actors — who are a couple — will be side by side, hosting the 2015 Metropolitan High School Theater Awards at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains.
The 17th annual awards presentation honors achievements in high-school musicals across the Lower Hudson Valley. A record 46 schools participated in the competition this year, from Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Bergen counties.
Brewster’s “Shrek” is up for 15 Metros, the most of all.
Awards will be handed out in 30 categories, from student critic to outstanding overall production, the night’s top honor. (Watch the awards in a live webcast, with pre-show interviews at 6 p.m. and the ceremony at 7:30 p.m.)
“I was a swing, so I understudied 17 kids,” he says on a break from rehearsal in Manhattan.
But when he got to Gananda High School in Rochester, he auditioned for the annual musical, but was not cast.
His sophomore year, an audition failed to land him a role. Junior year, same thing. His senior year, the same.
“I was told I didn’t audition well,” he said.
He could have left it at that, let it get the better of him. Instead, he got to work.
“All those years, while my friends were rehearsing, I was dancing,” he says. “I danced from the time I got out of school for hours: ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical.”
He wanted to prove the musical director wrong.
“Even back then, I told myself I had to work hard enough, take more voice lessons and dance classes to earn a part the next year. If I would have listened to that musical director when he told me I wasn’t good enough — and didn’t push myself to prove him wrong — I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Where he is now is on Broadway, with two Playbills bearing his name, something no other person from Gananda has ever achieved.
He left Penn State’s musical theater program after his freshman year, when he was cast in the national tour of “West Side Story.” After the tour, he came to New York in 2012, gave himself a year to land work, went to see “Newsies” and fell in love with the dancing in it. He auditioned for a part in it — and landed it — in his first month here.
“I was a huge fan of the show before I even joined,” he says. “I needed to be part of it. It was perfect timing of my getting in the show. To make my Broadway debut dancing with them was a dream come true.”
(Check out Clay’s website.)
Now, he’s a Broadway swing on “Book of Mormon,” covering seven different “tracks,” groups of characters.
“The swings are listed in the Playbill, and almost every Broadway performance has a swing in it, but it’s our job to make sure the audience doesn’t notice that a swing is in,” he says.
Rice says the hardest part of learning the work of seven different actors — and being prepared to go on for them, sometimes five minutes before the curtain — is learning the backstage traffic pattern.
Believe it or not, he says, for every scene in a Broadway show, there is an equally intricate dance going on backstage, unseen by the audience.
“Things like: where we change our clothes, where we get our wigs, where we stand to be out of someone’s way, where we stand as we are about to go on.”
As someone who has found his way on Broadway, Rice says he has two pieces of advice for the kids who’ll attend Monday’s awards ceremony.
“The first things that come to mind is: Don’t give up. There were so many people who directly or indirectly told me to give up, or my dreams were too big, or listed reasons why I should give up. I’ve worked my butt off to be the dancer my dance teacher said I’d never be, or the singer my voice teacher said I couldn’t be. But if you can see it in your dreams, it can happen.”
His second piece of advice: Be nice.
(Check out Christopher’s website.)