by Lorie Lewis Ham
It has been my privilege at KRL to see some incredible theatre in this Valley and I have been blown away by the talent here. A name that I had been hearing constantly ever since I began covering local theatre was Terry Lewis–not just as an incredible performer but also as a great vocal coach. Yet I kept missing my chance to see him perform, though I had definitely seen his work as a vocal coach for some incredible shows. Finally, this year I saw him in Avenue Q and yes, he is everything they say he is.
Terry came to Fresno with his family at a young age and went on to attend Fresno and Clovis schools, including Fresno State. Though a singer and pianist early on, his first acting role was in middle school when he played Sir Joseph in H.M.S. Pinafore. However, he didn’t really get into acting until high school.
But high school was just the beginning for Terry. “I have done so many shows with so many companies, and I’m so very fortunate to have played many of my dream roles. Some of my favorites have been Billy in Carousel, Archibald in The Secret Garden, Chris in Miss Saigon, Max in Lend Me A Tenor, Prospero in The Tempest, and Gary in The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name).”
What he loves best about acting and singing is the catharsis. “Being able to express yourself and your emotions onstage every night, while living as that person– there’s nothing like it.” What he has found the hardest is the fact that as actors and singers they live with their instruments 24/7 so even when they’re sick the audience expects perfection. “As a pianist, I can sit down at a piano and know what’s going to come out, no matter how bad I’m feeling. As a singer, sometimes it’s a total crap shoot.”The vocal directing/coach part of his career began in the 90s when he vocal coached Annie for Roger Rocka’s. At first, he was terrified. “At first I was very worried that the older/more experienced actors wouldn’t take me seriously as a vocal coach, since I was so young. But I like to think I earned their respect, and I absolutely love doing it now. I find the whole process so fun, I enjoy it every time. I pick and choose the shows I work on, so I’m always excited and enthusiastic about working with the singers.”
While his favorite type of shows have always been old-fashioned musicals with beautiful scores and big vocal demands, in the past few years Terry stated that he has really come to love the smaller, edgier, more modern shows as well. Some of his favorite shows that he has vocal coached for include this year’s productions of Spring Awakening and Next To Normal–both more modern and edgy.
“My recent experience with him on Next to Normal was, as expected, wonderful,” said Joel Abels, founder of StageWorks Fresno who produced Next To Normal in Fresno this year. “He is SO in the top of his game and HEARS everything…you can’t sneak a clunker by him…he will catch and correct it. Such a perfectionist. I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
“Terry is one of the most genuinely good people I know,” stated Taylor Abels, who was one of the actors in Next To Normal. “I have never met someone who will literally drop whatever they are doing to help fix a problem you might have, give you a ride somewhere, or make sure you are able to run that audition song a few more times until you feel comfortable with it. I am extremely honored to call Terry Lewis one of my best friends. He’s one of those people you wish you had more of in your life.”
“As a vocal coach he is skilled and knowledgeable beyond measure,” shared Anthony Taylor who directed the orchestra in Spring Awakening. “As an actor and musician he is talented and an incredibly hard worker. As a friend and colleague I am lucky to count him as one.”
Last year Terry got to play an ultimate dream role when he was cast as the Phantom in the COS production of Phantom of the Opera. “It was the dream of a lifetime. What an amazing experience, on every level. I had such talented colleagues, a fantastic creative team, gorgeous sets and costumes, a wonderful live orchestra. And that part–what a gift for an actor/singer. I got to live so many emotions every night, and singing that music was beyond thrilling.”
“Terry’s greatest gift as a performer is the same thing that makes him such an amazing friend: it’s his humanity,” said Chris Mangels, who has directed Terry in several shows including this summer’s Avenue Q. “He is one of the most genuinely earnest people I’ve ever had the great honor to know. He is incredibly forthcoming as an artist and as a person, and it is that remarkable vulnerability and heartfelt sincerity that makes his performances both beautiful and unforgettable.”
Terry credits many people in his life for supporting and inspiring him in his career including his long time friend and mentor Dan Pessano, Managing Director of Good Company Players, but most importantly his parents. “who have loved and supported everything I’ve done for my entire life. In fact, my whole family (brother and two sisters, aunts/uncles/cousins) is very close and I rely on them a lot for so many things. I’m such a lucky man to have such wonderful, giving people in my life.”As to what has helped him grow the most as an actor and singer, he attributes a lot of that to allowing himself to try so many different types of shows, theatre and performing. “The thing I’m most proud of as a performer is my versatility. I may not be the best in any particular role or type of performing, but I think I do a lot of things very well. I would rather be the actor that disappears inside the role, rather than be flashy and bigger-than-life, and bend the role to suit my personality. So allowing myself the freedom to create and experiment has helped me become a very well-rounded performer.”
His advice to those wanting to get into theatre is to do as much as you can and get experience on any level, whatever you are asked to do. “Do ensemble, it’s a great experience and you learn so much. Learn wherever you can, from whomever you can. Sometimes it’s hard to break in to the theater scene, and it seems like people always cast their favorites. So, make yourself their next favorite. A big (not so) secret is that directors want to work with people they like and can trust. So be that person they can depend on to always be there and deliver the goods. Go the extra mile, and eventually it will pay off.”
Music is a part of Terry’s life beyond theatre as well. For the last 15 years, he has worked in the Music & Media department of Henry Madden Library at Fresno State. He also teaches private voice lessons on the weekends at The Voice Shop in the Tower District.“Terry Lewis is one of the hardest working performers I know–seriously, I think he sleeps in some cryogenic chamber like two hours a day and it somehow recharges his body to allow him to do all that he does,” said Peter Allwine, who acted alongside Terry in Avenue Q.
In his rare spare time Terry loves to spend time outdoors. “I am a Master Gardener, and love to work outside whenever possible. I love to read, watch movies/TV, play video games. I’m also a huge animal lover and I spend as much time with my dogs as possible–we take walks four times a day.”
As to future dreams and goals, “I’m living them right now. I’m getting to do shows and parts that I’ve always dreamed of doing, with people I love and respect. I have a day job that allows me the flexibility and security to perform at night. I think the only thing I might want to try is a National Tour at some point, just to say I did it. I’d love to do a Broadway show of course, but I don’t know that I have the nerve to take off and try.”
You can catch Terry in his latest role as Fredrik in A Little Night Music presented by StageWorks Fresno opening on September 7. Watch KRL for more info and a review of the show.