Dancing is his fever

Brandon Rubendall plays Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teenager who turns into the king of the disco floor on Saturday nights.
Brandon Rubendall plays Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teenager who turns into the king of the disco floor on Saturday nights.PHOTOS: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Brandon Rubendall plays Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teenager who turns into the king of the disco floor on Saturday nights.
Brandon Rubendall plays Tony Manero, a Brooklyn teenager who turns into the king of the disco floor on Saturday nights.PHOTOS: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Actor Brandon Rubendall, who plays the lead in Saturday Night Fever The Musical, picked up dancing at six

As a 10-year-old, American actor Brandon Rubendall learnt a lot about theatre by performing in a community production called The Goodbye Girl, based on a 1977 American romantic comedy-drama film.

That was 20 years ago.

The performer is now the lead actor for Saturday Night Fever The Musical, playing Tony Manero, the role which catapulted John Travolta to fame. It opens at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands on Sept 25.

The musical is based on the hit 1977 film about Manero, an Italian- American teenager in Brooklyn and "king of the dance floor" at the local disco every Saturday night.

He meets Stephanie Mangano (played by Karen Lynn Gorney in the movie) and they eventually fall in love while training as partners for a dance competition.


  • Where: Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands

    When: Sept 25 to Oct 4, 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 2 and 8pm (Saturday), 1 and 6pm (Sunday)

    Admission: $95 to $175 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Rubendall, 30, who is based in New York, picked up dancing when he was about six years old and discovered musical theatre when he was nine.

He tells Life: "I really didn't want to go to school because I was learning things I didn't want to learn. I wanted to perform so badly."

When he was 18, he made a deal with his mother that if he could not book a show within a year of graduating from high school, he would go to college.

He booked a job long before he even graduated, leaving school a month early to work as an actor, singer and dancer in revue show American Beat II in Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. It was the summer of 2003.

He performed five 30-minute shows a day six times a week, which "was a lot of work squeezed into very little time".

The actor has also done regional theatre in the United States, in shows such as A Chorus Line, West Side Story and Sweet Charity. He has also appeared in music videos and live shows as a singer and dancer.

In 2011, he made his Broadway debut in the musical Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. It was plagued with production problems and opened to mixed reviews. That same year, he performed in the Tony Award-winning musical, Anything Goes. He has also been in the musicals Wicked, Hairspray and The Last Five Years.

He performed in the Philippines for the Asian tour of Saturday Night Life The Musical and was here for interviews recently. Next month, he will perform in Malaysia before returning here for the Singapore run of the musical.

He says: "Singapore is really clean and has a futuristic feel and that's very exciting. I'm really looking forward to experiencing life here and not just seeing it from afar."

1. It is commonly said that male dancers get picked on in school. Did you experience that?

Yes, it happens to every male dancer growing up. Even when it mostly died down in high school, I never really fit in with the people in school. Dancing was just "another activity" to the people around me. I was the only one who knew that dance was something I wanted to take on as a career, so I never found a group where I felt I belonged.

2. Who has impacted your life significantly?

My stepfather. As a child I remember my own father being a fantastic person, but when he and my mother got divorced when I was about 13 years old, he became a very different person from the man I remembered growing up.

He left us, which was the best thing that could have happened because then my stepfather came into my life.

He is such an amazing man, so wise and kind and such a hard worker. He put all of that on me. Truly, I am the man I am today because of him.

3. You were part of the original cast for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. Why did you leave midway?

We - the cast - went through a lot. We worked for months and still could not go through one run during rehearsal without stopping, even after we opened.

The breaking point came when my best friend told me he had put in his notice. He was my rock in the performance, so when he left, I left. I have no regrets - I had put in my time and given my best.

Spiderman was one of the hardest things I have done in my life, but it has also been one of the best things I have done.

4. How did you prepare for your role in Saturday Night Fever?

Funnily enough, I have watched the movie only 11/2 times, the first time from beginning to end and the second time for the dance portions only.

I am aware that people are going to compare me with John Travolta and I am totally fine with it. I know that if people come to the show with an open mind, they will love the Tony I have created.

5. What is one thing you look forward to when you go home to New York?

My puppies. I have two puppies at home, a puggle (a cross between a pug and beagle) and a dachshund pug mix. Both are male.

My puggle's name is Buddy and my dachshund pug mix is called Doctor Curtis Connors. I got Connors - that is what I call him - around the same time I was in Spiderman on Broadway, playing the villain with the same name, and I thought that my dog had to be called Doctor Curtis Connors.

6. What do you do in your spare time?

My hobby is performing in this group called Apollo Link. We started out as an a cappella group, but once in a while, we'll throw an instrument into the mix. This sounds like work, but it's my hobby because it's so fun.

7. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

I am a cross between the two. I am definitely very outgoing but I am also very shy. I will make conversation with anybody, but if somebody can't give me something back then I give up. But if I get a vibe with someone, I will rattle on.

8. How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered for being me and for being true to myself. I also want to be remembered for my talents and for being a good guy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Dancing is his fever'. Print Edition | Subscribe