Carlos Lopez loves the enthusiasm and freshness of his fellow students.
After 25 years and eight Broadway shows, roles on “The Sopranos,” “Guiding Light,” and “Law & Order,” and scores of touring and off-Broadway performances, Carlos Lopez is back on the Hayward campus of California State University, East Bay to finally complete his degree in theatre arts.
Come winter, the campus and community will get to see his work on the University Theatre stage when he takes the lead role in the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“It’s a great show; I can’t wait to do it,” says Lopez. “I’ve always wanted to do this show, but I never have.”
Lopez and Marc Jacobs, “Forum” director and assistant professor of theatre and dance, hand picked the show for the Broadway veteran.
“Carlos was in my music theatre techniques class last winter and we quickly found we really enjoyed working together,” said Jacobs.
“I said, ‘Let's find a show for you next year’ since I knew I would be directing the winter musical," said Jacobs. "When I suggested ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ Carlos' face lit up. The role of Pseudolus carries the show and is a dream role for a comic actor. It is so full of old vaudeville bits and schtick, which Carlos is a natural at. I've been looking forward to doing this with him ever since we first spoke of it.”
Lopez said: “I love being here. I love taking my personal journey with my fellow students. I try to keep a low profile, but word gets around about the pro stuff. I love it when one of my colleagues comes up to me after a class to ask me how I did something, or what my approach was. I guess I have a lot to share. My classmates are so fresh, and untainted; they have all the same dreams I did when I first started.”
He wishes he had learned to read music, play the piano, and master the nuts and bolts to make him a pro when he was in school. Lopez said he had to learn the hard way how to audition, find an accompanist, write a proper resume, and how to prepare for a show – traits and techniques he’s now eager to share with those who are interested.
Lopez was born in Sunnyvale and grew up in Castro Valley. He got his first acting role at age 5, and was hooked. The product of a macho, sports-oriented family, he did the obligatory weight training and boxing, but his love of women led him to the dance floor and he never looked back.
About the time his college career was turning sour, he landed a role in “A Chorus Line” with a national company. After a San Jose run, he went on to Minnesota, where he qualified for his equity card at age 21 or 22. He returned to California with a knee injury one year later.
“I went to my father after I recovered and said I was going to New York the next week. I had a place to live for one week and $5,000. I got a job my first week in town, and I never stopped working for 16 years,” says Lopez.
On Broadway, he played both Mike and Paul in “A Chorus Line,” Sonny in “Grease,” Guy in “Guys & Dolls,” Kurt Kronenberg in “Grand Hotel,” and on and on. He was a principal in “The Sopranos” on HBO, in the feature film, “Stepford Wives,” and on “Guiding Light” on CBS. He starred in the New York Film Academy’s, “Deathwishes,” and in the Hofstra University production, “Mr. J’s Café,” plus scores of other film, television, and on- and off-Broadway roles.
Lopez tends to be a character man, the heavy, the bad guy, the funny best friend, Mafia-types, and cops. He did sketch comedy/improvisation, and is a master of accents, plays the guitar, and does impersonations of Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.
He says his strong suit has always been tenacity, and that he has always been far tougher on himself than anyone else could possibly be on him.
A host of circumstances, primarily his father’s health, have brought Lopez home for an undetermined length of time. Next spring he plans to pick up the piece of parchment that has eluded him all these years and finally be qualified to be a teacher, if that’s where life leads him.
Thomas Hird, chair of Cal State East Bay's Department of Theatre and Dance, summed up the current Carlos Lopez saga.
“In the middle of a successful professional career, Carlos chose to finish his degree here at East Bay, a community that certainly varies significantly from a career on stage where you are surrounded by other professionals," Hird said. “In making the adjustment, I believe that he’s found some unforeseen reasons to justify his decision. He hasn’t just learned from classes. He has come to understand his potential to share his own experience and knowledge with others. His senior year is going to be special for us. With his role in ‘Forum,’ I expect other students will learn as much from his example as he will from setting the example.
"CSUEB helps students to think of themselves in new ways." Hird said. "When he returns to Broadway, maybe Carlos will be inspired to look at a broader range of opportunities,” said Hird.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” starring Lopez, with direction by Marc Jacobs and musical direction by Marianna Wolff, will perform March 4, 5, 11, 12 at 8 p.m. and March 13 at 2 p.m. in the University Theatre, on the Hayward Campus. Tickets, at $20 for general admission, $15 youth, senior, alumni; and $10 for those with a CSUEB student ID, will be available online at: http://class.csueastbay.edu/theatre/Tickets_and_Box_Office_Information.php.