NORMAN — Vince Leseney dabbled in musical theater as a child. But when push came to shove the Des Moines, Iowa, native settled on studying opera at William Jewell College and Oklahoma City University.
While at OCU, Leseney auditioned for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and was cast as Curly. His performance prompted him to leave behind opera forever and a love affair was born.
Leseney now teaches voice for musical theater at the University of Oklahoma and frequently performs at Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City.
Catch Leseney during his performance as Eddie and Dr. Scott in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Lyric Theatre Oct.16-Nov. 2. For more information visit lyrictheatreokc.com.
Q: What attracted you to musical theater in the first place?
A: Honestly, it was the success of that audition. I went in thinking I didn’t have anything to offer in musical theater and thinking I was an opera singer. And then I did well in the audition — I wasn’t doing that well in opera. I enjoy the process of musical theatre process more than opera.
Q: Why did you do “Oliver!” when you were a kid?
A: My mother was the stage manager at the theater. She was up there anyway and she kind of wanted me to perform. I was a lazy kid — I wasn’t going to ask to do anything, I just liked sitting around. [laughing] I got in and I enjoyed it. When “Music Man” rolled around I did that, too. And then my voice teacher in high school really pressed me to pursue singing as a living.
Q: How did you land into opera then at that point?
A: Well, if you’re going to be a professional singer, opera was the more respectable way to do it. I was brainwashed into it. [laughing] I was perfectly capable of it, I just wasn’t great at it.
Q: What is it about music and performance you enjoy so much?
A: That’s the question you can’t answer. It’s just the driving force, the desire to just be in front of people and sing. Hopefully bring something new to musicals everybody’s seen a 100 times — doesn’t even matter what the title is. But hopefully I’m going to bring something new to the song that hasn’t been done before, something new to the character. That’s always fun. And I never forget that people come to be entertained so that’s the number one motivator.
Q: What else would you be doing if you weren’t performing?
A: I would be a psychologist.
Q: Really? How come?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and I think I have the temperament to sit for hours and listen to people’s problems and try to help them figure it out. That’s always been attractive to me. But then again it’s a lot of work. You have to go to school — you have to read books. [laughing] So I was never going to make it as psychologist.
Q: Tell me about “The Rocky Horror Show.”
A: I’m not a true historian but “The Rocky Horror Show” was born during the glam rock era — when you had flamboyant performers like David Bowie. I think it’s a marriage of glam rock and really bad horror movies — like so bad, they’re good, horror movies.
I was introduced to “Rocky Horror” in high school. I probably saw it 50 times in high school. I’ve always wanted to do the stage show so here we are. And I’ve always wanted to play Eddie — come out, sing a great song, get murdered — it’s awesome.
Q: How does it work doing the roles of both Eddie and Dr. Scott in “The Rocky Horror Show”?
A: Eddie gets killed in the first act. He comes out and sings a song and then gets slaughtered by Dr. Frank N. Furter. And then I can go and change my appearance and get in the wheelchair for Dr. Scott.
Q: How do you prepare for roles like Eddie and Dr. Scott?
A: I’m not a big process guy so it’s kind of boring. I get my material, get my score and what not, learn the song, try to bring my love for heavy rock to it and then try to make as much noise as possible. Make it as loud and entertaining as possible.
Dr. Scott is kind of an intellectual — I don’t know — I haven’t thought about it yet. I’m hoping inspiration will strike. Eddie sings really, really high and Dr. Scott sings really, really low. The goal is to not be recognized and not have the audience tell it’s one actor playing both roles — unless they’re reading the program.
Q: “Rocky Horror” is obviously a cult classic with a lot of fans. If somebody was unfamiliar with the production, why should they come?
A: It’s for people who love genuinely deliberately shocking and offbeat entertainment. Just crazy men in garter belts and fishnet stockings and women with big hair and horrible makeup. Just really good music. It’s good heavy rock, glam rock music. It’s good, it’s a good show. Entertaining from beginning to end. Just keep your eyes open and enjoy.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Acting has always been a big mystery to me. I don’t understand it. The people who do it well — those are the people that I admire and astound me.Jonathan Beck Reedis someone I really admire because he has process and is really able to immerse and become. I’ve never really understood how to do that. I try to see how I fit into that person’s life and how would I behave if I was that person. I don’t think I’m ever capable of that transformation but hopefully what I do is effective enough that it pulls people out.
Q: What’s your inspiration musically?
A: That would be my voice teacher in high school. Dr. Marion Hall, from Drake University told me that I had to sing, “You have a voice that you absolutely have to use.”
He died right when I got out of my high school from lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That sounds kind of sappy, I guess, but I felt like I was one of the people he devoted time to, so I felt like I needed to excel at it. And the one thing I’ve ever put my most effort and focus in was my voice — during my formative years when I should have been taking acting classes. [laughing]
Q: What’s your inspiration when teaching?
A: He is my inspiration when I’m teaching. Also the person that most inspired my teaching style was another college professor, Dr. Arnold Epley at William Jewell College, where I went to school in Liberty, Mo., because he was really no-nonsense — he just said things the way they were, “This is what you’re doing wrong and this is how you fix it.” All the while just communicating a deep love and passion for the art.
Q: Your life seems very romantic. Like you’re living a musical.
A: The romance of it, for me, is helping a student unlock their abilities and use their voice — and use their voice to its fullest. Then they go out and they audition and they get representation by an agent in New York or they get a Broadway show or a national tour — that’s what does it for me. I want them to be as successful as they can possibly be and that’s what I want. That’s what I’m in it for.