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The ‘Fantastick’ Nick Spangler and Starr Spangler To Run 'The Amazing Race'
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Thursday, September 25, 2008; Posted: 9:24 AM - by Joseph F. Panarello
"Try to see it under light. I assure you it's dazzling." So speaks Henry Albertson, the old actor in Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's perennially endearing musical The Fantasticks, which is once again running at the Jerry Orbach Theater in the Snapple Center on West 50th Street.
The actor's words come to mind while visiting the empty performing space. The stage is still set from the previous evening's performance. There are some boxes the floor which is littered with confetti. Behind this, the famous show curtain billows gently from the theater's air conditioning system. Everything about Ed Wittstein's set is intentionally simple but it comes to life beautifully once Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting is raised and the pinks and blues that flood the set make it the imaginative milieu for the long-running tale of young love and its disappointments.
A different type of light came to illuminate the darkened theater on that August afternoon. The sound of footsteps approached from the darkness and indicated the arrival of Starr Spangler, the sister of Nick Spangler who is starring as Matt in The Fantasticks. Emerging from the shadows, Starr proves to be a beautiful young lady. She's casually dressed in a white blouse and a simple black skirt, but a sparkling gold belt sets the outfit off and indicates that she is a classy gal who knows how to stand out in a crowd. More importantly, she has a warm and ingratiating smile; the kind that was sung about in the opening credits of the old Mary Tyler Moore sitcom. In short, Starr Spangler knows how to make a good first impression.
Minutes later, Nick Spangler appears from the other side of the theater. He's been upstairs talking to another media outlet and is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans and it's apparent that he works out regularly to maintain his impressive physique. It's obvious why The Fantasticks' producer Pat Addiss referred to him in print as "a hottie" and why girls wait after the show to get his autograph or have their pictures taken with him. Nick's performance in this vehicle earned him the 2008 Elaine and Jerry Orbach Fellowship awarded by the Theater Hall of Fame at a luncheon at the famed Friar's Club in Manhattan. Both he and his sister had created a flurry of excitement on theater message boards a week earlier when it was announced that the two of them had been participants in CBS Television's reality series "The Amazing Race" and were sitting down to talk about it.
The siblings hail from California but now call New York City their home. Nick's been here for about five years and Starr only recently moved to the city. She's a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and is having a little difficulty adjusting to the faster-paced life that The Big Apple is known for. "I've been in Texas for the past few years and everything down there is flatter and slower. The pace of New York is really fast but I'm getting used to it." About her experience as a performer, Starr explains, "I've danced and done cheerleading ever since I was little and I did all through college. I cheered for Texas Christian University for a year and then I decided to pursue the dream I had ever since I was a little girl and that was to cheer for the Dallas Cowboys. When I was 18 I tried out for them and have been with them for the past three years. Now I'm in New York and seeking something in the entertainment industry. Like Nick, I'm a performer but I limit my singing to the shower." She adds that she'd like to work on the business end of the performing arts.
When Starr explains what it's like to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, a happy grin comes over her face. "It was a unique experience. It's a world-class organization and the women are very intelligent. They come from all over the United States and actually we had a couple from Canada and one from Japan. It was a very diverse group and the ages ranged from 18 to 35. It was just a wonderful group of women coming together for a common goal. The women are classy and the training I received was unlike any other. We worked with celebrities and did a lot of community service. We were very active in the community, actually. I love football, so being at the games was the best part."
Nick, who was graduated from NYU in May, 2007 has been in The Fantasticks for about two years. He joined the cast as The Mute and understudied the role of Matt. After "American Idol"'s Anthony Federov left the cast, Nick was promoted to the leading role and has been playing it ever since. He took a short hiatus to play Jean Michel in a Denver production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and also played in THE FANTASTICKS with Lorenzo Lamas at the Casa Manana in Texas.
It's obvious that Nick likes being in The Fantasticks. "It's so well-written and beautiful that all these casts can make different, wonderful experiences out of it. To be honest, I think the current cast is a completely different show from the one I joined in 2006. I'm very pleased with it. Our fathers [Gene Jones and Steve Routman] are hilarious and everyone is just terrific to work with. Of course, I miss having lyricist Tom Jones in the show playing Henry."
Tom Jones isn't the only person who Nick misses at the Jerry Orbach Theater. Bobby Oliver originated the role of Mortimer, the Cockney Indian when The Fantasticks initiated its run at the Snapple Theater Center, but he passed away on February 4, 2008. "It was a Sunday when we had two shows. We performed the matinee and between performances Bobby was complaining about some pain in his chest and not feeling well. Our stage management was telling him to go to the hospital and see a doctor but he didn't want to, so they ended up calling an ambulance for him and they took him away. At the hospital they told him he was going to be fine but recommend that he spend the night for observation. He refused and actually came back to the theater and told us he was okay and would see us the next day because his understudy was going on for the evening performance. When we got to the theater for Monday's show we learned that he had passed away. He was actually on the train to Long Island where he was going to visit the sister he cared for. It was a very difficult performance that evening and for several weeks following but we feel his spirit is still around here."
It's interesting to learn that it was Starr Spangler who suggested that she and her brother try-out for "The Amazing Race" She giggles a bit as she explains how it came about:
"When Nick and I were 14 and 15, we watched "The Amazing Race." We both wanted to be on it. So I went on-line and learned that you had to be 21 to audition. I was disappointed because I felt there was no way it would still be running when I was 21. When I finally did turn 21 a year ago, I was student-teaching and cheering for the Cowboys when I randomly saw an "Amazing Race" episode from the previous season. I wondered if they were doing another one and if there was a due date for the applications. Once again I went on-line and found that the applications were due in a week. At the time Nick was doing LA CAGE in Denver and I called him early in the morning; I don't even think he was awake. I told him that we had a week to do the application. I was going to be graduating and he was in between shows. So I booked a plane ticket and flew down to Denver on Thursday." It turned out that Starr couldn't have picked a less opportune time to do this because LA CAGE was opening on Monday and Nick was doing ‘ten-out-of-twelves' to open his show.
At this point Nick took over the narrative: "She got there and we filmed this three minute video that we did after my rehearsals ended at 11 PM. We'd work on it until 3 in the morning and I would have another rehearsal at 10 AM. We did that for two nights. When the show went into performance, I was editing the video backstage and we mailed it out so we could just make the deadline in time."
Both of the Spanglers are very proud of the video that they submitted to CBS. Nick claims "It showcases our personalities and demonstrates why we'd be a great team on ‘The Amazing Race'. Really, editing it down was the hardest part. I was staying at a Residence Inn in Denver at the time, so we filmed in the gym running on treadmills and in the hot tubs."
While Nick was busily rehearsing his show Starr went to the local Target and got marshmallows. "I thought we could use them to play Chubby Bunny and show our competitive spirit. I also got hula hoops so we could use them in the playground to show how much fun we were. One of the best things I got was one of these big balloons. I said, ‘Nick, we're gonna do an interpretive dance! We'll put on music and keep the balloon between us. It'll be totally weird and completely different but it's something that everyone will laugh at."
Nick felt that the clip was the longest one they had and it was also the most useless because no one was speaking in it. "We were literally doing plies and we'd turn over keeping the balloon there. I showed it to my fellow cast members and everyone would crack up at that part, so I told Starr that we couldn't edit it out. Actually that segment may have had a hand in our getting on the show." Hopefully that audition film will eventually find its way onto YouTube.
"We crossed out fingers and then we got some calls and all we ever hoped for was getting one step further," explains Starr. "When we found out we were going to be on the show we couldn't really believe it."
Nick and Starr immediately contacted their parents about the show and received their wholehearted support. Mrs. Spangler is a great fan of "The Amazing Race", so she may have even been more enthusiastic about the project than her two children. She sent them a trove of items to use on their expedition and is responsible for the Army camouflage tank tops they Nick and Starr are seen wearing in the publicity photos for the show.
When Nick first saw the tank tops he remarked, "No way in hell am I going to wear that and match Starr. No way! I threw it in my backpack just as a back-up." Starr interjects here, saying, "He wound up wearing it a lot!"
There is a significant reason why the Spanglers decided to wear the Army camouflage: their brother, Captain Martin Jacob Spangler is with the military police stationed in Iraq and they wanted to represent that. During the race Nick also wears a facsimile of the yellow baseball cap that he stole from Jake many years ago and has become Nick's trademark in New York's theater community. The original yellow cap is waiting to be willed to the Smithsonian.
Both Spanglers agree that participating in "The Amazing Race" strengthened their already solid relationship. Explains Nick, "There's no experience like it, and to share it with a family member, especially one who's my best friend, was a lot of fun. It's clearly something that we'll be able to look back on and say ‘We did it together.' We've always been proud of our relationship with each other and it was cool to think that we could be in a stressful situation and still get along." In addition to Starr, Nick and Jake, there is a younger Spangler named Jovah Love who is a high school senior and just finished Carnegie-Mellon's high school program for musical theater.
As wholesome and close as the Spanglers are, they have no problems bringing up the blemishes their personalities displayed when they were growing up. Starr turns into Mr. Blackwell when discussing her brother's taste in clothes: "If you think the ‘camo' was bad, you should have seen Nick's wardrobe in eighth grade! He wore these shiny metallic shirts and some of them were netted. He wore them every day and they were really flashy. Everyone knew Nick Spangler because of these shorts. One was this bright blue collared metallic shiny fabric shirt. I mean it was just hilarious! Later on he wore Hawaiian shirts to school every single day and he became known as ‘The Hawaiian Shirt Man.' I think his wardrobe is what I look back on and laugh at the most!"
Nick counters with comments about Starr in elementary school. "Starr had a problem with lying. She was a chronic liar. She would lie about anything and everything for no reason whatsoever. We're talking about the tiniest thing or the biggest thing. There was one day when I was away filming a small part in the movie JACK and when I got back to school everyone was asking me how I was. It seemed that Starr had told them all that I'd been shot in the leg and was in the hospital. I still don't understand why. Also, when Starr was in elementary school she'd show up in the morning and go to the office at the beginning of the day and get the crutches out of the first aid place and then walk around the school on them saying that she'd hurt her ankle dancing or cheering. At the end of the day she's return them, our mother would pick us up and she'd be fine!"
There is genuine chemistry between the brother and sister. Their sunny dispositions beggar comparisons to Donny and Marie Osmond, but one can't really imagine how Marie Osmond would contend with a 30, 000 mile trek that began at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and took the competing teams to Brazil, Bolivia, India, Russia and Kazakhsten. Likewise, it would be hard to fathom Donny Osmond lugging a side of beef through the streets of a European city as was required in a previous episode of the show.
Sitting on the stage of the Orbach Theater, one realizes these two must have had their share of fatigue and stress during while participating in "The Amazing Race". The show requires them to compete against other teams and race against the clock in hopes of winning the one million dollar grand prize. However, like the aforementioned character of Henry Albertson, these two have "removed their ten pounds of road dust" to share a bench and chat amiably. It also seems so very fitting that both The Fantasticks and "The Amazing Race" are perfect pieces of entertainment that entire families can watch together. That alone is a rarity in the current environment of PG and R ratings. However, it's not just families who will tune into CBS on September 28th to watch the Emmy Award winning "The Amazing Race" begin its 13th season. Many theater-goers and Dallas Cowboys fans will also be watching to see how Nick and Starr Spangler face on that episode and the ones that will follow.