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Point Boro Senior John Caliendo Dreams of Broadway

Says phenomenal 'Fiddler' cast, crew and orchestra helped him win Paper Mill award

After winning first place in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Stars awards, John Caliendo doesn't hesitate when asked what he wants to do with his life.

"I want to go into acting," he says.

He also doesn't hesitate to admit that he wants more than that.

"I'd love to do it all," he says.

For Caliendo, 18, "doing it all" means writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play, where he can use all the skills he's been working on since he was a wee one.

He says that as much as he loves writing and performing music, he  loves acting just a little more.

And he's not saying that because he just won the Paper Mill Rising Stars award for his starring role as "Tevye," the father in "Fiddler on the Roof."

He started thinking about this quite a while ago, in between classes at Point Borough High School, rehearsing and starring in "Fiddler" in March, playing and teaching piano, playing tuba, composing music, choosing a college, going to his senior prom and looking forward to graduation on Friday night.

"I don't think I'd be satisfied with myself if I didn't go for it," he said in a recent interview, in between winning at Paper Mill and performing in a brass quintet in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

"I get a strong rush being on stage," he said. "And I think I'd like to continue it."

Caliendo beat about 90 other entrants for the lead actor award, said Lisa Cooney, Paper Mill's Director of Education.

The high school musicals are adjudicated by Paper Mill Playhouse throughout the spring by a group of 70 evaluators, with each school receiving four independent evaluations.

This is Caliendo's third nomination.

"John has a lot of demonstrated talent," Cooney said. "We don't send the same evaluators every year, so different evaluators have seen him. John seems to be consistent. He has special gifts as a performer.

"As Tevye, he's on stage most of the show," she said. "That's a hard job. He projected a more mature character and that's hard to do when you're in high school.

"But John was so convincing as an old man, as a mature father figure, who was able to relate to the girls playing his daughters.

"John has a great vocal ability," Cooney said. "Acting is first in musical theater. When you find someone who is a great actor with a great voice, that's a special thing.

"He has that wonderful combination of being able to tell a story with a song," she said. "That was most effective in this role and won him the award this year."

Winning the award puts Caliendo into the National High School Musical Theatre Awards competition at New York University, which culminates in an awards ceremony on June 27 at the Marquis Theatre in New York City, according to the Paper Mill Playhouse website.

Activities start on June 22, with rehearsals, master classes, private coaching and interviews with theater professionals leading up to the live awards show where the Jimmy™ Award for Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress will be presented.

The first place winner is awarded a scholarship of about $100,000 to  Tisch School of the Arts' Now Studio on Broadway at New York University.

That's a school with a considerably-higher price tag than Montclair State University, where he plans to go (unless of course he wins the national competition).

His plan, at the moment is to major in Music Education with a minor in theater at Montclair, and then hopefully transfer to a university specializing in musical theater the following year.

Winning a national competition and attending Tisch would be great. But, Caliendo says, it's doesn't make or break the dream.

"I'm a firm believer that it's not where you go, it's what you make of it," he said.

When asked if he was surprised he won, Caliendo said, "I was hopeful. When they announced my name, it was very exhilarating. I was excited when I went up to accept it, but it didn't hit me til afterwards."

Caliendo loved that many members of the cast and crew, as well as many of his teachers and directors, were in the audience last Tuesday night when his name was announced. He said working with the rich talent pool of actors, singers and musicians made his performance better.

"Having that kind of talent around you always adds to a performance," he said.

His directors gave him a great piece of advice that brought him his strongest bit of positive audience reaction.

"They told me to be bigger with Tevye's dance," he said, referring to the famous dance that had Caliendo stomping purposefully and swinging his hips.

Caliendo said, "It was fun to portray him, it was a nice challenge."

Playing the lead in Sweeney Todd last year was almost as challenging, Caliendo said.

"Sweeney had layers, but not as much as Tevye," he said.

"Tevye had a hard, outer layer and tried to keep up tradition," he said.

"It was hard to show how he tried to do that, but that there was also a softer side to him. He was very strict, but then gave his permission to his daughters" to do things not in keeping with "tradition," Caliendo said.

Getting back to the instrumental part of his life, Caliendo has already been paid for his work as a composer. He wrote "A Humble Hero" for Thorne Middle School in Port Monmouth and recently heard them perform it at their band concert.

"I was very grateful," he said.

Just for being nominated for "outstanding performance as a lead actor," Caliendo receives a full scholarship to Paper Mill Playhouse's competitive Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory.

However, Caliendo does not expect to attend the summer program. He plans to work at the Bay Head Yacht Club, where he's worked for years.

"They give out a partial college scholarship to some of their summer workers and I want to see if I can get that," he said.

The high school's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" had received eight nominations for the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards.

Jennifer Enright June 14, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I had the honor to become acquainted with John this past year. He is not only an incredibly talented musician and performer, but also a genuinely fine young man. Congratulations on your success, John, and very best wishes for continued success in your future ~ we will be watching for your name in lights!!!

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