From Maine South kid to Jersey Boy
Italian teacher Stella Weber and her daughter, Lore Dana Weber, talk with Nick Cosgrove and get him to sign a poster. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:11AM
Nick Cosgrove’s entry into the world of musical theater began on stage — and in the classroom — at Maine South High School.
Six years after graduation the Park Ridge native is putting the skills he learned as a teenager into his career as a professional actor.
Cosgrove is now starring as Frankie Valli in a national touring company’s production of “Jersey Boys.” Cosgrove’s twice-weekly performances in the award-winning musical are taking place through June 3 at Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago.
It was “Jersey Boys,” which Cosgrove first saw at age 17, that cemented his desire to become an actor, and he calls playing Frankie Valli — whom he hopes to meet in person next week — his “dream role.”
“I’m playing my dream role in my dream show. How lucky can you get?” he asked with a laugh.
While in town Cosgrove made a stop at the place where his dreams of becoming an actor took root: his old high school. On May 21 Cosgrove engaged a group of current theater and music students in more than 90 minutes of conversation, sharing memories of his performances on the auditorium stage, his professional work since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, and his advice for hopeful actors in the audience. He then earned cheers and applause for his performance of “Lost in the Wilderness” from the musical, “Children of Eden.”
Cosgrove says his mentors from Maine South include drama teacher and theater director John Muszynski, former band director and current Maine East Principal Michael Pressler, retired choir director David Danckwart and drama teacher Lauri McCleneghan.
“Those four teachers just impacted me and my love for theater so much,” Cosgrove said.
When the actor first stepped onto Maine South’s Clyde K. Watson Auditorium stage in 1997 he wasn’t even in high school yet. The school’s production of “Will Rogers Follies” required children to fill some of the roles. Cosgrove auditioned — singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for Danckwart — and got a part. He returned in following years to perform alongside the high school actors in productions of “The Music Man” and “Sound of Music.”
“It was just really fun to know all the teachers and be a part of the theater program before I even got to Maine South,” Cosgrove shared.
A young Cosgrove also sang as a cantor at his parish, Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in Niles.
“I was so short I couldn’t reach the podium,” he confessed.
When finally a Maine South student Cosgrove became part of the fiber of the Fine Arts department, performing in choir, Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and all of the school plays and spring musicals, including “Titanic,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Secret Garden.”
“It really became family,” he said of the Fine Arts Department. “My teachers became almost like parents, or aunts and uncles — they were that close to me.”
Cosgrove identifies David Danckwart as one of his most significant mentors. Danckwart’s musical-theory class, Cosgrove says, helped to build the foundation for his professional career.
“If I didn’t have the music theory and the musical background that I had from Maine South and David Danckwart, I wouldn’t be the musician I am today,” Cosgrove said.
Danckwart, who was personally invited by Cosgrove to see “Jersey Boys,” was present for the actor’s May 21 appearance at Maine South and modestly down-played the credit Cosgrove had given him.
“I don’t feel I really deserve that,” said Danckwart, who retired in 2006. “When you’re teaching, you’re doing the job. Just to be credited with anything from someone who is so talented is just amazing. I’m very humbled by that.”
Danckwart in turn remarked in wonder at how Cosgrove, just 24 years old, has taken on the acting business.
“His whole philosophy, his whole attitude as he looks on this business that is so difficult is so mature, it’s incredible,” Danckwart said.
Muszynski, who moderated Cosgrove’s appearance, said the actor’s achievements did not come as a surprise.
“From the very beginning, from the very first time as a little kid in third grade, you saw this was someone who had a real focused passion, not to mention talent,” he said.
Cosgrove, who will be touring with “Jersey Boys” until at least early-2013, advises theater students interested in a professional acting career to have confidence, a lot of patience and to know there’s no guaranteed successes in the business.
“It’s not an easy career to go into,” he acknowledged. “You have to have a thick skin. You’re going to be told ‘no’ a lot and you have to be willing to go into every audition and say, ‘I know that I prepared this material to the best of my ability and I know I’m talented.’ ”