The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Boyertown grad is living his dream on stage in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert'


By Sally Friedman, Journal Register News Service

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When he thinks of his life as a performer — a life that already has brought enormous rewards ­— Ralph Meitzler can’t help looking back to his early years in Boyertown as the prime reason for his success.
“It was a wonderful place to live, to grow up and to go to school. My Boyertown roots definitely determined what I was going to do with my life.”
At 27, this local man has been on Broadway in “Rock of Ages,” one of the biggest hits of modern theater. He is currently on the national tour of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” after having toured nationally with “Hairspray” twice.
So what propelled Meitzler into theater, and specifically to dance? He doesn’t miss a beat in attributing his success to those who mentored him along the way.
“I owe so much to so many”’ he said in a recent phone interview as he traveled to upstate New York for “Priscilla,” the most successful Australian musical of all time, which is arriving at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for a stay from Feb. 26 through March 3.
It all began when he was accepted in the show choir at Boyertown Area Senior High, where not only music but also movement was involved. Meitzler credits the school’s Music Director, Dan Kerchetsky and other mentors in his life like Let’s Get Dancing dance studio owner Debbie Stapleton and his private voice instructor, Francine Black, for, in his words, “...my inspiration to pursue a dream...”
In fact, this loyal son of Boyertown notes that there are too many teachers to mention, but that the combined love and teaching of so many account for his discovery that musical theater was truly his destiny.
In his personal life, his father, sister and grandmother — his nuclear family — also made sure that this young man could seize every opportunity to advance his dream.
And all were totally understanding, Meitzler said, when he abandoned his twin passion, a possible career in medicine, for the performing arts.
“I’d studied AP Biology and all the other courses that might prepare me for medicine, but in the end, I just realized that it wasn’t where I belonged. So I did the almost unthinkable. Right after high school I took off alone for New York City, where I’d been accepted at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy after a rigorous two-day audition.”
“My sister actually drove the packed truck and me to school, and she was freaking out at my tiny little dorm room, and the whole culture shock. I was thrilled by it all, including seeing thousands of people on the streets, and yes, the noise.”
Bring it on, was Ralph Meitzler’s attitude. This former high school cheerleader - the only male of the squad - had found his personal Nirvana - and noise didn’t matter.
His two year and extremely rigorous program at the Academy was where he realized that his focus was dance, with his favorite genre tap. Tap ultimately led to hip-hop, and hip-hop to jazz as well.
Two weeks after he finished at the Academy, Meitzler landed his first job - an original production of “42nd Street” at a summer theater in New Hampshire.
It was a great learning experience, and led to many other opportunities, including a run of “Wicked’ in Japan, along with productions of “No No Nanette,”“A Chorus Line,” Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “High School Musical.”
But if there has been a singular moment in the life of this dancer, it was definitely stepping onto the Broadway stage in “Rock of Ages.”
“You dream about it, you wonder whether it will ever happen, and then it does! It was actually during the bow that it really hit me. My family was there, and I was up on that stage. It was...surreal!”
There have been a few dry spells, including one eight month period of making endless audition rounds and bartending that convinced Ralph Meitzler he’d better have a fall-back plan. So he learned production wardrobe, joined the union, and had that cushion if and when he needed it. He also became a personal trainer, not a stretch at all given his own comprehensive training.
Then along came the national tour of “Priscilla” and his being named Dance Captain, an all-consuming job, along with Fight Captain and understudy for several lead performers.
The musical, which he loves, places Ralph Meitzler in the tale of a trio of friends on a road trip across the Australian outback, looking for love and friendship. Based on the 1994 Academy Award winning film, it features a hit parade of classic songs like “It’s Raining Men,”“I Will Survive” and “Say A Little Prayer.”
“I’m where I want to be, and I’m grateful that I am. I didn’t choose the most secure work in the world, but I guess it chose me. And life is good,” Meitzler said.
“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” will be on stage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia from Feb. 26 to March 3. Tickets are $20 to $100. Phone: 215-731-3333. kimmelcenter.org/broadway