On View : The Many Stages of Michael Damian

Libby Slate is a frequent contributor to TV Times

In a scene from the musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, Pharaoh praises a song by Joseph. "Not bad," he says, " 'specially for someone so young ... and restless."

That line was never heard in the 1968 original, a 20-minute-long school play version of "Joseph," the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice show about the biblical story of Joseph. Nor was the line evident in the expanded, full-fledged 1972 musical edition about the boy whose brothers were so resentful of his favorite-son status that they sold him into slavery.

But for this Joseph, played here by Michael Damian, the temptation to slip in such a reference proved irresistible. In addition to being a real-life singer with a No. 1 record single to his credit (1989's "Rock On"), Damian for the last 12 years has starred as rock musician Danny Romalotti on the top-rated CBS soap "The Young and the Restless."

"They sprung that line on me opening night," Damian recalls with a smile, sitting in his dressing room after a morning's taping of "Restless." "They never told me about it in rehearsal. I heard the audience's laughter and I thought, 'Did he say what I thought he said?' "

Damian is not the first Los Angeles soap star to divide his time between the sound stage and the theater stage, nor the only one currently doing so. John McCook of sister show "The Bold and the Beautiful" is co-starring opposite Carol Burnett in "From the Top!" at the Long Beach Center Theater.

But Damian is probably the first to do so on such a grand scale: The splashy, all-stops-out production, which opened in February for an initial six-week run, has proven so popular that it has been extended twice. It leaves the Pantages June 27 to make way for "The Will Rogers Follies." The production moves to San Francisco for eight weeks, then heads to New York, where it is scheduled to begin Broadway previews in October and officially open there Nov. 10.

On top of all that, Damian did not even have to audition for the role.

"The producers of the show called me over a year ago," he recalls, "and said, 'We've heard your music, and we want you to play Joseph.' I didn't know if I could because of my commitment to 'Young and Restless'--they didn't know then where they were going to open the show.

"But once I got together with ('Y&R;' creator-executive producer) Bill Bell and he told me they could accommodate me, I was very happy and excited--and relieved. Then Andrew flew in and I sang for him at the Pantages. He said, 'See you opening night,' and flew back.

"Doing 'Joseph' is the culmination of everything I've learned," adds the 31-year-old Damian, who began studying piano at age 6 with his mother, a classical pianist. In the late 1970s, he played West Coast dance clubs with several siblings in a progressive rock group called The Weirz. It was while performing his solo release "She Did It" on "American Bandstand" in 1980 that he was spotted by "Young and Restless" producers and tapped to portray the then-struggling musician Danny.

"There've been 12 years of playing Danny, 25 years of music and performing live on stage in concert. All of that has come together, and I need it all for 'Joseph,' " he says. "I'm not sure if there are any similarities between Danny and Joseph, though deep down inside they're both good people and have high morals. But the years of acting have helped. I have a lot more ammunition."

Actually, there is another similarity: In a classic example of marketing moxie, Danny is now starring in a production of "Joseph" as part of his "Y&R;" storyline. He sang one of the musical's songs, "Close Every Door," on the soap, and was also seen working with real-life "Joseph" director Steven Pimlott, who portrayed the show's musical director.

"Young and Restless" fans have been turning out in droves to see Danny/Joseph/Damian, judging from the reception afforded the Pharaoh's "young and restless" remark and the shrieks that erupt from the crowds of women outside the Pantages artists' entrance when Damian emerges after performances.

"Hearing that response is great," he says. "It's nice that people have been so supportive and kind, bringing me gifts and waiting a long time after the show."

Damian will continue playing Danny when "Joseph" moves to San Francisco, commuting back and forth to Los Angeles. He is uncertain what arrangements will be made once he goes to New York. Producer Bell hasn't yet decided whether he'll recast the role while Damian is away.

For now, though, all's right with Damian's world, despite getting only five hours of sleep a night and working out with a trainer and roller-blading daily to keep in shape for "Joseph."

"There's a certain wonderful magic that takes place on stage in a theater," he says, his tone hushed. "For the first time, I've been completely taken away from Michael Damian. I'm not me at all. Usually, I'm down to Earth here (at 'Y&R;'). But there, with the wig, and the costumes, and the fact that Joseph starts out as a young, naive boy and takes a journey ... I feel like I'm taking a journey every night, too."

"The Young and the Restless" airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on CBS.

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