Man of A Thousand Talents - Vincent Ortega is Crushin' It!

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

Vincent Ortega has nearly done it all in the music and theatre industry. His credits range from actor, singer, and dancer to dance captain, director, and choreographer, and there’s no telling what he’ll do next. Growing up in California with a musician father who toured around Mexico, he got an early taste of a life in entertainment, but it was not until he met other kids involved in the performing arts that he started on the path.

Ortega attended Orange County School of the Arts, notably attended by Broadway greats including Stephanie J. Block and Lindsay Mendez. At age 17 he was hired to dance with a Ricky Martin tour and his father told him to go for it. Ortega worked for a number of pop artists and spent time as Aladdin for Disney, a role he was hand-selected for by then-CEO Michael Eisner.

Getting more comfortable with choreography and the production side of stage shows, Ortega’s agent suggested he head to New York City to audition for Broadway.

“Being from California, you think there’s nothing but Broadway out there,” Ortega said. “Then when I moved to New York, I did regional theatre and realized there’s such great theatre all over the country, and a lot them look for talent out of New York City.”

One of the first shows he was involved in that enlightened him to the wonders of regional theatre was “The Wedding Singer” at Gateway Playhouse, located in Suffolk County on Long Island.

“I happened to be at the same studio where Gateway was having auditions, and ‘The Wedding Singer’ had just closed on Broadway,” Ortega said, describing how he essentially crashed the callback and made a good impression. “The director loved me and I ended up getting it.”

Ortega’s friends encouraged him to accept the job because of the theatre’s great reputation.

“I went and out of all the shows I’ve ever done in my life, that show has brought me my closest friends to this day,” he said, specifying one of his best friends is director Keith Andrews and they frequently work together.

Click to read Broadway & Main’s exclusive interview with Keith Andrews.

 

Ortega fell in love with how choreography and movement can tell a story in a musical. Always up for a challenge, he works with performers of all skill levels to tell that story, whatever it may be.

“When you are working with more singer-actors rather than dancers,” he explained, “I pride myself in making non-dancers look really good,” and gets compliments all the time.

One of Ortega’s most memorable moments is when Michael Jackson attended a show he was doing in Los Angeles.

“He came backstage and told everybody how great they were,” Ortega said. “When I was young, he was one of the people that you looked up to as a dancer and performer. His style was so theatrical.”

When the pandemic struck, Ortega was working on an Off-Broadway show called “Four Guys Named José” and also filming “The Many Saints of Newark.” Both productions shut down and Ortega found himself working with Dr. Karen Thornton, who closed her family practice in order to help Covid patients in underserved areas.

“She was going to parts of the city that didn’t speak English, and I spoke Spanish,” Ortega said. “I volunteered to help her translate for Covid patients.”

The pandemic and lockdown period is where Ortega’s career “gets all over the place,” as he puts it. He got a call from Nickelodeon, which was in need of a Spanish-speaking director-choreographer who could put up shows at their new resort, Riviera Maya, just outside of Cancún, Mexico.

“There were 36 different shows that they did and I was there for about four months in Mexico putting up these shows,” he said. “We were in our own little bubble and everything was being created right there, which kept me pretty busy and was very exciting.”

In the fall of 2020, he participated in “The Christmas Caroler Challenge,” a CW competition show.

“Christmas caroling groups were challenging to become the winner, and the winners won money for Toys for Tots, so sort of everybody was a winner on that project,” Ortega remarked.

Since the program was filmed in Los Angeles with a lot of LA-based singers, it felt like a reunion.

“It was the first time that we could all be together because of Covid,” he said. “It was just like hanging out with a whole bunch of friends.”

Ortega enjoyed watching the uplifting holiday show in December when it aired.

Check out clips of “The Christmas Caroler Challenge” on Ortega’s YouTube page.

 

In addition to these projects, Ortega choreographs the showcases for AMDA, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan. He recalls preaching to his students to be ready for theatre to reopen.

“Be ready. You have to be ready for when we’re back. You can’t sit around and use lockdown as an excuse anymore,” he would tell them, and took his own advice by continuing to train and practice.

Having spent most of that time period in California, when he did come back to New York for work, it was another reunion.

“People were crying,” he recalled. “Being able to hug your friends again for the first time was just incredible.”

This past year, Ortega toured with a holiday-themed Cirque du Soleil show and, one cross-country road trip later, his next production will be “Head Over Heels” at one of his favorite places to return to – Gateway Playhouse.

He ran auditions for the show adapted from 16th-century prose set to the music of the Go-Go’s and remembered what auditions were like before everything went virtual.

“Teaching a dance call in person, I was like ‘oh my god, I’ve missed this so much,” he said. “I love it – seeing people dance in person.”

Like many others, living through the pandemic made Ortega more appreciative of working, and he has a positive philosophy about the work that he and his colleagues do.

“The joy that we feel performing is the joy that people get coming to see the show,” he said. “I’ve always said when you’re doing a long run, somebody out there has never seen this show before. There’s always the first time.”

He continued, “Some people right now when they come see ‘Head Over Heels,’ that might be the first show they’ve seen since Covid [began].”

Ortega truly appreciates the patrons of theatre who have come back to enjoy it as the industry bounces back from pandemic closures.

“When I was doing the Cirque tour, I was saying to people all the time, ‘Thank you for supporting. Thank you for coming. Thank you for taking care of this theatre and looking out for them.’”

Looking forward, he hopes to work with and share his wisdom with new performers entering the world of musical theatre.

“What I like about this business is how when you do a show, you become really close with your cast,” Ortega said. “I’m excited to meet a whole new young generation of actors, singers, and dancers, just starting their career out.”

 

 

 

 

 



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