What Does A Professional Career In Musical Theater Look Like?

  • Chris Van Cleave
  • Actor

  • Singer

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Musical theater is an extremely popular genre of music. Being a professional musical theater actor is the dream of many actors/singers. The journey is not always the easiest one. There can be a lot of ups and downs. But ultimately, it can be extremely rewarding. 

In this candid video, veteran actor, Chris Van Cleave walks through the various stages of his long and prosperous musical theater career.

The Valuable Information Chris Shares In This Video

Career Highlights

Learn about the highlights of Chris' long career in music theater

The Lifestyle

Learn what the lifestyle of a msic theater actor is really like.

The Path

Learn the path that Chris took to attain the success he ultimately achieved.


Learn how much input or influence an actor has on the final production.


Learn what actors need to do to prepare for each and every role. 

Writing A Musical

Learn about being hired to write the music for a new musical.
About The EXPERT

Chris Van Cleave

: Chris performed in his first musical at the age of 12 as Louis in the King and I. He started writing songs in that same year and while in high school was lead singer in a Top 40 band. His love of acting, singing and songwriting have created a dual career his whole life. Over the next few decades, Chris' career developed as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor, writer, visual artist, director and teacher.

AS A SINGER SONGWRITER, Chris has independently produced seven albums and the score for two musicals. His initial major label release "The Friend Ship" was on Paramount Records with Walker Daniels (original lead in Hair) and Laura Branigan in the folk-rock group "Meadow". See feature article next month.

As a songwriter, Chris is one of the most prolific and eclectic composers within the industry today. His catalog of over six hundred songs (with many hundred more yet to enter) includes styles of folk, rock, country, R & B, jazz, reggae, and musical theater. He has "a keen ear" for rich harmonies and musical arrangements, and many are surprized that, although he has written the score to three musicals, he does not read or write notation! His strong, expressive voice, ranging from bass into tenor, has been praised by many as rich, soulful, and melodic throughout his career. He has performed in venues throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe.

In addition to performing his music in concerts throughout his travels, he has opened for Kansas, Poco, Eric Burdon, Leon Russell, and Buckwheat Zydeco. As a recording artist and songwriter, he has collaborated with many, including Suzi Quatro, Jim McCarty (Yardbirds), Peter Mason (Bee Gees, Dave Dee) and Barry Mason (writer of hits for Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink). Chris has also collaborated with international organizations (such as Friends of the Earth and The First Earth Run) to write songs for specific occasions.

As with many others in the world today, Chris has had his share of soul-carving experiences. From a father who was killed in Vietnam; a brother who committed suicide; a divorce and subsequent separation from raising his first two daughters, to being his mother's caregiver following her strokes and developing Alzheimer's, Chris has much personal experience to draw from which deepens the quality and insight within his lyrics.

With his unique ability of capturing in song the various joys, trials and challenges of our human journey, his catalog contains an endless supply of material suitable for documentaries, seminars, feature films, places of worship, and personal gifts. AS AN ACTOR SINGER, Chris starred in national tours of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, performing to thousands in major theaters, coliseums and concert venues throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. While residing in the United Kingdom for seven years, Chris also performed principal roles in the London West End theatre productions of Les Miserables, Chess, and Bernadette. At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, he sang and performed the role of Jesus (in Italian and Latin) in Stabat Mater. Other roles he has enjoyed include Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, Hajj in Kismet, the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance, Prospero in Return to Forbidden Planet, Sam in Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, Lord Summerhays in Misalliance, and Stonewall Jackson in Stonewall Country. A more detailed list can be found on his resume and viewing the acting page.

Chris has an Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from the University of Virgina and is a member of both British and American Actors Equity Associations.

IN FILM, Chris has worked with New Dominion Pictures in Norfolk, VA, and appeared in The Untold Stores of the Navy Seals, The FBI Files, The New Detective, Daring Capers, and Ghost Stories, and just recently playing the role of Charles Lindbergh in a National Geographic Television documentary Secret Lives of Charles Lindbergh which aired July 2009.

In 1982 he composed and produced 17 songs for a rock gospel musical, co-written with Paul Solomon, called The Davidson Affair which was performed at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, VA. The readers theatre version of the show has been performed in the United Kingdon and HollaWhile completing his MFA degree at UVA in0 2002, Chris created a one-man show called Troubadour Knight. He wrote the script, composed and recorded seven songs, filmed and edited, and performed in this multi-media musical as a project towards his degree.

A chapter in Chris' thesis for this degree is "Synaesthesia in the Performing Arts". He is continuing this study, which is based on the crossing of two or more sensory modalities. His focus is on the relationship of colors of light combined with corresponding sound frequencies and the resulting effects on people individually and within an audience. Troubadour Knight was his first project to explore this principle.

The summer of 2004 he was contracted for three months at the magical outdoor Theater at Lime Kiln in Lexington, VA for three productions. In one of these, he performed the role of Stonewall Jackson in Stonewall Country. This was its final season after a twenty year run which ended with a farewell Gala Performance featuring Robin & Linda Williams, the composers of the show. In March, 2005 Chris performed the role of Father (God) in the Stephen Schwartz musical Children of Eden.

During the last few years, Chris has performed in several shows at the Flat Rock Playhouse (North Carolina State Theater), Mountain Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and this summer again performing the role of Stonewall Jackson. Earlier in 2009 he directed The King & I while also teaching and running a theater department. He is currently writing the script and music for a new Christmas musical Presence.

In March and April, 2010 Chris performed in Sweeney Todd at the Signature Theatre in Washington, DC. He returned for another performance as Stonewall Jackson at the Limekiln Theatre, Lexington and in December of 2010 he was Marley in A Christmas Carol at the Wells Theatre, Norfolk, VA.

2011 had him developing his musicals, recording new songs and performing concerts. On the musical theater stage, he performed in May at Arena Stage, Washington DC in an exciting new musical in development, Skindiver, written by Nona Hendryx (Blue, Labelle) and Arena Stage Resident Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (Ruined, Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies, Blue, Porgy and Bess). In October, Chris played King Triton in The Little Mermaid at the awe-inspiring outdoor Tuacahn Ampitheater in Utah, and in December 2011 Chris returned to the Wells Theater, Norfolk, Va in the role of Marley in A Christmas Carol.

2012 - 2017 has Chris progressing his POW/MIA film project called Not Forgotten; completing his musical Presence; reviving the musical co-written by Paul Solomon and Chris called The Davidson Affair along with creating the CD version of The Davidson Affair album; together with continuing to performing various roles as an actor on tour in the Catskills, NY, Sonora, CA and Roanoke and Norfolk, VA.

In August 2016, Chris was featured in the independent film "Eyes of the Roshi", which premiered in Virginia Beach in 2017.

Late 2016 through early 2017, Chris was collaborating with London West End star and long time friend, Ray Shell, writing and co-writing 46 songs to Ray's new musical production Starboy. 23 of the songs were recorded for an album early 2018 at Barton College in Wilson, NC and can now be heard on Spotify.

In Feb 2021 a concert version, COVID safe, was staged at the Paramount Theater in Goldsboro, NC and the musical continues to garner interest from industy contacts in London and New York.

Lockdowns frustrate but don't stagnate creativity! In the summer of 2021, Chris' song "Carry the Flame", originally written to support The First Earth Run in 1986, was re-recorded into two arrangements to support the Vigil for Peace and Ecology and the International Day of Peace. An acoustic version with legendary violinst Scarlet Rivera and recording artist, violist, Cecil Hooker from New York city was recorded, along with a second arrangement by renowned Greek composer Alexandros Hahalis in Athens, Greece. Both versions can be heard in the Catalog page or on YouTube.

Chris travelled to Greece in 2021 for further collaboration with Alexandros and then again in 2022 where they were joined by Scarlet Rivera for collaboration and performance, and was deeply moved by the hospitality and generosity of all those who welcomed them.


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