Oklahoma native Chris VanDenhende is returning to his home state by way of “Chicago.”
The actor, who hails from Tulsa, is playing two supporting roles in the national touring production of the award-winning musical, which is coming to the Civic Center Music Hall this week for eight performances. The show then goes to his hometown for eight shows Jan. 21-26 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
“Chicago” marks his biggest show to date and his first national tour.
“I couldn't ask for much more with this job, I really couldn't,” VanDenhende said by phone during a hometown holiday visit. “I'm so excited for my friends and family and teachers and just everybody to get to see what I've done and see how my talent has gone from doing children's productions of ‘The Nutcracker' all the way to here.”
VanDenhende started dance and voice classes when he was 9 years old on the advice of a teacher who noticed he shared her love of music.
After graduating from Tulsa's Edison High School, he went to the University of Tulsa to pursue a degree in petroleum engineering. But after three semesters, he decided he was on the wrong career path.
He initially followed his love of dance to Los Angeles, where he auditioned for the ABC reality show “Dance War.” He made the top 30 but was actually glad when he didn't move on to the next round of competition.
“Essentially it was like a three-day, nearly 24-hour-a-day boot-camp type situation of learning songs and dance choreography, all to be put on display for like the final competition before they took the number down from 30 to 16,” he said.
“That was a crazy experience. It definitely shed light that reality TV is not a route I would like to take to success.”
Instead, he chose a more traditional path to making it in musical theater: He packed up and moved to New York about five years ago.
“When I moved to New York, I had no friends there. I had the money in my bank account and a dream,” he said.
After 2½ years, he hadn't made much headway and wondered whether he'd made a mistake.
“I kind of gave myself the ultimatum that I was going to save up money, quit my job and focus nonstop on performing exclusively. And I did just that: saved up my money for about six months, quit my job and started taking dance class, going to the gym and taking voice lessons like it was my job — because at that point, it was.”
His dedication paid off: He was cast as part of the ensemble for “Trouble: A New Rock Musical,” an official selection of the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Road to ‘Chicago'
After “Trouble,” VanDenhende, 27, worked as a performer for Holland America cruise line for six months, and when he returned to New York, he started on the long road to “Chicago,” which involved auditioning six times. Since he wasn't a member of the Actors' Equity union then, he started in the last group at a chorus call that drew 150 hopefuls.