Baltimorean Steven Schultz wanted to perform in "Starlight Express" ever since he first saw the fantastical spectacle on wheels on Broadway in 1987.
After years of being the "perfect chorus boy" in professional theater, Schultz, 29, finally realized his dream. For the past 16 months he has been a featured cast member in the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's high-tech musical ode to trains.
He performs as Weltschaft, the German locomotive, and understudies for the major roles of Greaseball, the Red Caboose and Rusty (the little steam engine who could).
Raised in Essex with two brothers and a sister, the young actor-singer-dancer (a graduate of Chesapeake Senior High School) studied theater and dance for two years at Towson State University.
"As a kid I roller skated a lot," Schultz said recently in the cast's communal dressing room backstage at the Lyric. "I remember being in a skating marathon for muscular dystrophy at the North Point Skating Rink."
The performer's passion for the Webber vehicle inspired him to take a renewed interest in roller skating, and he eventually landed a job skating with an industrial show.
"I wanted to be prepared," he said. "When 'Starlight' closed in New York after two years I knew there had to be a road show. I auditioned but didn't get the job. But I kept calling and calling. Finally the producers called me. They needed one more swing, that is, a performer who covers many roles in a show," he explained. "This time I was hired."
Before learning the show, the cast went into nine weeks of intensive skating instruction. "Eight hours a day, 'Starlight' style, so we would all look like trains," said Schultz.
The bulky costumes with flapping shoulder pads weigh around 30 pounds each. "They constrict you somewhat," he said. "We rehearsed in dance clothes and when we got the costumes we felt we couldn't execute the choreography at all. As a swing, I didn't think I was going to live through the show. I was understudying nine people.
"Things happen," he said. "The shoulder pads hit you in the face. Occasionally people fall. I was out of the show for six weeks with a sprained ankle. There is a lot of precision racing on stage and a big crash scene where we end up on the floor. When skaters are going 20 to 30 miles an hour there are bound to be some injuries ... sore ankles, knees and bruises.
"But I still have a great time every time I go out on stage," he said. "There is always something fresh and new."
Schultz has also performed in the national tours of "The Music Man" (starring John Davidson), "Brigadoon," "The Wizard of Oz Live," and he appeared as Tommy Djilas in the New York City Opera's production of "The Music Man."