Photo by Chris Casella

Big Break(er)

Discovering your destiny can be as simple as looking for the signs. While scanning the horizon of Westerville near Maxtown Road, Josh Gandee’s eyes happened to fall upon a “Truck Route to Broadway” road sign, sparking the idea of a musical about a trucker who longs to perform in The City That Never Sleeps. Gandee and Mike Kolar, both stand-up comedians, debuted the idea with a few sketches for Wild Goose Creative’s Monday Night Live variety show.

The Gandee and Kolar duo teamed up with musician Andy Gallagher, who spent two years writing the music to Semi Fame, the story of Pete, a trucker and regular at Margie’s Diner. Pete becomes convinced by Carl, Margie’s on-again, off-again alcoholic boyfriend, to take his voice of gold to Broadway. Along the way, Pete teams up with Dan, former Hollywood child star, who learns the ways of the road from Pete.

Semi Fame: The Truck Route to Broadway will premiere at the Short North Stage this month, and in the lead-up, (614) took a backstage pit stop with Pete to discuss his amazing career transformation and plans for the future.

Can you describe your journey to Broadway? What were the greatest obstacles you faced along the way? It was just like any other long haul. The difference this time was the cargo I was dropping off was myself. The hard part was finding someone to take a chance on me. We got there on Tuesday, and it wasn’t ’till later that day that I actually found someone who would let me audition. That four hours before finding my agent was stressful as hell though.

So much of this business is who you know. How do you network in this industry—particularly as an outsider? The trucking business or the Broadway business? I’ve met a lot of people in both. As far as networking goes, I’ve found that just being myself has always suited me best. “Who you know” usually happens after “where you were, at the right time.” It’s important to keep plugging, to always be talking about what you are doing. Someone always knows someone else. Start conversation, talk about your likes, your doings, your wants. Go to where things happen, talk to those who are doing, and never be satisfied. If you are bored, then you are boring.

What can you tell me about perseverance and passion? It’s perseverance that keeps you awake when you’ve only got 16 hours to get from Columbus to New Orleans, and it’s passion that keeps you from giving up halfway through. I used that when I got to Broadway. I knew I wanted to be up on that stage, and no one was going to stand in my way. You got to love what you do, whether it’s singing to a full house on opening night or driving a truck full of blue jeans halfway across this country.

Define success. Do you think you’ve gotten there? Success is knowing you’ve completed your job—knowing that without you, it wasn’t possible. I think that I’ve gotten there. If I wasn’t successful I’m sure someone would have told me by now.

Chicago or Jersey Boys? I’ve always been a fan of the classics, so most of me wants to say Chicago. Since I got my feet wet in the business, I think it is important to keep the role of corruption in the limelight. That being said, most of my life has taken place at or on my way to a jukebox, so I think my heart is with Jersey Boys.

Leading lady: Barbra Streisand or Audra McDonald? It’s gotta be Babs. She’s one of a kind.

Union: Actor’s Equity or AFL-CIO? Anyone fighting for civil rights is okay in my book.

I hear the trucking industry is pretty lonely—possibly more so than acting. True? Has that helped you adjust to your new vocation? People can be lonely anywhere. In trucking, there is the act of discretion. Just like the road, we’ve created our own signs to let other truckers know what’s going on, and if we want to proceed. With us, we never run into the problem of getting the signals crossed. With acting, it’s all out there, so if someone reads it incorrectly, it can get awkward… I think as far as “adjusting” there was just the initial shock of how accepting the industry is. You can view this aspect of trucking as “acting.” A lot of these guys have families off the road, and sometimes their needs and wants don’t coincide with location or current relationships. A lot of straight faces have been warped in a bathroom stall.

What’s your dream gig right now? Playing my hits in Branson. I’ll have a run of shows there starting in November. After that who knows? I’d love to work with Hugh Jackman. That guy can really carry a tune.

Pete and the rest of the crew hit the Short North Stage for Semi Fame: Truck Route to Broadway November 5 – 8. For more, visit shortnorthstage.org.

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