A star is born in Rockville Centre


Roll out the red carpet — Rockville Centre has a Tony nominee of its very own.

Max von Essen, a village native, has been nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

“It’s totally surreal,” said von Essen. “I’ve dreamed about it since I was 8 years old in Rockville Centre.”

He tried to sleep through the early-morning Tony nomination announcements on April 28, but ended up watching them anyway. “I was in bed, finally saw it and started screaming,” von Essen said. “It was surreal. I still can’t believe it happened.”

He stars in “An American in Paris,” which is based on the 1951 Gene Kelly movie. It’s the story of an American ex-G.I., Jerry Mulligan, who falls in love with a beautiful dancer, Lise Dassin, in post-World War II Paris. The problem is, two other men are in love with her too — one being von Essen’s character, Henri Baurel.

Henri is also Lise’s fiancé.

And he’s expected to take over his family business, but he really wants to be a nightclub singer. “I love it because there’s a lot of me in the character,” said von Essen. “We’re close in age and [both have] a passion in performing.”

He said he grew up playing the George Gershwin songs that provide the musical’s soundtrack. “The show was so full-circle in so many ways,” von Essen said. “Playing this character that I really understand and really understand his dreams.”

A longtime Broadway performer whose credits include “Evita” and “Les Miserables,” he became interested in musicals as a progression from second grade onward — playing piano led to learning songs, which led to singing, which led to performing, which led to musical theater.

He credits his teachers in Rockville Centre schools, especially Mrs. Patterson, Mrs. Baer and Mr. Waxman, for teaching him about music and theater. “I got training as a teenager that most people get in college and beyond,” he said. “I’m 100 percent here because of them. All of them saw the show.”

When he’s not performing, von Essen , who lives in New York, likes to visit his family in Rockville Centre — his brother, Marc, sister, Erica, nieces and nephews and his parents, Thomas and Rita, who recently moved back to the village.

Also nominated were his co-stars, Brandon Uranowitz and Robert Fairchild. Fair-child is nominated for Lead Actor in a Musical, while Uranowitz and von Essen are both in the running for Featured Actor. “Which is really amazing actually…,” said von Essen. “The chances of the two of us being nominated is really slim.” It’s like they have all won already, he said.

After he finishes his run in the show in about a year, von Essen would like to expand to TV and film roles. He has had minor roles in the past, in shows including “Gossip Girl” and the movie “Sex and the City 2.”

“I just feel there’s no reason to just do one thing,” he said, adding that time in TV and movies makes him appreciate theater more.

Many of the dancers in “An American in Paris” went to Leggz Ltd. Dance.