Broadway actor/singer from Teaneck revisits Bernstein connection
by Ethan Galvin for Vocal Area Network
Posted June 1, 2019

David CryerVeteran Broadway actor and singer David Cryer, a resident of Teaneck, had the opportunity to work with the prominent composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein on more than one occasion, developing a special connection with him. When he was a senior at DePauw University in Indiana, Cryer traveled East to look at graduate schools and, he recalls, “the first Broadway play I saw was West Side Story” with music composed by Bernstein. His reaction: “I was in shock and awe, and I believe nothing I’ve seen since has been better.”

Upon graduation from DePauw in 1958, Cryer accepted a Rockefeller Fellowship to study for the ministry at Yale Divinity School. He also applied to Harvard Law School and was enrolled in the fall of 1959. But while performing as Curly in a summer production of Oklahoma at the Polka Dot Playhouse in Bridgeport, CT, he decided to go into the theater instead. He enrolled at Boston University and earned an MFA in directing in 1961. He rekindled his connection with Bernstein in 1963 when he played the role of Tony in West Side Story in a touring production opposite operatic singer and actress Anna Maria Alberghetti. “Oh my stars!” says Cryer, “For me, it doesn’t get any better.”

In 1971, Cryer was chosen to play the leading role of The Celebrant in Bernstein’s dramatic pageant, Mass, which was commissioned as the inaugural piece for the Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC. He alternated the role with internationally renowned baritone Alan Titus. When he wasn’t playing The Celebrant, Cryer says, “he played the role of the antagonist, the bad guy, who sings “Non Credo.” Later, in June 1972, Bernstein’s Mass was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and Cryer reprised the role of The Celebrant with Bernstein conducting.  According to Cryer, “Mr. Bernstein coached me as The Celebrant in his apartment on West 57th Street across from Carnegie Hall. I got rug burns scraping around on his living room floor trying to make The Celebrant’s breakdown scene, ‘Things Get Broken,’ realistic.” Later in the ‘70s, Cryer directed and starred in a touring production of Bernstein’s Mass in Detroit, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon. His wife, Britt, a Broadway actress and dancer, helped him direct and create new choreography.

Cryer, a New Jersey Choral Society member, will reprise the role of The Celebrant again, 45-plus years later, when NJCS presents its Masterworks concert "Into the Light" on Saturday, June 8 at 7:30 PM at the West Side Presbyterian Church, 6 South Monroe Street, Ridgewood, NJ. The program features Poulenc’s powerful and profoundly moving Stabat Mater and movements from Bernstein’s Mass in honor of the 100th birthday of the late composer and conductor. Cryer will sing the sublime “A Simple Song” as well as The Celebrant’s solo in the Communion piece “Pax,” both from Bernstein’s Mass.

Cryer’s extensive theatrical career includes roles in Broadway productions of The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, The Desert Song, Come Summer and 1776. Leading roles in Off-Broadway productions included The Fantasticks, The Streets of New York, The King and I, The Sound of Music and Sweeney Todd. He also appeared in the films Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and American Gigolo with Richard Gere. He has performed as a guest soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on two occasions and was one of the founders of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre and New York’s Mirror Repertory Company. Aside from all these impressive credits, Cryer is still “eternally grateful for his time with Mr. Bernstein and all the valuable lessons he learned while performing the role of The Celebrant in his Mass as well as his portrayal of Tony in West Side Story.” According to Cryer, “the special bond that he developed with Bernstein has left a long-lasting impression on him that he will treasure forever.”

Advance tickets for "Into the Light" are $40 for adults and $35 for seniors, students and patrons with disabilities (add $10 at the door). To obtain more information or purchase tickets, visit www.NJCS.org or call the New Jersey Choral Society at 201-379-7719.

Ethan Galvin is the Publicity Director for the New Jersey Choral Society.