Donato instead chose the seductive spotlight of the theater, the place where he could pursue his deep love of singing and acting. These days, Ted Donato’s youngest son, a five-foot-tall, 175-pound former Dexter Southfield School winger, embodies the long-haired hippie Berger in ‘Hair’, the iconic late 1960s musical, which was revived on location by the Company Theater in Norwell brought to life.
That’s right, that Donato kid is a hippie, dude, and will be at least until the end of the play on August 21st. In life, like hockey, you never know how the puck is going to bounce.
The Donato clan turned out en masse for last Friday’s kick-off, and we can report with confidence that there was not a hockey fight, red flashing light or Zamboni to be found in the cozy 350-seat venue. At one point, however, the store shook like an old hockey barn as a model Vietnam-era helicopter dived from the stage rafters amidst eerie, ominous flashing lights.
“We just had to bring that back,” said Zoe Bradford, decade-long owner/director of the Company Theatre. “We used that in ‘Miss Saigon’ a few years ago.”
For those old enough to remember “Hair’s” first performance in Boston at the Wilbur in the spring of 1970, the music and effects were a delightful throwback. A confident, gentle tenor, Donato is perceptive and engaging. The nearly 30-strong cast rolls through the two acts with the efficiency, enthusiasm, and confidence of a Stanley Cup champion.
(Apart from your faithful Puck chronicler: Shawn Verrier, who teaches full-time at Derby Academy, steals the limelight in his role as Margaret Mead.)
Donato graduated from Providence College this spring with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and was a late collaborator on Bradford’s production. Unable to find exactly the right match for Berger, she contacted him via Facebook and offered him a trial session after watching a short video he had posted in Brighton weeks earlier of an open audition.
“I didn’t know anything about him or his family, you know his dad was a famous hockey player,” Bradford said, noting that she knows little about sports. “So thank god for good old-fashioned Facebook.”
Bradford said Donato’s voice won her over immediately. She knew the challenge for a “blue-eyed, respectful, clean-cut kid” would be to don a shoulder-length wig and morph into a rebellious, sometimes foul-mouthed character. The wig alone was a challenge.
“It’s hard and it’s hot,” Donato said. “I would grow my own hair if I could, but it wouldn’t look good on stage; my hair grows in all directions.”
A bigger challenge was the Berger persona. Donato says he is quiet and reserved, the opposite of the rebellious, edgy Berger. During his four years at PC, Donato eagerly looked forward to singing at Sunday 10 p.m. masses on campus, with songs like “You Were on the Cross” and “Building My Life” among his favorites.
“That was probably the best part of college, to be honest,” he said. “It was such a good way to connect with my faith.”
Berger, whose faith community is centered on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, forced Donato to connect with a time he hadn’t lived through and a character unlike any he’d seen in college musicals such as “You’re a Good Mann, Charlie Brown”, “Something Rotten” and “Violet”. It was a range he liked.
“I think they were a little skeptical that I could find that fire to play George Berger,” he said. “I knew I had it in me. As we got further and further into rehearsals, I found that fire… someone who is rebellious and part of a revolution. It’s the first time I’ve played a character that’s kind of crazy.”
Donato’s oldest brother Ryan, a former Bruins draft pick, has just signed a one-year contract extension with the Seattle Kraken. Jack, 24, retired from hockey this spring after four years at Harvard and aspires to be a players’ agent. Younger sister Maddie, 19, is an aspiring sophomore at the University of South Carolina.
His father, Ted, of course, has played nearly 800 NHL games, more than 500 of them with the Bruins. Ted returned to Harvard, his alma mater, in 2004 and has been the men’s varsity hockey coach ever since.
Nolan left organized, career-oriented hockey after high school, although he briefly played club hockey on PC during his freshman year before settling solely on the intramural game. In addition to his “Hair” role, he is also building a solo career as a singer/songwriter and plans to move to New York City next year for a big opportunity.
“I’d love to continue to pursue theater and see where it takes me,” he said. “Go to New York for a while… see where it goes.”
Broadway can be a very tough game, one that knocks out more players than Terry O’Reilly once threw down Causeway Street. Bradford thinks Donato could have a shot from her small footprint in the ranks of semi-pro theaters.
“I’m not encouraging anyone to make a career out of it,” Bradford mused. “But if that’s all you can think about from the time you wake up until you go to bed, then you’d better be pursuing it.” We will help you if we can.”
When the theater starts inside you, it can shake the devil. Doesn’t matter your surname. No matter what brand.
For Hair performance times and ticket availability, see https://www.companytheatre.com.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at [email protected]