If you want to know what it takes to live out your dreams, look to John Arthur Greene as your model. His star turn as Danny Zuko in N.C. Theatre’s “Grease,” opening Tuesday for eight performances, is just another step on a well-planned, clear-eyed career path.
Greene sought out good training during his teenage years, giving equal attention to his acting, singing and song writing, and set attainable goals at every juncture. Now, the 27-year-old former Garner resident has two long-run Broadway shows on his resume, as well as TV and film appearances. He plays regularly with his band in New York City, has just released a new single and recently wowed viewers in his “American Idol” audition.
On a recent phone call, Greene talked about his accomplishments, his approach to playing Danny Zuko, and his debt to N.C. Theatre’s youth training program. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How did you get started in show business?
A: I was involved from age 8, when I did my first national commercial while living in Greenwich, Conn. When I was 11, we moved to Garner. I did shows at Ligon Middle School and Enloe High School and was in Theatre in the Park’s “A Christmas Carol.” I wanted to find a facility to hone my skills, so I got involved with N.C. Theatre’s “Kids on Broadway” training program.
Q: What did you learn from that experience?
A: It allowed me to explore the whole idea of what acting is. They had great directors and choreographers from New York City who taught me all my craft. I learned a lot being cast in the youth productions as well as N.C. Theatre’s main stage shows. Around that time, N.C. Theatre wanted to turn the program into a full conservatory, so at 16, I put together a benefit concert, raising $20,000 towards establishing it.
Q: What led to your Broadway show roles?
A: I went to New York in 2007 after high school to try to find out what the business was really like. I got cast in a two-year European tour of “West Side Story,” then came back to be in it on Broadway for a year and a half. After some work in Chicago and L.A., I was cast in “Matilda” on Broadway, finishing up my three-year run in December 2015.
Q: What do you like about playing Danny Zuko?
A: I love it because I feel we all go through a really immature time in our lives where we put on masks. Danny tries to be macho around his Burger Palace Boys because he thinks he can’t show them emotion. But when he meets Sandy, he suddenly has feelings for her, so he has to go back and forth. As an actor, I know all about that, but when you look at yourself in the mirror, that’s when reality sets in. I think there’s a Danny Zuko in all of us because everyone struggles with identity.
Q: What about songwriting? How do you balance it with an acting career?
A: As a writer, I have to be flexible and as a performer I have to flexible so the two can go hand in hand. My music drives me to be better at what I do on stage and what I do onstage has made my musical storytelling a thousand times better.
Q: What has been the reaction to the song you chose for your “American Idol” audition?
A: People were amazed that I had the nerve to sing Keith Urban’s song, “Somebody Like You,” to Keith Urban, but they said I nailed it. I was voted to go on to the Hollywood round. [Greene did not advance after the Jan. 28 program.]
Q: On the show you spoke about accidentally shooting your brother when you were 8. What was the response to that?
A: I’ve been overwhelmed with the emotional good wishes people have sent me concerning the story about my brother. It’s so important now for us to understand gun safety and also childhood trauma. I hope putting my story out there has benefited people by making them really think about their own lives.
Q: What is your ultimate dream?
A: My ultimate dream is for God to step in and do what he wants with my life while I shut up and listen.
If you go
What: “Grease,” presented by N.C. Theatre
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9-14; 2 p.m. Feb. 13-14
Info: 919-831-6941 or nctheatre.com.