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St. Ed's grad voice continues to be heard in theater scene

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Within the relatively cozy world of Austin musical theater, a male voice like Andrew Cannata's comes along once in a generation or so. Joe York's warm, booming baritone made its first mark in the 1980s. Stephen Michael Miller's delicate tenor glided onto the scene in the 1990s.

Cannata, 23, a recent graduate of St. Edward's University, impressed Zilker Summer Musical audiences as a junior TV writer in 'My Favorite Year,' amused Zach crowds playing a Boy Scout perfectionist in 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.' He also scored major roles in 'Parade,' 'Little Shop of Horrors' and 'On the Town.'

Yet it was his performance last season as the romantic lead in the classic musical 'The Pajama Game' that elicited unprecedented raves and an Austin Critics Table nomination for Outstanding Singer. Under the tutelage of music and stage director Michael McKelvey, Cannata has smoothed out the breaks in his blooming tenor and has relaxed into a natural acting style.

'McKelvey breaks down your boundaries,' Cannata says. 'He urges you to do what comes naturally.'

As for musical theater's third required skill, dancing, Cannata says: 'I can follow choreography.'

Today , Cannata opens in 'John & Jen,' a two-actor, vestpocket musical produced by newborn Penfold Theatre, which presented the award-winning 'The Last Five Years,' also directed by McKelvey, in 2009. He plays four people, two of them children, in a family story told from the mid-1950s to mid-90s.

'I had to distinguish between the children, so I concentrated on props,' he says. 'It's a tough show to make work.'

So far, Cannata has assayed several characters younger than his biological age. His succinct features and wonder-infused looks aid in credibility.

Cannata, who remember attending his first musical, 'Fiddler on the Roof,' almost as soon as he could walk, comes by his artistic bona fides familially. His father, a particle physics expert who delved into computers, played piano in the theater; his sister and brother performed on the musical stage. The seventh of eight siblings in an Irish/Italian Catholic family, Cannata, an almost-lifelong Austinite, comes to theater with a built-in fan club.

'It's in our blood,' he says. 'The family sang three Masses a week. A lot of my musical skills were developed there.'

A professional services engineer for LifeSize video conferencing service by day, Cannata dreams of taking his computer and theatrical skills to a bigger, tougher market, say, Chicago maybe.

'I go back and forth,' he says. 'It would be hard giving up such a good job and theater community.'

mbarnes@statesman.com

'John & Jen'

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 21

Where: The Hideout, 617 Congress Ave.

Cost: $10-$20

Information: www.penfoldtheatre.org