By Kate Austin
He wanted to be a surgeon, a surgeon and an actor. “A ‘Broadway actor’ I called it,” he said. In second grade the surgical dream faded and a decision was made: actor.
Childhood dreams are fantastical and elaborate. Dreaming of what one wants to be when they grow up is filled with endless possibilities. For some, hard work and passion pays off. For junior musical theater major Christopher Wood, the struggle is worth the possibility of success.
Sitting comfortably as an old friend would, Wood dives back into his childhood. He tells how acting became a part of his life early on, smiling slightly at his own memories. With an older sister who participated in the local children’s theater in Dublin, Ohio, Wood was anxious to join in the fun.
“I was five years old and wanted to do [children's theater] too, but I was too young,” he said. “I think you had to be seven. So when I was seven, I did ‘Pied Piper’ with her.”
From then on, he was hooked. “I don’t think I really stopped [being in theater] after that show,” he said. Wood was lucky enough to be at a starting high school in a place that was prolific in its theater department; Dublin Coffman High performed about six shows a year, two of which each year were musicals.
It was early on in his journey that Wood got a taste of the spotlight. “My first lead role was ‘Ren’ in ‘Footloose’ [sophomore year],” he reminisced. “It wasn’t a big challenging part, but it’s one of my greatest memories because it was the first time that I was the most important part of the show; up until then I had been little characters or ensemble.”
From then on the roles kept coming. A production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” transformed Wood into a donkey in the role of “Bottom,” and he played bad-boy T-Bird, “Danny” in the school’s production of “Grease.”
“In high school I played all these parts that I probably shouldn’t have played for my voice type because I’m not really a tenor,” he says, letting out a deep chuckle. “They were kind of the opposite of ‘Sweeney [Todd]’ or any other part I should be playing.”
One wouldn’t think that “Sweeney Todd” would be the ideal character for Christopher Wood to portray. With his personable nature a friendly smile, he’s the last person one would picture on a deranged killing spree. However, it is Wood’s hardworking demeanor that makes him perfect for the part.
“I know that he put months of preparation into his portrayal of Sweeney Todd,” said mentor and close friend, senior musical theater major Tal Fish. “But don’t let that dark demeanor fool you. The first time we shared the stage he was doing a spot-on Groucho Marx in “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.”
Not only was Wood selected to play the lead in Elon University’s production of Sondheim’s acclaimed musical, “Sweeney Todd,” but he had been dreaming of this opportunity for a long time.
“It has been my favorite musical for so long,” he begins, his speech beginning to race in excitement. “It’s my dream role. It’s my favorite show. It’s my favorite composer. It’s great that I got the chance this early in my life [to play the part]. Most people don’t have the opportunity to play parts like this until they’re the typical age range.”
Chris Wood isn’t most people. He has worked hard to take advantage of every acting opportunity, throwing himself into parts outside of his comfort zone.
“I was in the ensemble of Chicago, so I danced, which is something you’ll never see me do – at least not well,” he said. Another role that pushed the line of normality for Wood was playing “Frank N. Furter” in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“I had to wear four and a half-inch heels and a corset,” he explained. “[The heels] hurt my feet so bad!” Laughing once again, he said, “It was a bit different than childhood dress-up.”
This summer pushed Wood in a different way. Working in Kentucky for three different shows simultaneously, his voice took “the biggest beating it ever has.”
“I only had Mondays off, and I did that for three months straight…it was hard to push through because I was busy, I was tired and I was grumpy because I didn’t have any free time,” he said, trying hard not to complain.
“I was working in this outdoor theatre in 110 degree weather with cicadas dropping like dive bombers into our heads during the shows.”
Knowing that it is his goal to continue this kind of work for his lifestyle, hopefully minus the cicada kamikazes, Wood says he realizes that he’ll still only have one day a week off, but at least he wouldn’t be in rehearsals all day long.
One tool that Elon has given Wood is the “Meisner technique.” It seems to come through in his everyday nature, as well as his acting.
“[The technique teaches] being open and ready to be done to and do anything,” he says, talking with his hands. “To listen and respond with another actor on stage, and just breathe through each moment.”
With so many successful well-known actors in the part of “Sweeney,” Wood had a lot to live up to. This concerned him a little, but with a confident smirk he knows that he doesn’t play the character the same as they do. His “Sweeney” is younger and oddly alluring.
“There are all these comparisons for the part [of ‘Sweeney’]. I mean, Johnny Depp, George Hearn and Len Cariou, the original ‘Sweeney,” he said. “There are all those from the Broadway world, where we have George Hearn. In the movie world we have Johnny Depp. Some people will like [my portrayal] better and some people may not like it, but that’s the same with every part.”
Fish swears that when he first met Wood he was “a shy, soft-spoken freshman.” He quickly became “a dominating force in the department.”
Seeing Wood sweep across the stage in “Sweeney Todd,” he is far from shy. He sends chills through the audience with resonating bass tones and a frighteningly charismatic portrayal of the crazed killer.
“He is not only a skilled, versatile actor, he is also a man of faith and integrity,” says Fish. “As his mentor, I look up to him just as much as he looks up to me.”
Wood shares the best advice he’s ever been given: