Montclair Magazine Holiday 2020 - Page 13

COURTESY OF DANIEL JAMES BELNAVIS
Mulligan ’ s outfit and back on stage in time to say , “ I go back toNew York and my apprenticeship .”
Belnavis made it , barely , with his shirt unbuttoned .
“ I didn ’ t even have time to stress out ,” he says . “ That ’ s live theater . It ’ s empowering . I was able to come through not just for myself but for everyone .”
Though Belnavis enjoyed playing all of his characters , the part of George Washington resonated most . “ I ’ ve always been an old soul ,” he says . “ And the songs are so gorgeous .” Aparticular thrill was playing the role in Washington , D . C . at the Kennedy Center , which he did several times . Playing King George , a “ charming , comedic villain ,” and donning the regalia was also fun , as was playing Madison and Mulligan . “ They each spoke to a different part of me ,” he says .
DISCOVERING HIS TALENT THROUGH PUBLIC SCHOOL
PROGRAMS
As with his Hamilton audition , discovering his singing talent involved a stroke of luck . At the end of 6th grade at Glenfield Middle School , a friend asked him to audition with him for the chorus . “ I was like ,‘ Absolutely not !’ I was really , really shy , and everyone watched the auditions .” Eventually heagreed , and his rendition of “ Amazing Grace ” brought “ this huge reaction and applause . It was a complete surprise to me , honestly . Ihad no idea I could sing .”
Montclair fashion stylist Deborah Medeiros-Baker recalls seeing Belnavis perform in a middle school production that her daughter was in and being blown away by his voice . “ I remember thinking , ‘ This kid ’ s voice is amazing ! Does he have any idea how good heis ?’”
As he and her daughter became friends , Medeiros-Baker got to know Belnavis , whom she described as “ sweet , and brilliant , with an insane work ethic .” His humility is remarkable , she says . When she
saw Hamilton in Los Angeles , he met her after the show and was “ such a sweetheart , giving me hugs . He was always so thankful for my support and so gracious .”
At MHS ’ School of Visual and Performing Arts , Belnavis landed featured roles in Cats , Parade and Grease . But the after-school program was much more than a theater training ground ; for Belnavis , it was home .“ It let me blossom , and push myself out of my comfort zone ,” he says .
With the theater kids , Belnavis finally felt comfortable enough to come out as gay .“ As a child , I was so scared , I didn ’ t think it was possible to be gay and think it , let alone say it . I remember worrying that I wouldn ’ t get into college if people found out Iwas gay . When Igot to the high school and saw upper classmen out of the closet , I was like ,‘ What ? You ’ re not a social pariah ?’ SVPA changed my life .”
During high school , Belnavis also performed in community theater and with the Papermill Playhouse ’ s summer music conservatory . “ I don ’ t come from a show biz family , and didn ’ t have a stage mom . I wanted to immerse myself and teach myself everything I could ,” he says .
Returning to his Montclair roots has been “ transformative ,” Belnavis says . “ I didn ’ t realize how much I needed stability and a routine and how comfortable I would be here .” He began to work at Montclair Bread Company in between auditions and singing gigs .
When the pandemic hit , he was in rehearsals for a production of Sister Act onLong Island , playing police lieutenant Eddie Souther . After it was cancelled , he returned to Montclair Bread and started yoga teacher training at Yoga Mechanics .
The community at First Congregational Church has also become an important part of Belnavis ’ life . He ’ dbeen considering joining when he got home last fall , and got the push he needed when he learned that the associate
pastor there is John Rogers , a MHS alum who performed with Belnavis in plays .
“( First Congregational ) is an Open and Affirming ( ONA ) church , with a very diverse population ,” Belnavis says . “ I went there not expecting to see anyone who looked like me , and was surprised to see how many Black and queer people were there . It ’ s been very grounding for me .”
“ When I left the show , I didn ’ t have any plans , I just knew I needed to take time for myself . Immersing myself in the Montclair community as an adult has been wild , so many people have accepted me and encouraged me . I didn ’ t realize how instrumental coming home would be .”
As the coronavirus lingers , Belnavis has continued to perform — virtually . He recently appeared on Boston ’ s WERS 88.9 as part of their Kitchen Kickline radio program . “ I worked in Boston several years ago performing in the show Violet at SpeakEasy Stage Company ,” he says . On November 19 , he is performing in SpeakEasy ’ s 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert . ■
Daniel Belnavis getting ready for aperformance of Hamilton .