David Arisco is, in normal times, one of the harder-working men in South Florida show business. But last week and this one have been really crazy. The artistic director at Coral Gables Actors’ Playhouse for 27 years (and counting) was in rehearsal with not one but two shows: Paul Slade’s Unnecessary Farce, which opens Friday at Actors’ home base in the Miracle Theatre, and Real Men by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria, which has just opened at the New York Musical Theatre Festival for a run through July 20. Arisco actually did stage both shows, rehearsing on a staggered schedule in Miami before jetting up to New York to get Real Men (the full title is Real Men, a Musical for Guys and the Women Who Put Up With Them), which premiered at Actors’ Playhouse three years ago, on its feet at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe.
Arisco, who will celebrate his 60th birthday Friday, has directed the vast majority of the shows at Actors’ Playhouse since its founding in a former twin movie theater in Kendall by Barbara and Lawrence Stein in 1988. Under his artistic leadership, Actors’ has collected 85 Carbonell Awards (its best musical honors include In the Heights, Les Misérables, Floyd Collins, Violet and West Side Story, which it will tackle again in the 2015-2016 season).
For all his success, Arisco arrived at a life in the arts improbably. Growing up in Cheshire, Connecticut, he had no family members who tried music or theater even as amateurs. Arisco, a tall husky kid who was pushed into sports, was different.
“I started playing the trumpet at 10, then I did my first acting gig, then someone said, ‘You can sing, too,’” Arisco said as he walked down the street in New York’s theater district on Monday. “My dad said you don’t go to college unless you want to be a doctor, a lawyer or a scientist, so I started off in pre-law at the University of Connecticut. Halfway through my freshman year, I switched to music without telling him.”
Arisco got a dual degree in theater and music, then worked as a high school band director for three years in Tolland, Connecticut. When the drama teacher left, he taught that, too. After seven years in New York, he got hired for a show in Jacksonville, then drove down to the Keys to see his vacationing parents. On the way, he stopped and auditioned at the just-launched Actors’ Playhouse, snagging the role of Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And when the original director quit, Arisco took over — and found a future never imagined by a 10-year-old with a trumpet.