Constable: Glenbard South 'band geek' ends up on big Chicago, New York stages
Voted "Best Marcher" for three straight years as a trumpet player with the Glenbard South High School marching band, college-bound James Monroe Števko had a pretty good idea where he was headed.
"I was probably the biggest band geek," says Števko, who put himself on the Northern Illinois University path to become a high school band director. "That's the only thing I could think of. It seemed like the next natural step."
Instead, the 32-year-old Glen Ellyn native has danced with the Milwaukee Ballet, performed alongside the Rockettes in New York's Radio City Christmas Spectacular, earned roles with The Metropolitan Opera and The Lyric Opera of Chicago, and now is making his acting debut in New York in "Fidler afn Dakh," the off-Broadway Yiddish adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" directed by Joel Grey, who has won Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards.
Making a living as a dancer, singer and actor seemed unlikely given Števko's audition for "Pippin" during high school. "I thought I did pretty good for never having danced before, but I wasn't cast as a dancer," remembers Števko, who was relegated to the ensemble. "I didn't really know dance."
But the only child of Carlene and Ron Števko enjoyed dancing so much that he added a dance minor to his music education major at NIU. Professors immediately put him in productions.
"They had me dancing in 'Sleeping Beauty' that fall," Števko says, "which was my first time seeing ballet."
By that spring, professors were telling Števko he had the talent to be a professional dancer.
"I just spent my time trying to become ready," remembers Števko, who was better after four years of dancing than peers who had been dancing since childhood.
He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance performance and landed a job with the Milwaukee Ballet's troupe designed to bridge the gap between student and professional dance careers.
From there, he danced with ballet companies and operas, acted in Oak Brook's Drury Lane Theatre production of "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and danced with the Rockettes.
As he does "every time I wake up in the morning for an audition," Števko says he wondered if he had any business trying out for the Yiddish version of one of the world's most-popular musicals.
"I had never seen 'Fiddler on the Roof.' I knew it's about Jews and there are some Russians in it," says Števko, who is neither Jewish nor Russian.
Winning the part of Mendl, the rabbi's son, Števko, who speaks a bit of German, Spanish, French, Czech and Slovak, picked up Yiddish pretty quickly.
"The Yiddish coaches were on us daily," he says, adding that he is studying Hebrew now.
"We do have a number of goys (non-Jewish people) in the show, but that's part of acting," Števko says.
Working with director Grey has been "amazing," he says. Good reviews and sold-out performances have led to the show extending its run through Oct. 25.
Being in the cast has given Števko a chance to meet celebrities, including Bernadette Peters and Bebe Neuwirth, and there is talk that the play might move to Broadway.
Števko, who also teaches ballet and jazz to aspiring dancers, says he's enjoying the ride but also preparing for his next step.
"Traditionally, men dance into their late 30s, but I'm also focusing more on my acting and my singing," he says. After all, he has made career shifts before.