Michael Ursua, the multi-talented pianist, actor, theater director and performance craftsperson, among other titles, moved from his native Santa Ana, California, to South Florida when he was about 10 years old. Or, as he put it in a recent interview, “I went from Disneyland to Disney World.”
The Disney connection is particularly appropriate for the artisan of many talents. After learning to play piano at age 11, and sharpening his acting chops by doing community theater, he later signed on for three consecutive gigs on the Disney Magic cruise ship – as a main stage entertainer and a writer. Before disembarking the final year, “I put together a reboot of several character experiences.”
Once back on dry land, the self-proclaimed “theater geek” kick-started what was to become a lengthy career on and around theatrical stages with performances as a sought-after actor, vocalist, director and music manager – roles that often overlapped, depending on the shifting circumstances of live theater.
He’s been a featured player at many South Florida theatrical venues. His roster of credits covers nearly eight pages on the internet and includes such popular production locales as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Kravis Center, Wick Theatre, Slow Burn Theatre and Palm Beach Dramaworks.
“Archibald Craven” in the Secret Garden (Slow Burn Theatre Co.) – Photo by Rodrigo Balfanz
The man whose acting style and deft keyboard finger work are widely known to local theater audiences; Michael’s latest venture involves the production of a three-musical series for the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center scheduled to start early next year. Arts Center Management, a multi-platform theatre administration company, has partnered with the city of Lauderhill to produce the “Broadway at LPAC” series that opens in January 2023 and features three major musical hits: The Full Monty, 42nd Street and Always… Patsy Cline!
ACM hired Michael as artistic director and Alex Jorth, Michael’s husband, as choreographer. Jorth is well schooled in theater, having spent nearly 20 years as an actor, singer, dancer and choreographer. He has also worked at Walt Disney World, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Actors’ Playhouse, Slow Burn Theatre Company and The Wick Theatre, among others.
At the same time, he got the LPAC job, Michael was tasked to work with the Victory Dolls, an ensemble of young singer-actors pulled together several years ago by local theater mogul and ACM president Kevin Barrett to perform concerts featuring songs of the 1940s in Andrews Sisters style.
Michael Ursua jumped at the opportunity to pull together LPAC’s Broadway series. His Facebook pages are filled with highlights of the upcoming season, particularly emphasizing the opening show, The Full Monty, by introducing cast members. He has also begun auditioning singers interested in supplementing the Victory Dolls’ ranks and focusing on upcoming programs.
Photo by Alex Jorth
The on-stage veteran is part of a performance family. His sister, Shanna, is known in the business as a “triple threat” – singer, actor and dancer. His niece, Avery Sell, has notched a role as one of the children in the Broadway production of Mrs. Doubtfire, the Musical. At the same time, his nephew, Ryan Sell, nailed a part in the theatrical film, “Armageddon Time,” opening Nov. 11. The movie stars Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway.
Photo by Amy Pasquantonio
“Ryan also originated the role of ‘Charlie Bucket’ in the Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Another niece, Megan Sell, “was a dancer with Disney Cruise Line aboard the Disney Dream” and has performed in local theater.
He joked that his parents were not performance-inclined, but “they provided us with rides – and encouragement.”
Initially, Michael’s sister was encouraged to play the piano while he started to learn the organ. “I lost interest in the instrument, so I took over my sister’s piano and she went on to become a triple threat,” Michael recalled.
“My sister started auditioning for shows in community theater, but they all needed guys” to flesh out the casts, he recalled. So, he took a shot, taking on the role of the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof.
Before long, Michael was expanding his musical prowess. “I was musically directing Man of La Mancha on the West Coast of Florida, at a place called the Royalty Theater Co., which I don’t think is there anymore. It was my first musical direction opportunity.”
Opportunities began to present themselves and kept him occupied for several years.
Albin/Zaza” in La Cage aux Folles (Arizona Broadway Theatre) – Photo by Scott Samplin
In 2013, he joined forces with Marilynn Wick to help her transform and reopen the closed-down Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton as the Wick Theatre. Taking on the roles of executive director and resident musical director, he both stage directed and musically steered the Wick’s inaugural production of The Sound of Music in the fall of 2013, a performance that earned the theater a Carbonell nomination for Best Production of a Musical.
As a director, he has helmed multiple regional and local productions, including such shows as Sister Act, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Peter Pan, among others. He has served as musical director and conductor for numerous national tours along with local and regional productions, working with such show folk as Lee Roy Reams, Sally Struthers, Andrea McArdle and Leslie Uggams.
Michael’s extensive list of stage credits including roles in such shows as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, La Cage aux Folles and The Secret Garden. He is also the creator, producer and host of the popular “Florida Sings Showtunes,” an online entertainment program designed to support local musical theatre artists during the pandemic. He has received a Silver Palm Award for his contributions to the South Florida theater community and received three Carbonell nominations.
Disney Cruise Line pic – “Franco di Fortunato” in Disney’s “Twice Charmed” – Photo by Alex Jorth