Vince Leseney Chats About TITANIC and Finding Your Voice
During Lyric’s recent production of Newsies, the surly paper-pusher known as “Weasel,” wormed up to the distribution wagon to grumble at the newsies as they picked up their papes. If Weasel looked familiar, that’s because the character was played by Vince Leseney, a familiar face on the Lyric stage. Vince has made a career for himself stepping into the shoes of musical theatre’s best-known bartenders, cops, motorcycle delivery guys, and Nazi playwrights. For Titanic, Vince puts on the hat of the ship’s First Officer, Lt. William Murdoch.
Titanic marks the occasion of Vince’s 57th show with Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Before the 2019 season, he appeared in Hello, Dolly!, Rock of Ages, West Side Story, Assassins, The Drowsy Chaperone, and The Producers, to name a few. Vince was the 2018 recipient of the Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Presidential Professor of Excellence in the Arts and has appeared as a guest artist with the Kansas City Symphony, the Cedar Rapids Symphony, and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, for whom he also directs the POPS Chorale. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Vince earned a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from Oklahoma City University.
“It’s just such a privilege to get to do this,” Vince said of acting. “I love being on stage. My first show was Oliver! when I was seven or eight. My mother was the stage manager at the Des Moines Community Playhouse. It was awesome because it was something we got to do together.”
Coming to Oklahoma
I asked Vince how he got from Des Moines to Oklahoma City: “I-35.”
“I came to OCU for my master’s degree, and I stayed here. My first show after I finished my degree was in 1994. I did 1776 at Lyric, directed by Eric Divine.” Over the last 25 years, he’s remained a staple of the Lyric stage, appearing in at least one show nearly every single season.
There’s no secret trick to getting cast in 57 Lyric shows. “I audition, just like everybody else. Of course, you build relationships. And there have been times where a director will say, ‘Hey, just come in and read for this show. Even then, I don’t always get the part. Being in a show is never a sure thing.”
Finding Your Unique Voice
Offstage, Vince is the tenured Associate Professor of Voice in the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at the University of Oklahoma. He sees high-quality education as one of the reasons you can find so much talent in central Oklahoma. “Between OU, UCO, and OCU, the education that people can get here is hard to beat.”
“For us at OU, it’s about treating everybody as an individual. We don’t try to shoehorn anybody into a certain type. With my voice studio, I take a student, and I help them to sing with their natural voice. I want each student to find their own unique sound that’s true to them. Our entire voice faculty thinks of each student as an individual. We encourage actors and singers to ask questions and explore their instruments. The dance faculty does the same thing. Then everybody’s more confident about expressing who they are on stage.”
Working on Lyric’s production of Titanic this summer is, in some ways, a revisit to the past. “I worked on Titanic 19 years ago at Oklahoma Christian University with Eric Grigg, who is the assistant music director for the show this summer.”
“I play the First Officer, who is second in command. Captain Smith goes and takes a nap or something and leaves Lt. Murdoch in charge. Even though the character says he’s not fit to be in charge. Then my character crashes the boat,” Vince explains.
The storyline of Titanic is based on historical evidence. “The deeper truth is that the boat was going too fast, and it was too big to turn on a dime. Some people believe that if my character had stayed the course and just run straight into the iceberg, things might have turned out differently.”
Titanic isn’t the only show Vince has returned to in his career. In addition to appearing in Lyric’s production, Vince played Franz Liebkind in The Producers at Kansas City Starlight Theatre alongside co-stars Roger Bart and Brad Oscar. “I love The Producers. I love Franz. That role is right in my wheelhouse. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Although I’d probably have to tie Greg White up until auditions were over. Greg is so talented. He would beat me out for anything in the universe. I take my hat off to him.”
Vince appreciates the journey Lyric has made over the decades and is excited to see so much new material on-stage. “Fun Home blew me away. And not just because my wife Mandy Jiran was magnificent in it. Going back a few years ago, I was Lyric’s production manager for a hot second. Shows like Fun Home were what we dreamed of doing someday. Shows that were really about something, that make audiences think. I was in Assassins at the Plaza, and I love knowing that the audience wasn’t just going to be entertained for two hours. The cast knew it was an important message. We all got to think and grow.”
– Rodney Brazil, Arts Blogger