Bubba Dean Rambo is a Broadway actor, singer and dancer, with a career spanning over 40 years.
With an extensive resume to his name, you might be familiar with Bubba from ‘Cats’ (Broadway), ‘Junior’, ’13 Going On 30′, ‘Four Christmases’, ‘Woman of the Year’ and so many more shows and films. His most recent role is as a featured dancer in the critically acclaimed film, ‘La La Land’.
We recently had the chance to ask Bubba some questions about his career, and we were completely bowled over by his charming stories and life experiences. Check out our interview with Bubba Dean Rambo below.
First things first, we’ve got to talk about ‘La La Land’. You feature as a dancer in the movie, which is currently the subject of resounding success. When you took the role, did you ever expect the film to blow up in the way that it has?
Whenever you get lucky enough to land a job, you never really know what it’s going to turn out like. I can think of two movies I did that we all thought were going to be great, and then when you saw them on screen they weren’t! With ‘La La Land’, it had that extra air of excitement from the very first rehearsal. Everyone knew that we had all been hand picked by the director, Damien Chazelle, and the choreographer, Mandy Moore, and that they were very specific in their choices.
That very first day, Mandy Moore came in with a miniature model of the “LA traffic jam” scene, set at the beginning of the film. We all gathered around it on the table, as she explained in detail what was going to happen, literally, shot by shot. It was very detailed and extremely complicated. Both Mandy and Damien were extremely prepared, and so excited about the shoot. Nothing like this had ever been done before, where a Los Angeles freeway was to be shut down for two weekends in a row for filming, at least, not to my knowledge. Their excitement created excitement on our part. So, yes, to answer your question, we knew from the beginning that it was going to be something special, and it was!
Why do you think the audience and critics have taken to it so much?
It’s been really exciting to see how well received ‘La La Land’ has been with the public. People like things for different reasons, but I think that as a whole, it just made people feel good when they saw it! It also brings back a nostalgic feeling that we seem to have for musicals and love stories, and that we can see a little bit of ourselves in these characters as they travel through this beautiful story.
One of your first ever roles was in ‘Cats’ on Broadway. What was that experience like?
I lived in NYC for 10 years, and was extremely fortunate to have worked on Broadway for much of that time. Looking back on it, it was a really special time in my life. ‘Cats’, was my 4th Broadway show, and truly the most challenging, but so much fun. I was in the best shape of my life with that show. The choreography was by the brilliant, Gillian Lynne, of course, and so much fun to do. For some reason, it fit my body and my style really well. I covered three different roles in that show. It was a hard show to dance eight times a week, when I was on, but I loved it. I’m proud to have been a part of it!
Your resume is extensive, having appeared in numerous films, TV shows and musicals over the years. Can you pinpoint a particular favourite?
Wow! That’s a tough question……I’ve been so lucky to have worked on a lot of great projects through the years, and it’s hard to just pick a favorite. But, I guess one of the best moments was the first time that I actually stepped onto a Broadway stage in performance. It was 1978, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, in ‘Hello Dolly’, starring the one and only, Carol Channing. I remember making my entrance, from the stage left portal and onto the stage, knowing that my family was right there in the audience, watching me. It’s hard to explain, but so many things go through your mind at a moment like that, especially if you had wondered what that moment might be like, in your dreams as a kid growing up in dancing school. It is a “golden memory” for me—one I will never forget.
On the other hand, which has been your most challenging role?
For the most challenging, I would have to go again with ‘Cats’. With a show that physically demanding, you never knew what to expect in the course of performing it. I remember the first time that I danced the “Jellicle Ball” number at the end of the first act. It is a full 9:30 minutes of non-stop music and dance. At the end of it, I literally thought they would have to drag me off the stage, I could hardly move.
Is there a particular role that got away? A role you really wanted, but wasn’t cast in?
Ha!! There are a lot of those… The one that specifically comes to mind was when they were bringing ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ to Broadway. Everybody wanted to be seen for that one. I lucked out and got an audition for the ‘Don Lockwood’ role, which is the character that Gene Kelly had played in the movie. They wanted a virtual concert for the audition, two or three songs I think, and a tap number! Twyla Tharp was the choreographer, and everyone wanted the chance to work with her. She was already a legend in the dance world, but it was her first time doing a Broadway show, I believe. I didn’t get the role, it went to the great Don Correia, but I did get to work with Twyla years later on the movie, ‘I’ll Do Anything’. She was the best!!
Do you have a preference when it comes to TV, film or theater work?
I’ve enjoyed working in all three, but since I started in theater, and have worked on Broadway, that is where my heart probably lies. There’s something so incredible about being part of a cast of performers, and knowing that once that curtain goes up, everyone has got to work together seamlessly to the end, before that curtain comes down, hopefully with the audience getting to experience something magical…..at least that’s the goal!! But I love TV and film too!! It’s all good!
What is the scariest part of an audition?
For me, the scariest part of an audition is when you’re the next one up, you’re in the hallway, and you’re waiting for the door to open to go into the room, where they’re all waiting for you…..to be brilliant! Yep…..that’s the scariest part!
Have you experienced any real life actor’s nightmares?
Ha! I don’t think there’s enough room in this article for all the actor nightmare stories I’ve experienced through the years. I love to tell them though, because now they’re just funny stories, that I can’t believe happened. One that comes to mind though, happened when I was doing the revival of ‘Hello Dolly’, with Carol Channing, in 1977. It was my first really big job that I got after I moved to New York. The show was already on tour around the country, and was to open on Broadway, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, in March of ’78. I was to be the new “swing” for the male ensemble, which entailed covering 16 different roles, all of which you had to be ready to go on for, at a moment’s notice. I learned all 16 roles for the male ensemble, which included the infamous “Waiter’s Gallop” number which opens the 2nd act. That number is a maze of steps with numerous entrances and exits, carrying plates, tables, chairs, utensils, all while doing the brilliant choreography of Gower Champion, and trying to fit in as seamlessly as possible, without any mishaps.
One night, while the show was in Denver, one of the guys I covered got sick at intermission, and I had to go on in his spot for the rest of the show. This guy just happened to be the one who also did a flip over a table in the “Waiter’s Gallop”, which I had been told in rehearsal, not to ever worry about, because I could just do a cartwheel in front of the table instead, should I ever have to go on for him. That was good news to me, because I was not a gymnast, and doing a flip over a table was not in my repertoire! Well, as luck would have it, the stage in Denver was not as deep as in the other theaters we were used to playing in, and I was informed by the dance captain that I would, indeed, have to flip over the table, because there just was no room to do the cartwheel in front of the table!! And…. that we had to go onstage right then to rehearse it before the 2nd act started. Needless to say, I was immediately in a state of “heightened awareness”. Could I do it? To be honest, I had no idea! I had never, ever, flipped over anything in my life! But, as we were making our way to the stage, I was thinking, “well…..how hard can it actually be? You just run up to the table, jump, aim your hands for the middle of the table, push off like hell……and hopefully land on your feet on the other side……no problem, right?” And besides, one of the other guys was going to be there to spot me! I tried it the first time and…….success! I landed it perfectly! I tried it again…..and again….a perfect lading!! So, it was on……I would be doing the flip!!
As the 2nd act started, and the “Waiter’s Gallop” number began, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest! As the moment grew closer for the flip, it felt like I was having an out-of-body experience……could I do this, without busting my butt in front of a crowd of people? I had no choice, I had to make it work! As I was just about to go out, I looked up, and my dear friend, James Homan, one of the other dancers in the show, whispered a barely audible, “Good luck!” He had such fear and sadness in his eyes, as if he was sending me off to a certain death. I laugh about that every time I tell this story— that look on James’ face was just so pitiful. I think he was sure I would end up in the orchestra pit, but I went out there, did the flip, and just like rehearsal, it went perfectly. I lived to tell about it!! It was indeed a miracle!!
You’ve worked with a host of well-known performers, including Dolly Parton and the late Debbie Reynolds. Who’s been your favourite person to work alongside?
That’s a great question. I have been very fortunate to have worked with many terrific artists over the years: Carol Channing, Lauren Bacall, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney, Raquel Welch, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Amy Adams, Tracey Ullman, so it’s hard to pick just one. Debbie Reynolds, was one of the hardest working people I have ever known! Ever!! I worked with her in ‘Woman Of The Year’, on Broadway, and later, sang in her act. She had boundless amounts of energy, and her audiences loved her. Working with her was so much fun, and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! But anytime I get to work with Dolly Parton is always an absolute treat! I’ve been lucky to do that many times through the years, and proud to call her my friend. I’ve always said, that under all that blonde hair, is the brain of a computer that is constantly updating itself. She’s one of the smartest and savviest people in this business; but I’m not saying anything the world doesn’t already know! She is an amazing, phenomenal talent, and a truly remarkable person with one of the biggest and kindest of hearts in the world! I love her. She’s the absolute best!
What’s been some of your career highlights?
Some of the highlights in my career would certainly be my first Broadway show, ‘Hello Dolly!’, with Carol Channing. Being on stage with the incomparable Betty Buckley in ‘Cats’, while she sang “Memory”, was truly an incredible experience. She is phenomenal! Working with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the film ‘Out To Sea’ was an incredibly good time; they were two of the nicest people I have ever met in show business. Working with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney in the musical ‘Sugar Babies’ was great fun, and of course working with the “unsinkable” Debbie Reynolds, and the truly one of a kind, Dolly Parton. I can’t forget ‘La La Land’, of course. How many times do you get to work on an LA freeway for several days, in a “made for Hollywood” traffic jam, during a summer heat wave? Unforgettable!!
What’s next for Bubba Dean Rambo?
I don’t really know what’s next for me. Do any of us? In this business, you never really know what’s just around the corner. Hopefully it’s something fun and exciting. I think that’s part of the attraction of this business for me!