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Fresno singer, actor just debuted on Broadway. He opened Barry Manilow’s new musical

Here’s a thing that Constantine Pappas learned doing live theater: You never know what’s going to happen.

Like, maybe you’re an understudy in a new Broadway musical — the one written by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman — and you get the call that you’re needed.

It’s your Broadway debut in a principal role and there’s two-and-a-half hours until curtain.

But you’ve learned all the music and lines and been through the blocking and, nerves aside, you go out there on stage and do it. And then, in true first-show fashion, you slip and fall on the floor during a blackout.

“It’s ... get up and keep going,” says Pappas, a Fresno native who made his debut in “Harmony” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in November.

Constantine Pappas made his Broadway debut in the Barry Manilow musical “Harmony.”
Constantine Pappas made his Broadway debut in the Barry Manilow musical “Harmony.”

The singer and actor has ties to Fresno’s Greek community and also the opera scene.

His father, Jim Pappas, has been presbyter (lead pastor) at the parish of St. George Greek Orthodox church since 1992.

Pappas, 31, started training with voice instructor and opera stalwart Edna Garabedian as a freshman at Clovis East High School. He performed as a “cavalier baritone” (that’s the opera term) and did various roles with Garabedian’s California Opera Association and with the Opera Theatre at Fresno State, where he graduated with a degree in vocal performance.

Constantine Pappas, from Fresno to New York

When he moved to New York in 2015, there was little work in the opera field.

So Pappas started looking for performing gigs where he could, auditioning for commercials and films. He landed a gig singing on a cruise ship, did a run of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Connecticut and and was part of the national touring company that brought “Phantom of the Opera” to Fresno in 2016.

“Performing,” he says, “has always been the dream.”

Landing a spot in “Harmony” puts him closer (physically at least) to the wildest version of that dream: performing a solo concert at Carnegie Hall.

“I’m in New York. I’m on Broadway. I’m two blocks away,” Pappa says.

He’s actually performing in the same theater that his uncle Evan Pappas performed at in the 1990s. Evan Pappas is an actor and director who’s been in productions both on and off Broadway.

In fact, he did the second-ever reading for “Harmony” in the same role Pappas is now covering as an understudy.

“Harmony” a new musical

“Harmony” is a musical a long time coming.

It tells the true story of a European singing group in the 1930s that Manilow describes as the “Manhattan Transfer of their time, plus The Marx Brothers in their comedy.” The group was disbanded by the Nazis and World War II and became a kind of historical footnote.

The musical has been in development for more than two decades. It debuted in San Diego in 1997 and has seen several productions since, but had never made it to Broadway despite efforts (including one in 2004).

Of course, this production of “Harmony” isn’t one that’s been seen on stage before, Pappas says. It’s not even the same one audiences saw during the run of preview shows in October.

There were changes being made almost up until the start of the run, Pappas says.

While the production does have a few “stars” among its principal cast (New York Times 2022 Breakout Theater star Julie Benko for one), it also has its share of relatively unknowns. Twenty or so actors made Broadway debuts in “Harmony,” Pappas says.

That makes the show extra special for those watching, he says, “knowing that you are seeing the beginning of a lot of amazing careers.”

Allison Semmes stars as Josephine Baker in the new Broadway musical “Harmony.”
Allison Semmes stars as Josephine Baker in the new Broadway musical “Harmony.”