By Brian Robin
Armando Gutierrez Returns Home—in Blue Suede Shoes
All Armando Gutierrez could do was laugh at the irony that finally brought him to SCR. Usually, you build your career at regional theatres before taking on New York. But Gutierrez flipped that script on its bicoastal ear.
He left his Huntington Beach roots and went to New York for nearly 13 years and counting. Then, he got the call to come back home. Oh, and bring your blue suede shoes. You’re playing Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet.
“This was so much of a dream bucket list for me, having grown up around here,” he said. “I had always seen shows here growing up. I remember thinking as this twentysomething that I guess I’ll have to go to New York in order to get to work here. That was a little thing at the back of my head: that if I want to work in a Tony Award-winning theatre like SCR, I’ll have to cut my teeth in New York. Now, we’re here full-circle.”
Full-circle takes Gutierrez to Mission San Juan Capistrano for the second summer of Outside SCR. It brings him home—guitar in tow—for his second stint as Carl Perkins. Earlier, he played Perkins at the Forestburgh Playhouse in the Catskills. Gutierrez further honed his early rock-and-roll musician bona-fides playing Ritchie Valens in The Buddy Holly Story for Florida Repertory and for the Florida Studio Theatre. He played drummer Jerry Allison in three other productions.
Playing Carl Perkins means he gets to act. He gets to sing. And he gets to play his guitar, which he does seamlessly with an animated flourish that audiences will relish.
“It’s very fun to come back to this role,” he said. “The more I read up on him, the more I learn how influential he was to his peers in the show. Especially from the standpoint of songwriting, he was the only one who wrote his own songs—much like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry were super ahead of their time in terms of being the first singer/songwriters in rock-and-roll history. That’s what I love the most, digging into how much he was responsible for this sound from the behind-the-scenes perspective. …
“Rock and roll is something I always gravitated toward when I was a kid. My dad would have his friends over and the Beatles, Elvis, Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones would always be playing. That was part of my education in music, strumming guitar at a young age with my dad’s friends.”
Gutierrez came from a musical family. His father played the drums, often performing as a warm-up act for bands such as Warren Zevon and Cheap Trick at clubs all over Los Angeles. Gutierrez and his three younger siblings learned the drums. Eventually, Gutierrez would take up the guitar and piano.
This led to the drama program at Huntington Beach High School, which should have led to Long Beach State. Gutierrez was accepted into that school’s theatre program, but he was already playing in a band.
He also discovered the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills, where Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen cast Gutierrez in numerous plays, including Hair and Into the Woods. Eventually, between playing rock gigs three times a week and the theatre, Gutierrez was so busy that college had to wait.
In 2009, he was cast in a 10-month national tour of Arthur Live!When the tour wrapped in New Jersey, Gutierrez told the company manager he wouldn’t need a return ticket to California. He was moving to New York.
“I have a lot of friends in New York and this was a move I wanted to make for a long time,” he said. “I decided to stay and give New York a shot. It gave me a lot of opportunities to explore all kinds of different kinds of art. The first part of my career was as a drummer. I was playing the piano at the Eldorado Casino in the summer of 2010. That’s where I met my wife, playing the piano in Shake, Rattle and Roll. She was a dancer in the chorus.”
From there, Gutierrez joined the circus, playing the piano and drums. He got back into a rock band, playing bars and cover gigs all over New York, teaching music on the side. But something was missing.
“There was a lot of great entertainment work and I had a ball doing it,” he said. “But at a certain point, I found myself wanting to get back into the storytelling. I felt a void. I want to be doing the work telling stories we can learn from.”
Stories like one taking place in a Memphis record studio in December 1956.
“The stories are important to me whatever the art is: whether its painting, music or acting, I’m a believer there’s a story in all of it,” he said. “Storytelling has a healing property to it, whether you watch a story or movie that’s not your own. There are healing elements coming from that which we always learn from. … We all have individual journeys and to hear other people’s journeys or stories whether they’re real or not, fact or fiction, there’s a lot of learning and healing.”
See Gutierrez and the rest of the Million Dollar Quartet tell their high-energy story now through Aug. 21 at Mission San Juan Capistrano.