Carlos Valdes is known to many as the loveable Cisco Ramon on The CW’s hit series “The Flash.” But before Valdes played the nerdy fanboy sidekick to the speedster superhero, he honed his acting skills right here on Broadway.
That’s right, Valdes is a musical theater kid at heart -- something he shares in common with “Flash” star Grant Gustin (“Glee”) and Jesse L. Martin (“Rent”). “Jesse and Grant are always tap dancing [on set],” Valdes explains. “I find myself tap dancing a lot, and don’t even notice it! We do all sorts of singing and impressions to keep ourselves entertained.”
While we might not get to see that side of Valdes on “The Flash” anytime soon, fans can see Valdes in a musical this weekend. He stars alongside “Transformers” actor John Turturro and “Frozen” baddie Santino Fontana in New York City Center Encores! production of Kander & Ebb’s 1968 musical “Zorba!”
We chatted with Valdes about “Zorba!,” “The Flash” and his time on the Great White Way.
NBC4NY: I was surprised to learn about your theater background. I’m embarrassed because I completely missed your Broadway debut in “Once.”
CARLOS VALDES: “Once” worked out pretty perfectly for me. I’m a multi-instrumentalist -- I play bass, guitar, piano, some percussion, ukelele -- in addition to being a singer. But when I first saw “Once” at New York Theater Workshop before it went to Broadway, it was kind of a bummer for me. I was so moved by the show, and I was like “I would love to be a part of this. It’s just a shame there are no parts for brown people in the show!” So I initially resigned myself to that. But eventually the replacement casting call came out, and they saw what I had to offer, and it all worked out. That show changed my life.
NBC4NY: How so?
VALDES: Having gone to school for musical theater, Broadway tends to play as a pinnacle of your training and educational experience. It was crazy to be reaching that point so early on in my life. I sort of expected a longer trajectory. It was surreal in that sense. There’s such a great sense of community when doing theater in NY, and that’s the part I really miss about it.
NBC4NY: Is that what drew you to “Zorba!”?
VALDES: Yes. I’ve always wanted to work with Encores! Their whole model is based on taking these obscure scores and giving them the treatment they deserve, with a full orchestra. And I’ve always been attracted to Kander & Ebb’s body of work. So I thought this would be pretty ideal.
NBC4NY: Was John Kander involved in the rehearsal process at all?
VALDES: The first time we got to listen to our amazing 30-piece orchestra play the score, John Kander was there, modifying the arrangements. It was really funny having him there. We were watching him have these real-time reactions to music he hadn’t really been a part of for years. There were times that he actually remarked about not even remembering he wrote that song! So it was very interesting to be a part of John Kander’s memory process.
NBC4NY: Did he give you any insight into the character?
VALDES: He asked in the middle of the day, “Who’s the one who plays the kid who dies?” and I was like “That’s me! That’s me!” We talked a little bit about the character. It was a very amazing experience to be able to shake his hand and be there with him as we take on this show.
NBC4NY: You were born in Colombia. Were you able to make any cultural connections to the Greek world of “Zorba!”?
VALDES: Every culture has their own things that make it distinct and rich in its own unique history. But underneath it all, every culture shares the importance of family and community and belonging. My character, unfortunately, suffers from a lack of that. His father and his uncle are terribly ashamed of him. When he loses touch with his family -- loses the most important thing in his culture -- the only thing he has is this obsession with this widow that he can’t explain. And when that falters, he has nothing left.
NBC4NY: “The Flash” has been a total breakout smash hit. What's that ride been like?
VALDES: It’s been very similar in many ways to the “Once” experience -- it’s totally rocked my world, and allowed me to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. And that’s always a humbling and educational experience. One of the most amazing things has been seeing and interacting with the people who are directly touched by this show and love it so much. The fans are so supportive and positive and faithful. It’s so nice to see them celebrate the things we do.
“Zorba!,” through May 10 at New York City Center, 130 West 56th Street. Tickets: $30-$130. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit NYCityCenter.org.