Getting Ready To Tackle Broadway

Chris Cordero describes himself as a musical theatre geek with singing, dancing, and acting as three equally driving passions in his life.

The 17-year old native of West Milford, New Jersey, recently auditioned for the musical, Rent, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center at got a callback. He credits his work with his voice coach, Deborah “Zuke” Smith, for helping him strengthen his voice, become more focused and confident his dream will become reality.

Opened For The Business

“When he first came to me he was tentative to take himself seriously as a triple threat actor; well, he tried to convey that image,” Zuke said. “It was very apparent to me that he knew he was good; but, for his own personal reasons, played it down to a fault. This past year he has opened up all those channels and is ready to do the work necessary to compete in the insane world of Broadway.”

Zuke notes that Chris is at home on stage and loves singing so much that he actually breaks out into song whenever he can. But he’s still had some challenges to overcome.

Fearless Artist + Athlete

“He has a natural beautiful voice, like Frank Sinatra, but still pulls up his chest because that’s how he hears the sound,” she said. “His habits are stubborn, but I am more tenacious and won’t stop until I release that gorgeous sound in him. Chris is a football player, so he’s used to getting beat up. Nothing I throw at him scares him.”

And the teacher has also learned from the young artist-athlete.

“Chris has taught me that old habits can be hard to break when we’re afraid of how good we actually are,” she said.

Chris took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his love for his singing and the vocal training he gets from Zuke, whom he calls “Deb.”

Q + A

SSO: What led you to pursue singing as a serious career goal?

Chris: I first started musical theatre in eighth grade with a production of Fiddler on The Roof, and I played the Rabbi. I had never in my young lifetime had anything impact me as hard as music. Ever since then, I’ve been addicted. My one goal in life is to be on the stage. I don’t care what stage it is as long as I’m on it. Not being on stage is a fear I have. If I can’t do musical theatre, life has lost its individual, essential spark to make it “life.”

SSO: How did you come to know Deb?

Chris: I actually came to meet Deb out of a desire to take lessons, but there was no one I knew about. I was so clueless until my friend, Arden, told me about her. And then the rest is history.

SSO: What do you remember about your first lessons with her?

Chris: How cool she was, I thought she was going to be this uptight stuck up operatic coach who was extremely critical. When I first saw her, I thought she was Meryl Streep gone 60’s revolutionary. She is by far one of the coolest and most interesting people I have ever met.

SSO: How would you describe yourself when you went in for that very first lesson with her?

Chris: I knew I was going to be a challenge for her. I had really hoped someone who had some actual music background could tell me I was good enough, to know I had the potential to do what I loved. Now that she told me it’s possible, I’m not going to let myself stop until I get there.

SSO: How has working with her changed things in terms of your voice and confidence?

Chris: Well, my last lesson was actually to get ready for a big audition for NJPAC’s Rent. My voice now has a greater resonance and not to mention my range has increased a little. The thought of knowing my voice will one day be what I want it to be, is overwhelming.

SSO: What have been you biggest challenges with working through lessons with Deb, and did you ever have an experience where you thought you might give up? If so, what got you through it?

Chris: The biggest challenge has been my own mind, and old habits. Listening to other people sing, most notably Frank Sinatra, I had developed my voice based around other voices. And not being trained or really understanding anything about voice, I got certain effects through singing incorrectly. I’m actually still working to get past that.

SSO: Do you remember a specific breakthrough that clearly began to fight through fear?

Chris: Yes my first big breakthrough was when Deb had us sing at a restaurant, and sing a tune we felt would be best for us. Of course I chose “New York, New York.” But, being such a famous song, I led myself to believe there were these really high expectations. Your worst critic is yourself. I’ve learned that now. It’s important to be comfortable where I am performing. But loving it, that is so much more important than what you criticize yourself on.

SSO: What is your favorite tip, exercise, or lesson learned?

Chris: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Every one of my lessons is so helpful and fun.. Let’s see. I would have to say, and I quote Deb, “Ya gotta love what you’re doing,” and I know I do!

SSO: How has playing sports helped you with singing, and how has singing helped you as an athlete?

Chris: I’ve learned that even though sports uses more physical exertion on your entire body, singing requires much more confidence, determination, and concentration. Anybody can pick up a ball and throw it. Very few people can pick up a microphone, and entertain millions of people.

SSO: What are your goals as a singer?

Chris: My goal is to enjoy every minute I spend with a microphone in my hand, or every second I’m onstage, and just love what I’m doing. That’s all anybody can ask of themselves.

SSO: Any final comments you wish to share?

Chris: Yes, to anyone who is not confident as a singer, especially if you are saying to yourself, I’m not good enough to sing. Ask yourself this one question, as I did before I knew it was my love. Ask yourself, do you love to sing? If the answer is yes, then you were born to do it. Go for it!

Deborah “Zuke” Smith is a renowned music copyist, piano teacher, songwriter, vocal coach, and self-proclaimed “East coast chick,” who credits Brett Manning’s Singing Success with not only saving her life but forever changing it for the very best it can be. In 2000 Zuke was diagnosed with breast cancer and braved the brutal battery of tests, surgeries, chemotherapy, post chemo drug regimen and physical therapy. She heads up Brett Manning Vocal Method : East Coast, U.S.A. Visit her website at for more information.