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utulsa.edu

The Only Boy Who Danced

Even when he is sitting, Ron Young’s toes tap to a catchy rhythm. It’s a contagious tempo set to Young’s artistic and outgoing spirit, and when this 1962 TU alumnus recounts his Broadway career, the music never seems to fade.

At the age of three, Young watched his first musical variety show. “I stood in front of the TV set, jumping up and down saying, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Young recalled. In his memoir, The Only Boy Who Danced: A Journey from Oklahoma to Broadway and Beyond, Young details his earlier life growing up in the farming country of Grove, Oklahoma, with only one career path in mind. “All I ever wanted to be was a song and dance man,” Young explained.

Although Young wasn’t a typical boy from Grove, the community encouraged his talents, and with a drum major scholarship, Young literally marched to the beat of his own drum and attended The University of Tulsa for a degree in voice and music and a master’s degree in vocal performance.

Training at TU built Young’s confidence, and professor and choreographer John Hurdle even provided ballet lessons during Young’s lunch breaks. “I was so highly trained and so motivated that at my first audition at Kansas City Starlight, it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t get it,” Young confided. With $500 in his pocket, Young left Kansas City to audition on Broadway.

Young arrived in New York City on a Friday and auditioned for Hello Dolly starring Carol Channing. By Monday, he received his first Broadway role as a dancer. “This old farm boy was just smart enough to do something; I wore the same outfit to the dance call that I wore to the singing call.” Because it is rare to wear a shirt and tie to a dance call, Young assured that he would be remembered. “I wanted to run out to Times Square screaming ‘I just got my first Broadway show,’” he said.

For 33 years, Young shared the Broadway stage with Angela Lansbury, Tommy Tune, Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters and many more stars. From playing the Italian lover Alfredo in La Traviata to standing in for Charles Honi Coles, “one of the gods of the tap dancing world” in My One and Only, Young has filled his memoir with behind-the-scenes stories.

“It took me nine months to write this book; now what else takes nine months?” Young joked. What started out as a project to share his journey has ended up being an inspirational tale. Readers are saying, “If he can live his dream, I can live my dream,” Young said. His memoir doesn’t end on the Broadway stage but follows Young into retirement. “You don’t retire from something. You retire to something,” Young said. The book delves into this work with Merrill Lynch and becoming a professional organizer.

At age 76, Young is living back in Grove at Monkey Island, but there are no signs of slowing down. Young has a one-man acapella show, and he started a project to sing the national anthem 100 times and is at #88. He enjoys singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with emotion, but at some point, during the song, Young forgets about singing It perfectly and focuses on the audience. “I’ve evolved into what I would like to think is the essence of a real entertainer because it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about me being a vehicle for the material and a vessel to put it out there for you to have it.”

Young is the consummate song-and-dance man. As for his audience, there is not a frozen toe in sight.