For Stonington's Candelet, it's what you'd call a dream
Stonington — Cory Candelet’s first public singing performance was also the first time his two interests, sports and theater, were juxtaposed against one another.
He was 9, in uniform with his team for opening day at the Mystic Little League, and Candelet stepped up to the microphone to sing the national anthem before the 200-300 people who were gathered.
“I always loved to sing, but I had never done it in front of people,” Candelet said this week, beginning his story with the memory of that moment at Rossie Field. “That’s the first day I was singing in front of people. … Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. I sang that constantly. My dad’s friends would give me a dollar.”
Because his mom, Tracy, was involved with the youth football and Little League organizations in town and later became president of the Stonington High School athletic boosters, Candelet, the youngest of four children, knew his way around a concession stand from an early age.
His brothers and sisters all pursued sports at the collegiate level. Cory attended the AIM program (Academy Introduction Mission) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy during the summer before his senior year at Stonington and was set to apply at Coast Guard, where he had a chance to continue his career in football — he was a two-time All-Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division first team middle linebacker — and track.
Only something didn’t feel right.
“There was something in me that was always craving the stage,” Candelet said. “My plan was to go to Coast Guard. I went to the Homecoming football game with my dad every year. He loves the flyover. I love the flyover. It taught me something about tradition, how important tradition is. It was the perfect fit for me.
"I could have been successful. A year prior, I really would have wanted to go. It’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to sing and dance.”
A 2013 Stonington graduate, Candelet is now 23 years old.
His journey, after considerable deliberation, has brought him here:
Candelet is currently a member of the cast of “Grease,” playing now through July 29 to sold-out audiences at the locally based Ivoryton Playhouse. He was hired to play the role of Eugene, the stumbling nerd of the famed Rydell High School.
Ivoryton gave Candelet his first professional acting role last August in “Saturday Night Fever,” despite him accidentally colliding with a trash can during his New York audition. For his second engagement at Ivoryton, beginning in March, Candelet was co-winner of the Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, honoring his portrayal of The Mute, a role he brought to life without uttering a single word.
One recent review praises Candelet’s mastery of physical comedy in Grease, saying: “Cory delivers a wacky and unforgettable performance (as Eugene). He’s heir to the great comedic stars Buster Keaton, Bert Lahr and, yes, even Lucille Ball.”
“There’s a certain responsibility. You have to contribute to the story you’re telling,” Candelet, a tenor, said of his draw to the world of theater. “You could have a smaller role, but contribute to the story. I’m more than happy to fall on stage.”
Jacqueline Hubbard, Ivoryton's executive director, said Candelet was easy to adopt into the Ivoryton family.
“It's OK to crash and make mistakes; it's how you deal with them,” Hubbard said. “The thing about theater is you can be a wonderful actor, but if you don't have that drive and passion, the ability to get over rejection, you're never going to make it. Cory has all of those things: drive, passion and I think he bounced back quickly. He's enthusiastic to try anything. Who doesn't love that?”
Candelet’s favorite sporting moment at Stonington High School is an easy one.
Following the Thanksgiving Day football game his senior season, a 34-32 victory over Westerly, Candelet leapt onto the back of best friend Ian Capozzoli, a lineman for the Bears, and raised his right arm in triumph.
Candelet and Capozzoli later got matching tattoos, featuring an anchor and the words, “Here’s To Old Stonington,” highlighting the lyrics to the Bears' fight song, which is sung to the tune of “Anchors Aweigh.”
Candelet, 5-foot-7, 135 pounds at the time, also graduated with the school record in the 600 meters and the 4x400 and 4x800 relays as a member of the track team, which he occasionally returns to help coach.
Candelet’s tattoo, a sentimental tribute to his Stonington High School career, falls on the back of his left shoulder. He and Capozzoli still phone each other and belt out the anthem to commemorate various successes, including Candelet’s first opening night at Ivoryton.
“There are a handful of kids that had a lot to do with the success of where the Stonington track program has gotten to … Cory is at the top of the list,” said track coach Ben Bowne, who arrived at Stonington coinciding with Candelet's senior year. “We had a small team, but those who were there, led by Cory, kind of set the precedent for how we do things.
“We won both 4x400s (boys and girls) at ECC indoor that season and it was just from sheer effort and believing in what we were doing. … (When he comes back to visit), he is such a great positive energy. He makes people feel like they can do anything.”
Candelet tells of being cut from Mystic Middle School’s Select Chorus in the fifth grade for being perhaps a bit too, well, theatrical.
“It’s sort of a Michael Jordan didn’t make the basketball team story,” he said last week with a laugh over lunch. “I auditioned and didn’t get in. You’re a kid. I was discouraged. I was in the fifth grade. I knew I was good at sports. I didn’t venture out into new things (after that).
“I didn’t try out for chorus in sixth, seventh or eighth grade. I had a vendetta against chorus. I played basketball. I helped with Unified Sports a lot. I played baseball in Babe Ruth. Youth football.”
Then came high school. In the spring of his junior year, encouraged by other athletes involved in the drama department — and the fact he already knew the songs to the popular musical "The Sound of Music" — Candelet portrayed Rolf alongside Haley Barravecchia as Liesl. The duo received a state-wide Halo Award for Best Couple in a Musical. As a senior, Candelet starred in “The Drowsy Chaperone” as the groom, Robert Martin.
Suddenly, singing and dancing were very much on his mind again.
Candelet initially attended Western New England in Springfield, Mass., but left halfway through his sophomore year for a sixth-month engagement with Up With People, a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking down cultural barriers through volunteer service, culminating in weekly performances throughout the world. Candelet performed with the group in several U.S. cities, as well as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Mexico.
“I felt like I was an old man in college. I'm an old soul,” Candelet said. “I wanted a glass of wine.”
When he returned from Up With People, what Candelet called life-changing — “it's made me such a better actor,” he said of the perspective he gained — he transferred to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. There he participated in an accelerated conservatory program — a little ballet dancing, some tap dancing, acting, voice lessons, he did it all — graduating on time in 2017.
“I loved every second of it,” Candelet said. “You might have an 8 a.m. ballet class, but you're not writing essays. You're working to better yourself.”
Candelet is now in the midst of a successful run at Ivoryton, which will continue through the theater's production of “A Chorus Line,” appearing from Aug. 8-Sept. 2. Candelet will play the character Don, listed as “a ladies' man.”
He continues his longstanding association with the East Lyme Regional Theater and director Erin Sousa-Stanley, also the director of the Stonington High drama club and Candelet's mentor. He has worked at the ELRT's children's camp for several years and this year Candelet is helping to choreograph the regional theater's production of “All Shook Up,” showing at East Lyme High School from July 27-29.
He's also coming off a stint as Orville Wright in “The Wright Brothers Musical,” a touring show designed to teach children about determination.
Perhaps Candelet's most successful role thus far was his award-winning portrayal of The Mute. He had another role in mind when he attended the audition, but Hubbard gave him a sheet of paper and asked him to interpret a printed monologue without speaking.
"When Cory came in and did his interpretation, we all knew that this was the person,” Hubbard said. “To be honest with you, and we never told Cory this, we originally planned to have (The Mute) as a girl. Cory just wowed us and that was it.”
Candelet is hoping to wow more theater luminaries in the future. When he's not at the Mystic home of his parents, Tracy and Lindley, he lives in New York City, where he has access to his college's rehearsal space and the magical world of Broadway. When not attending auditions, he works as a food runner at 5 Napkin Burger in the city, more hard work he's willing to maintain to fulfill his dreams.
For today, however, Candelet is Eugene.
“I didn't do what I did as The Mute to win an award,” Candelet said. “It was an incredible cast of people, an incredible director, an incredible theater. I had the opportunity to create something that was beautiful and fun. I was shocked (to win). (But) it shouldn't matter. I didn't get an award for Eugene. I do the same work. I just go in and try to do my best work.”
Still his favorite song to sing? It's “What You'd Call a Dream,” a ballad about — what else? — baseball. (There are two men out and it's in the ninth and the score is four to three. There's a man on first and a man at bat and the man at bat is me.)
It turns out that Candelet has carried the Mystic Little League with him, after all, even as his adoration grows for the lights on Broadway.
It's what you'd call a dream.
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