Corbin Bleu & Colleen Zenk Do Dayton.
By Jim Bucher
OK, you’re visiting our fair city for six weeks without family and your only friends are new ones you’ve met on your current project. The project keeps you busy, but not that busy, so you have lots of free time. What on earth to do?
Well, that’s the scenario for a couple of actors recently performing in the world premiere of The Human Race Theatre Company’s wonderful and poignant Family Shots by playwright Michael Slade.
The two of which I write are Corbin Bleu—star of, among other things, Disney’s High School Musical movies—and Colleen Zenk—longtime actress in the daytime soap As The World Turns.
They are both truly wonderful in their profession and super people, too. So I decided that I would help them fill some of their empty daytime hours with a quick tour of all the great things Dayton has to offer.
We met at The Carillon Brewery inside Dayton’s true treasure, Carillon Park, along with its president and CEO, Brady Kress.
Both greeted me like long-lost family members, with hugs and a hearty handshake. Not the perceived notion of Hollywood stuck-up types.
“Today at the Carillon Brewery was one of the best meals we’ve had here. Salar and Roost, Lucky’s [Taproom] are wonderful, too,” Bleu says.
What I wanted to know is what makes two vets of the acting world pull up stakes, temporarily at least, and head to a town they’ve never visited let alone are familiar with?
“I had heard so much about the Human Race Theatre for a long time,” Zenk says. “I did all my Googling and found out this is one of the most arts-heavy cities in the United States. This can’t be all bad. So I said sign me up.”
“I mainly came here based on the script and because of Michael Slade, who wrote the show, but didn’t know what to expect,” Bleu says. “When we got here we said, ‘OK let’s explore.’”
So, the Lewis and Clark—or rather Bleu and Zenk—expedition was off and running.
“We were here over New Year’s and we thought, ‘OK, what are we gonna do?’ We ended up going to the Philharmonic performance and didn’t know what to expect. I was flabbergasted at the incredible performance they put on. Just sitting there going, ‘Wow,’” Bleu says.
“We had been here three days by that point and walked into the Schuster Center and looked up at the starry sky, just magnificent. We have been back three times since to see shows,” adds Zenk. “And you are so lucky to have [Music Director Neal Gittleman]. I’m so impressed and fell madly in love with him. Unfortunately he’s married,” Zenk adds with a laugh.
After our lunch it was off for a quick tour of Carillon Park, where every out-of-towner should begin their stay in Dayton.
“The amount of history your city has is incredible. The products and industry here is obvious, as you know being a Daytonian. Very impressive,” Bleu says.
Later in the week I was honored by this fun bunch wanting to break bread again.
Someone suggested a visit to Marion’s Piazza, which at one time hosted all the Kenley Players summer stock cast parties after opening night. Every major star of the day enjoyed the exclusive-to-Dayton, bite-size pizza squares. Zenk went with a sauerkraut pizza; Bleu lots of meat.
So what have these two been doing since we last spoke?
“We watched The Muse Machine’s production of Oliver. The amount of students, all these young, young kids, not 10 or 20, but hundreds interested in theater is beautiful to me,” Bleu says.
Zenk went solo.
“I drove around the Oregon District and said, ‘Oh look there’s a for sale sign.’ Even went to realtor.com, I’m not kidding, and pulled up stuff trying to see what it’s like here. Very lovely and affordable,” Zenk says.
“Square One Salon kind of blew me away, that it’s in this town because it’s so upscale and lovely. I’m going back for a haircut on Monday. It’s not small city, it’s big city,” she adds.
Before we depart, a small personal observation. Bleu’s been called one of the most eligible bachelors on the planet until now. He recently proposed to longtime girlfriend Sasha Clements, who is along on this trip.
“Yes, he’s disappointed a lot of ladies with our engagement, and guys, too,” Clements says.
“Yep, I was part of High School Musical after all,” Bleu adds with a hearty laugh.
Zenk and Bleu would agree that Dayton is not about restaurants, shows, and museums, but rather its people.
“One of the things I found so extraordinary is the kindness of the residents here,” Zenk shares.
“One night, we had a gentleman take his napkin and write down all the places we must see and experience,” Bleu adds.
It’s safe to say to all the naysayers out there, these first-timers to our fair city put it in perspective.
“This is a great place to hang out, seriously,” Bleu says.
“But you can’t see it all in six weeks,” Zenk says. “There’s too much to do here in Dayton.”
Read it like I wrote it.