Robert Poole: Happy days ahead for Kentridge actor, singer, 4.0 student

Happy days are certainly ahead for Robert Poole. Before Poole stars as Richie Cunningham May 4-7 and 11-14 in the Kentridge High School musical "Happy Days," he heads off for a four-day visit to Stanford University to help him decide whether to attend the Palo Alto, Calif., school, Princeton University or the University of Southern California.

Robert Poole

Robert Poole

Happy days are certainly ahead for Robert Poole.

Before Poole stars as Richie Cunningham May 4-7 and 11-14 in the Kentridge High School musical “Happy Days,” he heads off for a four-day visit to Stanford University to help him decide whether to attend the Palo Alto, Calif., school, Princeton University or the University of Southern California.

“I’ll probably go to Stanford,” Poole said during a recent interview at the Kentridge Performing Arts Center.

Poole, an 18-year-old senior who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, plans to major in mechanical engineering with either a major or minor in music. He wants to work as a Walt Disney Company imagineer, someone who designs rides and the music for those rides, at theme parks.

That’s been the dream job of Poole since he lived as a kid in Florida.

“I was 7 and my first-grade class took a field trip to Epcot,” Poole said. “I got to see all of the rides and knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living.”

Poole started his drama career as a freshman at Kentridge. He tried out for “Little Me” and was selected as one of just 13 cast members. He played Junior, the son of Mr. Pinchley.

“I was hooked,” he said. “I caught the bug. I did three shows my first year. This is my 11th show at Kentridge.”

Besides drama, Poole sings tenor in the concert and jazz choirs and plays drums in the Kentridge band.

“I’ve been singing since birth,” Poole said. “I used to sing around the house as a kid and bang pots and pans.”

Poole joined his first choir in the eighth grade before giving musicals a shot at Kentridge.

“What impressed me the most was his energy and voice,” said Kentridge director Jennifer Grajewski. “He has had a beautiful tenor voice since he was 14.”

Poole keeps up his high level of energy despite being diagnosed as a sophomore with Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Poole could not gain weight and experienced fatigue and abdominal pain.

“There’s a lot of pain still when it flares up but you would never know he has it (Crohn’s disease),” Grajewski said. “Most people don’t know he has it because he still does everything and he does everything well. He does not let it stop him.”

There’s no cure for the disease.

“It’s more manageable now,” Poole said. “It was bad at first. But now I drink a lot of water and take medication. My doctor and I have a good plan.”

Grajewski said Poole proves much can be accomplished while battling the disease.

“You have it your whole life and it can be a very debilitating disease,” Grajewski said. “You can’t let it stop you from living your life. You could make excuses. But Robert is not an excuse maker.”

Poole recently received a National Achievement Scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The scholarships are given to African-American students who show academic promise and are selected in part on their high school grades as well as ACT and SAT exam scores.

Outside of the classroom and stage, Poole is president of the Kingsmen, a school club that helps mentor young black men; works as a tutor with Youth 180 to help at-risk freshmen at the school; and is a senior class senator.

Back on stage, Poole looks forward to taking on the role of Richie in the musical based on the “Happy Days” 1974-84 television series. Garry Marshall, who wrote the TV series, also wrote the script for the musical. Oscar-winning composer Paul Williams wrote the music.

“Richie is a really fun role,” Poole said. “He’s an All-American guy who is a little stubborn and little quirky. He’s a fun character to be.”

Poole joins cast members Marcus Weekly (Chachi), Reggie Collins (Ralph) and Nick Johnson (Potsie) as the Dial Tones for several songs in the musical.

“The music is in four-part harmony from the 1950s,” Poole said. “It’s got a doo-wop feel. The music is authentic to the time.”

Haley Poole, Robert’s sophomore sister, plays the role of Pinkette Tina in the musical.

Fans of the TV series are expected to enjoy the show.

“But it’s a great musical even if you don’t know the TV show,” Poole said.

Poole had only watched “Happy Days” a couple of times before getting the role of Richie. Now he has watched the show a lot.

“I watch it to get the feeling of the character,” he said. “It’s a funny show.”

If you go

What: Kentridge High presents “Happy Days”

When: 7 p.m. May 4-7; May 11-14; also 2 p.m. May 7, 14

Where: Kentridge Performing Arts Center, 12430 S.E. 208th St.

Cost: $10 reserved, $8 general

Tickets: www.fineartsattheridge.com

Kentridge “Happy Days” cast

Richie-Robert Poole; Pinky-Natalie Lawrence

Chachi-Marcus Weekly; Ralph- Reggie Collins

Potsie-Nick Johnson; Fonz-Aaron Johnson

Howard-Kaleb Brunson; Marion-Calean Creaser

Joanie-Emily Sanford; Arnold-Nick Simons


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