After almost ten years living as a New Yorker, a McAllen native makes his national television debut this Friday night, Oct. 14, in the PBS broadcast of The Guthrie Theater Presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore - an intimate theater experience for a national audience.
The show will air locally on KMBH-TV (channel 60 or cable channel 10) at 8 p.m. Friday and repeat at 10 p.m. Saturday.
A McAllen boy, born and raised, Adrian Pena is the son of Arturo and Annabel Pena, a banker and educational administrator, and the middle child of three boys. Throughout his upbringing, he has been active in the arts and has always had a passion for performing. Starting with gymnastics classes at 3-years-old, Adrian competed on a national level until the age of 12.
But after catching the bug in music classes at McAllen’s Sam Rayburn Elementary, Adrian couldn't contain the music inside him any longer and begged to be enrolled in class at the Doria Avila Dance Academy - now, the Deborah Case Dance Academy. During his time with the dance company, Adrian studied many dance genres, including jazz, tap, flamenco, folklorico, and ballet - performing as the title character in The Nutcracker for several seasons, as well as in shows at the Texas State Fair and in the Ft. Worth Ballet's Cinderella.
While attending McAllen’s Homer J. Morris Middle School, he got heavily involved in choir. Thanks to caring choir directors Beverly Bradburn and Joyce Hull, Adrian's passions and talents were focused on using his voice to perform. Bradburn and Hull were also unknowingly responsible for planting the seed that would eventually grow to be Adrian's career in entertainment, casting him in his first ever musical - Fiddler on the Roof at McAllen Memorial High School, playing Tumbling Boy No. 2. Once at McAllen High School, he continued to expand his performance opportunities, trying his hand at UIL One-Act plays, joining The McHi Singers Show Choir, performing in the McHi Choir annual dinner show, as the leading man in school musical Bye, Bye, Birdie, and earning a spot on the Texas All-State Choir his senior year - while still maintaining a top-20 ranking and being active in student government as the Student Body President.
Though a seasoned performer by his early teens, Adrian never really considered an actual career in showbiz - being from a small town in Texas. After graduating in 2001, he was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin as an electrical and computer engineering major, but fate - and his mother - had other things in mind. Knowing their son's undeniable passion for performing, Mr. and Mrs. Pena sent Adrian to New York City to take a six-week musical theater summer workshop at New York University's Steinhardt School as a high school graduation present.
He was on a flight to New York less than 24 hours after receiving his diploma. By happy coincidence, the summer workshop's professor was set to be promoted to Head of the Vocal Performance Department the following school year, and took a vested interest in Adrian - coaxing the 18-year-old dancer for a transfer to NYU and a move to the Big Apple. Much too late to enroll for the 2001 fall semester, Adrian did a year at UT, but kept in touch with friends and professors in New York, even through the events of September 11, eventually receiving an acceptance letter from NYU the following February. Though knowing very little about the actual business of show, Adrian packed up, moved 2,000 miles, and began classes in the fall of 2002.
Performing in several main-stage university productions, such as Ragtime and Babes in Arms, and spending a summer performing at Hershey Park, the next three years proved to be a wonderful training ground for the now-showbiz-savvy 22 year-old.
Even before graduating in May of 2005, Adrian had booked a national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and traveled around the country performing the tap-happy show more than 300 times over the next year. Since ending the tour in mid-2006, Adrian has performed at some of the best regional theaters in the country: as Chino in West Side Story at the North Carolina Theater in Raleigh, as The Magic Carpet in Beauty & the Beast at the Westchester Broadway Theater in upstate New York, and as a featured dancer in A Wonderful Life at The Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey (choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler), to name just a few. He became a bonafide professional actor in 2007, joining Actors Equity Association - the professional union for stage actors.
Most recently, Adrian spent this past summer performing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore at the acclaimed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Renowned Irishmen, director Joe Dowling and choreographer David Bolger have given a fresh take on this hilarious 19th-century operetta about “loving above your station” and “who’s really who?” - complete with updated musical arrangements, extravagantly beautiful Victorian costumes, and show-stopping choreography. In late August, this celebrated production was recorded by Twin Cities Public Television to be eternally preserved in the PBS archives as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festivial series. The Guthrie Theater Presents Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore kicks off the weekly series Friday, October 14 at 8 p.m. on PBS (KMBH), and will continue the next several months, showcasing the arts and artists from several cities across the country.
Adrian Pena lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City and continues to pursue his career in musical theater, with hopes of one day being on Broadway and in movie musicals. For now, he can be seen singing and dancing in the ensemble as the Tumbling Sailor on the small screen this Friday night on PBS (KMBH).