by Keri Willard-Crist
M.Div. junior Craig Rubano is reticent to answer the identity questions many of us take for granted. “I don’t know the answer to the question, ‘Where are you from and what do you do?’” he says. Rubano’s family left Missouri when he was five years old to move to South America, and he spent his school years between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, until he returned to the United States for college. Because of his background—geographically and vocationally—those types of questions “strike terror” in Rubano, so he’s created different ways of answering, including, “I sing to make money to buy books.” And though that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s true for Rubano, who was a performer on Broadway and on stages across the world before coming to Princeton Seminary.
At Yale University, Rubano sang with the a cappella groups Redhot & Blue and The Whiffenpoofs. It didn’t occur to him to sing professionally. While pursuing a graduate degree in comparative literature at Columbia University, Rubano was given some encouragement that led him away from academia. “People said ‘You could do this,’” he says, and so after earning his master’s degree he took a leave from his Ph.D. program and “decided to go for it.” Within a year Rubano had landed a role in the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers, his first major show. Not long after, he made his Broadway debut as Marius Pontmercy in Les Misérables, a role he played for more than two years in seven hundred performances.
Following his four-year stint on Broadway, Rubano focused on giving concerts and recording, producing three albums, Finishing the Act: Act One Finales from Broadway, Change Partners, and The Night They Invented Champagne: Operetta and its Musical Legacy.
For two years while he was traveling and performing full time, Rubano visited seminaries and divinity schools across the country by adding extra days to his concert tours. He estimates he saw twenty schools that way. PTS was one of the first, and last, places he visited. Between his first and second visits, the Seminary adopted a new curriculum. “It was almost like everyone had turned around and looked outward,” Rubano said of the faculty and student body. “President Torrance spoke so eloquently about the fact that we have to be engaged in the world…. Every other word out of people’s mouths [during his visit] was ‘we’re interested in diversity.’” He touts PTS’s seminar weekend as “the best prospective program in the country” because it “gives you an unbelievable sense of what it’s like to be here.” Satisfied with what he saw, Rubano enrolled. When asked if he sees the same amount of diversity and world engagement as he had hoped for, Rubano is positive. “It’s a process and it’s occurring,” he says.
Through all his experiences, Rubano sees a common theme. “I’ve always been interested in different ways that people make meaning,” he says. Being enrolled at Princeton is reaping big dividends for Rubano, who is answering this question and, at the same time, finding that he’s not alone in his uncertainty about why or how it is that he finds himself pursuing a theological education. “No one knows what they’re doing, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “You learn so much from everyone else who’s around.” He seems satisfied with his decision to come to Princeton, at least for now. “This is vibrant, being here,” Rubano says as he looks over a noisy lunchroom crowd at Mackay cafeteria. For a performer accustomed to the lights and energy of the stage, that’s certainly high praise.
Listen to audio clips of Rubano singing “Give My Regards to Broadway” from Finishing the Act: Act One Finales from Broadway (AF Records); “Come Dance With Me” from Change Partners (Prosody Records); and “Serenade” from The Night They Invented Champagne: Operetta and Its Musical Legacy (Prosody Records).
To learn more about Craig Rubano’s singing career, visit www.craigrubano.com.