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Child Adopted by Cerritos Parents Living the Dream on Broadway

GREW UP IN CERRITOS: Pictured in the Chicago area theatre musical production, “Kiss Me, Kate” is (left to right) Alexandra Palkovic with Cerritos resident Daniel May.


January 24, 2022

By Laurie Hanson

As an Asian-American adoptee growing up in Cerritos, actor Daniel May learned to be creative.

Born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted at five months in California by parents Richard and Barbara May, the actor recently got called up to play Bill Calhoun/Lucentio in the “Kiss Me, Kate,” now premiering at the Marriott Theater near Chicago in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

“Getting to explore, understand and experience different lives, relationships and worlds, and to discover how they relate to your own is thrilling, scary and always new,” May said of his love for acting. “The community and equally lone journey of being an artist is unlike any other.”

“No one else in my family is an actor,” he added. “It’s almost like I’m adopted… Lol!”

His parents, and especially his father, gave him a love for folk music and musical theatre. Since his father’s passing three months ago, May finds himself drawing upon both of his parents’ amazing love, a love that’s carried him the world over in his acting career.

“I’ve performed in Osaka, Japan. Macau, China,” May said. “I’ve toured all over the U.S. and on and off-Broadway in New York City. I look forward to journeying all over the world with new projects and locations.”

With a strong sense of community, his parents resided in the same house in Cerritos, which they purchased back in the early ’70. Through performing arts classes offered by the City of Cerritos, May got his first encounter in the world of acting.

Daniel May

“I have been performing since I was a kid,” he said. “There was a commercial acting class where I learned to sell Lay’s potato chips, a jazz dance class where I did a center split to Jasmine Guy’s Try Me, and my first musical ever, “Sam and the Serpent Snake,” performed at the amphitheater at Liberty Park.”

Shortly thereafter, he began singing with his father in the choir and praise team at New Life Community Church.

“I loved holding the mic and being on center stage,” May said. 

He got lucky in having Bebe Martin Smith as a choir director at Pat Nixon Elementary where he was given “great music, movement, and artistry” through her shows.

“Our choir was chosen to be a part of the “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” national tour at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood,” he added. “This was a dream come true!”It was there May met Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber at one of his first rehearsals and got to perform on stage every night with Broadway professionals.

“I was hooked,” May exclaimed. “From there, we found performing opportunities anywhere we could.”

After his short time at Whitney High School with Jodi Improta, he would audition and get accepted to The Orange County High School of the Arts in Los Alamitos. After a few productions at Cypress College, May started performing at the Southern California regional theaters.

While playing Baby-John in “West Side Story” at Musical Theater West, he met his first agent, Nancy Abt with The Daniel Hoff Agency.

“I learned so much, and I really began to think of performing as not just something I love but something I could do for my life,” he added.

May went on to study acting with many different and “wonderful” coaches in Los Angeles and New York City. However, he never forgot his first serious acting teacher, Jodi Improta, who ran the theatre department at Whitney High School.

“She made such an impact on me as a young, curious artist,” May explained. “Her skill as an actress and artist and gift as a teacher gave me so much.”

And then eventually, May’s “big break” finally came.

He flew to New York City on an open call for the Broadway revival of “Flower Drum Song,” and kept getting called back. One day after the final callback, while he was walking through Times Square, he heard a voicemail from Tara Rubin saying, “I’m calling to cast you in your first Broadway show!”

He continues to work with his two acting coaches Joshua Bitton in Los Angeles and Diaan Ainslee in New York City.

In “Kiss Me, Kate,” May’s life gets played out as an actor working in a theater. Mainly a musical at heart, it’s a show within a show that portrays a troupe putting on the musical version of Shakespeare’s, Taming of the Shew.

“It’s about how we as artists manage on and offstage life and relationships throughout the years,” he added. “It is a sobering truth that my starring in this production of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ is equally as important and rare a moment of #representationmatters as it is for an Asian-American “Bill Calhoun” starring in a fictional 1948 production of Taming of the Shrew.”

May went on to say that so much is changing in the way of representation and inclusion, and that society still has a long way to go.

“In this role of Bill Calhoun, I wanted to find who this Asian-American human being would’ve been in 1948 Baltimore, Maryland, starring in a Broadway-bound production.”

“Who is this guy, and how did his journey, his family’s journey bring him here to this place,” May asked. “It’s challenging as an adoptee who grew up so closely to white American culture to find those roots and fibers of my Asian-hood.”

May is also exploring how being an adoptee has shaped his overall life and career.

“How could it not,” he asked. “I experience so many challenges, triumphs, and emotions around identity every day and the intersection around race, culture and family are always present in my work as an actor. It is part of my journey and mission to continue in that direction of work.”

He’s found in his “Kiss Me, Kate” character that Bill is so much more like himself, than not. “Our struggles are similar,” May added. “That makes our triumphs so much more connected, too.”

This past year, May got his first shot at a feature film called, “Clocked,” and had television roles on HBO’s “The Newsroom” and “FBI: Most Wanted” on CBS. He’s also doing television commercial work.

In theatre, he’s worked at The Public Theater, Center Theater Group, Godspeed Opera House, Sacramento Music Circus, McCoy Rigby at La Mirada Theater, East West Players.

For those starting off on an acting career, May advises exploration, taking classes and to study dance if interested in doing musical theatre.

“Learn about and experience the world,” he added. “Engage in things that aren’t just acting. The more well-rounded you are as a human being, the better actor you will be. Go where you feel high vibration of joy and challenge. Be generous.”