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The Catalyst

Physician fulfills creative skills on local stage

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

MUSC’s Dr.  Paul E. O’Brien and The Citadel’s Dr. Christina Leidel perform in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s local stage production of Evita at the Dock Street Theatre through July 5. photos provided

Like his father before him, Paul E. O’Brien, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, chose to devote his life to healing patients with cancer. When he joined the MUSC team in 2006, O’Brien had very big shoes to fill, as his father, Paul H. O’Brien, M.D., had served as director of the MUSC Cancer Clinic and vice chairman of the Department of Surgery during his 30– year career at MUSC.

O’Brien described his father as having had a major influence in his life and a major presence on MUSC campus.
Presence is also the word many have used to describe O’Brien. While patients depend on him in his role as a premier oncologist, the younger O’Brien also offers a second gift to the people of Charleston: his talent on stage.

O’Brien, a well–known local actor who over the years has starred in productions such as “Camelot” and “Three Sisters,” is currently starring in the musical production, “Evita,” as Juan Perón.  And if acting and singing in the production aren’t enough, he also serves as a producer.

Recently, O’Brien and two colleagues, Christina Leidel, Ph.D., a professor of Physics at the Citadel, and Mary Cimino, a well–respected Charleston theater producer and director, founded a new theater company to add to the rich cultural scene in Charleston. The name of the company, Wandering Stars, comes from the last line in the final stanza of the famous poem written by William Butler Yeats, “Who Goes with Fergus?”  For their first production, they chose the musically demanding, “Evita.”

Performers in the Evita production at Dock Street Theatre.

“Evita,” which chronicles the story of Eva Perón, wife of former Argentine dictator, Juan Perón, premiered for the first time in Charleston at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival and played to sold-out audiences. When theater aficionados weren’t able to purchase tickets to the production, the trio made the decision to reopen at a new venue so more of the Charleston community could attend.

The Dock Street Theatre proved the perfect place to stage the beloved musical that Andrew Lloyd–Webber created with lyricist Tim Rice in 1978, and this production opened to a delighted audience on June 27.

O’Brien acknowledged that “Evita” is a particularly demanding musical as the lines are sung-through, rather than spoken. He has enjoyed “getting to know the music so well” and is especially proud that they have been purists in their interpretation, staying close to the original Broadway production.

In addition to his fulltime responsibilities at MUSC, O’Brien carefully balances the demands of his avocation. However, he never feels pressured to deny his passion for acting, and he is happy to devote time to both.

“I have to be careful with the shows I do and schedule it around call times. Even though my schedule is tight, there’s something about entering a theater after a very busy day. I just feel energized. Even though it may be weeks and weeks of rehearsal, I never mind it when it’s thrilling and energizing,” he said.

O’Brien credits his parents, both of whom were M.D.s, for the dual influences in his day–to–day life. Growing up, music played throughout the house and books were always scattered about. Performing was simply part of his childhood, and he and his sister were famous among family and friends for putting on shows. Their mother had given them a big bag of hats which served as his earliest costumes.  

While he never intended to pursue acting as a fulltime vocation, he doesn’t, see medicine and acting as diverging paths. More, he feels “they inform and contribute to each other and draw from the same deep well.”

“Both medicine and acting share a lot in common and require deeply investing in the human experience. Both are trying to get to the heart of what it means to be human. Some people describe theater as pretending or play acting, but actually, at its best, it’s all about honesty and connecting with each other: that’s what we do with patients at the bedside and what we strive for in the theater,” he said.

There are two more opportunities to see “Evita” at the Dock Street Theatre: Saturday, July 5, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 6 at 3 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime and the play is recommended for ages 10 and up.  

For more information, call 821–3527 or to purchase tickets, visit



July 5, 2014



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