'Electrifying', 'incomparable', 'brilliant', 'stunning', 'delightful', 'subtle', 'vulnerable', 'virtuosic', 'great', 'hilarious', 'heartbreaking', 'indispensable'; these are a few of the many superlatives used by critics to describe the work of Joel Sandel.
Everett Evans of The Houston Chronicle once said: "Joel Sandel may be the Energizer Bunny of Houston's theater scene".
A native Texan, Joel was born in Houston on September 6, 1960. His parents, Jerry Anderson Sandel and June Lea Shaw "Sam" Sandel and sister, Jill, all currently reside in Huntsville. The Sandels made Houston their home from Joel's birth until 1971 (with the exception of a few months in 1963, when they relocated to Corpus Christi, where his sister was born) . The family moved to Huntsville, home to several generations of the Sandel clan, permanently in the Summer of 1971. Throughout Joel's youth he expressed himself dramatically and musically. His first time 'on stage' was in 1967, performing with his kindergarten class. A production of "My Fair Lady" as presented by Sam Houston State University began his life long love for the theater and sparked his interest in working on the stage. The BBC series "The Six Wives of Henry the VIII" starring Keith Mitchell and "Elizabeth R" starring Glenda Jackson had a profound impact on the young boy. He was fascinated by the performances of Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Jackson (particularly in the way they spoke). He was inspired to write and star in his own version of the Henry the VIII story for his sixth grade history class. He subsequently got involved with the summer musicals that were produced, locally, in Huntsville (Sleeping Beauty and Heidi). In the spring of 1975, Joel was asked by the SHSU drama department to be in their production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' (he marks this as his first professional job, as he was paid a small stipend for his work). Aside from his theatrical interests, Joel excelled in music; he was a trombonist in the band and sang in the choir in high school (he made the Texas All-State Choir, and was an alternate to the All State Orchestra, his senior year at HHS). As a sophomore, Joel was asked to play Judd Fry in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical 'Oklahoma'; very off type casting (especially considering his, then, 5'8" 117 pound frame). Sandel says: "I was uncomfortable with the idea, when I was cast, and even told the director and musical director I wasn't sure I could do it. However, they assured me that I was the only one they trusted to play the character". On the heels of that experience, he landed his first title role: Charlie Brown in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown". Upon graduation Joel began college as a music major at SHSU. After one year he found he'd lost his interest in pursuing music as a career, and he started thinking seriously about acting as a viable option. In the summer of 1981, on the suggestion of his father, Joel moved to Los Angeles to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts/West. After graduating from the Academy, in 1983, Joel auditioned for the American Center for Music Theatre (formerly the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Workshop) and was accepted as one of the 22 young artists to take part in the prestigious program that year (musical theater boot camp is how some described it). Joel says, "I find it odd that people like my singing. I appreciate the fact that I've got very good pitch, but it's not a natural singing voice. I think my strength, as far as singing goes, is my actor's sense of what to do with a lyric; this is why, I believe, I've worked so frequently in musicals".
Early in 1986 Joel decided to move back to Texas. He started working regularly as an actor around Houston. After a brief nomadic period, doing one show stints for three different theaters, Joel started a seven show association with The Actor's Theatre of Houston. This was followed by a very long and fruitful collaboration with Main Street Theater, and it's artistic director, Rebecca Greene Udden, which continues to this day. The emphasis that MST places on classics and literate new works was exactly the environment Joel needed to grow as an artist. During his first decade with Main Street, he was working non-stop; doing children's theater productions in-house, touring shows through Young Audiences of Houston, and performing in most of the main stage productions (until 1996 everything was done in, and through, MST's Times Blvd. location in Rice Village). At that time a small, tremendously gifted, core of actors took part in almost all of the children's, touring, and main stage productions. Among them: Kent Johnson, Rodney Walsworth, Lisa Williams, Freeman Williams, and Patti Bean (with appearances by; Mark Roberts, Dwight Clark, David Harlen, Tommy Baird, Nathalie Cunningham and Melinda DeKay). In addition to his work at Main Street, Joel became a season regular at the Houston Shakespeare Festival. He has also worked frequently at Theatre LaB Houston, and has done two shows each for Stages (notably as Ned Lowenscroft in "Elizabeth Rex") and The Alley Theatre.
Like the 'Energizer Bunny' label would suggest, he 'keeps going and keeps going'.