Eureka High graduate Zach Cooke always has enjoyed a challenge.
He’s played roller hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball and water polo; ran track and cross country; and dived on the swim team. He also can skateboard, snowboard, ski and wakeboard. For about a decade, he was a professional wrestler and won numerous title belts in the northeast.
All those skills and more have come together for Cooke in the role of supervillain Rhino in the touring production of “Marvel Universe LIVE! Ages of Heroes.” The show will land at Chaifetz Arena, Oct. 26-29, and marks a return for Cooke to his hometown.
“I can’t even explain how excited I am to perform in St. Louis,” Cooke said. “I played at pretty much every venue that existed when I was a teenager. To come back here and go from smaller venues like the original Creepy Crawl to Chaifetz Arena, I can’t even explain it. My mom has already requested at least two dozen tickets.”
Cooke’s love of performing began in elementary school when he learned to play a variety of instruments. As a teenager, he played in multiple bands and at venues such as the Creepy Crawl and Mississippi Nights.
“I fell in love with being onstage in front of a crowd of people and feeling that energy,” Cooke said. “It just kept leading me into new and more interesting careers, like professional wrestling, which I did for about 10 years.”
Even with all Cooke’s athletic experience – he taught himself to pole vault as a Eureka freshman – the role of Rhino is Cooke’s first time doing stunt work in a production. The audition for the role was held in the same building as the parkour gym Cooke worked at in Atlanta. A year later, he got the phone call about rehearsals for Marvel Universe LIVE! and was offered the role.
“They asked if I was still interested and, of course, my jaw immediately hit the floor and I was running around the house,” Cooke said. “I could not believe I got cast to be a Marvel supervillain. There’s some stunt shows out there, but to perform for Marvel and say that I got to play a supervillain, it’s amazing. I never thought I’d be able to say that in my life.”
Cooke isn’t the only performer in his family. His mother was the Fredbird mascot for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979.
“She is the reason I perform today,” Cooke said. “I’ve had the performing gene in my life since day one.”
The live show revolves around 25 heroes and villains from the Marvel universe. Cooke researched the character’s appearances in comic books and movies for his performance and also uses his athletic experience.
“My wrestling experience got me ready for throwing myself on the ground and all the combat that I do in the show,” Cooke said. “Throwing back to high school, with water polo, that taught me how to control my breathing onstage and to think, ‘You’re going to feel completely exhausted and think you can’t do this, but you can.’”
The production hails from Feld Entertainment. After its North American run, the show will embark on an international tour in 2019.
“I absolutely love my job,” Cooke said. “It’s hands down the most fun job I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s also the most difficult job I’ve ever had in my entire life.