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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 5, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 40
Dancing through life
Arts & Entertainment
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Dancing through life

An enchanting interview with Wicked's Cliffton Hall

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

WICKED: THE UNTOLD
STORY OF THE
WITCHES OF OZ
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
October 10 - November 17

(Special Washington United
for Marriage benefit
performance October 18)


Wicked is one of the most successful productions in musical theater history. The characters created over a century ago by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels, have made their way from printed word to stage and screen in many different forms, but this musical is the only serious rival to the beloved 1939 film as the definitive Oz-related work. As Wicked returns to the Emerald City's Paramount Theatre, SGN caught up with Fiyero, the love interest of the two witches at the center of the story - and with Cliffton Hall, the actor who portrays him.

Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences as a performer?

Hall: When I started in musical theater I studied as a dancer, and then took private voice lessons. I trained through Bel Canto School of Singing, and [Luciano] Pavarotti and [Plácido] Domingo were huge influences as far as my singing went. I got back into musical theater about 1993-'94, back when Les Mis?rables was kind of newish. Back then I thought, and still do, that Anthony Warlow was a good person and I wanted to emulate him.

Andrews-Katz: You were cast in Miss Saigon right out of school. What was your audition like?

Hall: I was born in Oakland, California, but grew up in Hawaii and spent most of my time there. My father was in the military and so we moved around the West Coast. A lot of shows came through Hawaii to get auditions. The first show that I auditioned for was Les Mis?rables, when I was 16 and was obviously too young. Then Miss Saigon came to Hawaii for auditions for its second national tour. I was 18 by then and studied the material for the lead, Chris. They called and I went to an L.A. audition. I flew out and sang for them, but just wasn't experienced enough to play the lead eight times a week. I received a call in October '94 asking if I wanted to be in the ensemble.

Andrews-Katz: Had you read the original by L. Frank Baum, or the re-telling of the Oz series by Gregory Maguire, before or during your performances in Wicked?

Hall: No, I hadn't. I only knew of the show Wicked but didn't even know the music. A friend of mine in L.A. mentioned the show [in 2005] and I started to listen to it when I got cast in the ensemble. I didn't get into the books until I got bumped up to the Fiyero role in 2006. I listened to the Gregory Maguire books on audio when we were driving across the country. I had my wife and son with me on the road and that's how I heard the book.

Andrews-Katz: You met your wife, Deedee Magno Hall, when she played Nessarose during the tour of Wicked. Do you find it easier or more difficult to perform with your partner?

Hall: Here's the thing - we didn't meet in Wicked, we met in 1995 while doing Miss Saigon. We had been together awhile when she got hired as Nessarose [the Wicked Witch of the East]. We're both actors and know it's just a job, so there are no issues when our characters fall in love on stage. During Miss Saigon, she fell in love with her leading man every night, but we knew who was going home with whom at the end. In Wicked, our characters never really interact on stage, but during the large dance scenes I may shoot a glance or a look her way.

Andrews-Katz: At what point does Fiyero change his attitude from playboy to someone more serious?

Hall: I think that on my own personal findings with the character, there is a moment with the lion cub where he tries to help Elphaba [the Wicked Witch of the West]. In that scene, he says something that makes her realize that he has potential. It's a moment no one has ever called him out on. It affects me as an actor. And when she grabs his hand [for the first time] he starts to realize he doesn't have to put on the facade.

Andrews-Katz: You once said the secret of life is 'living a happy life and achieving the goals you set for yourself, no matter how small or big they may be.' How do you apply that theory to your life?

Hall: It's so funny that that quote is on Wikipedia. I do remember saying that in Hawaii. There are moments in your life that you want to set goals and sometimes we set goals that are so high we want to give up on them before achieving them. But there are moments in life that if you set the smaller goals, and are able to achieve those, then that helps in making it easier to achieve the larger ones.

Andrews-Katz: You have left and returned to the role of Fiyero several times. What is about this role that attracts you?

Hall: I love advancing my career and there are moments in my life that I question, what have I done? We all get to that point where we question our lives and sometimes people have to remind me of the roles I've played. A lot of those roles are very sought-after, and I'm lucky to have played them. Fiyero gets to sing and dance and act, so for an actor it's a fun role to be able to go out there and do what he does every night.

Andrews-Katz: You have worked with a variety of Elphabas and Glindas. Have you ever had an instance of personalities clashing, and then having to go on stage?

Hall: What a question! I have to say yes. We are all human, and we all have our moments when this or that happens, and where we disagree from time to time. There are definitely moments of that. But we all get along. Whomever is in the cast we all work it out in the end. Especially when you are on tour, you're a family. You want to get along with the people you work with.

Andrews-Katz: Wicked is very technical, so what is the biggest mishap you've had with any of the shows you've worked on?

Hall: Forgetting lyrics. There are so many little things that can happen, but the biggest - oh my gosh, knock on wood - there haven't been missed scenes and that's good. I guess nothing huge aside from forgetting lyrics and mumbling the lines. When I first went on for Fiyero, when I first started singing 'Dancing Through Life,' Fiyero starts out singing to Bok and the first line I accidentally spat in Bok's eyes. You can imagine our reactions and I couldn't apologize because I was singing my lines. I was distracted by what happened so I couldn't focus on what I had to do. The next line went something like 'hazzaa haaa mumble mumble.' Those moments are uncomfortable, but they happen.

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of gender, what role would you like to play?

Hall: That's a crazy question because I wish it were an easy one to answer. For me, I would like to play Che in Evita. I'd like to seek out any role on Broadway.

Following a trial run in San Francisco, Wicked opened on Broadway on October 30, 2003, and still plays to packed houses after more than 3,700 performances. It originally starred Robert Morse as the Wizard, with Joel Grey taking over the role when it reached New York. The show was nominated for 10 Tony Awards (winning three) in 2004, including Best Musical and Best Actress for its two leading ladies at the time, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (who won the award). Wicked currently holds the title of 12th longest-running Broadway musical in history.

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