Newsies’ arrival at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts marks a return to Orange County for dance captain/swing Andrew Wilson. It was a delight recently to catch up with Andrew and find out more about his Newsies double-duty and what’s it’s like to be heading back to the O.C.
Andrew, you must be excited about being back in Southern California having been SoCal-based for a while a few years back. What are you most looking forward to about the Costa Mesa run at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts?
Thank you for thinking of me for this interview and always being so supportive of the SoCal performing arts scene! It’s funny. When I lived here, my apartment was in Hollywood but I worked at Disneyland, and to my detriment I didn’t venture out much in the O.C. beyond Anaheim. One day my dear and fiercely talented friend Juliana Hansen asked me to help her teach a master class at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa and I absolutely fell in love.
What is it about Costa Mesa that turned you into a fan?
At first glance, one might think it’s just a city centered around a giant mall, however after my first visit, I found myself returning to discover even more offerings like Portola Coffee, Old Vine Café, Mitsuwa Japanese Market, and Regency Movie Theater to name a few. There are so many cultural offerings here and you can satisfy your appetite for nearly every ethnic food, every art house film, and one of the nation’s premier performing arts complexes.
So I take it you’re a Segerstrom Center For The Arts fan as well?
The Segerstrom Center is not only a fantastic facility for audience members but it is highly revered amongst touring artists as well. The cast is also obviously psyched to be going to Disneyland! (You can add me to the list of Disneyland fans that think it is far superior to its East Coast counterpart.)
Where did you grow up and how did you first get bitten by the musical theater bug?
I grew up just north of Pittsburgh in a small town surrounded by Amish people. I had very limited exposure to musicals, but I had a sister who was a competition dancer and I often found myself singing and dancing to the tunes she performed to. One of my favorites was her group dance to “King Of New York” from Newsies. I would secretly choreograph routines to it in my bedroom, and I may have attempted to hang onto my ceiling fan for the big finish!
That’s not the typical Pittsburgh-adjacent childhood, I’d guess.
Being a male dancer in my very conservative hometown was not exactly the “norm,” so my parents signed me up for gymnastics classes instead in a town about forty minutes away and I really found my calling. I quickly caught on and joined the men’s competition team later that year. I learned so many valuable things from my years in gymnastics, ones that I still use to this day such as discipline, hard work … and tumbling of course.
So how did gymnastics turn into musical theater?
That happened when I sustained a severe injury to my left arm which forced me to leave the competitive team for the season. I took that opportunity to do my first musical, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was absolutely hooked and signed myself up for dance classes as soon as I could.
Had you seen any musicals before doing Joseph?
I saw many musicals during my high school years in Pittsburgh, however the musical that to this day remains as fresh in my mind as it was when I saw it was Susan Stroman’s 2002 revival of Oklahoma! If you haven’t watched the DVD of it, I highly recommend it. The choreography was so mesmerizing! To this day I still consider it her finest work. So to answer your question, long story short, Andrew Lloyd Webber was the hook and Rodgers & Hammerstein were the line and sinker.
Newsies is not your first association with Disney. right?
That’s right. I got my start with the Disney Company opening a show for Disney Cruise Line called Toy Story: The Musical onboard the Disney Wonder. I then opened Villains Tonight on the Disney Magic, Disney’s Believe! on the Disney Dream, and Wishes on the Disney Fantasy.
And after that you performed in Aladdin at Disney’s California Adventure? It seems like a great gig for a musical theater performer based in L.A.
It was, but oddly enough, I also opened a new version of Aladdin onboard the Disney Fantasy, though in a departure from the Disney California Adventure version, I originated the role of the Magic Carpet.
Working at Disneyland seems like the perfect gig for a musical theater performer based in L.A.
I feel very fortunate for my time I spent performing in Aladdin at Disneyland’s Hyperion Theater. That cast had some of the most amazing spirits and talents that I’ve come across. It is truly a one-of-a-kind space and luckily, Orange County has it! Where else do you get to perform a book musical, with amazing benefits, a creative team from the gods (Tracy Halas – Hello!?!) and it doesn’t close after four weeks? Only at Disneyland Resort!
Newsies is not your first national tour if I’m not mistaken.
My first tour was a non-union production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, then I was on the non-union tour of CATS, the 25th Anniversary tour. (I can’t believe that show is now thirty-five years old!). Both of those experiences were huge learning tools for me, even if at the time I didn’t realize what the lessons were. Doing one-night and split-week engagements are not for the weak or the weary and I am proud to say that I survived those grueling times.
After that I presume you joined Actors Equity. How did that happen?
I got my equity card when I was cast in the Cathy Rigby Is Peter Pan tour, so I definitely owe infinite gratitude to McCoy Rigby Entertainment and their fantastic staff for that opportunity.
I love everything McCoy Rigby does.
I feel the urge to make a huge public announcement for the Los Angeles-Orange County audience members: Run and do whatever it takes to see any show that involves Patti Colombo’s choreography or Glenn Casale’s direction. The fact that they aren’t opening a new Broadway show every year is a crime and a huge loss for the New York theatre scene. I’m sure to anyone reading this who has witnessed their work knows that they are truly world-class and push the boundaries of what can be done on a stage. This area has two of the biggest gems in theatre history right under their nose and I hope and pray to the heavens above that they continue to be recognized for their tremendous work. This is not brown-nosing. This is the straight-up truth.
What’s it been like for the past couple years to tour with Newsies?
The Newsies First National Tour has been one of the best experiences of my life for so many reasons. Getting to perform the work of director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Christopher Gattelli is obviously a highlight of my career. I think you could ask any Newsie and they’d all agree that the first time you perform the famous paper dance in “Seize The Day” or the big tower push in “Once And For All” is an unparalleled experience.
What’s the best part of being with a show with Newsies’ popularity?
One of the coolest things about performing in a show with such a cult following are the unique performing opportunities we get to partake in.
Can you give me an example?
Well, last year when we were at the Pantages in Hollywood, they were simultaneously showing the movie at the El Capitan Theatre down the street. After we finished our bows, we ran out the stage door in costume, got on a bus and traveled over to the El Cap. When the credits for the movie started rolling, the movie screen lifted to reveal us and we performed “King Of New York” for the original movie cast and all of the patrons. Now, if you’s told seven-year-old Andrew Wilson that he would be performing that same song he fell in love with as a child, on Hollywood Boulevard for the movie’s director-choreographer Kenny Ortega, I would have said “In your dreams.”
There must be a lot of camaraderie among the Newsies cast and crew.
Newsies is, on stage and off, a band of brothers and sisters. It’s a really beautiful group of artists. I love them and have found a real family here. Even as cast members depart and move onto other projects, my heart goes with them.
You have one of the most important jobs in Newsies, though your work is more frequently offstage than on. Can you explain what it means to be the dance captain of a major national tour?
Being a dance captain is a huge responsibility, with many interesting and unexpected moments. The main tasks are to maintain the choreography in its original form as we learned it from Christopher Gattelli and Chris’s amazing associate Lou Castro in rehearsals and teach new cast members the show and all of its many layers.
I’m also in constant communication with the choreography team in New York, keeping them updated and asking questions as they arise, etc. Communication is key, and the job entails a major learning curve. You observe and witness how each cast member learns best and communicates and you have to shade your efforts as best you can to their style. I do not take any claim to have “power” or “control” in my position, because I believe dance captains are merely a vessel and a voice for the original creative team.
You’ve got quite a company of triple-threats to work with.
I am very lucky to work with the best dancers out there. These young men are so dedicated to their craft and this show, it makes my job pretty easy! Newsies may have about fifteen ensemble dancers on stage, however if you see the show you will not see anything “ensemble” about them. They are fifteen bright and colorful characters, each one different from the other and the show allows and encourages them to find their own identity. It is such a joy to watch!
You’re also a swing and an understudy? What’s the difference between the two jobs?
I think the program lists me as an understudy for the roles of Seitz and Bunsen because they are “Oldsies.” (We have a whole Newsie lingo here! Newsies, Girlsies, Oldsies, Crewsies, etc…). However I am simply a swing. I understudy/cover eighteen roles in the show, including “Girlsie,” “Oldsie,” and “Newsie” tracks. Our show’s five other swings, Josh Assor, JP Ferreri, Stephen Hernandez, Eric Jon Mahlum, and Becca Petersen, are unbelievable performers. Typically a swing covers anywhere between three to eight tracks, but because of the way our show is designed, we essentially cover nearly every role in the entire show!
Does it ever happen that a swing has to go on in the middle of the show?
It does. From time to time we are called upon to do “mid-show swing-ons,” which involves a cast member not being able to finish the performance and we have only a few minutes to get dressed and be ready to go on for that particular role. I’m sure my blood pressure has raised a few notches being a swing on this production, but when you bow as a swing, you bow with a lot of pride knowing that you have accomplished a not-so-easy task.
Newsies flopped as a movie and yet took off as a musical. What is it that makes the musical work in a way that the film did not?
It’s funny. We are often asked this question, but there is this huge family element to the entire entity that is Newsies that makes it difficult to answer. The original screenwriters of the movie, Bob and Noni Tzudiker are as much a part of the stage production as they are with the cinematic production. We were each given a copy of the original script as an opening night gift two years ago and I read it from front to back and keep it with me always. The fact that this group of boys and girls, who were forced to rise to the occasion and enter into a David-and-Goliath battle at such a young age, are now preserved in history in these two mediums is so beautiful to me. Bob and Noni did what I believe we could all only hope and dream of, having an important piece of our life captured and passed on for generations to come.
I hadn’t seen the movie until last year, and I have to confess, I enjoyed it a lot!
I think the movie has some of the most iconic dance sequences in film history which, along with Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s luminous songs, have notched their way into viewers’ hearts. Taking those beloved elements and extending them into even longer dance breaks and adding more songs for the stage version, the audiences have seemed to respond extremely well and have helped the show grow from a limited-run regional production to a Tony Award-winning Broadway run and a two-year long national tour.
Having done quite a bit of national touring, what’s the best part of being on the road?
The best part for me is not only visiting a city but being a part of the city while we are there. I often find theaters to have some the most breathtaking architecture around the world, and to not only enter but actually get to perform and entertain in those grand buildings is a true honor. I also love finding the best coffee shops in town!
And the hard part about being on tour?
There are many hard parts about touring: the fifty-pound luggage limit at airports, missing out on events back home, not having enough time in a place to actually hang up your hat and call it home, etc., but the absolute hardest part is not being able to see your loved ones whenever you’d like to. Planning visits and coordinating schedules can be stressful and expensive, but it’s the only way to thrive while out on the road for me.
Andrew, I can’t wait to see you again, both onstage and off, when you come to Costa Mesa for Newsies!
I can’t wait to see you too! I’ve always a big fan of StageSceneLA and your tireless efforts to highlight SoCal talent!
Andrew’s Newsies bio:
Tours: Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan, Cats. Regional: PCLO, Sac. Music Circus, Casa Manana, Riverside, NYCOpera, La Mirada, DCL. Thanks to Chris, Jeff, Lou, Ricky, Justin and CTG. It takes a village: Sarah, Eloise, Reese, Karma, Patti, Gorman and Bub.
Newsies plays at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. May 17 through 29. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30. Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30. Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 714 556-2787
Click here to purchase tickets.
Tags: Disney Newsies