DEBUT OF THE MONTH: Kevin Mambo
This month, as part of our "Debut of the Month" series, BroadwayWorld is shining the spotlight on actor Kevin Mambo who is making his Broadway debut as legendary Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in the Broadway musical Fela! The musical earned three Tony Awards: Best Choreography, Best Sound Design, and Best Costume Design.
Mambo is known for his role as Marcus Williams on the soap opera "Guiding Light," for which he won two Daytime Emmys. He also had recurring roles on "One Life to Live" and "Soul Food," and comes to Fela! from Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize winning play Ruined.
Entertainment Reporter Nick Orlando spoke to Mambo in between shows about the musical, his Broadway debut and how physical the role actually is.
Congratulations on your Broadway debut.
Last month, we featured Chris Chalk, who also appeared in Ruined with you and now this season you are both making your Broadway debut!
Yes, it's exciting.
Did you see each other's shows?
I don't think he came yet to Fela! But I went to see him in Fences a few weeks ago.
He was awesome. He is amazing. Chris is very detail-oriented, very committed and talented. He turned out an amazing performance, as always. I wanted to be on stage with him.
When did you make your way to NYC?
After I graduated from USC, I got a job on "Guiding Light." I moved here from Los Angeles.
Was Broadway always a goal of yours?
Broadway wasn't particularly a goal of mine. When I was a freshman in college, I came to NYC over summer break to see Laurence Fishburne in Two Trains Running. I was amazed. This was right after I booked a television series and I had extra money and wanted to come to NYC to see theatre.
The energy you and the cast bring onstage is fantastic. The show is very physical and you are a great dancer! The audience does not want the show to end and I can assure you everybody is saying Yeah Yeah! How are you holding up?
Thank you. I am doing body work and physical therapy. You need to be on top of yourself; otherwise, you will break down. I was a wrestler, bouncer, soccer player, ran track, a kickboxer, etc. I never really had my body up the way I do in this show. The deceptive thing is we are really driven by the music. You are physically driven by sound. You don't realize all the stuff until you're offstage.
And this is the main reason you are sharing the role with Sahr Ngaujah, correct?
Yes, it's the only reason. I turned down the off-Broadway understudy [role] because I was doing Ruined. There is no way you can turn out the right performance regularly if you are working every show.
How do you two differ?
He is the kinder, gentler Fela!
You are a musician in real life as well?
Yes. I have my own band, Blaz and the 88 Sound, and we are out doing gigs right now. I have been a musician longer than I am an actor. I have been writing music for 20 years. It has been a great and explosive opportunity.
How and when did you learn of Fela!?
I was doing my own Fela! show that I had written at the Shrine in Harlem. The producers were hearing about me and I was hearing about them. I was shooting "Cadillac Records" and they auditioned me and offered me the understudy. I couldn't fulfill that because I was doing Ruined and didn't want to turn down Lynn Nottage. By the time Ruined was over, I had two days to get into this production. I lost 48 pounds getting into the role of Fela.
What do you take away from the character Fela? What is the message the audience should go home with?
Courage. Fela is one of the most amazing and courageous characters. He is one of the most courageous people ever. He could have had the opportunity to live in Nigeria and become a pop star. My whole career has been about being the underdog.
How do you prepare before each show?
I workout, lift heavy weights, run, stretch, do body work, I run through all of the music on my saxophone, get dressed and hit the stage.
Besides Fences, which other Broadway shows have you seen this season?
Red, American Idiot. I don't work every night so I can see a bunch of shows. I always get treated well wherever I go.
Which celebrities came out to see the show?
Angela Bassett; Usher came and spoke to me. He said I appreciate what you are doing and that I may have him beat in terms of focus and energy! It was an amazing compliment. I have never done a world tour and don't know how these artists do it.
Do you have any hobbies or special skills?
I write and play the saxophone, guitar, piano, drums, and bass.
Who is your favorite artist?
I am the biggest Prince fan of all time.
Cancer; my birthday is June 29.
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Canada.
Favorite television show?
Right now, "Breaking Bad." So well written! "Homicide" is my favorite show ever.
Favorite restaurant in NYC?
Serafina is next door to the theatre. The food is good and the people are better. We eat there every night after the show. You can always find me there!
Favorite type of food?