GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Anthony Wayne of 'Anything Goes'
Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Anything Goes stands to grab a lot of attention at the Tony Awards on June 12. The cast has a crowd-pleaser nonpareil to perform, the tap dance extravaganza that is "Anything Goes." And the show's a virtual shoo-in for Best Revival, having already won that award (and more than half a dozen others) from the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League.
Anthony Wayne is one of the sailors hoofing alongside Sutton Foster in the title song of Anything Goes, his Broadway debut, and he's prominently featured in other numbers as well. On Tony night, millions of television viewers will see him dance. Yet when Wayne looks out into the audience, or amid the throngs at the stage door every night, he sees expressions on faces that he remembers from his own days as youngster enthralled by musical theater. First, there was Gregg Burge's portrayal of Richie in the film version of A Chorus Line—"the one that really kind of did it for me," Wayne says. "I used to watch his part on the Chorus Line video all the time, over and over and over again." Along with Burge, Wayne considers Hinton Battle an idol, and Miss Saigon—for which Battle won a Tony—was the first show he ever saw on Broadway. But the true epiphany happened during his senior year in high school, when he came to New York and saw Fosse just a few days after it opened on Broadway: "Watching Desmond Richardson dance the way he did, with such joy, that was it. I said, 'I want to do that for the rest of my life.'"
These days, Wayne realizes that a kid in the audience of Anything Goes may be having a similar experience watching him. "Whenever I walk out of that stage door now, I feel like I'm on the inside looking out, but I want to inspire and encourage every single person who comes to see the show. Especially young people—to let them know that they can do it, because I once was there, seeing everything from the outside looking in."
Wayne's first-ever appearance at the Tony Awards is just one of the big events coming up for him this month. He's also performing for the first time in Broadway Bares, turning 30 and moving into a bigger apartment uptown. And he gets to take his mother to the Tonys—she not only has always been his greatest source of support and strength but also is a breast cancer survivor.
Wayne was on tour with A Chorus Line when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. He played Richie—the part he'd loved Burge in so much—for a year and a half on Chorus Line's first national tour, which included an engagement in Tokyo. He'd played Richie twice before—at Commonwealth Musical Stage (now Virginia Musical Theatre) when he was a teenager and Papermill Theatre in Lincoln, New Hampshire, while in college—but says he "didn't get it" on those occasions, since he wasn't yet dancing for a living, with all the struggles and uncertainties that entails. By the time he did the Chorus Line tour, he did get it, as that occurred after "the fall of 2006, which was one of the hardest times ever in my life," he says. As of late '06, Wayne had done tours of The Will Rogers Follies, Smokey Joe's Cafe and Fame and even made his New York City debut, in Once on This Island at Brooklyn's semiprofessional Gallery Players. But he was sleeping in the living room of a friend's Queens apartment, was still non-Equity and "was fighting to get people to know who I was," he says.
He would earn his Equity card on his next show, the 2006 holiday-season production of Beauty and the Beast at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, then go on to do the Color Purple tour in Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. for about a year, followed by the Chorus Line tour in 2008-09. Then came the breakthroughs in New York. Last year Wayne performed in two City Center Encores! shows, Anyone Can Whistle and Bells Are Ringing, as well as his own cabaret acts, Crossing the Line and Moments: The Power of Words and Music (which had performances at the Triad in February and December 2010, respectively). Anyone Can Whistle introduced him to director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who then cast him in last summer's world premiere of Robin and the 7 Hoods at San Diego's Old Globe. Bells Are Ringing was directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, right around the time she was auditioning people for Anything Goes.
Last December, Wayne took part in the workshop of a new musical called Aesop & Company, which was developed by Amas Musical Theatre and starred Josh Grisetti, Heidi Blickenstaff and Brad Oscar. He was inside the 42nd Street Studios working on Aesop the day he was called with the news that he'd be going to Broadway with Anything Goes. "I screamed and I ran up and down the hallway and I cried," he recalls. (Aesop & Company, meanwhile, is slated to have its world premiere at Virginia Stage in September.)
Wayne's regional work includes Swing! at Houston's Theatre Under the Stars, Aida at Maine State Music Theatre and last year's Sophisticated Ladies at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., with Maurice Hines reprising the role he'd done on Broadway back in the early '80s. Maurice and Gregory Hines (who'd costarred with his brother in Sophisticated Ladies on Broadway) were role models for Wayne as an aspiring dancer, so it was a milestone for him to perform with Maurice. "He just keeps on and keeps on," says Wayne. "I was really able to see the artistry of how he worked when it came to bringing what he brought on stage."
While many of the roles Wayne has played were created for black performers or in newer shows that originated after interracial ensembles had become common, that hasn't been the case with his recent NYC credits. "I wanted to go against the grain," says Wayne, who's making his Broadway debut in a 1930s musical by the uber-waspy Cole Porter. "I did make a conscious decision at one point to audition for things I wouldn't be 'right' for." Ultimately, though, he'd rather not be judged or identified on the basis of skin color. "I didn't just want to be 'the black guy,'" he says. "Even though there are people who come to shows and just see that, you see the talent and how we all coincide with each other and the joy that we have. That's what I want people to focus on. I want to be that guy you saw as a talented man on stage." Which reminds him of something his mother once told him that has guided him in his career: "You don't have to tell people what you can do, 'cause they'll see it."
It was his mother who'd found out about Centerstage, the youth program in his hometown of Norfolk, Va., that set him on the path to a career in theater. Centerstage, run by the former R&B recording artist Margie Day Walker, provided training and performing opportunities. Wayne started attending at age 5 with his older brother (who quit after a year). He later participated in the Norfolk public schools' Performing Arts Repertory and performed at Virginia Opera and Busch Gardens, among other venues. A teenage Wayne took academic classes in the morning at his local high school, Maury, then rode a bus to Norfolk's Old Dominion University campus for afternoon classes at the Governor's School for the Arts. He also trained one summer during high school at the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, held at the University of Richmond.
Wayne stayed in-state for college, attending Shenandoah Conservatory in northwestern Virginia. He graduated in 2003 and soon after joined a tour of Fame in the role of Tyrone. Wayne dropped his real surname, Green, and uses just his first and middle name professionally; he thought Anthony Wayne Green was too long, Anthony Green too plain and A.W. Green too much like the root beer.
During college, he spent one summer in Chicago studying at Gus Giordano and another in New York training at Alvin Ailey. The Ailey School invited him to remain there and work toward the BFA it offers through Fordham University, but he turned it down. "I knew that Broadway is where I wanted to be, that I wanted to sing and act as well and if I just focused [on dance], I wouldn't be happy," Wayne explains. That was the same reason he'd nixed his original college plans, to be a pre-law major at the University of Cincinnati—an ambition inspired partly, he says, from watching Matlock and other TV lawyer shows. Wayne had thought he would become an entertainment lawyer, but then "I had this vision in my mind of me sitting at my desk with a bunch of papers and just being so unhappy."
And that's the opposite of how he feels about the job he's ended up with. "I'm so happy," Wayne says. "I feel I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, doing exactly what I'm supposed to do. To be able to live here in New York and be settled and have an apartment and really give joy to so many people brings me joy."
He not only has achieved the dream he had sitting in that theater watching Fosse but has also, through work, gotten to know some of the Fosse cast members who stirred the dream. "It's so crazy for me now to know Desmond and to be working with people who were in that show that I can call friends, like Valarie Pettiford and Jane Lanier," says Wayne, adding that when he met Lanier while doing The Color Purple, "I was like, 'Wow, you don't understand how much you impacted me.'" He says he's also close with the family of Gregg Burge, who passed away in 1998.
Having made it to Broadway in a hit show that has a lot of good numbers for the chorus, Wayne is in an enviable place for a gypsy. But he appreciates the journey that got him to this place—even, perhaps especially, the jobs along the way at Dairy Queen and Bath & Body Works that he had to take to make ends meet. "Sometimes I have to check in with myself here because the world that we live in is a bubble," he states. "I got to see how everybody else lives. This person who's working this grill gets up every day and comes here for eight hours and then goes home to their kids or whatever. That was real life."
Photos of Anthony, from top: center, tapping in the title number of Anything Goes with (from left) Ward Billeisen, Kevin Munhall, Sutton Foster and Adam Perry; to the right of Jessica Stone with the rest of the Anything Goes crew during "Buddie, Beware"; second from right, in The Color Purple with (from left) Jeannette Bayardelle, Tiffany Daniels and Renee Monique Brown; dancing in Swing! at Houston TUTS with Lori Barber (left) and Michelle Marmolejo; with his mother, Elaine; as Richie on the first national tour of A Chorus Line. [Anything Goes photos by Joan Marcus]
Want to help Anthony raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS? Sponsor him in Broadway Bares' Strip-a-thon here.