BWW Interviews: The Man Behind the Curtain, WICKED's John Davidson
John Davidson's career is one any performer would be lucky to have even half the success of. From Broadway to film to headlining in Las Vegas, there's not much Davidson hasn't done. But, that's not stopping him. Currently, he plays The Wizard on the national tour of "Wicked," which is running now through December 21st in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre.
Davidson, however, did not always know performing was his niche. He spent his first two years at Denison University majoring in philosophy, but says "I really couldn't figure out how to make a living at that." After a suggestion to check out the theatre arts department, Davidson never looked back.
"I really like the people and I like their point of view and their politics and the fact that they were liberal. I was very sheltered as a kid, so the theatre people were wild and crazy," he explains.
The people in the theatre department, however, turned out not to be the only draw for Davidson.
"I think because I was shy I wanted to learn how to express myself better," he says. "I thought that it was fascinating that you could be somebody other than yourself and then you wouldn't be shy because you're playing a role. I think that's a good lesson for everybody."
He switched majors and finished school, earning a BA in Theatre Arts. He recalls thinking at the time, "I'll learn a trade, I'll be able to do something that I can make a living out of. I forgot that ninety-percent of actors are out of work."
Fortunately for Davidson, it seems he has been in that lucky ten-percent for most of his life. After graduating, Davidson made his Broadway debut in the musical "Foxy." Appearing in several movies, hosting his own talk show (titled "The John Davidson Show") and multiple game shows, recording albums, playing in Vegas, filming the sitcom "The Girl With Something Extra" (with Sally Field), and starring in national tours are just some of the credits on Davidson's resume.
"When I first started out, I decided that I was gonna try to do it all," he says. " I think it's the diversity that keeps me going."
It has always been live performance, though, that has stood out among his favorite ventures.
"Anything that's live on stage, the performer, the entertainer, is in control for that moment. It's directed, it's choreographed, but the actual show is up to the actors to make it work, so I like that pressure."
After seeing a production of "Wicked," Davidson called his agent and said "I want to be The Wizard." And now, in the coveted role, Davidson is happy to be in a show that is part of the "new Broadway."
"This is so different from some of the older shows that I used to do," he says. "When I came into the business, it was all about Rogers and Hammerstein. And, they were wonderful, but since then Sondheim has come in. That changed musical theatre. And then, Stephen Schwartz with this show and with 'Pippin.' He's really doing something different and he's demanding that singers and actors do something different. You can't sing 'Wicked' like you would in Rogers and Hammerstein. It wouldn't work. I'm singing differently and I like the way I'm singing."
Touring with "Wicked" has been different for Davidson in other ways as well. Used to being onstage for the majority of the show in past roles such as Harold Hill in "The Music Man" and Curly in "Oklahoma!," although The Wizard is integral to the plot, Davidson spends more time offstage than on ("I'm actually only onstage for a total of 17 or 18 minutes - I've actually timed it!"). He is also the oldest person in the cast ("I'm 71 and everyone is about 12," he jokes). Perhaps most different for Davidson, however, is how hands-on the creative team is with the tour.
"About once a month we have people come out; the assistant director comes in, many times Joe Mantello has been here, Stephen Schwartz has come in to look at the production," Davidson says. "It is very tightly watched to make sure we're telling the story exactly as they want it told. I've never had that in any other production that I've done. They usually just let the touring show go. But, they want this to be exactly as it's done on Broadway, and so it makes it a wonderful show."