Q&A with Kristoffer Cusick

By: Jul. 16, 2005
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Kristoffer joined the cast of Wicked in Chicago as Fiyero, a role he understudied on Broadway. Prior to Wicked on Broadway, he appeared in Saturday Night Fever, and regionally tour in Rent as Angel, AMT's A Chorus Line, and in the LA premier of Bare among others.

Stay tuned for additional interviews with the Chicago cast of Wicked.

Many people don't know that you were a winner on Star Search but not as a singer… Tell us about the experience.

Star Search was an amazing experience. I was just turning 14 and had only really been dancing for a couple of years. My dance teacher in Los Angeles had a connection to one of the casting directors for the show and submitted a tape of my dance partner, Margaret, and I. It is funny to go back and watch the tapes now because I am so young and SO BAD!!!! The cool thing was that I was able to join my first professional union, AFTRA as well as we won the show and came back a year later to dance again....that time we lost. :(

What first sparked your interest in musical theater?

I have always have an interest in musicals. I grew up watching movie musicals and singing and dancing. Being from the West Coast, I had not seen any Broadway productions until a tour of The Phantom Of The Opera came to Los Angeles and I went to see it when I was 16. I WAS HOOKED. I had seen a few smaller productions at Civic Light Opera's and local community theater...but this was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. After that I tried to see as many tours that came thru Los Angeles as possible.....and then on an unplanned trip to New York City (very long story but a good one that I will have to tell later) I happened upon a ticket to see my first Broadway Show ....RENT. Ironically it was not even 3 months later that I went to a huge open call for the show and was cast in my first Equity production of the 1st National Tour of RENT as a swing and dance captain covering both Mark and Angel.

You've been the understudy for Fiyero since the show began in San Francisco and were also an understudy in Rent and in Saturday Night Fever.

Now, you're joining the ranks of actors such as Cheyenne Jackson who have made the cross over to leading player. How has the experience been moving into a lead?

Moving from the ensemble and understudy roles to leading role has not been easy. There is this sort of unspoken thing that once you have proven yourself as a good understudy or a good swing it is really hard to make casting directors or creative teams view you in any other way.

I will say that it is truly a compliment to be valued and recognized for the ability to learn multiple tracks in the ensemble as well as sing, dance and act at a level deserved of playing leading roles in major Broadway productions...however I would be lying if I said that as much as that is appreciated, we all want to be able to actually PLAY the role and have it be our own.

The most difficult challenge for me with my move to being the understudy to the actual ROLE of Fiyero has been to actually make the part my own and NOT to fall back upon the character that I would "re-create" as an understudy that had been already shaped and formed by another actor in the part.

Having been with the show since the beginning, has the show remained the same from day one, or has it evolved?

I could write pages about how much this show has morphed and changed and developed since our beginning out of town run in San Francisco back in 2003....and that would be only a small part of the changes since its inception and first readings that happened over 5 years ago. Most notably would be the elimination of some scenes in the show, such as the Dr. Dillamond funeral sequence that was a big part of the show in San Francisco. Also, for the role of Fiyero, there was a song called "Which Way's The Party" that was replaced on the shows move to Broadway with the song "Dancing Thru Life".

What's working with the many leading ladies of the show been like? Any specific memories or stories?

The first one I worked with was Idina. I am not going to lie...I was TERRIFIED!!!! First of all, she is someone that I had only met a couple of times and it was always at RENT gatherings of past and present cast members. I am sure that she did not remember having met me...but I really thought of her as just this unbelievable talent.

My friend Eden Espinosa and I had done several theme park shows in Los Angeles and prior to my being cast in RENT, she and I would sit and listen to the RENT cd and talk about the show and how much we wanted to be in it and how awesome we thought the cast was.

Now...cut to me working with Idina and knowing that I would eventually be on with her at some point ...and then the bad news. Norbert had ruptured a disc in his neck and could not do the show. I had not had any rehearsals and had not even so much as sung thru a lick of the music with Idina and here I was to go on with her in a few hours. The whole experience was so amazing and so quick that I cant even remember much about the night....other than one thing....Idina was just so gracious and so giving and really made me feel comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation. I ended up playing the role with her on Broadway for a month and then her husband, Taye Diggs, came in and took over the role for another month before Norbert returned. I would say that is one of my most memorable experiences of a leading lady. OH WAIT. Eden Espinosa and I accidently used tongues when we kissed once in "As Long As Your Mine" and since I have known her like a little sister since she was 16 years old..it was a little shocking and funny all at the same time.

You studied at the Groundlings for a brief time in Los Angeles and now are working with a former SNL player. Do you find you're able to bring any improv skills into the role of Fiyero?

I think that there have been alot of moments where improv plays a big part in my acting. The Groundlings is very character driven and allows you to create these memorable people that you play, where as Fiyero was a character already created on paper for me...so what I had to work with was limited and in many ways set....but there have been some great moments where pulling from my improv backround has helped alot.

The most fun has been to just sit and create stupid funny people with Ana in the wings or during breaks and laugh at ourselves.

You've gone from playing a drag queen in Rent to playing a prince in Wicked. Are there any roles you would ultimately like to play?

I would love to play Che in Evita. Mostly I would love to create something new....so if anyone out there is reading this ......take note. I would love to create a new character that hopefully someday when this question is asked to another actor, my performance and the role that I help to shape and form is one that inspires them to want to play it during their career.

Many people wonder what the stage door experience is like for a performer. And we've heard that the stage door in Chicago is like being at a rock concert. What's it like to come outside to that each night?

Well since we are still in tech, we have not actually had the experience of coming out of the stage door to any of the fans or audience members of the show. I know from having been told by the touring cast that was most recently here...that the audiences in Chicago are CRAZY for WICKED. I think it will be fun to see for myself what it is like. The last time I have seen any audience, Chicago or NYC, react the way that they do with WICKED was when I was doing RENT...so it is pretty exciting

You've had experience performing in cities all around the country. Why do you think Chicago is a right fit for a permanent production of Wicked?

I think that Chicago is the perfect place for WICKED to sit down for a long open ended run. There are so many people in this city and they LOVE theater. Also there are the surrounding cities and states that Chicago draws tourism and visitors from. I think the show stands to run for quite some time here.

What are 5 things people don't know about Kristoffer Cusick?

I have 2 dogs, Potter and Gryffin. They are mini schnauzers and I love them alot.

I love to travel and worked on a cruise ship that took me throughout Europe and The Middle East, Africa and the Carribbean. I also lived in Tokyo Japan for a year working at Tokyo Disneyland at the same time as Idina Menzels husband, Taye Diggs was working there.

I dyed my hair purple during my 2 1/2 years with RENT. My mother was not thrilled. :P

I have a huge tattoo of fire and water on my stomach that I got to cover up a scar from surgery to have my appendix removed when i was 12.

I was on a television game show called FUN HOUSE when I was 14 with my friend Karie Lindsey and we won the entire thing and almost 5,000 dollars in prizes

For more information on Wicked in Chicago, and to purchase tickets, visit www.wickedthemusical.com/chicago/. For more information on Kristoffer Cusick, visit www.kristoffercusick.com.

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