Interview: Christina Wells of NEWSIES at Theatre Under the Stars

NEWSIES opens on May 21 and runs through June 2.

By: May. 20, 2024
Interview: Christina Wells of NEWSIES at Theatre Under the Stars
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Christina Wells is a hometown hero from Houston. She's a vocalist. She's an actress. She won the Houston Pride Superstar singing competition in 2016, and Christina was also on this show that you might have heard of… it was AMERICA’S GOT TALENT in 2017, where the whole country got to fall in love with her. She is now performing in the Theatre Under the Stars show NEWSIES, which opens on May 2 and runs through June 2. 

Brett Cullum: Tell me a little bit about the part that you are playing in NEWSIES. I usually associate this show mainly with dudes cause it really is just like a guy-heavy cast for a musical. But I'm glad to know that you're in that mix. So tell me a little bit about who you're playing and what you're doing with this production.

Christina Wells: Yes, so I play the character Medda Larkin, Medda is a burlesque theater owner, and she's really close with Jack. She's like kind of his mother figure in the show, and she's like an advice, giver. And I gotta sing a little jazzy tune and bring some female voice to this all-male show. And yeah, she's a great character. She's based on Ada Overton Walker, who was an amazing activist and performer in the late eighteen-nineties, 1899 or 1898.

I love it whenever they take real strong women from history and infuse them into these musicals because it keeps their spirit alive and lets us know what an amazing part these women played in the history of these great events.

I just had my wig fitting, and I'm gonna look just like her, like not gonna joke. I was shocked at how perfectly my wig was shaped.  

Brett Cullum: What is it like performing with TUTS in your hometown?

Christina Wells: Oh, you know this is my place. I love Theatre Under the Stars. It's so funny because I have a surreal moment every time I come back because it was a dream. I remember being 15 years old. I came and saw SOUTH PACIFIC here, and I was like, “One day, I want to be on that stage! One day. I wanna do this.” And now my phone reminded me you've been doing shows with TUTS for six years. And I was like, What is my life? What is my life that I get to say that? And so, yeah, it's amazing to be here.

Brett Cullum: I love that this show is actually from Alan Menken (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE LITTLE MERMAID, and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), who wrote the music! So, what excites you about doing this particular production of NEWSIES?

Christina Wells: You know it's funny because I'll be honest before I was cast in the show. I wasn't as familiar with it because, in my head I thought of it as a boy musical or even like a child musical because it's a Disney show. I didn't know Medda that well. And now, after these past few weeks. This show is exciting. It's inspirational, like every single day in rehearsal. Chills! These songs, the beauty of this music, and the fact that you see these children, I mean, I know we have adults playing many of the characters, but it's really children saying we deserve to be treated better. And I think right now, it's so reflective of what we're going through in the world where people are just like, “No, in my job, in my relationships, in anything I have. I wanna have boundaries, I wanna have self-respect.”

No longer are the days where we grovel and just go along with toxic situations. We're standing up for ourselves, I think, right now more than ever. And it's amazing to see it. In 1899, these kids had the courage to get together and say, “No, we will not be treated this way like would I? Still, would I have that courage when I was 17 when I was 16, like, I'm almost 50, and I'm just now getting to that place?” So yeah, this show is inspiring. I've been telling people about this show's talents and beauty. It's unexpected; you don't realize it. Literally every aspect of this cast is unbelievable, like we had our designer run Sunday night, and designer runs can be challenging, because of where we are at in the rehearsal process. Are we far enough along to where we've developed it and where all the people working on the design aspects can see what the show is? Everyone had tears in their eyes, and people were clapping. And if we have this kind of reaction in a rehearsal room. Imagine when we get on stage! It's exciting!

Brett Cullum: Ironically, though, your big breakout song when we're talking about musicals that talk about people who stand up for themselves is “I Know Where I've Been” from the musical HAIRSPRAY. You sang that one and got through AMERICA’S GOT TALENT auditions with it. Did you do that role before you went? 

Christina Wells: Yeah. So it's a great story. Because I'm a “later in life” performer. I did not perform when I was raising my kids. I would do maybe a community little something. But I was not a performer at all! I moved back to Houston in 2014, and I was dealing with family things. And I was just trying to get everybody settled in in 2015. One of my friends said, “They're gonna have a musical at this local community theater. They're gonna do a HAIRSPRAY, and I think you'd be great in it!” 

So I go audition and they cast me as Motor Mouth. So I sing “I Know Where I've Been.” And let me tell you! People were like, “Are you from New York City?” I'm like, “Girl, no! I'm from Pasadena!” That song just fits me so well. 

So I'll tell you, when I got to AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, they were not about me singing musicals. They wanted me to sing pop music, and I had to battle. They wanted me to sing for my first audition, “Son of a Preacher Man.” I sang it for them, saying, “Listen to me, trust me. Let me sing I Know Where I've Been.” And they were like, okay, let her sing it. And that changed everything.

Brett Cullum: Why do you do this?  

You know, it's so hard to find ways to feel good in this life. We search for ways to feel good. That's why we're scrolling on our phones, watching movies. We're always looking for a way to feel better. And I love that if I get to perform, I feel like it can help people feel better. And so that makes me happy.

Brett Cullum: Well, speaking of making people feel better. Your bio says that you are a registered nurse! Where did you start out practicing that? Are you still working?

Christina Wells: Yes, I work still. So, I've been a nurse. This is my twentieth year as a nurse! I can't believe that. And yeah, I started out years and years ago! I worked in long-term care, skilled nursing, and all that stuff. And then I ended up getting my Bachelor's degree, and I worked in cardiac units. And I'm I'm really big with the older community. I have a minor in gerontology, and the 55-plus community is my favorite. And so now I work remotely, which a lot of people know. I worked when I was on tour. I have my little computer. I'll be sitting in the back doing my little work online. And I do something called utilization review. I'm a conduit between the insurance companies and the hospitals, ensuring bills get paid.

Brett Cullum: That is crazy to even think about. Because most actors I speak to are like this, that is all I do. And here you are doing TWO jobs at one time, going on stage, making people feel better, going off stage, making people feel better.

Christina Wells: You know, I think something happened where I used to believe that to be a successful performer, I had to support myself as a performer solely, and that is the unrealistic perspective that sets you up for a sense of failure when you're not able to make that happen, and you don't have control over gigs. You don't have control over casting. You don't have control over all those variables. And so I gave myself permission a few years ago to work, have insurance, and communicate with my bosses. I tell them, Google me. Let me show you what I do. But I'm a very reliable nurse, and I'll be here from 8 to 5 daily, I promise. But when I clock out, I'm gonna sing and dance for the world, and on the weekends, I'm gonna do a little show and make a little dress. I'm gonna do a little something, but I'll be right back here Monday morning, and so far, I've been really lucky that they listen and understand.

Brett Cullum: Sold! I'm casting you in anything. That's how you got into this all-male production of NEWSIES!

Christina Wells: They were like, “She's here in case somebody hurts himself!" 

Brett Cullum: You are so down to earth and carry yourself so well! I am so glad to see you up there representing all of the plus-size girls up there. 

Christina Wells: Yeah, another thing is that once people understand that reflecting real life on stage… reflecting real people is way more engaging! We don't want to see perfection anymore. We used to want to see perfection. We used to want to see Barbie dolls only! And something has changed in celebrity. Something has changed in our desire to look at people and see ourselves. We want to see ourselves; we want to see the color of our skin.

We want to see our body types. We want to see the people we are reflected back at us because we are entertaining. We are interesting and engaging as humans, natural people, not all perfect people.

Brett Cullum: Christina Wells. I cannot wait to see you in NEWSIES from TUTS at the Hobby Center. It's gonna be amazing.

 

One last question before we go, though. Where do you live now? I know that you kind of moved around a little bit.

 

Christina Wells: Oh, yeah, I live in Clear Lake, Baby.

 

I lived in Vegas for several years, and I lived in Ohio. I moved around, but I've been back in Houston for ten years. And so yeah, I live right here in Clear Lake, and my whole family does. So she's home, and the roots are down. They settled.

Brett Cullum: We're proud to have you! You're a Houston treasure, and we will claim you anytime; I'm sure TUTS will also, so I can't wait to see this production with you.

Christina Wells: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

NEWSIES from Theatre Under the Stars opens at the HOBBY CENTER on Tuesday, May 21st, and runs through June 2nd. It is a regional premiere with a cast largely from the immediate area.  




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