BWW Interview: WICKED's Cliffton Hall Describes A Life in the Theater
Singer/Dancer/Actor Cliffton Hall, who currently plays the role of Winkie Prince Fiyero in the long-running First National Tour production of the blockbuster hit stage musical WICKED continues to have a very healthy, enviable career on the stage. Spending most of his formative years growing up in Hawaii, Hall first thought his destiny was in the world of pro sports, particularly surfing.
But a good-natured bet with a friend had him auditioning for a school production that later would prove to be his start on a new path towards a life in the theater. That path began at age of 19 with the national tour production of MISS SAIGON---the very show in which he met the young lady who would later become his wife, DeeDee Magno Hall (she later played Nessarose alongside him in the San Francisco sit-down production of WICKED). The talented couple share a home in Los Angeles with their two sons, Kaeden and Brycen.
Besides his long-running tenure with WICKED, Hall's other roles also include Marius in the Broadway production of LES MISERABLES, Tony in MASTER CLASS, Danny in GREASE, Will in OKLAHOMA!, and Ta in FLOWER DRUM SONG.
Hall began as a member of the WICKED tour ensemble in 2005, understudying the role of Fiyero until he was moved to the role full-time the following year. In some bittersweet news, especially to fans of his work as the Green Girl's love interest, Hall will be departing the role after the 4-Week Engagement of WICKED in Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts comes to an end on March 17. Knowing his track record, though, we suspect Hall will have as cheering just as wildly for his next role to come.
But before his exit from the merry ol' land of Oz, Hall chatted with BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos about the details of his journey into the world of musical theater.
Hi Cliffton! Growing up as a young boy in Hawaii, did you know back then that you wanted to be a musical theater actor in the future?
Actually, I was born in Oakland, California---my dad was in the military. When we finally moved to Hawaii, I was in the third grade. Growing up, I was really into sports, [particularly] baseball, and I thought I was actually going to be a professional baseball player. But when we got to Hawaii, I also fell in love with the beach---and, of course, why wouldn't you? You live in Hawaii, on an island, and water is all around you! [Laughs]
So I went to the beach pretty much everyday---even on days before school, which was kinda crazy. The sun would come up at, like, 6 and [my friends and I] would surf for an hour, run home, take a shower, and then jump on the bus for school. And then the same thing happens when I get home: I would just drop off my books, grab my board, and run to the beach. So, I thought I was going to become a professional surfer! But, of course, my father had that little talk with me and was, like, "I don't know if becoming a professional surfer would be a great career move. I think you should really think about this." And, so I did... and decided to become an actor instead! [Laughs]
So how did you come to choose acting?
Well the way I got into it was through my English class. One of the [theater] directors from the three high schools that come together and do a musical every year, Ronald Bright, came to my class. Now, here I am, you know, totally just a Surfer Guy; but after class, he came up to me and said, "oh, you should think about coming out for an audition." To myself, I was, like, are you kidding? But I had this buddy who I grew up with... he was in a play that the Castle Performing Arts Center puts on for the three high schools. I made a bet with him that if he got into that play, then I would audition for the next one. So, I auditioned when I was a sophomore... and the rest is history!
What was the show?
It was HELLO, DOLLY! [Laughs] Yeah, that's how got into musical theater. You know, as kids, I think we all have that desire when we watch movies and go... ooh, that's what I wanna do! I would love to pretend and be in the movies! It was always in me, but it wasn't until I was a sophomore that I realized that this was something I really wanted to do.
Awesome! Which brings us to your work in MISS SAIGON. How did that come about?
Well, the cool thing was the [casting team] went to Hawaii. Up to that point, they had cast the Broadway company and the First National Tour company already, and they knew that they were getting a lot of the talent pool from Hawaii. Oh, but first, the LES MIS casting team went to Hawaii when I was 16 years old. When I was done, they gave me some advice at that audition, telling me to "keep taking my voice lessons, etc. and we'll come back in a few years and see where you're at." I thought, okay, great! And so when I was 18, MISS SAIGON came to audition people in Hawaii, and a year later, at 19, they called me to be a part of the Second National Tour company!
Cool! And this show was the same one that introduced you to your wife, correct?
Absolutely, yes! In 1995, I met my wife DeeDee Magno Hall, and we became really good friends. It was actually me and my buddy---who I talked about earlier, the guy I made the bet with---we both got cast together from Hawaii into MISS SAIGON. At the same time Deedee and another friend of hers that she worked with on The New Mickey Mouse Club were also cast. So here we all were, these 19-year-olds---the youngest ones in the show---we all just naturally gravitated towards each other. So [Deedee and I] started out as really good friends, and then five years later, it started to become more.
Wow, five years?
[Laughs] Yeah, I think there were some other relationships in between here and there.
Alright... Fast forward several years later and you two eventually played opposite each other in WICKED! How cool!
Yeah, I was cast in 2005 in this tour as part of the ensemble and understudied Fiyero. And then a year later, I got bumped up to the role! My wife Deedee and our oldest son Kaeden went out on the road with us. He was four months old at the time. So, three months later after I got bumped up to play Fiyero [full-time], they called in Deedee for an audition to play Nessarose. She flew to New York and she booked it! [Laughs] It was so funny, though, because when she booked it, she was, like, "do you think they're just doing this because I'm your wife?" And I said, [sarcastic voice] "uh, yeeaahh... uh, of course not! You got it because you're amazing!" [Laughs]
I agree! And, I gotta confess, I have actually been a fan of your wife since her days on The Mickey Mouse Club and [the spin-off Pop Group] The Party!
[Laughs] Of course!
Now, for some reason---and I think this is just a coincidence---you are now the fourth actor that I've interviewed for this column that has played Fiyero. One of the most common things that these actors have told me is that being Fiyero in WICKED incites intense reactions from fans than in any other show they've performed. Is this true for you as well?
Well, personally for me, Fiyero is such a great role, and I think a lot of young, aspiring actors would love to play him, too. When I was growing up, Marius [in LES MISERABLES] and Chris [in MISS SAIGON] were two roles that I wanted to play as I started in musical theater. For Fiyero, the greatest thing about the role is that he [requires] all three [disciplines]: he sings, he dances, and he acts. For me, the only other role I can think of that's in the same vein is, maybe, Will Parker from OKLAHOMA!
But, anyway, I think that in WICKED, when people watch Fiyero, they see this... cool guy that thinks he's got everything together and that he's got this ability to get people to do what he wants. But then you see him go through this roller coaster ride throughout the show, that is until Elphaba puts him in his place and tells him, you know, that he's not really happy. It's a facade. And then the audience begins to see that he starts to care about things [beyond what's on the surface], including Elphaba herself. So I think that a lot of people can really relate to that.
Cool. Okay, now we've come to the portion I call the Lightning Round! I'll ask you some quick, short questions and all you have to do is give me the first thing that pops into your head. Ready?
Oh boy! [Laughs] Okay!
Do you have any pre-show rituals before a performance?
Okay, imagine that we stole your iPod. What kind of music will we find on it?
Hmm... Bruno Mars. A bunch of musical theater. A lot of pop, alternative, and rock.
Cool. Speaking of musical theater, what's your favorite musical cast album of all time?
Gosh, my first ever favorite was PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and I think that still rings true with me. One day, I'd love to do the role of the Phantom.
Great, your dream role! So, describe for me what goes through your head right before you step out on stage?
Oh, well, I say a little prayer. [Laughs]
What's the song that you like belting in the shower or when you're all alone in the car?
Gosh. Uh... [Struggles] Wow, I'm totally stumped right now. [Laughs] Oh... Michael Bublé's "Feeling Good."
What's your one guilty pleasure?
My one guilty pleasure? Uh... my gosh, I'm so bad at these lightning rounds! [Laughs] So many things are popping into my head right now and I'm, like, "don't say the wrong thing! Don't say the wrong thing!" [Laughs] Well... now, I don't really have a sweet tooth, but my wife and my oldest boy love sweets. So they'll ask me if I want ice cream and I would say no. But then, when they're done, I'll actually---and I don't know why I do this---sneak some for myself and not let them know that I've eaten it. It's not really so much me wanting the sweets, but when I do have it, I can't stop. It's weird. [Laughs]
Well, now that you've told me this secret, it's out in the open!
I know! My wife's going to read this and go... "Oh, really?!" [Laughs]
Ha ha! Okay, what do you like to do on your day(s) off?
I like being with my family and going to the movies with my wife. But when they're not on tour with me, I, uh... [Laughs] like to sleep! [Laughs]
Ha ha! Well, that seems to be a popular answer! Alright, what or who irritates you the most?
Probably myself. [Laughs] You know, that whole self-doubt thing... your mind playing tricks on you... that's what I mean.
Oh, I know it well. Okay, on the opposite of that, what instantly puts a smile in your face?
My family... my children and my wife.
Great! What makes you laugh uncontrollably?
Gosh... I know this is so cliché, but, again, it's totally my wife and kids!
Awww. If you could trade lives with someone for one day, who would that person be and why?
Well, you know, a few weeks ago, I just saw the movie Lincoln, and so, I wanna say... him. I want to kind of [experience] what he went through and what he was thinking about, knowing how [his decisions] affect us even now.
Okay, with this next question... I have a feeling I might already know the answer. But, anyway, if you weren't an actor, what other profession do you picture yourself doing instead?
Oh... being a professional surfer! [Laughs]
Ha ha! I thought so! Okay, what has been the funniest or, perhaps, most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on a show?
The one thing that came immediately to my mind was this scene in LES MISERABLES when I was playing Marius. I went out to the gate and [my character] was supposed to introduce Éponine to Cosette. But all I kept doing was [Sings]: "Here is Dineen. This is Dineen. This is Dineen!" I just kept on repeating myself and calling Éponine and Cosette the same name. [Laughs] And, there's lots more stuff that's happened to me off-stage on other shows, but we'll need hours to talk about it all.
Well, maybe for a future interview! Alright... one final question and I'll let you off the hook!
Whew, man! You got me sweatin' here with these questions! [Laughs]
Ha ha, sorry! Well, okay... last question... A lot of our readers on BroadwayWorld are young students who are trying to pursue a career in musical theater like yours. What's your one piece of advice for them?
Yeah, we were just in Hawaii for six weeks, and I've been talking to a lot of schools there. That was a common question we got from the students. You know, when I was younger, a lot of people were really saying "practice, practice, practice!" You hear that and it's so simple. It's so simple to hear, but it's the honest truth. Last night I was watching this DVD of Michael Jordan and, it's so funny, but when I was talking to these students, I was trying to relate to them what I do in terms of what professional athletes do. Of course, in my generation, Michael Jordan was one of the all-time greatest athletes in the world. And I really believe that, you know, getting to Broadway is like being a professional athlete. You are at the top of your game. And the reason why they are what they are---why Michael Jordan is the best at what he does---is because he practiced, practiced, practiced every single day. That's the thing... if this is what you want to do and you think about it every day, then you should pursue it as hard as you can. Take voice lessons. Take dance lessons. Take acting lessons. You know, there are sooo many people out there who want to do this and be in the entertainment industry. In order to stand out, you have to know what you're doing; and the only way to do that is to practice... and practice... and practice.
Performances of the National Tour Production of WICKED at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts continue through Sunday, March 17. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
A day-of-performance lottery will be held two and a half hours prior to each performance. Winning names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats that can be purchased for $25 each, cash only. This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a purchase limit of two tickets per person. Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form and, if chosen, when purchasing tickets. The number of available lottery tickets may vary from performance to performance.
For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.