BWW Interviews: WICKED National Tour's Curt Hansen
Hang on to your broomsticks and sparkly shoes, folks. Something WICKED is coming to New Orleans this week! Glinda and Elphaba are gracing The Big Easy with their magical presence for one month beginning this Wednesday, and they're bringing along their favorite fellow Ozians too!
Now in its 10th anniversary year, WICKED is still a crowd favorite and it's no secret why. Between the music, the set, the costumes, the story, and the talent, it's hard not to fall in love. The musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, tells the story of the unlikely friendship between the two witches of Oz. They meet at Shiz University and eventually grow into the witches we commonly know as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good.
I recently spoke with Curt Hansen who plays Fiyero, the male lead, in the National Tour production. Hansen is a fairly new addition to the touring cast and is quite possibly just as charming as the character he portrays on stage.
You're fairly new to this cast for the national tour of WICKED. You've been with them for a little over a month. What has your experience been like so far?
It's been great! Everyone's very welcoming. It's such a new, such a different thing to replace someone in a show. It's kind of like you're a kid, and even though it's never happened to me but, you like move schools or something and go to a new school. It's kind of that feeling of like everyone's really nice but you're still, you know, the stranger in something that, in basically a family. So it can be kind of daunting coming in, but everyone's been really great and welcomed me with open arms and I hope that I'm fitting in rather well. I think I am. I hope I'm not delusional though.
So this is your second national tour, the first was NEXT TO NORMAL which you also had a run in on Broadway, and you also have done HAIRSPRAY on Broadway. So you're not new to show business, but what is it like to now be a part of one of the most popular shows in existence?
It's awesome. I'm really lucky. It's kind of been a dream of mine to do this show. When it first came out I was I think in middle school, maybe even high school, when I went to go see it. Our choir group went to go see it as a group, and you know I always wanted to be in it and now that I am it's kind of surreal. I had hoped it would happen some day, but I didn't know if it would happen this soon. It's cool. I'm really thankful for the opportunity, and also to get to travel with the show is great because so many people come to see it. And it's such a thrill because it's such a big show that audiences are always crazy and they go crazy for it, they love it. It's always full which is great, and it's just a very rewarding show to do.
What was your first impression of WICKED when you saw it for the first time?
Oh, it was so impressive. It was before I had even started doing theatre myself. The music was cool, it was new. I feel like it was kind of the first show that I had seen that wasn't the typical old musical like OKLAHOMA and stuff. I think it was just the fact that something could be, I don't want to say relevant but, relevant and cool and also exciting but with like pop music. It was something that was so different than what I had seen and what I was exposed to being from Wisconsin. All around it was just so impressive.
What were some of the other musicals that you were exposed to as a kid?
I mean we did, my whole family kind of took part in the community theatre, which was really cool. My older brother and my younger sister were acting in the shows. My dad sometimes would be in the show but he ran the light board and did all the crew stuff. My mom would work backstage. We did like ANYTHING GOES and THE KING AND I and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I did LES MIS in high school, which was cool but I mean more traditional musicals that you grow up with that a lot of school do and community theaters.
It's cool that your whole family was involved in theatre. That's kind of rare. You don't normally see entire families who are involved a whole lot.
It's really rare especially when my first semester in college I was going for pre-med and my parents wanted me to do theatre instead.
That's sort of backwards from what you usually hear!
Yeah, but I think I made the right choice. I don't want to be anyone's doctor, and no one wants me to be their doctor!
So were you a fan of 'The Wizard of Oz' as a kid? Is it a movie you grew up watching?
I mean as much as anyone. I wasn't like obsessed with it but... I remember getting creeped out by all the conspiracy theories about it. One said there was something about like someone hanged themselves in the background. Yeah there was a lot of weird things. Or that they were filming a movie with animals and the animals got loose or something and you can see them in the background. So I went through probably a dark period where I didn't watch it because I was creeped out. But yeah I enjoyed the movie, and I actually haven't watched it since I've been in the show but that's something I should probably do.
It's a movie that a lot of kids were scared of when they were little with the wicked witch and the monkeys. It's kind of creepy, but when you see WICKED that creepiness factor isn't there. How does 'The Wizard of Oz' play in to WICKED?
Well it's in a different world I think than 'The Wizard of Oz.' You get to see... you're like on the inside looking out rather than in 'The Wizard of Oz' you're looking in as an outsider because Dorothy is, you know, human and in WICKED we are "Ozians." So I think that kind of makes it less jarring because you're seeing what they're seeing as opposed to what Dorothy is seeing. That kind of lets you in on the secret I guess, so it's less confusing or less scary because you're part of that world. I think the show does a good job of illustrating it, but also they have that fine line of still having it make sense with adding little flares of "Ozian" jargon.
So let's talk about your character a little bit. You play Fiyero who is our dashing male lead. What is his place in WICKED?
In the story he's basically I guess the apex of this love triangle between the two witches. It's something that I'm, not struggling with, but trying to find his importance in the show because... It's funny, the other day I went to go watch Dee [Roscioli] who just left as Elphaba... I went to go watch the rest of her first act and I realized how, I don't want to say how little I do during the show, but I don't do as much as everyone else does and it kind of made me take a step back and really re-evaluate what I am on stage and how important everything I do is. I like to think that I'm the catalyst to the story really kind of going because as soon as I'm out there stuff kind of starts hitting the fan. I kind of help, you know I fall for Elphaba right away and kind of help her do things that I normally wouldn't do, and kind of add that extra... I don't know what the word is... drive to the show? But maybe it's just in my head and maybe that's just what I tell myself. I think that the most important thing is the love triangle and how two girls... basically we're all just friends and I end up falling for both of them, but in the end obviously I go with Elphaba because she's more interesting. Not to say that Glinda isn't, but there's different needs that I need fulfilled as the show goes on.
I think people really like Fiyero! He's kind of almost a little bit of a jerk in the beginning when we first meet him, but there's some sort of charisma that draws people to him. What do you think people like about him?
That's something that I found hard at first because I'm kind of this "douchey" guy, like this rich dude, and it's kind of like the cards are almost stacked against you because at your entrance you're this jerk. So I think it's hard, you have to find the charm within that and not take it too seriously. Just come out and give people "noogies" and giving them "swirlies"... yeah that's one thing, but if you go into it thinking like yeah I'm going to help these guys out because I'm that cool that you need my help there's something weirdly endearing about that. So I think playing... I don't know trying to be charming but not putting so much weight on anything helps a lot. So yeah it's something that I have a hard time with because, I don't know, you want to be the good guy but it's hard when you have this kind of opening scene when you have to be kind of a "meathead."
But then after that I think the role was written in favor of the actor where you know he's like the cute... it's a at least you're cute kind of a thing where you're not the brightest in the first act but it's like oh it's ok you're pretty. And, I don't know, I think that people, once he really makes the choice to help Elphaba out, really kind of side with him and realize that he does have more depth than people give him credit for. There's that one line in the first act where Elphaba kind of calls him out and says that he's unhappy and that's one of the most important parts of the show for me because up until then you see him as this cool guy who's always smiling, but in all reality he's unfulfilled in life.
So there's a lot of singing and dancing and big numbers in this show. You have 'Dancing Through Life' pretty much right when we meet Fiyero, which is one of my favorite scenes in the show. What is your favorite musical number to perform in the show?
I mean, it's basically just that and 'As Long As You're Mine,' and they're both so different because... 'Dancing Through Life' every night you know is a lot of fun because like I have back up dancers basically, which is really cool. I never thought I'd have people dancing. And it's fun because the more comfortable I got with it the more I looked around on stage, and I had no idea what was even happening behind me. So I was like oh people aren't even going to be watching me because all this amazing stuff is happening. So that's fun because it's with basically the whole cast. I get to connect with everyone. I try to make eye contact with everyone on stage during the number, which is fun to do. It's fun to be on stage with people rather than 'As Long As You're Mine' it's just me and Elphaba. But that song has been so much fun to sing and it's also like a really crucial part of the show. So I like both of them for different reasons, but I feel best after 'Dancing Through Life.' Like I feel... I'm happy, it's fun, so I guess that would be my favorite. I secretly get nervous for it still. Not nervous but, you know, it's just like alright here we go... like watching a run away train.
Well it's a really long number too, so once you start you've got a long way to go to get to the end!
So this show has been around for a while and there have been a lot of people who have played Fiyero before you. Have you been able to talk to any of them for advice or tips on how to play the role, or did you start from scratch and just use the information you had in the script?
Yeah, I haven't really talked to anyone. The guy I replaced, Cliffton Hall... you know you... like I watched the show the first day I started rehearsal, just kind of hearing that and you know while you're rehearsing you can hear the show through the speakers and stuff. I think that actually helped me get a sense of pacing. Because when I read the show, I had seen it years ago, but then I got the script and re-read it. There's so many different things that the way I read it was so different than how the show plays, which I think is good because then I'm able to bring my own flair to it. But still, like I said, you're entering someone else's thing so you have to kind of get the right tone that is the show and that happens every night. So it was just helpful to see someone do it who was in the show, like Cliffton, but I like to make my own choices within the realm of the show and the creative, the directors come in and help. The associate director came in last week, which is very helpful, to guide us in the right direction. But, no I haven't really... I try to do my own thing on stage.
What's the rehearsal process like for you coming in to replace someone? Do you just get thrown in there, or do you have a lot of time to work on things individually beforehand?
Yeah well basically you... I learned the show in four days. So I went in on a Tuesday, sang through the music, watched the show that night, and then learned all the scenes, and then by Saturday I knew the show. So it's a lot. The way I like to do it is to get all the information right away and then refine it, and work on it, and try to hash it out because that first week is brutal. Your brain is just fried and all you want to do is go home and eat M&M's and just like not think about anything. Not that that's what I did but... and then the second week you get a day off and all the information marinates and you get to kind of re-look at everything. Then you start having rehearsals with the swings for understudy rehearsal, and then by the next Friday we had a put-in. So, basically from Tuesday... it's less than two weeks really before you have to be show-ready. The put-in is with costume and lights and everything.
But that said, my show wasn't as in depth as let's say Glinda or Elphaba, but they have a month to learn the show. It's tough. It's also tough to... basically you're performing on stage without an audience, which is really hard, with people that you don't even know that could be judging you because they don't know you and you're replacing their friend. It's a very stressful couple of weeks. At least, that's how I look at it, but it's exciting because you know now I'm settled in and I'm getting to tour and see all these awesome cities and be in this great show. It definitely is an art, I guess. You have to figure out how you work when you learn things and luckily I haven't replaced... the only other time I've replaced in a show was HAIRSPRAY. That was my first show so at that point I had nothing to gauge it off of, but since then I've been though. I've been able to originate and do a lot of new shows and also regional things that we started from scratch. So it kind of took me a while to get back into the groove of replacing.
There are a few different costumes that you wear as Fiyero. Which is your favorite?
I love my 'Dancing Through Life' costume. It's like these tight pants and I just feel really good in it. You know? But they make it so you look good, and it's cool knowing that people have your best interest and they want you to look good. So you're like ok yeah make me look good. So I think that's my favorite. I finally got pants that were specifically made for me so I like that.
And last question, if you could flip flop roles with one of your female cast mates who would it be?
I mean Elphaba for sure because I mean of all the songs she gets to sing. It's incredible. And I also like having the weight of a show on my shoulders. I work best with that pressure. So yeah, definitely her.
Be sure to catch Curt Hansen and the National Tour cast of WICKED at the Mahalia Jackson Theater from May 8th through June 2nd. For tickets and other information please call (504) 287-0351 or visit http://www.mahaliajacksontheater.com/.