BWW Interview: Jon Robert Hall Plays Fiyero in WICKED at Orpheum
WICKED, quite possibly "The Best Musical of the Decade" returns to Omaha's Orpheum Theatre May 16. This spectacular show with music and lyrics by Stephan Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman is based on Gregory Maguire's book, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch." It has received a Grammy and three Tony Awards in addition to more than 100 international awards to date.
WICKED is an imaginative prequel to the children's classic "Wizard of Oz" written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. There is so much more to it, but I'll just say that Wicked Witch Elphaba and Good Witch Galinda are college roommates. Despite their physical and social differences, they both fall in love with the carefree prince Fiyero. Playing the role of Fiyero in the national tour is Jon Robert Hall.
Jon Robert Hall is a man of diverse talents. In addition to being a leading actor in a hugely successful musical, he is a television actor, singer/songwriter, music producer and vocal coach. Hall has appeared on "Glee" and "Grease Live" on Fox. He has sung backup for such mega artists as Michael Jackson, Josh Groban, and Celine Dion. Hall began writing music with Nashville writers and has collaborated with such country stars as Rascal Flatts. He recently released his single "Nervous" in January. In addition to his musical pursuits, Hall also is an athlete, having played football in college with possibilities for a professional sports career.
I spoke with Hall recently and dug a little deeper into his life and his current role in WICKED.
How would you describe the character of Fiyero?
Fiyero is coming from a very prominent family... I think it's his father who forces him to go to this school. He doesn't really think too much about what's happening. He lives in the moment. Think about a prince. A prince usually has enough money where he doesn't have to worry about too much. He doesn't struggle with the normal human issues. He comes to this school and he's very comfortable. They talk about him being careless and free and he wants everybody else to be that way. It's very attractive because they're uptight while he's chill and relaxed. Everybody's kinda like, "Ooh, I like this!" It's something everybody's drawn to.
Fiyero is a very attractive individual, and not just the exterior. He leads the kind of life that everybody would like to have. You've seen people like that where you're like, "Oh man, that person will probably grow gray hair at about 60 because he isn't stressing about much!" He's that type of guy-very chill and abandoned.
But as the show goes on, I find that his character deepens. He isn't as superficial as you might think.
Well, that's what's so wonderful about him. I think what happens and what's great about this show is that Fiyero is influenced by the girls. He's influenced in different ways. Fiyero isn't freaked out when he sees that Elphaba is green. He's not shocked by that because he's probably seen things like that before. He's lived a little bit. The nice thing about him is that he doesn't judge people by their skin or what they look like. He has depth to him. I think that Elphaba influences him differently than Galinda does. He loves them both for different reasons.
He does grow in character from act one to act two. It's really cool to see what drives Fiyero. Early on, what drives him is his free living, fun, being the life of the party...just the kind of drive you have when you're a kid. But then, you see in act two he's driven by something else. He sees Elphaba and is drawn to her. That's why he becomes Captain of the Guard so he can find her. He is in love with Galinda, but has these ulterior motives to find Elphaba. He's stuck in a bit of a weird place.
Galinda is the counterpart to Fiyero, isn't she? She is also the bubbly, popular one and everyone wants to be around her. But then you see her depth of character when Elphaba is dancing wearing that hideous hat, and Galinda joins her.
That's a really good moment for me. I love seeing Galinda taking the initiative and doing something out of her comfort zone. It's kind of a mirror to what Fiyero does when he enters the building. He teaches everybody how to dance through life and get out of their books. Just relax a bit. Then Galinda takes the initiative and sort of pays it forward from what Fiyero just did. She shuns her friends to dance with Elphaba. Part of that comes from guilt. She gave her that hat. This brings out beautiful characteristics of both girls. It brings out a great message that you don't judge a book by its cover and you don't judge a person from their first appearance. And then, you can love a person for so many different reasons; go through stuff together and come out stronger.
It's fun to figure out what characters from Maguire's book become the characters of the musical WICKED. Do you see ties between Scarecrow and Fiyero?
The wonderful thing about Fiyero is that he's driven by his heart, not his brain. I think it would be weird for him to not have a heart. You know the saying, "We get in our own head?" I think there's a connection because he isn't too 'heady.' He goes with his heart-with his passion and love and desires as opposed to being a little bit more realistic. He's aware that he loves Galinda. He loves Elphaba. He brings a lot of heart to the show because of that. It's like when you look at an artist. Like a musician. And you see...if there's a '9 to 5-er' who works in the stock market and he looks at a guy like Ed SHeeran, he's thinking, "Man, I wish I had that life." He just writes beautiful music and tells stories and gets to be kind of a kid forever. There's something really beautiful about that, and that's something attractive that Fiyero has.
Speaking of Ed SHeeran, I watched your cover of "Thinking Out Loud." I really like what you did to it.
Oh, thank you! I've also done a mash up of "Lego House" with "Defying Gravity."
You've had such a varied background. If you could choose only one of your talents as a career, which would it be? NFL football player, recording artist, TV actor, or musical theater star?
Well, if there was only one that I could choose, I would love to be a recording artist and perform my music and play live. Just sing my heart out. But at the same time, I feel like I'm an entertainer. I think it would be not very smart of me...I would be wasting talent if I didn't do all these other things. There are so many wonderful things that I get to do by doing theater, by singing in studios, or by playing sports.
I started a company about two years ago called Hall Pass Productions. I produce young social media stars. I write and coproduce their music. I started as a vocal coach and transferred into shooting them their one minute Instagram covers like the ones I do. Then it turned into writing and producing their songs. I teach them how to write properly and then put it to a professional track.
One of my first big clients, actually, was a couple of guys from Omaha named Jack and Jack. I gave them voice lessons. We didn't write any music together, but I gave them voice lessons for a good while.
I have a social media page called Hall Pass Productions. I'm actually having a website being built. It's taking some time because I'm doing a pretty hefty website. You can check it out when it's up. I'll let you know.
You play piano and guitar very well. Do you play any other instruments?
My piano skills are minimal but I've played guitar a long time. I can play bass, but that's pretty much it. I work on ProTools and midi. I make tracks.
You majored in Music in college?
Yeah, vocal performance. Opera. That's what you do in college. Classical music.
I think I read something about your mom used to drive you to vocal lessons twice a week when you were a young boy.
Well, my mom never drove me to voice lessons. My mom drove me to studio sessions, probably two or three times a week. I was pretty busy as a kid. The reason I'm doing what I'm doing all led from there. A little thing about me is that I started in this industry at 10 years old singing professional music for movies, commercials, TV shows. One of my first jobs was on Michael Jackson's album singing as one of the kids in the choir. So, I've done a lot of choir professional singing in Armaggedon, Amistad, Deep Impact, Hush, Scream 2, The Royal Tannenbaums, Jungle Book 2 (I was Mowgli), Prince of Egypt.
It was interesting, because Stephen Schwartz did "Prince of Egypt." He saw me in CARRIE THE MUSICAL the first time and he came up to me and told me, "Man, you've got to audition for Fiyero." I was like, "Actually, I did and I'm just hoping to get the job!" You know, it takes forever. So, he was like, "Well, let's get you back in." I am very appreciative of him. He's been my champion through this whole thing getting this role.
Catch Jon Robert Hall as he dances through life at the Orpheum May 16 through June 3.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus