Monday, November 19, 2012

LaVon Fisher-Wilson



Happy Thanksgiving week! Over the next five days, I’m going to write about people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year that I am truly thankful for.
 LaVon Fisher-Wilson, who has been seen on Broadway in Lysistrata Jones, Chicago and The Color Purple, joined the cast of the critically acclaimed new musical Newsies September 11th at the Nederlander Theatre.
This summer, I was contacted by Peter Glebo of Tommy Tune’s office to see if I would do a blog feature on Peter and Pia Cincotti to promote their musical How Deep Is the Ocean? I met with them in June and had a delightful afternoon. They invited me to their opening night and after party. 
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. After all, it was a musical about chlorinating the ocean! Well, I loved it and I hope this musical has legs. 
I, as well, as the rest of the audience had a terrific time. 
The evening was full of surprises. For many, the biggest surprise of the evening was Tony Danza in an amazing cameo and tap number, a true show stopper. That was amazing and it would take something even more amazing to top that! 
LaVon as Medda Larkin
Well, it happened. When LaVon Fisher-Wilson hit the stage and sang Too Much Salt, I became an instant fan! I told her that I had to do a blog feature on her. With many apologies to her, a book that I’m writing and life got in the way. Finally, TODAY, I am celebrating LaVon Fisher-Wilson and her body of WORTH. 
Lavon is currently performing the role of Medda Larkin in the Broadway Production of Newsies
Now, I have a real reason to see this show!

I began the interview as I always do by asking LaVon what her personal philosophy or favorite quote is. Anything that has to do anything with keeping your word is good enough for her. If you say you are going to do something, do it. 
If you can’t, let the person know in time.
With most people in this business, it starts or the bug bites at a very young age. 
With LaVon, she was ten or eleven singing in her school choir. 
She desired to be Whitney Houston. She is referring to the early Whitney. 
She idolized her. 
Me with LaVon on opening night of How Deep Is The Ocean?

She was the first young black woman that had this sound that reached across the boards.

She made LaVon believe that she, too, could become a star.   
From singing in her school choir, LaVon ended up auditioning for a performing arts high school in Louisville, Kentucky, which is where LaVon is from.
 She got it. From there, by the grace of God, everything started lining up. From high school, LaVon started auditioning for colleges with a musical theater program.  She was going to get married. She was engaged three times before the right man came along. She married Darrell Wilson in 2006 before she got The Color Purple. LaVon's husband has been the biggest supporter of her career and their family. 
 Before getting married, however, she wanted to get her graduate’s degree so she could teach. From getting her graduate’s degree from the University of Florida (She didn’t get married), she ended up connecting with the theater there.
 This was at the Hippodrome State Theater in Gainsville, Florida. She totally immersed herself in this theater department and even got her Equity card there. She did a few shows there and a director from New York, who is also from Gainsville, Marion J. Caffey, auditioning people for Street Corner Symphony.
 LaVon’s teacher knew Marion and told him that he had to hear LaVon’s voice. She went and sang for him at the music school at the University of Florida. 

He wanted her for Street Corner Symphony which was going to Broadway. Her master’s degree program teacher told him no. That was her decision which was strange. 
LaVon found out later that he wanted her but she didn’t know this because he didn’t move beyond what he was told by LaVon’s teacher. She made this decision as if she was LaVon’s agent! That was ok. LaVin finished and got her master’s degree in theater. LaVon actually did end up working with Marion and did a co-production tour and some regional stuff. Through him and that New York connection she had through him, she eventually moved to New York in 2004. 
She had spent eight years after grad school doing regional theater. She also did kid’s programs trying to teach everything that she had learned from the tours she had been on. She got her first Broadway show in 2006, The Color Purple.
I asked LaVon what she does when she gets stuck and/or feels that she is in a rut. She has never experienced that! There was a three month period where “nothing was happening”. She didn’t feel like it was a rut because she was still auditioning. There were still possibilities in the air. She doesn’t allow the dust to settle. 
The Color Purple
She is aware that that may not always be the case. She was pregnant with her first son during The Color Purple
She stayed with the show until she was eight months and three weeks! She had the baby and rejoined the company several months later. Her second son was born during her time with a production of Hello, Dolly in which she was playing Dolly Levi at The Fulton Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Because of her comic timing, she was able to do so much with Dolly and show what range she has. She did the show pregnant! 
She doesn’t let a lot of time pass.
The most embarrassing thing to ever happen to LaVon on stage took place in Daytona Beach at the Seaside Music Theater. She was singing the reprise of Fools Fall in Love from Smokey Joe’s Café. She is doing the BJ Crosby role. She belted the last note out of the ballpark and split her dress right down the back of her tight fitted dress. 
as Mama Morton
There was no denying that it was wide open. Her entire backside was out. She felt it and grabbed the sides to try and close it. The audience couldn’t see it. After it was over, she backed off of the stage. 
The stage manager was thinking, “What the hell is she doing”? A few others noticed she wasn’t doing her usual exit due to having to back out. No one ever saw her backside due to her quick thinking. It was an embarrassing moment but she prevailed.
Being a working mother (with two kids at home), there is no “routine” in her life in which she works on her craft. 
She does it whenever she can fit in the time. She recently started taking some classes which she hasn’t done in years. 
Even with this, she is limited by the length of the classes. When it comes to an intensive, for example, that meets once a week for six weeks, LaVon tends to avoid those. 
The kids schedules are so up and down.

When it comes to dispensing advice to anyone desiring a career in the theater, LaVon tend to shy away from offering advice. She has seen others who have done exactly what she has done with lesser results. She can tell others what she has done and only through their persistence and through the grace of God can they hope for the best. She doesn’t even know how she has gotten so successful! If those seeking advice are young, she would encourage them to take as many classes as possible. Take audition classes. Take business classes on the business end of this business. There aren’t many of those. Get as much knowledge and education and training about this craft as one can. 
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Everyone needs to know they are going to be rejected. LaVon has been rejected. Have something to fall back on as far as in the case of LaVon, being an administrative assistant. She was horrible at it, however. She wishes that she had some kind of business background. The three, six, longer months that one is not working and has not found work can seem endless when one is not able to pay their bills. That is why many don’t stay in this business. One will be broke in this business and when they don’t know how to survive otherwise, it can take the joy out of this.
There are so many celebrities that LaVon admires in this business. She adores Loretta Devine and Loretta Divine. LaVon would love to have the opportunity to ask Loretta about her challenges. Loretta and LaVon have shared the same struggles. 
When Loretta was in Dreamgirls, she was a “small girl”. She has since gained weight and become a full figured woman. LaVon, when she started out, could slide through the hole of a Cheerio. They didn’t know what to do with her. Her voice was so big but her body didn’t match it. She has had mentors literally tell her that she needs to lose weight and get out of those “fat girl roles”. She didn’t gain weight on purpose, but what was so odd was that once she did put on the weight, her voice fit her body somehow. She stayed employed. When we did this interview five months ago, LaVon was training for the marathon which as we all now knows did not happen because of the storm Sandy. LaVon is not saying that she is happy being overweight, but she does feel her success is based on her looks matching her voice. She would like to ask Loretta how she has dealt with that. The entire weight issue can be discouraging sometimes. There are moments when LaVon has not dealt with it so well. She has gotten hired but at the same time, she has played parts that she is really nowhere near age-wise. In our society, age equates weight. It is work but she would like to play more age appropriate roles. 
LaVon Fisher-Wilson (center) with cast
photo by Craig Leaper

Loretta has been successful at the same issues that LaVon has but has also struggled with. 
LaVon is sure that it also hasn’t come to Loretta without its ups and downs.

What would LaVon tell her twenty-five year old self? EXERCISE and learn how to eat. 
Take dance classes and do whatever it takes to maintain a healthy weight. 
Take the time out to prioritize and make yourself healthy. Eat the right things. She would also tell herself to get to New York! She didn’t get to New York until she was thirty. She would also tell her twenty-five year old self how to financially take care of herself and to learn to save money. 
Learn how to invest. Pay off your debts. At twenty-five, they truly weren’t that bad at all.
Eugene Barry-Hill and LaVon Fisher-Wilson
Photo by Craig Leaper
The work that LaVon is most proud of is The Color Purple. She is really proud of that production because it was really close to her heart in her life and as an African-American woman. She was also pregnant through most of her time in the show. When she was hired, she was hired as a swing and covered five people. Two of those parts were dance parts! The others were belty singing parts. Having to concentrate was a challenge. That pregnancy brain is real. There are many things she doesn’t remember from 2007. Trying to swing out all five of those roles through morning sickness and frustration, she would call her mother. Her mother used to respond with, “Black folks used to have babies and pick cotton. You can dance on stage!” LaVon would then feel so bad. What was she complaining about? Being pregnant and dancing on stage. She is so glad her mother pushed her. She now knows she can do anything.
The one change LaVon would like to see in this industry is for people to realize that the lead role or the ingénue can look different from what people imagine they should be. There are real people in this world that have stories to be told. Yes, we all desire somebody pretty up there to look at. These real people can and should be playing these parts, as well so that these kids that come to the theater get to see themselves up there.
What is LaVon doing these days to reach her audience? Now, that we have social media like websites and Facebook, and MySpace is on the rise again thanks to Justin Timberlake, that is how SHE is reaching out to get her fans to come to the theater.  
To my singer friends reading this blog, LaVon’s voice has not gone out in years. However, when it does, there is a disgusting tea that has red cherry bark, cayenne pepper, and horehound in it. Steep it with really hot water. Add honey for taste. That is the only redeemable favor in it. It is disgusting and painful but will bring the voice back. It will get one through the performance even if it is just for the night.
http://copiousnotes.typepad.com/weblog/
LaVon’s wish is that she could see more shows. She feels that even one is doing what they are doing and are good at, it is wonderful to go and watch other people do their craft. It is not only inspiring, but it kind of gives one ideas about what to do sometimes when they are struggling with what to do. It gets stored in the recesses of one’s idea and they will never know when it comes back to the forefront of their mind. Last year, LaVon was at Flat Rock Playhouse. The actor’s housing is out in the middle of nowhere. There are interns that have been there that have been there for months. They take classes there. LaVon went and took some of those classes. 
She wishes she could do that now! Being a mother of toddlers AND being on Broadway, it is difficult. When the time is right, she’s going back to class. Being in those classes at Flat Rock was so refreshing. There were so many things in those classes that she took for granted in grad school. She thought at first that it might be useless to her, but she saw right away how valuable it was. Maybe she shouldn’t have screwed around through grad school. 
Photographer: Jenny Anderson, © Broadway.com

Going to see more shows and taking more classes, maybe dance, or theater classes, she thinks all are helpful.
When LaVon gets a role, her first goal is to make the character real for her. Many times, as stated earlier, the age of the character is nowhere near LaVon’s age. 
If she sticks with that, there is a real disconnect, so she has to make the character real. Whatever she can do to make the character parallel with who she is becomes her biggest focus. After she gets the history of her character and determines how this character is to be played, she memorizes like crazy. She has to for her own peace of mind. She doesn’t desire the words to get in the way. If it is written in a way that she doesn’t normally speak, it drives her up the wall. She gets it memorized and completely in her body. She needs to know the words and the reason behind those words in her body and then she tries to tell a story. Even if it is a song, she makes it like a monologue so that SHE is telling a story. 
Motormouth Maybelle (Lavon Fisher-Wilson) sings the praises of Tracy Turnblad (Lillian Castillo) in Hairspray at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
Does she get her point across by the end? What are the three or four points inside of this song? How many ways are there to get those points across to her scene partner throughout the show?  Once she has all that, she has to remind herself PLEASE HAVE FUN! 
With Jarryd Wallace and LaVon Fisher-Wilson
Now that she has it that is the most important thing. Don’t over think it. Don’t stay in your head. She knows what she’s going to do. Let the director do their job and, once again, have fun!  
At the time of our interview, Streetcar Named Desire starring Blair Underwood had just closed. She regrets missing that. She felt like she needed to see that. She had hoped to see so many other shows over the next few months and then she got one of her own, the Broadway smash, Newsies!
LaVon’s favorite memory is being home in Louisville, Kentucky. She is singing The Greatest Love of All in the mirror with a hairbrush microphone and thinking that she was going to be a big star someday.
LaVon’s biggest fear is that she will lose the joy for what she does.  Things that come with life can get LaVon so down that she just desires to curl up in a corner somewhere and just sleep. Then, she gets to the theater for whatever she is doing, and that feeling and joy comes back that she has made it here. Leave your troubles at the door and BE and to have that love and that joy to just shine. It exudes through your face and out through her finger tips, and she thinks, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” If she didn’t have that to look forward to, she just doesn’t know what she would do.
With LaVon Fisher-Wilson and Jeff Kalpak
I agree about LaVon! I look forward to seeing her soon in Newsies!  

Thank you LaVon Fisher-Wilson for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,


Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!

I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  
If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!



If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
               
My next blog will be... My Exclusive interview with Producer Manny Kladitis on the 1994 Tour and 1995 Broadway Revival of Hello, Dolly starring Carol Channing.

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


  
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Come here me sing Saturday night for a great cause!









(doors open at 6:00)

Starring (multiple Tony, MAC and Bistro Award Winners): *
Dana Lorge, co-host
Sidney Myer, co-host
Celia Berk
Emily Buttner
Len Cariou (SWEENEY TODD, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, BLUE BLOODS)
Edd Clark
Carole Demas 
(GREASE -- original Sandy, THE MAGIC GARDEN)
Rich Flanders
Joanna Morton Gary
Steve Herbst
Sue Matsuki
Sarah Rice (SWEENEY TODD)
*Richard Skipper
JoAnn Yeoman

OTHER PERFORMERS TBA! 

JoAnn Yeoman, director
Kathleen Conry, Stage Manager
Juliana Meehan, Asst. Dir.

Mark Janas, Piano
Steve Saari, Piano
Matthew Martin Ward, Piano
Eve Weiss, Classical Guitar
Amy Ralske, Cello
Jonathan Russell, Jazz Violin
Jim Russell, Recorder

*Artists subject to change without notice.


407 W 42nd Street
(between 9th and 10th Ave.)
NYC, NY

RESERVATIONS: 212.695.6909

TKTS via OvationTix.com
OvationTix by phone 866-811-4111



$50 / $25 cover
+ $15 Food and/or Beverage Min.
Doors open 1 hour prior to show

Tkts may also be purchased at:
PETQUA
Broadway bet. 98th & 99th Street, NYC, NY

cover: $50 VIP gold circle-$25 general seating / $15 food/drink min. not included-- they have really great food!
Children are welcome.

This evening's cabaret extravaganza by some of Broadway and Cabaret's finest performers will be a party mix of enchanting music, guaranteed to touch the heart and delight the spirit to help this wonderful animal rescue organization, Zanis Furry Friendsa tax deductible organization, 501c3.

This incredible group rescues dogs, cats and bunnies right out of the euthanasia rooms of the city's animal shelters,  gives them medical care, kindness and loving attention and gets them adopted into loving homes through their own tremendous effort and many times paid for out of their own personal pocketbooks. 
We feel it is an honor to be of some help. 100% of the money from the evening's proceedings (cover charge, raffle, journal) will go to Zani's Furry Friends. 

Please help us pack the room. Buy your tickets early through OvationTix. This will guarantee you get in. Tell your friends.

If you can't come to the performance you can still make a donation www.ZanisFurryFriends.com.

The Laurie Beechman Theatre and Phil Geoffrey Bond have generously donated the full proceeds (100%!!!!) of the cover charge to all go to Zani's Furry Friends. (not including the food/drink charges)

A great way to feel good about the upcoming holidays! Help the unloved and the dumped, find love, safety and kindness.

Prizes! Raffles! for some great stuff! 
Specialty drinks: THE MEOWTINI, THE BARKTAIL and 2 non alcoholic drinks: THE ARISTOCAT and THE TRAMP.

Immerse yourself in the thrilling beauty of these naturally gorgeous, powerful, warm voices at that hot spot, The Laurie Beechman Theater at the West Bank Cafe, one of the best  of cabaret/supper club spaces. BCD concerts have been called "Life-affirming", "show-stopping", "Like Babette's feast for the ear" by reviewers and audience members lucky enough to have seen our previous performances. Don't miss out on this heartbreakingly beautiful and thrilling concert.

For more information visit our web site

Seating is limited and filling up fast, so be sure to buy your tickets early for this exciting event. At the last ZFF benefit concert we had to turn so many people away who wanted to be there and to help support ZFF. Don't be left out.



TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

 
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!  





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