By Andrew Gans
14 Jun 2013
Singing actress LaVon Fisher-Wilson, who made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, is currently starring in the hit Disney musical Newsies at the Nederlander Theatre. The big-voiced Fisher-Wilson plays the big-hearted Medda in the Harvey Fierstein-Alan Menken-Jack Feldman musical based on the film of the same name. Motherly roles seem to be in fashion for the multi-talented artist, who will be seen as Big Mama in the upcoming Disney Channel musical "Teen Beach Movie" this July and as Mama Mazing in a reading of the new superhero-themed musical Chix6. Fisher-Wilson, whose Broadway resume also boasts the Tony-winning revival of Chicago and the new musical Lysistrata Jones, is also the mom of two young boys, Darrell and Darrien. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with the good-natured Newsies star, who spoke with humor about her many motherly roles; that interview follows.
Question: Since we haven't spoken before, can you tell me where you were born and raised?
Lavon Fisher-Wilson: I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.
Question: When did you start performing?
Fisher-Wilson: I went to a performing arts high school they have there. That's when I did Dreamgirls, and it was the first time I'd ever done any musical theatre because up until that point I wanted to be Whitney Houston. So that performing arts high school, The Performing Arts School of Louisville, introduced me to musical theatre.
Fisher-Wilson: At that age just Whitney Houston. Then when I went to performing arts school, the first thing we learned was opera. I was big on Leontyne Pryce and wanting to listen to all of her recordings. And then, like I said, I got into musical theatre, and it became about Jennifer Holliday, and it just opened me up to the world of musical theatre.
Question: When do you think performing changed from a hobby to when you knew it was going to be your career?
Fisher-Wilson: I went to college, [but] I still hadn't decided. I went to Millikin University for musical theatre. They could tell that I wasn't disciplined because I really didn't know much about musical theatre. I was showing up late for rehearsals or classes — or dance class, I might not have had the right thing on — and they sat me down and said what is required for this career and that I had to decide "whether you're going to be in or not be in it. But if you're going to be in it, you're going to have to have the discipline. You're going to show up ten minutes before class because showing up on time is late. You have to have the proper clothing on. You have to study and do your general education classes." And, it really woke me up, and they literally, for a semester, had me showing them that I was going to show up and have that discipline.
Question: What was your first professional production?
Fisher-Wilson: My first professional production was Beehive The Sixties Musical — I performed it at the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville, FL, and that's when I think I got my Equity Card actually, that performance.
Question: When did you get to New York?
Fisher-Wilson: I had a whole journey of doing a lot of regional theatre, a lot of co-productions, and I arrived in New York City in 2004. I played Mama Morton in Chicago, but it was an industrial of Chicago that was going to China! So I came here just to do an industrial of Chicago. It was strange because when I auditioned for the Broadway show of Chicago and got in, she said, "You look like you've done this before," and I said, "I did — in China!" [Laughs.]
Question: What was your Broadway debut?
Fisher-Wilson: My Broadway debut was The Color Purple [in 2006].
Question: Do you remember your first night on Broadway and how it was different or lived up to what you expected it to be?
Fisher-Wilson: Oh yes. As soon as I was hired in September, I rehearsed for a month and then I went in in October. I swung out five women in the show, so as soon as they knew I could do it, everybody went on vacation! [Laughs.] Every week I had a new role from someone that went on vacation, and I remember it just feeling like nothing else in the world. When you're in productions in high school, it's just a whole other feeling. I can't even describe it! You're sick to your stomach, with butterflies, but you just kind of illuminate all over and you don't want to be anywhere else.
Question: What was that like doing so many different roles in a short period of time?
Fisher-Wilson: It was very scary, it was very, very scary, but fortunately I had done a couple of regional theatre shows where I covered or was a standby for a couple of roles, so I had done that before. I think I did The Alberta Hunter story, and I played Alberta Hunter, the very young Alberta Hunter, and the other character was the older Alberta Hunter, who's the narrator. And I swung out for both those parts. So stuff like that kind of prepared me to jump into those different roles. I also did theme parks when I first got out of high school, Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, where we had to jump into different roles whenever people didn't show up for work. You had to add a song or jump into someone else's role, so I was kind of prepared for that. Oh gosh, it's another animal with Broadway because – one [person you're stepping in for] was an alto, one was a second, one was a soprano, one was a big belter, one was … So you had to really remember which one you were singing, and many times I was on for the gossips, the three Church Ladies. And, a couple of times I went on and two of us were singing the same note. I'm like, "Oops, that's not the note I'm supposed to sing today — oops!" [Laughs.] You kind of eased into the other part of the harmony, so I learned to be flexible.