DIVA TALK: Chatting With Newsies Star LaVon Fisher-Wilson

By Andrew Gans
14 Jun 2013

Question: How did Newsies come about for you?
Fisher-Wilson: I got a call from Jeff Kalpak, who ended up being my mentor. He was the one who when I came to New York …told me, "Oh, you'll be on Broadway in a year." So he called me and said he knew a friend of a friend who told him that the role of Medda Larkin was going to be available soon. And he said, "I don't know if you're interested, but I think you'd be perfect for the role." All of a sudden my manager called and said, "The Medda Larkin role is going to be available, so do you want me to submit you for that?" And then it was crazy because different people called me and said, "Oh my God, you'd be perfect for this!" [Laughs.] So I felt I got some good energy from different parts of the theatre community telling me to be seen for this. So I did get an appointment last August, and I went in for it, and I hadn't seen Newsies at all. So I just interpreted what was in the script that they gave me. I got there, and I did it and Jeff [Calhoun], the director, laughed out loud. He just thought it was hilarious. And he said, "Okay, this is what I want you to do." So we changed the song and made it so it would be a belted song because I'm a belter, and he said, "Work on that." So a part of me knew that if he said, "Work on that," [that I was probably going to get] a callback. Like an hour later, I got a call from Telsey [Casting] saying, "You got a callback in a couple days and we want you to go see the show tonight because it's obvious you haven't seen it." I thought the little boy in my scene – instead of looking at the Bowery Beauty's legs, I thought he was looking at my legs! So it was a little more seductive than the original Medda. [Laughs.] But it was something that they liked, so I went in and saw that she was very much more of a lady, a little more pulled up, and I changed the outfit that I auditioned with, and I was a little more conservative.… And I changed it around a bit and I think the day after my callback, I got a call that I had gotten it, and that was just a dream come true!

LaVon Fisher-Wilson in Newsies
photo by Heidi Gutman

Question: How would you describe Medda now that you've played her for a while?
Fisher-Wilson: She is a mother to the Newsies. She provides that type of nurturing. She's not a mother, by any means, but that's what her role is. They come to her for safety, they come to her to be able to rally, and she stands up for them because she probably was an orphan herself and [went] from being an orphan to having her own business in 1899. So she knows what they're going through and wants to be that person that maybe she didn't have, that protector. At the same time, she's sassy and brassy, and she doesn't take any mess. [Laughs.] And, she's a performer, so she has her times when she kind of snaps them back and goes, "Wait a minute, this is what you need to be doing," and those times when she is "on," the way we're on when the spotlight hits us — it's a different kind of persona.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her, anything you particularly look forward to?
Fisher-Wilson: Yes, I do. We call this my "sass moment." There's a little break in the song, and I do kind of like an audience-participation thing where I pick a guy in the audience that I'm describing in the song and I say, "Hey baby, I'm talking about you." And I have this moment with whatever audience member that is in what I call "The Sass Seat." It's so cute because I've had so many funny things happen. I've had the men look at me and not realize that I'm talking about them and just turn totally white. I've had them go, "Yes, sing to me!" And then I have men who have come with their wives who are asleep in that seat. And so the wife is like, "Wake up, you're in the show," and everyone around them is just dying. [Laughs.] So it's this moment where I get to connect to the audience and an audience member and I get to sing to him, and that's really fun for everyone around him. At the end of the show, I always give him a thumbs up like, "You did really well! You hung in there!" [Laughs.] He's always beaming at the end of the show. I love to just connect with my audience to let them know I'm not just singing above their heads. I'm speakin' to ya!

 Continued...