Five Burning Questions with Wicked Star Kevin Chamberlin
November 1st, 2018
by Josh Ferri
Three-time Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin (Dirty Blonde, Seussical, and The Addams Family) stars as the wonderful Wizard of Oz in the 15th anniversary cast of Wicked. As part of our #Wicked15 week, BroadwayBox caught up with Kevin to discuss his long relationship with Wicked and The Wizard of Oz, advice to students playing in Uncle Fester & Horton, and the biggest perk of being a Disney TV star.
1. What do you enjoy most about this gig and life in Oz right now?
Oh well, I've been such a fan of the show for so long that to actually do it is even more fun, I would say. I was a fan of the show when I first saw it in 2003. I had a lot of friends in it. I'm very tight with Kristin [Chenoweth], Chris Fitzgerald, and Norbert. I was blown away by it. Then I moved to LA and would listen to it constantly—on the aerobics machine, I'd be lip syncing to “Popular” and “One Short Day” and “Defying Gravity”.
Strangely enough, during the first readings, Joe [Mantello, director] asked me to read for The Wizard and I couldn't do it. I was going to LA, so it feels sort of inevitable that I’m here now.
2. Being a part of this milestone anniversary cast feels very special. Where do you start with The Wizard to make him your own and give him Kevin Chamberlin's Wizard?
I think my biggest inspiration was the books and the movie. Frank Morgan [the 1939 film Wizard] had a mustache [as Professor Marvel], and I loved that. It adds to the sham salesman part of him that's a little oily. He's a lot of, "look at the shiny thing while I do this underneath," and I love that. That's my take on him. There are a lot of great moments where you can do that in Wicked. I wanted to be as sweet and Midwestern as possible, and then have a tiny little dark side, too.
3. What did The Wizard of Oz mean to you growing up? What does it represent to you now?
Every Easter, it was on CBS. It was an event. I knew exactly where the commercial breaks would be. This was before you could pause your TV. The first commercial break was right after she left Frank Morgan before the cyclone. And you'd be always like, "Ugh. When is the tornado gonna hit?!" It scared the hell out of me, when I was a little kid—the monkeys, especially, were terrifying.
Now, it's so iconic. As a gay man, it's such a huge, huge movie, and Judy Garland is so iconic in it. She was actually doing a different kind of acting style than anyone had ever seen before. She was really naturalistic for that time. I loved her performance in it, but also, my favorite is Bert Lahr. He's one of my icons. It's like Bert Lahr and Ned Beatty.
4. With Seussical and The Addams Family being two of the most-produced musicals in high schools throughout America, what advice do you have for all those young Uncle Festers and Horton the Elephants out there?
I get an invite once a week, and sometimes I'll go. It's really fascinating, because everyone does it differently. They're both iconic characters. You have to play against that and be as real and truthful under the imaginary circumstances that you're put in. Fester is full of love and purely childlike.
They're actually very similar in that they're incredibly childlike, both Fester and Horton. That's sort of the roles I gravitate towards: simple, childlike and full of joy. I always joke, when I teach, that the name of my autobiography is going to be Find the Joy.
Less is more. One of the things I talk about when I teach is that knowledge is power. There are a lot of dumb actors out there. Don't be one of them. Do the research. Go and read the Seuss books. Read the early ones. Read his biography. Learn why he told the story. Why did Dr. Seuss come up with the character of Horton? What was he talking about? A lot of people give Horton Hatches an Egg as a gift to a family who's adopting a child. It's a beautiful story. He has some really wonderful political stuff. Each of his books had a metaphor. That's why they've lasted as long as they have. Horton Hears a Who is an obvious metaphor for the people who aren't being heard. That actually goes back to Wicked. The whole Animal subplot of those people who are losing their voice, that aren't being heard. They're actually losing the power to speak.
5. For four seasons you were Bertram, the butler, on Disney’s TV series Jessie. What’s the best perk about being on a Disney show?
You get free passes to the parks and you get to bring ten friends. And you get a guide. You don't have to wait in line. Then, each season you get more passes. By the last time, I was running out of time. I was like, "I gotta use these passes before my contract's up!" I remember at Christmas time, I brought a lot of people. Christmas time is really packed at Disneyland, and there was so much guilt as you see these hours-long wait lines, and we're all just strolling onto the ride. But now I'm spoiled. It was the best job and it changed my life in such a surreal and wonderful way.
Don't miss Kevin Chamberlin as The Wizard in 'Wicked' at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre.