Following on from my recent and (so I am told) viral mega-hit interview with the incomparable Suzie Mathers – next up, I wanted to try and give you all a glimpse inside the mind of a wonderful man and a wonderful actor; our outgoing Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mr. Jay Laga’aia.
Jay joined our company in 2013 for our tour re-launch, opening with us in Auckland, New Zealand. Even from early on, it was clear that Jay was a big man, with an even bigger heart. He hit the ground running in rehearsal, finding his Wizard through much play, thought and character exploration.
His incredibly varied and versatile career history is enviable to anyone aiming to pursue a long-term career in the entertainment industry. There’s no point listing credits, as his professional reputation precedes him, though what I feel most blessed to have experienced is the man himself – Jay as a person. He has a truly infectious energy and brings a warm, passionate vibe wherever he goes – whether that be personified through the music he is always playing or, perhaps even, though the many cupcakes of every flavour (and gluten tolerance level) he commonly brings…he is a life and love lover!
As we finish our final weekend here in Manila, grab a cuppa and take a moment to read what Jay has to say about his own emerald journey.
The pleasure, Mr. Laga’aia has been entirely ours – and here’s to much luck as you continue your adventures down your own personal road-of-yellow-brick…
What do you think it is about WICKED that people love so much? Are you still swept away with the magic yourself in a particular way?
I think the secret to the success of WICKED is that it has an unusual storytelling narrative. You start at the end – where Glinda narrates much of what has happened – then we cut to a flash back sequence that then pushes back to now- to present the past with the school yard scene. It allows the audience to choose a character to barrack for and then gives you permission to change your mind as the show slowly unfolds.
It deals with tough subjects and it is always truthful in the brutal answers it reveals. I am very honored to part of a wonderful mouthpiece.
Talk to me a little about your character, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz… what do you see are his strengths and weaknesses, his hopes and dreams?
I wanted to approach the Wizard differently. I wanted to present a man, who had chosen a path that he clearly wasn’t suited for. A terrible ‘snake oil salesman’ who happened to land in Oz and has scammed his way ever since. His strength comes from his conviction to create such a metropolis and to also keep coming up with slight of hand tricks to keep the local population always guessing. His weakness is knowing he will be found out. I wanted him to have real emotions so that the audience could relate to the character. I never thought the Wizard was bad, just misguided, ambitious and greedy and in the end he becomes just a man; broken because the only true thing he ever said, was that he always wanted to be a father.
What was your favourite memory from the Auckland season?
Seeing the reaction to the show from friends, family and fellow performers! It was very cool and I took the kudos by proxy. Ha!
Do you have a particularly special Manila moment so far?
It has to be the people. The ones outside and the ones inside. The dressers and crew are so obliging and wonderful and the audience should teach the ones back home how to vote with their feet. Standing ovations every night.
What was it like performing this iconic role for the incredible composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz not once, but TWICE?
I am always nervous performing for a creative only because you take a leap of faith and chose a direction that you think your character will stand a better chance surviving. You take the course changes from your M.D’s (Musical Director) and Directors but ultimately it is you, the performer, who has to breath a new life into that top hat. I was pleased to have him, once again, heap praise on this show because it’s true.
What do you find the most challenging thing about the show is for you personally?
I wish I could actually voice the song in the beginning flash back sequence, because I hate having to wait almost an hour before I enter (when everyone else is already onstage!). I get nervous because everyone else has laid the platform for a solid first half and I need to make sure I don’t screw that up. It’s a hard knock life for us!
If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming performers, what would it be?
If you want to be famous, you will not last in this industry. What we do here is a job and you will love it and hate it and get sick of it and then miss it, but you will always crave it. It is a gift because we raise people’s spirits and make them forget their troubles for 3 hours. We need to remember that and never take what we do for granted.
If you weren’t a performer – what else could you see yourself doing?
I would probably be working with kids, developing a teaching aid for literacy. I would specialize in teaching parents who speak English as a second language how to read to their children. Or b
e a superhero…
Any pre show rituals or traditions?
I never put on my gloves and goggles for my opening scene until the cast have sung ‘One Short Day’. I have even told my dresser Robert, not to touch anything until the song starts.
I also always do the entire ‘Wonderful’ scene behind the stage during the Governor’s Mansion scene with Elphaba, Nessa and Boq is happening.
And finally – what are you most grateful for?
That I have the freedom to love, work and play wherever the ethos takes me.