BY CARY GINELL
A week from tomorrow, Noelle Marion will be appearing as Kim McAfee in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Bye, Bye Birdie. Last week, we talked to Noelle about her career, which took her to Hong Kong last year for six months, as well as her future plans.
VCOS: Tell me about your trip to Hong Kong and how that came about.
NOELLE: Yeah, who would have ever seen that coming? It came about just like any other project that I’ve been involved in. I got an email from my agent about an audition for Hong Kong Disneyland and I said, all right, I’ll go. I didn’t necessarily expect anything from it but I felt good about the audition and they said, OK, we’ll let you know in a couple of months. Well, you forget about that. After you do your audition, you kind of leave it in the room. At the time, I was living down in San Diego doing Inga in Young Frankenstein at the Moonlight and had completely forgotten about that Disney audition. Then I got the call from my agent and I ended up getting it.
I spent six months there, from October of last year until the end of this past March. The show was called The Golden Mickeys and if you’re familiar with Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland or any of those on-stage cabarets that they do at the park, that’s essentially what it was. It’s a half-hour compilation of a variety of different Disney shows, with little snippets of Toy Story, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Little Mermaid, Lilo & Stitch, and Mulan. I played Belle in the Beauty and the Beast section, but I also played different little roles throughout. The Golden Mickeys is kind of an awards show where they give out awards for different categories. I played an usher in the opening scene and one of Jessie’s dancers in the Toy Story number. Then, somehow, I made it into the Mulan number, playing a male Asian soldier. When I played Belle, I sang a short snippet of “Something There” and then did a dance with the Beast. Then that went into the finale.
VCOS: Where did you live while you were over there?
NOELLE: Disney provided housing for us there. The park is on Lantau Island and there’s not much there so we lived about forty-five minutes away from work in Tin Shui, which is in the New Territories. They provided a bus every day to and from the park. We lived in the Harbor Plaza Resort City, which is actually part of a larger hotel. There were a number of people from Mainland China who would visit, so the elevators were pretty crowded, to say the least. It did give me a chance to see a different part of Hong Kong. The central area had the busiest locations. It’s really different out in Tin Shui. Less people speak English there so you really get a different idea of the culture.
VCOS: How were your audiences?
NOELLE: I was always surprised. The theater seated about 2,000 people and it was pretty much full for every single show. They were very appreciative and so excited. When the kids saw me come out in my Belle costume, their little faces would just light up because they’re seeing their “hero” up there and that’s really special to see, knowing that you’re creating that magic for that little child.
VCOS: Did you ever get to talk to any of the kids?
NOELLE: No, because our show was strictly on stage. Once the curtain went down, we went back into the green room and had no interaction with the audience at all.
VCOS: What did you take away from that experience?
NOELLE: Being there, I got to meet people from all walks of life. Our cast was comprised of what they called the “ex-pats,” people who were not from the Hong Kong area or even from Asia. Most were either American or Australian. We had a number of Australians in the cast as well so I got to learn about Australian culture, Chinese culture, obviously, and there were also a number of my cast mates who came from the Philippines. The most amazing thing that I took away from it is that regardless of where you grew up, how you grew up, what kind of language you speak, where you’re living now, that you can still find common ground and that you can relate to one another and share what it is to be human. It sounds kind of naive but until you really get there, you don’t realize how similar everybody is, regardless of all the differences. And just to meet amazing people, REALLY amazing people and experience a different culture is pretty incredible.
VCOS: Did you learn much of the language?
NOELLE: Sure. Many people spoke some English but there were many who spoke very little at all. With the people I worked with there were more funny phrases. Everybody could speak some English but sometimes the way they would express things would be different than how you would express it. Whenever you got in a cab, you were risking your life – not really, but sometimes you couldn’t explain where you wanted to go. I don’t speak Cantonese, and oftentimes the cab drivers didn’t speak very good English, so you were at the mercy of them to figure it out or you had to quickly get on your phone and try to translate something. The most that I could say was “take me to Harbor Plaza Resort City” in Chinese. I’d go to Google translators and think I’m doing a really good job, but it gets all jumbled!
VCOS: Have you played your dream role yet?
NOELLE: One of my dream roles is Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady because that has been my dream role since I was a child. But I’d love to work on a new musical, play, or TV show to create a role. I would love to do that. I’ll cross my fingers that that will be in the cards some day.
VCOS: Do you intend on staying in Southern California?
NOELLE: After Birdie closes, I’m going to go to New York for two months to audition, see how it feels, and see what life might be like over there. I’ll be there until mid-October and then I’m coming back to do The Winter Wonderettes at the Welk. From there, it’s kind of open. If the trip to New York goes well and I can see myself being there and living there, then I’ll make the move again come January and make it more official. I love New York. I went there recently with my sister, just on vacation, and I just love it there. There’s such an excitement and it’s full of opportunities. I’ve lived in California primarily for my whole life with a couple of exceptions – leaving the country to do The Golden Mickeys, for example – so I think it might be time for a change.
VCOS: Here’s a great “what-if” question: if you were to play someone in a biopic or musical biography, who would it be?
NOELLE: Wow. That’s a tough one. I have so many dualities to my personality. I would love to play Grace Kelly, but then, she’s NOT FUNNY, so then I’d like to play someone who’s funny – definitely an old celebrity like Gracie Allen, but I don’t look a thing like her!
VCOS: I think Gertrude Lawrence would be a good challenge for you.
NOELLE: Ooooh! That’s a good one! Interesting! Well, from your mouth to whatever producer’s ears! (laughs).
In our next installment, Noelle talks about playing Kim McAfee in Bye, Bye Birdie