BY CARY GINELL
Paul Wong made his Ventura County theater debut in 2013 as Hysterium in Panic! Productions’ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A Los Angeles-based actor, Wong got his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in drama from UCLA. His theater career started at UC Davis, where he did two shows; he also performed while he was a medical student at UCLA. In addition to his acting, he is developing a one-man cabaret show titled Simply Singing Sondheim…Almost, an autobiographical piece that uses primarily songs written by Stephen Sondheim. In February, Wong worked on the Musical Theatre Guild stage reading of the 1954 musical The Golden Apple. We talked with him then about that show and about the art of performing in stage readings.
VCOS: Tell me what you knew about The Golden Apple.
PAUL: It’s a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but set in Washington state in the early twentieth century. It’s a mish-mash of lots of different musical styles. I understand that it was the first all through-sung musical, which, at the time, was ground-breaking and definitely not something people were used to.
VCOS: Do you like doing readings and do you like doing shows like this that are unheralded?
PAUL: Yes, absolutely, because where else are you going to do something like that? I do like readings, though. Initially it was because there is usually shorter time commitment, and with my day job, it is sometimes hard to devote long periods of time to a show. Since I sight-read music and have perfect pitch, this kind of music is easy for me. So it was kind of a good match. I do like seeing things that are unfamiliar because we all know the Oklahoma!s and all that sort of stuff, which are great, too, but to have a chance to do stuff that is unusual is intriguing. At the Academy for New Musical Theatre, we do readings all the time because it is an academy for music theater writing, but because they have new stuff coming out all the time, they need a stable of actors to call upon to do their readings.
VCOS: Since you’re doing a reading with no props, costumes, blocking, do you feel that this frees you up to do more with your part?
PAUL: I don’t know about that. On the other hand, you have less time to fully explore your character. So it kind of cuts both ways. It’s more freeing in the sense that you have less expectations. You just dive in, do the best you can, and whatever happens, happens. So perhaps that is a little more freeing.
VCOS: Do you take more risks?
PAUL: Yeah, perhaps, because since you don’t have time to explore, you just dive in and decide to do it. For shows like The Golden Apple, the ensemble has the hardest job because there is a lot of intricate choral harmony stuff so the chorus has the burden of the music.
VCOS: How much rehearsal do you get?
PAUL: I think the maximum for the contract is 29 hours total. I was looking at the schedule and the ensemble has about four hours of music rehearsal. Then there’s the blocking, which takes up 12-13 hours, where you throw the whole show together. But it’s all on-book so you pick it up quickly and it’s not a big deal for me.
VCOS: You mentioned another reading for ANMT you were working on. Can you tell me about that?
PAUL: That’s called Fentor, whose name comes from the youngest child in the show. It’s an original show. I play the father of an Asian-American family, who has three children aged 10, 14, & 19. The mother has died the year before, which has thrown the family into disarray. The oldest daughter is off to her first year of college and her father is trying to hold it together at home. The youngest son seems to have gotten the worst of it. He’s totally withdrawn, doesn’t even speak anymore, and kind of runs off to hide by himself, so the family has to corral him and bring him back. The middle son, who is 14, texts the older daughter, saying “Dad’s losing it. We need you to come back and help out because things are falling apart.” So she comes back home, but the father wants her to get her education and live her life. So he decides to hire some outside help, a woman, and he actually ends up marrying her very quickly, much to the consternation of the children. So it’s basically about this broken family and how they wind up trying to rebuild their relationships.
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