This week I took some time to sit down with actor Craig Waldrip (left), who plays the lead in I Am Harvey Milk, the centerpiece of our upcoming concert, Singing Out Proud: From ABBA to GAGA. Here’s the transcript of our online chat:
KR: I first saw you in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at Actor’s Express. When I heard the music for I Am Harvey Milk, I thought of you first — the right voice, the right acting chops. I was very honored that you said yes. You’ve been acting much of your life, but this your first venture into what the AGMC calls “choral theatre”. What interests you most about the project?
CW: The music is stunning. It is as theatrical as anything in musical theatre, but with the added grandeur of the chorus. Even in a large musical there are usually less than 30 people. When I was in the rehearsal hall and heard the wall of sound…I can’t even really describe it. Just pure majesty.
KR: What other work of Lippa’s do you know? Do you have any favorites?
CW: I am very familiar with Lippa’s music, but I’ve never had the opportunity to perform any of it. My favorite show is The Wild Party. I’m also excited about the upcoming Big Fish. The novel and film are favorites, and the clips I’ve seen online look great!
KR: Andrew is hard at work on revisions for Big Fish as it heads to Broadway — something he wasn’t sure about when he started I Am Harvey Milk. That being the case, there is one big element of our production that’s hanging in the balance. Care to tell everyone what that is and how you’re feeling about it?
CW: It’s a movement called “The Lavender Pen”, which hasn’t been completed yet. I’m excited to get to work on this last piece of the puzzle, but there is still enough work to do on the rest of the piece that I’m not sweating it…but ask me next week! Actually, it’s a bit of a luxury to have this length of rehearsal time. Usually, with a musical, we have a three week rehearsal period to learn all the music, dialogue, choreography and staging.
KR: Of course we’re confident that this solo for Harvey will be written in time, mainly because Andrew himself is singing it in the world premiere with the San Francisco Chorus just two nights before ours. How do you feel about being the first actor other than Andrew to play the role?
CW: Giddy. I’ve never had the chance to work on such new material, so I feel real freedom to create. When you do a musical like “Oklahoma!” with 70 years of history and recordings and movies, you can easily feel hemmed in. This is so different: you get to communicate with an audience through music they’ve never heard before – in any context!
AGMC presents SINGING OUT PROUD: FROM ABBA TO GAGA, JUNE 28, 29. Click here for tickets.
KR: You mention communication. I’ll skip the ubiquitous and elusive question about how you prepare for a role, but I will ask, what is your process for communicating the text of a song? The lyric?
CW: When the writing is good, and Mr. Lippa’s is quite good, the music and lyrics are inextricable. The notes and rhythms really inform the text on every level. Part of my process, though, is stepping back and making sure the choices I make are clear and rooted in the character’s objective, as opposed to emotional reaction to the song.
KR: Very smart. So how much did you know about Harvey before embarking on this project? What has intrigued you most about him?
CW: I had seen the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, and of course the movie Milk with Sean Penn. They are both fascinating, and it’s hard not to admire the strength and audacity of this man. What intrigues me, particularly as an actor, is how a person gets to a certain point in their life. Who was Harvey as a child? What was his early home life like? These are things that, for me at least, figure largely in this piece.
KR: Have you found a lot of published material about his early life? It seems like most of what’s written about him are those very short eleven months in office, which is what Lippa focuses on as well.
CW: I’ve read a few interviews with people that knew him, neighbors and the like. I’ve tried not to get too wrapped up in the concrete, factual aspects of this, though. The piece is not really a linear biography; it takes liberties with time and place in a kind of dreamlike way. To me, that’s part of what makes it so lovely. The character is Harvey Milk, but he could be any one of us. Anyone who yearns for love, change, acceptance, beauty, truth.
KR: So this is a big week as we stage the piece and have our first run-through. You haven’t met your co-stars yet: Melissa Arasi, who sings the soprano roles, and Sam Greene who plays Young Harvey. Are you excited to take this next big step?
CW: Are you kidding?!?!?!? I am so excited. It’s a little like the first day of school, you know? Newly sharpened pencils and all. As I’ve been working on the material, I’ve been adding the other singers in in my mind. But when they are actually in the room, the magic they bring is always so much better than anything you ever imagine.
AGMC confirmed today that State Representative Karla Drenner will be serving on the panel discussion following at least one performance of SINGING OUT PROUD. Harvey’s great-nephew, Erik Milk, will be present at all panel discussions. Check the blog for a detailed list when panelists are finalized.
KR: So in closing, I’m sure you’ve considered the timing of this concert – the Supreme Court could rule on Prop 8 the very week – even the very day of a performance. What comes to mind as you think about the ruling going either way?
CW: I hope everyone is able to put a human face to the issue. A friend, neighbor, coworker, relative. This is so important and historic. And who wants to be on the wrong side of history?
KR: And I think that’s how Harvey would see it. As he said, and as Lippa quotes, “Come out to your friends, to your neighbors, to the teachers…” Beautifully said. Craig, thank you for this time. We always like to give people who read the blog a little insight into conversations behind the scenes. We really appreciate it!
CW: Of course, any time!
Craig Waldrip previously appeared at Actor’s Express as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Suzi Bass Award nomination), Janitor/Reporter in See What I Wanna See (Suzi Bass Award winner) and Thalia in Xanadu. Craig has worked with many local theatres including Alliance Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Dad’s Garage, Atlanta Lyric Theatre, ArtStation, Jewish Theatre of the South, Theatre Gael and Stage Door Players. Some of his favorite roles include the Emcee in Cabaret, Anthony in Sweeney Todd, John Hinckley in Assassins, Tony in West Side Story and Dr. Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.
Kevin Robison, Artistic Director