CUE & A: The Lion King’s “Mufasa,” Alton Fitzgerald White
by Matthew Blank
June 24, 2013
Alton Fitzgerald White, back on Broadway as King Mufasa in The Lion King, fills out Playbill.com’s questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Full given name:
My full birth name is Alton Fitzgerald White. To this day, people still ask me if I made it up! Lol! My mother’s favorite person was her grandfather, Alton Copeland, and Fitzgerald comes from John Fitzgerald Kennedy, her favorite president at the time.
Where you were born/where you were raised:
I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I am very much an ARIES!!!
What your parents did/do for a living:
My mother is a retired housekeeper and my father was a janitor. Wonderful, hardworking Mid-Western folk. It is from them that I get my discipline, integrity and strong work ethic!
My siblings are Gloria, James, Marcia, Paula, Anna and Darlene. I am the only artist in the family and the youngest of seven children, so it’s no wonder that I am in showbiz, if not for the attention alone (lol)! They are all extremely proud and have always been very supportive, even when they didn’t quite understand what I was “doing with my life.” It takes a lot of patience and understanding on both parts to try and explain the pursuit of the arts and the sacrifices that artists “willingly” make, to those who are not in show business. To me, any success that I have had or will have, is theirs as well.
Current audition song/monologue:
“Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime and “Rain” from Once on This Island.
I haven’t done it in many years, but can I still tap dance.
Something you’re REALLY bad at:
First Broadway show you ever saw:
Black and Blue at the Minskoff Theatre
Did you have any particular mentors or inspirations when first starting out?
Andre De Shields, Sammy Davis Jr., Hinton Battle, Gregg Burge, Gregory Hines, Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett.
If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be?
The original cast of Dreamgirls
Current show other than your own you have been recommending to friends:
Favorite showtune(s) of all time:
Two of my audition songs: “It’s a Deal” from Raisin and “Soliloquy” from Carousel
Some favorite modern musicals:
Next to Normal and Passing Strange
Some favorite classic musicals:
The King and I and The Wiz
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:
Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett
Your personal vocal idols, living or dead:
Johnny Mathis, Jeffrey Osbourne, Peabo Bryson, Seal
The one performance – attended – that you will never forget:
I think that Passing Strange was so BRILLIANT, that I could have seen it again, right after the bows!!!
Music that makes you cry or moves you, any genre:
Anything with lots of strings. Also, the sound of the oboe and the English horn cut straight to my heart.
MAC or PC?
Most played song on your iPod:
“Jump” by Madonna. The overall message of the song reminds me to always keep fear away and to keep faith intact. It’s also a great work-out motivator!
Playbill.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com and AltonFitzgeraldWhite.com
Last book you read:
“Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz
Must-see TV show(s):
“Super Soul Sunday” on OWN, “Modern Family,” “Scandal,” Suze Orman, “Selling New York” on HGTV, “The Mindy Project”
Last good movie you saw:
Some films you consider classics:
“The Wizard of Oz” and “The Wiz”
Performer you would drop everything to go see:
Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell
Pop culture guilty pleasure:
Three favorite cities:
New York City, Paris, London
Tennis. Venus and Serena Williams!
First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
The Dreamgirls cast album
When you first realized you could sing:
It was in the church choir. I was very very shy as a kid and only ever sang along with the radio, by myself in my room, so no one knew that I could sing. I loved the sensation of singing but had no clue as to how I sounded and I never imagined ever being brave enough to sing in front of anyone, outside of my daydreams. I joined my church choir because I loved the music. Everyone in the choir was given a solo, but every time it rolled around to me, I made excuses and declined. After about a year, the choir director got tired of my excuses and promised the she would give me the easiest song there was. Even then, I would still wait until everyone left, to rehearse with just the two of us. It still took a few weeks before I would sing it in front of the choir. I was so afraid of being embarrassed! Finally the morning came for me to sing. I looked at the ceiling throughout most of the song, shaking like a leaf. After service, members of the congregation came up to me smiling like crazy and describing the “quality of my voice.” I had no idea what they were talking about! I just thought, “Wow, GOD gave me something that seems to make people so happy and I all I have to do is not be afraid to share it in front of people.” It still feels like a miracle that I have made a living doing it for all of these years. I am Grateful!!!
First stage kiss:
I got to kiss the actress who played Deena when I played Curtis Taylor Jr. in Dreamgirls at The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Chicago. It was also my first Equity principal role.
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager:
Being cast as The King in The King and I, the big mainstage musical of the year at The Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts, my senior year of high school.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
After I graduated from The Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts, I tried to convince myself that it was time to get “back to reality” so I enrolled at Ohio University to study business. I lasted there about a month before I’d finally accepted that I had been bitten by the showbiz bug! From there I took general studies at The University of Cincinnati, auditioned for and was accepted into The Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s Musical Theatre department.
How you got your Equity card:
In the chorus, as a dancer in a regional production of Evita at The Marriott Lincolnshire near Chicago.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal:
I love sushi after the show.
Favorite liquid refreshment:
Carrot juice. YUM!!!
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
Blasting, singing along with, stretching and dancing to all kinds of music before the show!
Most challenging role you have ever played:
That would be Mister in The Color Purple. The challenge for me was to not play him like just a mean “stock” bad guy. I wanted to play Mister closer to the way he was written in the original book. I saw Mister as a hurt, lost man/child, trapped between the kind of life that he really wanted and the kind of life that was expected of him. The key scene for me is when old Mister comes to the house and tells him to put Shug out, and Mister becomes like a little hurt boy again, rebelling against his father’s wishes. He was perceived as a powerful man, but with a powerless soul until he made peace with everyone including himself. Playing the hurt and trapped aspects of him as opposed to overt meanness was a gamble that paid off richly. The biggest compliments I received at the Stage Door after the show were from women telling me that they had never even considered that hiding behind his anger, Mister was really a sad and miserable man and that by the end of the play, they wanted him to have peace. Plus THE Oprah Winfrey told me that I was magnificent in the role! A true highlight of my career!!!
Craziest audition story:
Too many to name!!!
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
While playing the role of John in Miss Saigon on Broadway, I was upstairs in my dressing room lifting weights, blasting music and vocalizing. My dresser at the time had mistakenly turned down my monitor so I missed the “places” call for Act 2. My character opens the act singing “Bui Doi.” One of my understudies had to step forward from the choir and sing it. When I heard the music from my dressing room, which was on the 2nd floor, I had an out of body experience! Shock and panic! I was so mortified that for many years I blanked it out. When the original cast got together last year for our 20 year reunion, some of the guys brought it up and we all laughed about it.
Worst costume ever:
I don’t really have a bad costume experience. Yaaay!!!
Worst job you ever had:
I was a bellman while in college. I lasted for about a month. HATED IT!!! Waiting tables, I enjoyed!
If you could trade roles with anyone in the cast for a week, who would it be?
Absolutely no one! I get to play THE KING!!! Wooooo Hooooo!!!
Leading man role you’ve been dying to play:
Billy Bigelow in Carousel
Leading lady role you’d like a shot at:
Your Disney dream role (aside from Lion King):
I would love to play a delicious Disney villain with a knock-down-drag-out song!
Something about you that surprises people:
That I am more shy than I am social.
Something you are incredibly proud of:
Being blessed to finance and record my new Disney CD, “Disney My Way,” and to have Mr. Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical, write the liner notes for it. A true dream come true!
Something you’re embarrassed to admit:
That I think of myself as a cool nerd.
Career you would want if not a performer:
If I were not in showbiz, I would have been an architect or a psychotherapist. I am obsessed with the journey and the power of transformation!
Three things you can’t live without:
Love, Family and Music
“I’ll never understand…”
… not being able to forgive!
Words of advice for aspiring performers:
Anything is possible if you are willing to work hard for it. There are no shortcuts! There is absolutely no way around good ol’ fashioned hard work, so GO FOR IT!!!