Ethan le phong



MARCH 2008Ethan Le Phong is about to xuất hiện in the Pasadena Playhouse’s world premieremusical Mask (based on the 1985 Cher/Eric Stolz movie, with book by the film’swriter Anna Hamilton Phelan, directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., và music/lyricsby the legendary Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil). Mask is just the latest step in acareer which has taken Ethan from Georgia lớn Germany to thành phố new york to Londonand points in between. Having recently come to lớn national attention via hisstarring role in the long-awaited film version of the international hit Naked BoysSinging, Ethan is poised to make yet another splash on the Pasadena Playhousestage opposite Ovation winner Michelle Duffy. We caught up with Ethanrecently. Here’s what he had to lớn say about traveling the world as a musicaltheater performer, appearing naked on the big screen, & working with someof the biggest names in the biz in Mask.

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Ethan, for someone who must still get carded all the time, you have animpressive resume, beginning with a bunch of shows in Georgia while youwere still in middle & high school. First of all, how did someone born in VietNam kết thúc up living in Georgia?

My father’s job transferred him down to lớn Atlanta from Chicago so I got theprivilege of attending a new high school, Duluth. When we first got the newsthat we were moving, I remembered asking him khổng lồ find an arts high school butinstead he picked the school with the highest SAT scores. Asian parents!


I don’t suppose your parents were “in the biz,” right?

Actually, my family is very talented & had great success in the “biz.” Whenwe lived in Chicago, my dad managed a Vietnamese band called theHeartbeat where my mom was one of the lead singers. I have aunts who areall singers. Besides being the manager of the band, my dad was also a well-known lyricist back in Vietnam. My sister is also a singer & my brother canliterarily pick up any instrument and know how lớn play it within minutes. Bothare killer hip-hop dancer—something I wish I can vì as naturally as they do.

Obviously, talent runs in your family! Still, as you say, you come from prettytraditional Asian parents. How did they feel about their son singing anddancing on stage?My parents always advised me khổng lồ see it as a hobby & go into engineering,but I always thought outside the box and took a chance on pursuing mypassion. They are very supportive parents and they wish me the best but if Itold them I wanted to start a new career and start all over in college, theywould be right there with me.During your college years, you did more musical theater in Daytona Beach,including the lead in Crazy for You, right? Had you already decided khổng lồ pursuea career in musical theater at that time?

Actually, Crazy for You was a college production, but to lớn have the chance toplay a lead role gave me a head start on what khổng lồ expect in the real world. Ispent a summer down at Seaside Music Theater with 42nd Street and Tommywhere I was among some of New York’s best & I took it as a master class formy career. At first I went into college training lớn be an opera singer but by thenext year, I knew for sure I had lớn continue my dancing and pursue musicaltheater. I knew I was going to lớn be a performer in some way. I just never knew itwould have leaded me here.In 1999, you joined the National Tour of Miss Saigon, which must have been abig step forward in your career. How did the role in Miss Saigon come about?

Can I first just let you know how honored I am right now to be working withRichard Maltby, Jr! (Editor’s note: Maltby wrote lyrics & additional materialfor Miss Saigon and is directing Mask.) Who knew when I was first introduced toMiss Saigon back when I was a sophomore in high school that I would come fullcircle by meeting và working for one of the members of the creative team inMASK! Crazy!The world of show business is small indeed! So tell me about Miss Saigon.

My first offer for the show happened when I was a junior in college. It was adream come true, so I dropped out & packed my bags for Germany. Notonly was I going khổng lồ be part of a show that I dreamed of doing but doing it inanother country and language.I had no idea you were doing the show in German!

While I was there, Peter Lawrence, the artistic director for the US production,saw the show và invited all of the Americans to contact him when we wereready khổng lồ come back to lớn the States. Needless to say, I took that opportunityhead on. I decided not khổng lồ renew my contract to lớn stay another year in Germanybut to make the big move khổng lồ New York. Once there, I contacted PeterLawrence và he gave me an audition as promised và within three months, Iwas offered a spot on the tour.

How long did you spend touring the country?When I first joined the tour, I was only contracted for four months as a sub. Itwas a great experience traveling the States. One of the greatest momentsfrom the tour was when Peter paid us a visit. It was a month prior to lớn the kết thúc ofmy contract. We were all in the quick changing area getting ready for theshow và Peter walks up to me & asks me what I was doing once mycontract was up. I told him I was just going back to new york and startauditioning. So in front of the cast, he offers me Broadway Saigon if I aminterested. Of course I said yes. Another dream comes true! So that fall, I wasliving the dream any actor would kill for!

How fantastic for you, Ethan!

So the following year, I somehow managed lớn hop back and forth betweenthe tour and Broadway. Unbeknownst to me when I joined the show, I madehistory in all three productions by being the first Vietnamese actor to lớn havebeen in the show. I think that was pretty cool. Plus, it wasn’t until I joined theshow that I learned about my own family’s history & our ties khổng lồ the VietnamWar & how we escaped. I love my parents for their strength back then andhow they struggled lớn give us this privileged life. 


Now comes what seems khổng lồ me must have been an exciting, life-changingexperience for you, appearing in The King and I in the West over in London.How amazing was that?

I know. Working in London was the last thing EVER on my mind, but when afriend of mine thought of me for the King và I, I threw all caution to the windand went in for the audition. I always thought that one day I was going lớn bein a production of The King & I, but I never thought my first one would be inLondon. I got to live five minutes from Buckingham Palace for my first yearthere. How many actors get to lớn say that?I’m so jealous! In fact, you ended up spending several years in London,including roles in South Pacific, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Jerry Springerthe Opera. I know that a number of British actors have had a tough timewith Actors’ Equity appearing on Broadway. Is it easier for Americansappearing on the London Stage?

I think you have khổng lồ prove yourself twice as hard because they have to lớn believeyou are the best for the part to take a position away from a British actor so Imade sure lớn respect everyone I came across and did my job to lớn the best of myabilities. I wanted to prove myself as not just another Asian actor hired to doan Asian show, so I made a commitment khổng lồ get another show before I leftLondon. I walked away with a couple more than two.Awesome! Tell me what the best part was about living in England?

I think the best part about living in England was creating the long-lastingfriendships I have now, so when I get khổng lồ go back, I’ll always have a place tostay.

And that brings us khổng lồ your return lớn the States. What made you finally decideto return khổng lồ the U.S.? You seem lớn be West Coast based now. Were you justgetting tired of the weather in England? (chuckle)

I needed a break from theater. Knock on wood, I was able to work non-stopsince leaving school but I never took a break between shows và I startedbecoming jaded, và being home-sick for the States took its toll on me, sothat’s what made me return home. I needed a change of scenery and coursein my career, và the West coast was a place I always wanted lớn take aswing at & yeah, the weather in London can get pretty gray at best.


Before we get to Naked Boys Singing và Mask, I notice that you did a “returnengagement” in Thoroughly Modern Millie last year in Maine of all places?What was it like returning lớn the show that you’d appeared in several yearsbefore in England?It was a chance lớn revisit a role with a new vision & to make differentchoices that you didn’t get lớn try in the first place. I had a great time up inMaine. The lobster was cheap và plenty, & to step away from the LA heatwas great. The last time I was in summer stock was when I was in college. Soany chance khổng lồ work somewhere you have never worked before that had agreat reputation is an opportunity to lớn work with other artists that you can learnfrom.


It’s wonderful that professional theater exists in every state of the U.S., thoughnot every state has had a production of Naked Boys Singing, I’d guess. Now,with the release of the DVD, people all across the country are getting to seethe show & you in it. Và I’d guess that for the rest of your career, people aregoing lớn remember you singing naked on the silver screen. Did you have anysecond thoughts about appearing in your birthday suit in a film that wouldbecome part of, who knows, tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people’sDVD collections?

You know, I just thought I better get this body toàn thân preserved on film before it all goesaway but yes, I was extremely nervous about taking on the project. I was sonervous about taking off my clothes that I had lớn create this persona who didn’t give a care in the world & was willing khổng lồ take off his clothes. I namedhim Leland Way. I, myself, am very shy!That is so funny! You actually developed a split personality lớn play the role! ?How did your family react lớn your baring all?

My family knows that I did it. Have they seen it? I doubt it, but they are proudthat I was working. My mom did ask if I really have to take off my clothes. Mydad just laughed.Your performance of Window khổng lồ Window opposite Vincent Zamora is reallyexquisite, as a singer, dancer, & actor. What was it lượt thích doing that sequencewith Vincent, the only thành viên of the original cast, & especially being themost physically “intimate” scene in the film?

Thanks. Vincent was a pro! He gave me a lot of insight into when he used to vì chưng itwhen it was on stage & its history và I am grateful for it. He’s an excellentdance partner.Were there any special challenges?

Rehearsing with clothes was one thing but when the clothes came off, we werepretty concerned with where our “other member” would fall & land on eachother. Once the giggles went away, it was back to lớn business & we were so intune with each other, it made for a great performance. It was like we were justdancing for each other and I hope that came across on the screen. It was greatwhen the writer of the song, Rayme Sciaroni, told me that it was great to lớn finallysee and hear his tuy vậy done the way he originally envisioned it. Now that’s anhonor in itself.You must get recognized a lot these days. I know, I recognized you right awaywhen I saw you in the audience of Town Without Pity. What does it feel lượt thích tobe a celebrity on the rise?Oh, I don’t think myself as being a celebrity but it’s nice to be recognized for my“talent.” But yes, it’s a little surreal to say the least.


And now you’re about khổng lồ make your Pasadena Playhouse debut in Mask,working with the gorgeous và gorgeously talented Michelle Duffy, whom Ilove, và bringing the Cher/Eric Stoltz movie lớn new life as a musical.

I’m in love with Michelle Diva Duffy!Who isn’t! So Ethan, what role, or roles, do you play?

I play various parts in the show but the one I most enjoy is Scott, a high schoolstudent. We have a great uplifting number in the first act called “Do It forLove” & it is my favorite lớn sing.

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What bởi vì you think people will take away from the show?

Mask will take you on an emotional journey about the relationship of a motherand her son và their challenges through life. I hope that what the audiencewill take away with them after seeing the show is the positive message of howimportant family is khổng lồ you. Family in the most non-traditional way can bestronger và more powerful. That love is blind and should never be taken forgranted. Live each day khổng lồ its fullest & find beauty in everything andeveryone. If people don’t walk out wanting to hotline their mothers và tell herthey love them, we didn’t do our job.

Thank you so much Ethan! After talking with you, I’m even more lookingforward khổng lồ Mask than before!

MAY 2008Fresh from the hit run of Mask at the Pasadena Playhouse, Broadway, National Tour, và West over vet Ethan Le Phong was gracious enough to lớn answer our questions following Wednesday’s opening night of East West Players’ production of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin. (For more about Ethan, kiểm tra out our original interview.)

Hi Ethan. Congratulations on your smash opening night. What makes this Pippin different from all the others that came before? 

Thanks, Steven. I haven’t seen many other productions of Pippin other than my first production of the show back at Shorter College.

I had no idea you’d done this show before.

Yes. I played The Noble và was part of the couple for the ‘sex’ dance—just wearing a white dance belt, may I add.As the French say, “oh la la.”

What is unique about this Pippin is that East West Players is daring to bring forth the edgy và raw angst that every man and woman has felt in their search for the meaning of life, without the ‘jazz hands’ and overt comedy that most Pippin productions seek. Instead we let the audience decide for themselves if they should laugh or even feel discomfort in relating khổng lồ the characters on stage. There is that life or death aspect khổng lồ the story telling.You’re right that this production is a lot more “raw” that the original Fosse vision! Was learning the role of Pippin in a week the hardest thing you’ve ever done as an actor? 

I don’t think I even had time lớn realize how hard it was to lớn learn the show in less than a week. Looking back on it, yes, it was a huge task but I think I just jumped in with a positive attitude & a willingness to lớn keep an mở cửa mind và a focused one, plus the great support from the cast made it seem very easy. It was lượt thích it was meant to be lượt thích this for me. How did you vì it? 

What helped was being able to lớn have the script in my hand during previews. You see, those were the only times I had on stage. But with each night, I managed not to look at the script more & more. Prior lớn that, all I could vì was sit và watch the tech-runs with a pencil & start writing. Marc Macalintal was gracious enough to make a chạy thử of all of Pippin’s songs so I could learn the tuy vậy at home, driving in my car, at the gym & even in my sleep. I also had friends who were all willing to give me their time to run lines when I was not at the theatre.

What was hardest/easiest for you khổng lồ learn? Was it the songs, the lines, the choreography, the blocking?

As a dancer, hip hop is still a new genre for me to grasp but with Jason Chong’s patience, I somewhat finally got there. I love singing the songs so that was the easiest of the four. It’s all about telling the story.

Do you have a favorite moment in the show, the one you most look forward to playing?

When I first heard the music, ‘Extraordinary’ was the tuy nhiên that I was most excited to lớn start learning. It was the hardest tuy vậy to learn in the time frame I had as there are so many lyrics và it’s a rock song. Rocking it out every night allows me khổng lồ take out my frustration so yes, it’s my favorite. I used to căng thẳng about it but now that it’s in my body, I vì look forward to jumping around on stage & singing the hell out of it.

What was it lượt thích performing for the creator of Pippin, Stephen (Wicked) Schwartz?


Oh wow, knowing that information as I was learning the show added that extra kick in the butt lớn get my role khổng lồ near perfect for opening night, though even with the added pressure, I really didn’t găng tay too much about it. I tried my best lớn just center myself & do the job at hand. As long as I was being truthful with Pippin, that’s all he would need to see or want from Pippin. I’m glad to say he was very pleased. I think the audiences of East West Players are intelligent enough to know when you are faking it và when you are really in the moment, cause if you are, we all go on this great journey.Thanks, Ethan. You did an amazing job, và we’re looking forward khổng lồ seeing Pippin again in a couple weeks!

NOVEMBER 2998It’s been a busy year for Ethan Le Phong. Following the success of Naked Boys Singing The Movie, Ethan appeared in Mask at the Pasadena Playhouse và then went on to wow audiences in the title role of Pippin at East West Players. The multitalented Mr. Le Phong recently sat down to lớn answer our questions about “Life After Pippin,” and to tell us about his latest project, a starring role in the Los Angeles premiere of Cy Coleman’s THE LIFE.

What was the most exciting part of doing Pippin?

I think what was most exciting about Pippin was that I never had the chance to lớn just sit back and say, ok, now this is the Pippin for the show. I was constantly searching for who he was throughout the run. People have asked if I was finally having fun & not feeling too stressed about taking on the role. My response was that I was having fun but there wasn’t room to lớn relax nor did I want khổng lồ relax. It’s great that you kept adding new layers khổng lồ the role. What’s it lượt thích working with the people at East West Players?

Just to be a part of the East West Players family is very exciting. Meeting other talented Asian actors & to be a part of this community was something I longed for and now I found it here at EWP. 

Tell us a bit about your appearance on TV’s Little Britain US? It seems a bit ironic that you ended up doing a British show here in the U.S. And not while you were living in England.

Who knew I had khổng lồ step away from Britain khổng lồ be cast in a British show! First of all, I’ve been a huge fan of the show since when it first aired in the UK several years back, so when I got the offer khổng lồ be a part of the US version, I nearly fell out of my chair. 

Little Britain writer-star Matt Lucas & Ethan

What role did you play?I played a university student named Darin who gets to nội dung some screen time with Linda, played by David Williams. Linda is a university administrator who uses “labels” to lớn describe her students. Not such nice ones might I add but hilarious in their own right. The show is definitely not for the closed-minded. You can even call it a “socially experimental” kind of show. Funny enough, I knew David and Matt Lucas before Little Britain ever took off and we are great friends. I also have khổng lồ thank East West Players for allowing me to lớn step away from my duties as Pippin for one night to lớn shoot the episode.

This past summer you appeared as part of an all-star cast at the Hollywood Bowl in Les Misérables. I understand that Les Miz has played an important part in your life. Can you tell us about that?

Ethan (in red) in Les Misérables

Doing Les Miz at the Bowl was a dream come true. I think I was introduced khổng lồ musical theater with this show back in high school. It was a birthday gift. I remember sitting way up in the nosebleed seats at the Fox Theater watching this beautiful, profound musical và completely wrapped in the stories of these characters. It was then that I knew I had lớn be a part of this “show-business.” I knew I was going lớn be in the other Schönberg and Boublil musical, Miss Saigon, but wasn’t sure if I was ever going to lớn get khổng lồ be in Les Miz until Lea Salonga starred as Eponine. It was then that I knew there was going lớn be a time when I would be in Les Miz. And what more can I ask for than lớn have my first Les Miz experience at the Bowl on stage with the brilliant Brian Stokes Mitchell & J. Mark McVey, and not only lớn watch these masters at work with our great directors, Richard Jay Alexander và Kevin Stites, but lớn learn from this amazing cast that included original Broadway and touring members, actors lượt thích myself who were experiencing Les Miz for the first time, along with fresh faces direct from high school that Richard invited to be involved. 

Ethan và his musket in Les Miz

How long did it take you all khổng lồ put the show together?

It was a crazy và intense two-week love fest. Every morning, Julie Garyne và I would carpool lớn rehearsals và share the same thought of how lucky và grateful we were for this opportunity. I know I may sound like I’m gushing over the whole “ordeal” but Les Miz at the Bowl has khổng lồ be the highlight of my year & we still have a month & a half khổng lồ go. Large audiences are what I am accustomed to, hell, I performed Hey Jude with Paul McCartney on stage at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Jubilee for the whole entire nation. I think sharing that moment on stage with any kích cỡ audience is what live theater is all about. Sharing that moment in our lives whether it is joyful or sorrowful is art và theater.

What was it lượt thích doing the L.A. Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly?

Ethan và Butterfly Michèle Crider

It was heavenly. Madame Butterfly was what originally brought me from London lớn LA, so to perform it two years later was a nice family reunion … well, with a brand new cast but the same costumes & set. Robert Wilson revamped his vision from the very first time he created his concept making it fresh and crisp. I didn’t get to lớn sing in this production or when I was in Fidelio last year, but just to have the gift of sitting in rehearsals & performances with extraordinary, beautiful, robust voices was priceless. Every night in Madame Butterfly, I would stand off in the stage right wings to watch và listen lớn Cio-Cio San’s Un bel dì. I had the best seat in the house.

I’ll say! How did your role in The Life come about? 

Well, when I was first approached, I was invited to lớn audition for the role of Enrique. But, on the day of my audition, when asked what I was being seen for, I wrote down Jojo. Lucky enough the guy who went in before me made me sound good. Poor chap. I don’t know who all were seen for the role but having the chance lớn follow in Sam Harris’s shoes is both humbling và fulfilling. I love his voice. I always tell myself, if he can do the role, I then know, I can bởi it, too! and I thank Jaxx for non-traditional casting. Otherwise I couldn’t be enjoying my time with this group of hookers và pimps.

What can audiences look forward to in this revival of The Life?

Fun! The cast is working hard at making it our own show. I’ve never seen the Broadway production so I have nothing khổng lồ compare it to. We’re getting khổng lồ create the streets of NYC with our own telling of the story. Paul Romero’s choreography is a breath of fresh air with a fusion of Jazz, Funk, và Fosse influences. Joe Green really picked the right voices for the show. And the costumes are fit enough khổng lồ walk down the streets of Hollywood. It’s different all right.

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What are you wishing for career-wise in the coming year?

Hm, well, I’ve made a wish list but as to lớn when everything is tangible, only time will tell. I am working with (Pippin costar) Meagan McConnell in creating our first cabaret together khổng lồ be debuted at Vitello’s in February. I am on hold for several projects & hope that my auditions will be fruitful. I hope the universe will continue allowing me khổng lồ perform unique projects with other passionate & talented friends. I’m ready to take my career khổng lồ the next level, really. I just need the right vehicle.