Gene Weygandt: Not Just Another Thieving Republican! With Eric and Andy!
Some people are just touched by God. They are amiable, kind, and relentlessly watchable onstage. One of our heroes in Chicago is the great Gene Weygandt. A man who got his start in theatre in Chicago and has moved his way up to performing one of the classic roles of our time, "The Wizard" in Stephen Schwartz's musical "Wicked". Gene met us in a music store outside of town where he was positive he wouldn't be recognized and hounded by his fans, and we could have a reasonable conversation about his favorite subject: Gene Weygandt
Hey Gene! Thanks for meeting us here in this music store! We love to hang out in music stores because it is a great place to meet women who like musicians but are too scared to go to bars or clubs.
Smart move! I like music stores too, but mostly for the music.
Right, the "music". Understood. So it just so happens that we are in a music store in the suburbs because we had to meet you before your show today, isn't that right? What show is it again?
It's called "Legally Blonde" and it's playing in the nearby suburb of Lincolnshire at The Marriott Theatre.
Wait, like "Legally Blonde" the movie that our wives like so much?
Yes, but actually lots of genders and ages seem to like it. The guy at the local suburban UPS store told me he loved it because he likes stories wherein people overcome personal obstacles and achieve more than might have been expected. I'm paraphrasing, but that's the story in a nutshell.
I see, so it's all about the Human Condition. So did you workshop your characters with some Viewpoints or some Maskwork?
We avoided Maskwork thinking it was too Euro-Centric, but we did consider Viewpoints without actually giving credit to the author, Amanda Brown. It's something we all do all the time as we're putting a show together. Especially a tricky script like this one.
So...you do a lot of musicals now, but tell us about when you started in Chicago. What was the theatre scene like and what sort of projects were you into? Did you have a theatre company?
I'd gone to college with the founders of the Steppenwolf Company, but thought they were crazy to try and start a theatre in Highland Park...or anywhere for that matter, and they were. But it seems to have turned out ok for them. I started doing musicals because I was asked. Seriously. I didn't have courage enough to go to auditions, but friends who had known me in school asked me to come and play. Summer stock, dinner theatres; crazy but fun jobs in crazy, fun venues.
So how long did it take you to go Equity? It was a different sort of thing back then, wasn't it? I mean, you could do a lot more traveling, and a lot more houses were Equity?
I never had to go on the road and had no idea how to get involved in any of the big tours, though mostly I think it was shows like "A Chorus Line" in those days...at any rate shows for which my skills were not well-suited. But again someone asked me to audition for a show at the now defunct Forum Theatre because several people had been fired and they were desperate for replacements. That was my Equity card. Paid for with my first two weeks salary. Half taken out each week. Initiation was cheap back then. But so was my rent.
So, Gene, we see you are a member of all the big unions. Can you tell us how you stand on the Aftra/SAG merger?
It's something I've advocated for years. Strength in numbers isn't really a new or difficult concept, but I think there was a sense among performers and artists in the past that somehow being equated with another type of performer...say a newscaster, or stage actor or whatever would somehow lessen your own value. For me, these days it has largely to do with health insurance and pensions.
So, you are sort of like an Eisenhower Republican with the AFL/CIO merger. I think it is fair to call you a Republican. "Gene Weygandt, Republican," the headline will read.
Plus I look so sexy in a tinfoil hat!
When did you go from average, everyday stage performer to Stephen Schwartz's muse?
During rehearsals for "Snapshots". Though the rest of the company used another word for it. It didn't rhyme with "muse."
Did it rhyme with "Prison Ditch"?
Right! I was Stephen Schwartz's bison. But shouldn't even a bison have his email address?
We can all only dream about being in a play that was as important to our culture as "Wicked" was. Talk about the time when you knew that you were in something huge.
When I saw my friend Rondi Reed well up with tears at a press event before we'd even started rehearsals. We were on the stage at The Oriental with David Stone, and Marc Platt, the producers and all the Chicago news people, and I think Rondi had suddenly realized how far we'd come from our little hometowns and state college and tiny contracts and all the rest, and was just sort of overwhelmed. And I had a similar epiphany. Somehow, stupidly, without much planning, here I was in the big time. The second time was at bows of the first performance. When the two girls came out on deck, you could feel the concussion of the cheer and people quite literally jumping out of their seats to applaud. Some months later, we vacationed in Mexico and I was recognized.
How has that role changed your career? I mean, do you feel like you get more work because of it? Did it buy your pontoon boat in Southern Illinois? Do you get recognized when you ride your Hog around?
Yes I still get recognized, but not under my helmet. Yeah, I think it's allowed New York producers and casting directors to consider me. But you still have to give a respectable audition and be right for the job. It's not like being a movie star... they don't like Lake Shelbyville.
But something I think we all really appreciate -- is that a tambourine?
Yes. I played in the marching band in high-school. Listen. This is my favorite Beatles song!
Sorry... wrong key. Let me start again. Sheeee's got a ticket to ri-ide...
(Gene plays tambourine in a crowded music store for 7 full minutes)
Ok, are you done? Jesus.
....a-a-aand...done. Go ahead.
(He is not done. We wait for another 2 minutes to continue)
We all really appreciate how, even though you have grown into a Unendingly Thirsty Theatrical Behemoth, that you have stayed connected with our little storefront community. I think that takes a lot of character. I think it is because you love it here, and you're family is happy in this town?
It's not easy for a behemoth to move around. Especially in a small crowded music store. But yes I love Chicago. I'm a big ...behemothian cheer-leader for Chicago theatre and frankly, I get a kick out of you young kids and all that you bring to the party. I try to keep up, and I think that keeps me...what? viable? active? up-kept?
Keeping your mind sharp is very important at your age. So, is it true that you will be performing at the Porchlight Benefit this year?
Whoa!! PorchLIGHT??? I thought hey just wanted me to sing out on the porch. Jumpin' Gee -hosephat! But yes, ok. I guess so. It's a tribute to Michael Bennett, big big big Broadway guy, and so I'm performing a country tune with the beautifulandtalented (one word after so much usage) Nikki Klix. There really is a relationship between Mr. Bennett and Glen Campbell, and you'll just have to attend to find out exactly what it is.
Nikki is definitely a heroine of ours and Glen Campbell is an American legend. When is the big benefit and where can people find more information about it?
Sunday April 22, which is also Earth day. Check out the Porchlight website. It's an 11:00 a.m brunch bash, so bring syrup!
Gene, are you trying to steal that tambourine?! Please...Gene, I will BUY it for you! Please don't get us arrested out here.
Run, guys, run!!!!. I can take out the greeter!
Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer
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