“Pure Imagination.” That’s what Noah Weisberg will be bringing to the Hippodrome Theatre from Jan. 22-27 when he portrays “The Candy Man” himself, the great Willy Wonka, in the national touring company of Roald Dahl’s classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
A native of the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., Weisberg has been acting most of his life, appearing in films, TV and on Broadway. Jmore recently spoke with Weisberg, who lives in New York City and Los Angeles, about his career, Wonka and how he incorporates Jewish values into his performances.
Jmore: When did you first realize acting was something you actually wanted to do for a living?
Weisberg: I played sports when I was a kid and didn’t love it, but didn’t realize there were other options. And then one day, when I was like 9, my mom said, “Instead of going back to sports camp for the summer” — even the title of it gives me the shivers – “do you want to go to theater camp?”
I was like, “There’s a theater camp?” So that kind of changed my life, and then by junior year of high school, I’d been doing all the plays and musicals and choir and speech team and whatever, when I realized, “Gee, I’ve got to start thinking seriously about college and what I want to major in — am I really going to be a theater major?” And I decided that I was and that led me to [New York University], and I’ve been working ever since in New York and L.A.
Do you see a common thread in acting in film, TV or the stage?
The common thread is that acting is acting. You use the same technique, whether you’re on camera or on a Broadway stage. The size of the performance is what differs. I can just raise an eyebrow and display a lot of emotion in a film or on a TV show, whereas if it’s a Broadway show, you may have to use your whole body to have the same effect. It’s still just the same acting technique, whatever your technique is, to get that truthful performance.
What it’s like being on tour, compared to just a theater run?
It’s more navigating the excitement and the isolation of touring. It’s really exciting to be in different cities, but it’s also trying to navigate the different time zones and trying to find a routine when you’re only in town for a couple weeks. So there’re definitely pluses because you don’t get bored, but then there’re the minuses, like, “Oh, there’s a different allergy here!”
How do you like working with so many child actors?
Our only actual child child actor [role] is Charlie, the boy, and the other five Golden Ticket winners who go through the factory are young adults who play kids. It really sets up Charlie as the most innocent, sweet kid, which the character is anyway because he’s, like, 11 years old. There are three great actors who share that role, depending on the date. So it’s great to act opposite a young actor because they can’t help but just be in the moment because they’re kids. They haven’t trained for 20 years [and] set in their ways.
What drew you to this show?
I had come to New York for a week, just with my dad. I wasn’t living in New York at the moment. So my dad and I went to go see some Broadway shows and the audition came up, and it went really, really well.
Then, the day after the callback, there was a really big snowstorm and I got an email from the producer that day, saying, “I’m stuck home on Long Island with my family. Are you still going to be in town tomorrow?” I said “Yeah.” He said, “Well, I heard you were great and I want to take you to lunch tomorrow.”
I thought that was a good sign and I told one of my best friends, who’s a Broadway producer. He said, “Well, I’m a producer and I’ll tell you, I don’t email [an actor] and invite him to lunch unless he’s got it.” So we went to lunch and the producer of the show didn’t officially say it but he said, “Unless something crazy happens, this is going to be your role.” And then I went back to L.A., and a week later I officially got the role.
Does being Jewish impact your life as a performer?
One cool thing that happened is I got to speak [last month] at a shul in Toronto. Someone from the local synagogue came and asked me to come write a speech and sing, “Pure Imagination,” which I did. So that was a great opportunity to sort of tie in a speech about what I do and finding family on the road, creating a second family on the road because you’re really isolated from everyone else you really know for a year.
I’ve played roles that are Jewish roles, but most roles haven’t been Jewish or they just haven’t been about religion. But I don’t think I can escape — and I mean this in a great way — my family and how they raised me. And that stuff always influences my characters because I always think that I’m just myself up there, baring my own experiences and my own heart in the context of the character.
So what the audience sees is, “Wow, I really believe that character!” because it’s just me. It all comes from my own heart. Growing up, having a bar mitzvah, just being a Jewish-American and [having] my parents is always an influence, whether or not I’m thinking about it.
Alex Holt is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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