Broadway vet Joey Sorge (Nice Work If You Can Get It, How To Succeed In Business…, The Drowsy Chaperone, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 2001 revival of Follies) is set to star as the title character in Phoenix Theatre’s world premiere of When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney!, featuring Book, Music and Lyrics by Dean McClure and helmed by Larry Raben, May 18 – June 12, 2016.
Produced by Craig Ehrlich, the world premiere of When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney! is the culmination of The Caleb Reese Festival of New Plays and Musicals, and features choreography by Lee Martino, Musical Direction by Alan Ruch and Dramaturge by Pasha Yamotahari. Phoenix Theatre is located at 100 E. McDowell Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85004. Tickets start at $30 and are available for purchase by phone at 602.254.2151 or by visiting phoenixtheatre.com.
When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney! stars Joey Sorge as Walt Disney, a dreamer who suffers setbacks but perseveres with the support of his business partner and brother, Roy played by Andy Umberger, his friend Ub Iwerks played by Matthew Malecki and his adoring wife, Lillian played by Sydney Marie Hawes.
The journey begins in 1908 with six-year-old Walt drawing cartoons at home and concludes with his biggest dream of all, the opening of Disneyland in 1955. Roy serves as the story’s narrator, taking us on a journey of struggle, heartache, and enormous triumph — these moments including the opening and bankrupt closing of Laugh-0-Gram Studios in Kansas City; the formation of Disney Brothers Studios in Hollywood; the marriage of Walt and Lillian Disney; the departure of his best and closest animator Ub Iwerks; and the creation of a mouse named Mickey, which ignited his career and the legacy that would forever be Walt Disney.
The cast also features Ross Nemeth (Young Walt), TJ Rossi (Young Walt), Trisha Ditsworth (Edna), Tyler Gasper (Rudy/Animator #2), James Gish (Animator #1), Debby Rosenthal (Flora), Brian Sweis (Hug/Animator #3). Jose Amor, Jennifer Brasuell, Lucas Coatney, Kate E. Cook, Carly Grossman, Norman Large, Taylor Shubert, D. Scott Withers, Sarah Weichman round out the ensemble.
The creative and design team includes Almir Lejlic (Sound Designer), Michael J. Eddy (Lighting Designer), Robert Kovach (Scenic Designer), Jon Infante (Video Designer), Cari Smith (Costume designer), Kelly Yurko (Hair/Make-up designer), Tyler Weldon (Props Designer), Mark Reynolds (Director of Production), Karla Frederick (Associate Production Manager), Samantha Monson (Stage Manager) andKatherine Roll Lang (Assistant Stage Manager).
Below is my chat with Joey.
Lia: What does it mean to you to portray Walt Disney?
Joey: Last summer, I took my kids to Disney World for the first time, like my parents did for me and my younger brother back in the (cough) early 80’s. I spent the week asking myself “how did this whole thing (the characters, the park, the magic) come to be?” When I was given this opportunity to portray Walt – I thought this man’s incredible rise from practically nothing can only inspire me to be a better person, father, husband, business man, and actor! I’m really looking forward telling his story. I think people forget that it all started with his vision and dreams becoming a reality.
Lia: How did you do your research for the role?
Joey: I’m still doing it. His story is so epic. So many highs and lows. But he always got back up when he got knocked down. I’m watching everything I can on Walt. All the documentaries, books, – thank god for You tube!
Lia: What have been your three top favorite projects and why?
Joey: My broadway debut in the 2001 revival of Follies. I played Young Buddy to Treat Williams character, Buddy. I got to work with some legendary actors…Polly Bergen, Blythe Danner, Gregory Harrison, Judith Ivey, Betty Garrett, Joan Roberts, Marni Nixon the list goes on…Every night I watched from the wings in awe.
Playing the Fonz in the national tour of Happy Days – A New Musical. It was my favorite tv show growing up. I had a Fonz lunchbox! I remember reading a biography of Henry Winkler when I was a kid. I never imagined I’d be playing his iconic creation onstage someday. I was welcomed with open arms by the “Happy Days” family as well as the original TV cast! And I got to work side by side with the creator and Pretty Woman director, Garry Marshall.
Just recently playing Bob Wallace in White Christmas at Ogunquit playhouse. There is something special about him that really touched me. Maybe I was just really into the holiday spirit this year! I had 8 days to rehearse and it just came together without thinking too much. That was fun!
Lia: What exactly did Henry Winkler say to you after he saw you play the Fonz in Happy Days: The Musical?
Joey: He told me I made a great Fonz! But he also told me where the Ay!!! (thumbs up) thing came from. It wasn’t just a catch phrase. It had meaning behind it. It meant “Hey! don’t mess with my friends” – It was a cool threat that was meant to warn people. It turned into a positive phrase but always had that level of cool to it. Plus he showed me how the Fonz would dance with a girl. Cheek to cheek and don’t sway! The Fonz is too cool to sway.
Lia: How many times have you worked with Larry Raben, your director?
Joey: Larry and I have known each other for years as he and I both have a history performing in Forever Plaid. Unfortunately, we played the same role (Sparky), so we could never do Plaid together. But last summer we did the first professional remount of Nice Work If You Can Get It at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. And we were both nominated for IRNE awards, me for Best actor in a Musical and he for Best Director of a Musical. So, he keeps good company!
Lia: About your turn as Jimmy Winters in Nice Work If You Can Get It, Genevieve Horsburgh of Dan’s Papers writes, “Many will also be blown away by the spectacular talents of the captivating leads. Joey Sorge as the dashingly handsome Jimmy Winter is captivating. This smooth crooner had me melting—especially when he sang falsetto. Sorge is romantic and utterly charming as Jimmy, a wealthy playboy who has never worked a day in his life… “
What led to you being such a spectacular song and dance man?
Joey: You mean a reluctant song and dance man! It takes me a while to get the courage to do those things. I didn’t want to play Don Lockwood in Singin’ in The Rain, but my wife and agents convinced me. During the rehearsals, I was really scared I couldn’t do it. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. And actually singing in the rain is liberating! You should try it.
Lia: Who do you consider to be your early inspirations in your development as an artist?
Joey: I looked up to Henry Winkler, young John Travolta, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks. I identified with aspects of each one of them.
Lia: Is there anyone that is currently working on Broadway whose work you really admire?
Joey: I’d say Danny Burstein is one who I really admire on stage and more importantly off stage. He approaches the business by being kind, open, and supportive. He’s happy just talking about life instead of comparing resumes. Couldn’t wish him more success.
Lia: Any directors, choreographers that you are interested in working with?
Joey: I’d like to work with Jack O’Brien or Susan Stroman They always made me feel special in the audition room even though they haven’t cast me….YET!
Lia: Last show that you saw that you really loved and why?
Joey: Well, predictably Hamilton. But not for the reasons you might think. I was blown away by Renee’s performance. Her story in the show was riveting. Her energy just sucks you in. Oh, everyone else in the show was good too! It’s a shame because I don’t think they will have a very long run. 😉
Lia: Have you worked in Phoenix before?
Joey: Not at this Theatre. But we kicked off the national tour of Happy Days in Tempe, Arizona in 2009.
Lia: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Joey: Easy, my two children, Winona and Sophia. They are my everything. And they are keeping me insane!
Lia: What is your dream role?
Joey: I haven’t been dying to play any one role per se, but there are a few that speak to me and I’d like a chance to try them on.
Joey Sorge was last seen as “Rudy the Voice” in the world premiere of Chazz Palmintieri’s A Bronx Tale – The Musical at Papermill Playhouse, directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks. On Broadway, he was seen in Nice Work If You Can Get It; How To Succeed In Business…; The Drowsy Chaperone; Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the 2001 revival of Follies. Off-Broadway, he starred as Dino in Stephen Sondheims’ Saturday Night at Second Stage, and Pete in Summer of ’42 at Variety Arts. Recent regional productions include Bernard in Boeing, Boeing at The Gulfshore Playhouse, and Bob Wallace in White Christmas at Ogunquit at the Music Hall. Last summer at Ogunquit, he played Jimmy Winter in Nice Work If You Can Get It which earned him an IRNE nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. National Tours include: Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes; the Fonz in Happy Days – A New Musical, and Jimmy Smith in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Additional Regional credits: Victor, Victoria (TUTS); Animal Crackers (Williamstown), Grease (Papermill), Singin’ In The Rain (Ogunquit), Radio Girl (Goodspeed), Marty (Huntington). His film credits include: New Year’s Eve, Audrey, Valentine’s Day, Contradictions of The Heart, and most recently the short film, Providence. TV: “Person of Interest”, “Numb3rs”, “Commander in Chief” and the remake of “Night Stalker.” He also can be seen online starring opposite Ana Gasteyer in the “Totally Taken Care of” campaign for Listerine! And he plays Stefano in the new web series, “Alphabet Boys.” Joey lives in New Jersey with his wife, actress-dancer-choreographer, Lori Alexander, and their two children. Check out www.joeysorge.com, and follow on twitter and instagram @sojoey.
The largest producing regional theatre company in Arizona, Phoenix Theatre offers more programs and experiences than any other. With over 400 performances on multiple stages and thriving education and outreach programs, more than 100,000 citizens are inspired every year.
A founding member of the Central Arts District, Phoenix Theatre is in its 96th season and is more committed than ever to advancing arts in the Valley. Phoenix Theatre is currently producing eight remarkable productions in the Mainstage Theatre and Hormel Theatre and the Caleb Reese Festival of New Plays and Musicals is in its 18th consecutive year. Additionally, Phoenix Theatre’s outreach and educational programs continue to serve children and adults of all ages.
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Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF produces promotional videos for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers and musicians. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.com, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.