Joey Sorge

Q & A with Joey Sorge, Star of Phoenix Theatre’s World Premiere of “When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney,” May 18 – June 12

Joey Sorge
Joey Sorge

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 bannerWhen 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.

Joey Sorge with wife, Lori Alexander and their two daughters, Sophia and Winona at Disney World in 2015. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge
Joey Sorge with wife, Lori Alexander and their two daughters, Sophia and Winona at Disney World in 2015. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge

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.

Andrea Dora, Joey Sorge and Lauren Parson in Goodspeed Musical's "Happy Days". Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Andrea Dora, Joey Sorge and Lauren Parson in Goodspeed Musical’s “Happy Days”. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

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.

Garry Marshall, Joey Sorge and Henry Winkler at Miller Park during to the Brewers–Astros game in Milwaukee, WI on August 19, 2009. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge
Garry Marshall, Joey Sorge and Henry Winkler at Miller Park during to the Brewers–Astros game in Milwaukee, WI on August 19, 2009. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge

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!

Kate Loprest as Betty Haynes, Joey Sorge as Bob Wallace, Vanessa Sonon as Judy Haynes, and Jeffry Denman as Phil Davis in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of
Kate Loprest as Betty Haynes, Joey Sorge as Bob Wallace, Vanessa Sonon as Judy Haynes, and Jeffry Denman as Phil Davis in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Photo by David Murray, Clear Eye Photo

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.

Henry Winkler and Joey Sorge. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge/Facebook
Henry Winkler and Joey Sorge. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge/Facebook

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… “

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix and Joey Sorge as Jimmy Winter in "Nice Work If You Can Get It" at Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng
Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix and Joey Sorge as Jimmy Winter in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng

 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.

Joey Sorge, Amanda Lea Lavergne and Jon Peterson in Ogunquit Playhouse production of "Singing in the Rain". (2009) Photo Courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse
Joey Sorge, Amanda Lea Lavergne and Jon Peterson in Ogunquit Playhouse production of “Singing in the Rain”. (2009) Photo Courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse

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.

Danny Burstein and Joey Sorge backstage at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in Los Angeles in 2004. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge
Danny Burstein and Joey Sorge backstage at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in Los Angeles in 2004. Photo courtesy of Joey Sorge

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. 😉

Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays their sib and Hamilton's mistress. Photo by Joan Marcus
Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays their sib and Hamilton’s mistress. Photo by Joan Marcus

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.

Adams, Jefferson or Dickinson in 1776
George in Sunday in The Park,
Buddy or Ben in Follies
Gary in Noises Off

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.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Jen Bender, Lia Chang, Derek McLane, Matt Britten and Lorenzo Thione Set for 2nd Annual Broadway Hackathon at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center on April 18 Internationally Acclaimed Playwright Velina Hasu Houston named Distinguished Professor at the USC School of Dramatic Arts
Lia Chang and Garth Kravits’ HIDE AND SEEK Screens in 11th Annual DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon on May 1; Complete Lineup 
Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone” wins $25,000 Steinberg/ATCA Award for 2015; Additional $7,500 citations for Steven Dietz’s “Bloomsday” and Jen Silverman’s “The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane”
Sandra Oh, Sola Bamis, Corey Brill and Raymond Lee Star in South Coast Repertory’s World Premiere of Julia Cho’s OFFICE HOUR, April 10-30
Lily Mariye Talks Directing “Nashville,” the Disney-ABC Creative Talent Development Program and What’s Next 
East West Players to Honor Broadway’s ALLEGIANCE, Hit TV Show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre Founding Artistic Director Tisa Chang at 50th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction on April 25
Photos: Denise Burse, Chinaza Uche and More in Kimber Lee’s “brownsville song (b-side for tray)” at Seattle Rep through April 24
Thom Sesma, Greg Watanabe and Jeanne Sakata Set for A SINGLE SHARD at People’s Light, April 27 – May 29
Maxine Hong Kingston to Receive Randolph College Pearl S. Buck Award on April 20 
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, Ellen Burstyn, Bobby Cannavale and Paola Lázaro-Muñoz at The Drama Book Shop for BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY Reading and Signing
Broadway Vet Gedde Watanabe and MISS SAIGON’s Jon Jon Briones Lead the Cast of East West Players’ Production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, May 12 – June 26
Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Henry Hwang and singer-songwriter, producer, and actor Leehom Wang to Receive Honorary Degrees from Williams College
Closing Night Party of Encores! 1776 with André De Shields, Santino Fontana, John Larroquette, Nikki Renée Daniels, Bryce Pinkham, Ann Harada at New York City Center
Mia Katigbak, Jojo Gonzalez, Tonya Pinkins, Cory Michael Smith, Andre Holland, Jessica Hagedorn and More Celebrate Opening Night of Ma-Yi Theater Company’s HOUSE RULES
Garth Kravits and Benjamin Halstead win TUNE IN TIME Musical Theater Song Writing Competition at The York Theatre
“Sunny Side Up” on Sprout, starring Emily Borromeo, Carly Ciarrocchi, Kaitlin Becker and Tim Kubart, Receives Daytime Emmy Nod for Best Pre-School Children’s Series
Q & A with Emmanuel Brown, Actor, Award-Winning Fight Choreographer and Champion Martial Artist 
Multimedia: Garth Kravits Featured on Latest Episode of Joel B. New’s SOMETHING NEW Podcast

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

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.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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