When Anthony Festa (pictured) steps onto the Proctors stage in the upcoming tour-stop of Wicked, it will bring full-circle an ambitious dream of a stage-struck youngster who grew up as part of that theater’s audience. “I’ve never performed there before,” he says, “but I started seeing shows when I was about eight. My mom and dad took me to see many shows at Proctors – countless musicals! – and that’s part of the reason why I do what I do.”
He’s speaking from Florida as Wicked wends its way closer, and the Ballston Spa native is part of the ensemble and the understudy for Fiyero. But it’s a poignant return as well.
“My father passed away from pancreatic cancer a year and a half ago. Before that, I would travel by train every single weekend to be with him, and to go through the chemo treatments with him. It was right after he passed away that I got the job in Wicked, so the tour has been a kind of healing process for me.
“If he were still alive, he’d be bragging all over the place about me playing Proctors.
It’s bittersweet, but I know he’s going to be sitting right there, front row, in spirit, with a big ol’ smile on his face.”
Festa launched himself into local community theater productions while still young. “My parents would drive me to auditions and rehearsals,” he recalls. “I worked with Home Made Theater in Saratoga, and Schuylerville Community Theater – in fact, I did Oliver! there, and the bug really bit me while I was doing the Artful Dodger role.”
He studied musical theater at SUNY Cortland; after graduating, he worked for a while on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, which is an intense, rigorous way to hone the craft. “After that I did a lot of summer stock, working all over the place in many different venues.”
But he also moved to New York City at the time, where he’s now been living for six years. “I got my first gig in New York working in Bare, the Musical, which was a big thing, really my first big commercial thing. But when that closed, I didn’t have much life for a while.”
The time-honored actor’s tradition is to work in restaurants, and “I’ve worked in over 14 different restaurants, and bartended in seven.”
A single audition can be life-changing, and Festa then found himself in the international tour of West Side Story. “I played Tony for a little over a year – and I got to perform in London and make my West End debut.
He got his Equity card in 2011, at the Riverside Theatre in Florida. “I was playing Ethan in The Full Monty there, and then after the tour I came back and performed Tony in West Side in that theater – so it was another kind of coming home.
But you would have found him, as recently as 18 months ago, managing a pub in New York’s Chelsea area called Pounds and Ounces. And that’s when he was cast in Wicked.
The Schenectady stop has yet another emotional aspect for Festa – it’s his last stop on the tour. “I’m going to stay up here and spend some time with my family, and then ll be going back to New York City. This tour has been out since 2009, and it’s supposed to go until 2022, but it’s my time to move on to the next thing.” He has prospects – none of which he can mention right now – and he has dreams, the biggest of which involve the silver screen.
“But it’s always been a dream of mine to play Proctors, it really has – and it probably sounds funny to some of the people I work with, especially given all the gorgeous venues we play, but I say to them, ‘Proctors is an old vaudeville house, fully restored to its natural beauty – it’s a gorgeous theater.’ And it’s a dream for me because my Dad brought me to so many shows there. It’s going to have a nice little ‘home’ feeling, for sure.”
Unusually, for an actor, Festa characterizes his motivation in terms of other people. “When I started acting, I realized how powerful storytelling could be, and the responses I got from the audience made me realize how I could possibly change people’s viewpoints and make them think in ways they’ve never thought before – that always was the most mind-blowing thing, and as I get older it still blows my mind to see people get touched and moved and transported to another world.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to see what I’ve seen and to be touring all over America now, it’s an unbelievable thing. And this is one of the best shows to do it in. With everything that’s going on in the world right now, we’re telling such an empowering message, of the friendship between these two women and – you just have to look at what’s going on what right now to see how easy it is to be blindsided away from that.”
Wicked plays at Proctors from March 1-12. For tickets, call the box office at (518) 346-6204, or visit proctors.org.