Clinton Roane chats with The Pickwyck about his most embarrassing moment on stage, his love of Popeye's and what it's like bringing The Scottsboro Boys from Broadway to the West End!
You performed in The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway and the West End, were there any perceivable differences you felt from the audiences or in the overall production, if any? What was it like bringing this show to London?
- "I would say there was a difference in audiences for me personally. Doing subject matter such as the Scottsboro Boys in America holds so much more weight than it does in London, mainly because it's not their story. When we did the show on Broadway and regionally, there were protests and many people walking out of the theatre because they felt the story had been taken too far theatrically. The London audiences completely understood what the creative team was going for and ate it up. The show got standing ovations 8 times a week, which never really happens in London."
If you could star in your choice of show, who would you want as your costar and why?
- "Oh wow. That’s a tough one. There are so many shows that I really want to do. I can’t pinpoint any one show in particular, but I’ve always told Norm Lewis that I want to do a show where he and Audra McDonald play my parents. That’d really make me happy. If there’s anyone reading this that is a writer, director or a producer, can we make this happen please?!"
Who would you want to be your "Freaky Friday”?
- "Beyoncé. Hands down. Granted she works incredibly hard and has no private life whatsoever, but I’m just interested in knowing what a day in her life is like…seriously."
What was your most embarrassing moment onstage?
- "HA! There are so many. The MOST embarrassing moment would have to be the first time I went on during “The Scottsboro Boys” on Broadway. I covered seven roles in the show; two of which I had actually rehearsed on stage (the show didn’t run long so we closed before any of the swings ever got a chance to really rehearse all of the roles we covered). The day was November 14th. I was shopping with my buddy Travis that day before our Sunday matinee and as he dropped me off at the stage door he said, “Break a leg!” and my reply was “Yeah right. I’m never going on!” The boys in that show were strong and even on the days they didn’t feel 100%, they’d NEVER call out. So, I’m waiting in my dressing room and watching the entire cast trickle into the theatre. I’m counting the bodies and realize one of the guys who normally gets to the theatre early, like myself, wasn’t there. Immediately I ran to my script just to be safe. Half hour has already been called. Fifteen minutes has already been called and there’s still no sign of him. Five minutes later the stage manager announces I’ll be making my debut in the show. Keep in mind this is for a role I hadn’t rehearsed with anyone and I had less than ten minute notice! No put in. No nothing, except the notes I took myself of the role. The show went great, except for one hiccup. There’s a song in the show that starts out a cappella and the role I went on for is supposed to give everyone their notes with a harmonica, I forgot the harmonica. I panicked to say the least. I locked eyes with the conductor, mouthed that I didn’t have it, then the legendary John Cullum turned around to ask me to play the instrument I did NOT have. He gave a look to the audience and a sigh and walked off of the stage. I tried to recover by singing the notes thinking I had perfect pitch (lies), but the conductor wound up playing the notes on the piano. We were all trying our hardest not to laugh on stage during one of the most serious moments in the show. People still talk about it to this day…four years later. Yeah, it was quite embarrassing. But now I triple check all my props to make sure I have them AND continue to remember them!"
Where did you grow up? Do you have a theatrical family?
- "I grew up in a town called Mechanicsville, Virginia. Really quiet and rural. Hardly any cell phone reception and, when I was growing up, I remember seeing less that five stop lights. My family isn’t very theatrical, but we sing. I learned how to sing from my dad. The church I grew up in was full of family members on my dad’s side and EVERYONE sang. So you had no choice but to know how to AT LEAST carry a tune!"
What is one role that you want to play, regardless of gender?
- "People think I’m crazy for saying this, but the role of Natalie in “Next To Normal” always intrigued me. Maybe in a reimagined revival of the show they can switch it up and rename the role Nathan."
Who are some of the strongest costars you have worked with and why?
- "Ya’ll are trying to get me in trouble! I would be here for hours typing about how EVERY costar was strong but there is one that I’m always in awe of and that person is André De Shields. I did a reading with him about 2 years ago and it’s still one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. We only had music stands, but the life (and his own personal costume) that he brought to that role was everything. In the play, he was my bishop and I was the minster of music in his church. I was supposed to fear him and fear him I did! He was just knowledgeable about EVERYTHING, brought his A game to every rehearsal, and thus, made me step up my game for not only that reading but also everything I’ve done since then. He’s also a really nice man. He gives the best hugs!"
What are you most passionate about in your own life?
- "Right now, I’m passionate about being happy and enjoying every second of life. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in 2014, so my main goal is to just be happy and just BE. All forms of negativity can dismiss itself because I have no time for it. This business is so stressful I feel like it’s important for people really find what brings them peace and joy."
What is your guilty pleasure (reality tv, junk food, etc.)?
- "You just answered the question for me! Reality TV and junk food slay me! Yes, I watch The Real Housewives of Every City! Although, I’m not a fan of performing competition shows. I hate sob stories for votes. However, I do love Dancing With The Stars. I live for Wendy’s! I love the spicy chicken sandwich with no tomato, fries, and a sweet tea…BIGGIE SIZED!! And don’t get me started on Popeye’s! Every apartment I’ve had in NYC has always been no more then eight blocks away from a Popeye’s. I’m that serious about that place!"
What has been the most invaluable advice you have received over the years?
- "I’ve gotten tons of advice through the years from many amazing people. But there’s one person who always gave me the best advice for ME because he knew me SO well and that was my mentor Reggie Ray. He was a costume designer (most recently of Broadway’s “Stickfly” and “Holler If You Hear Me”) and one of my professors at Howard University. He recently passed away, but my freshman year he told me some things about myself that I hadn’t yet discovered but he saw from the moment he met me. He saw me trying to fit in and be cool. He saw 18 year old me trying to change and over-extend myself (which I’m still working on) so I could please others and in turn, I was sacrificing who I was. In his fatherly way, he sat me down in his office, gave me a stern talking to and said “Son, you’re not like everyone else. You’re special. You can’t do what everyone else is doing because you’ve been set apart for a reason. Know that and you’ll get where you want to get to”. I’ve never told anyone else that, but hopefully someone out there is reading this that can take that piece of advice and not make some of the same mistakes that I did."
What was it like working with Susan Stroman?
- "Mama Stro! That woman is everything. I was very nervous when I first met her and thought she would be intimidating, but she’s the complete opposite. She’s seriously the SWEETEST lady you’ll ever meet in your entire life. So humble and gracious and giving. She demands a lot of her performers but that’s only because she wants the best for them. I always looked forward to working with her because I knew I’d be pushed in the best way possible. She gave me my first job out of school and trusted me to do it well. And for that I’m eternally grateful!"
Do you have anything new in the works that you could tell us about?
- "There are some things I’m cooking up. When they actually happen I’ll let the world know."
What is your weakness/something you would like to improve on, personally and professionally?
- "Good question. Professionally and personally, I’d love to become more of a people person. I’m such a homebody and introvert. When I go out, I’m the kind of guy that stands in the corner doing a step-touch thinking that’s dancing. I’m working on talking to people more and not leaving a gathering after my first yawn (I generally go to bed VERY early)."
Could you tell us about your education at Howard University and training at Cap 21 Professional Musical Theatre Training Program?
- "Howard was great for me! I had never had any formal acting and dance training prior to college, so it was the best place for me to learn in a very nurturing, caring, yet tough love way. Also, it was great being around other artists of color. Howard is such a family environment and a lot of my friends from there are my closest friends to this day. CAP21 was awesome! I loved being in NYC and having professors who had worked on Broadway. My classmates and I loved being in class one minute then stage door hopping to meet a Broadway star the next. It was so exciting! Professors from both schools have been great, even after I’ve and started my career. They still coach me for auditions and give me solid advice on certain topics whenever I reach out."