James Donegan stars as a myriad of characters in the hilarious musical Forbidden Broadway, hitting the Winspear from December 27th through the 30th. Donegan was fitting in a much needed haircut when we spoke on the phone and he explained to me the process of playing 13 different roles in the production. “You have a chance to play in every possible style of a Broadway musical and also to play any kind of character. You get to change your clothes a lot, each one of us has different costumes. Especially, for the women who have to change dresses, wigs, and shoes. Sometimes the better show is backstage,” said Donegan. A native Texan hailing from Seguin, Donegan found his way to the Big Apple for musical theater, starring in productions such as Bobby, Jesus Christ Superstar, My Fair Lady, and Hair, to name a few.
I threw our new and improved set of questions at him and was pleased to find that it gave him a few laughs along the way.
FrontRow: What is the best concert and the worst concert you have ever been to?
James Donegan: My taste is musical theater so the best one I’ve ever been to, I’d say it was Elaine Stritch’s Broadway show. She did a show called Elaine Stritch at Liberty that was just an amazing, amazing performance. Least favorite? There’s so many stinkers. When I was in high school in Texas, we went to a Christian concert with my church youth group. It was some Christian rock concert in the high school gym and it was pretty bad.
FR: What was the first movie you saw in the theaters?
JD: I think it was Bambi, that’s the first one I remember seeing. I don’t even remember what I remember about it. But, that big forest fire thing when the stag is running through the woods and the mother is being shot – I remember that chaos more than anything else. I was four or five.
FR: If you were auditioning for a voice competition show, which song would you choose to sing?
JD: Oh Lord, well I’m way too old for any of them I think. Not way too old, don’t put that. I sing a lot of Billy Joel stuff when I have pop auditions. Maybe “Summer, Highland Falls” or something.
FR: What’s the closest you have ever come to dying?
JD: I don’t think I was ever in any actual physical danger, but I get motion sickness and I was flying from New York to Miami and we had to stop in Raleigh and it was super windy. There was some crazy storm and we were coming down and the plan couldn’t take off and we had to circle around again. I got off the plane finally and I was white as a sheet and sweating, thinking of every zen thing to calm myself down. We had to get back on and I said I can’t do it. I called my mother and partner and broke down crying. I didn’t think I was gonna die, but something in my body said I wasn’t safe. Both of them thought something was seriously wrong with me. My mom was like, “I’ll play for a rental car if you want one.” Of course there’s some New Yorker on the flight, who was like, “Do you think it’s going to be better later?” A lot of New Yorkers have a righteous indignation about them.
FR: If you could choose any decade to live in, which would it be?
JD: If I could be rich in the ’20s, I would have to have a great acting life. I think if I could do that, that would be amazing. I would be a man of leisure.
FR: What was your favorite toy as a kid?
JD: I just heard someone talking about Weeble and I loved Weeble. Also, I grew up when the first Star Wars movies were coming out, so to be a little boy with Star Wars action figures was huge. My best friend had this R2-D2 figure that I just coveted. Why I never asked for it, I don’t know. That was just his toy. I had this Stars Wars playset that had a working plank, you had to turn a crank, but a working plank that you could put the action figures feet into. It was like an Ewok village or something. Then they had that Landrover thing that looked like a hovercraft. It sounds so cliché, but technology just wasn’t what it is, but remote. There were simpler times in ’79.
FR: Should the United States adopt a national healthcare system similar to the United Kingdom or Canada?
JD: I have really complicated feelings about that as I think any thinking person has complicated feelings about it. I think we all agree that something needs to be done. As someone who often has to pay for my own healthcare – the way the actors’ union works is that we get healthcare based on the number of weeks we work, so if you don’t work you have periods of being uninsured. I don’t know. I wish that I were more articulate and could tell you the solution to healthcare. As a professional actor, I think there’s a solution smarter than I could come up with. I think the Canadian system is not it or the Obama system.
FR: If global warming melted the ice caps covering 90 percent of the known world with water, what city would you hope was spared so you could live there?
JD: I guess New York because I live here. And because New York is an island after all.
FR: If you could change one law — make something that is illegal legal, or something legal illegal — what would it be?
JD: Same sex marriage should be federally recognized.
FR: If you weren’t playing music and had the talent and circumstances to do anything else, what would it be?
JD: My education is in advertising, so as a designer or art director.
FR: What’s on your playlist right now?
JD: Showtunes, showtunes, showtunes. I actually am learning the new Book of Mormon. I’ve never performed it so that’s the most recent thing. At the gym, I recently listened to Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz.