Broadway is coming back to Louisville, this time in the form of the five-time Tony Award winning production of War Horse. The state of Kentucky is represented well in the play; two cast members are former Actors Theatre apprentices (Michael Wyatt Cox and Jon Riddleberger) and one, Spiff Wiegand, is a Kentucky native. Spiff, who plays the Song Man, chats about his history with Louisville and life as a performer on the road.
Lou.com: You’re a hometown boy! Born in Kentucky, college at UofL. What is your history with the city of Louisville?
Spiff Wiegand: I moved to Louisville from Northern Kentucky for a music degree at UofL. After college I worked at the Speed Museum, Ermin's Bakery, played in the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra, taught extracurricular music programs in the Louisville school system, and was active with the Governor's School for the Arts.
Lou.com: Your bio says you play over 20 instruments, sometimes several at once. That’s pretty mind boggling. What are they? Are you self-taught? What’s your favorite instrument and why?
SW:I'm self-taught on a few, but I have a degree in classical guitar, so I'm best at strings like banjo, ukulele, and fiddle. It's hard to pick a favorite. I play piano and drums and bass but I also play more eccentric items like jaw harp and didgeridoo. As far as playing many at once, it's been a great challenge to see what I can achieve without resorting to modern technology. My upcoming album showcases live performances that came out of that process.
Lou.com:You’re a musician with several original songs and an album to your name, yet you’ve landed a role in a touring theatre production. How did that happen?
SW: Due to the instruments I play, I get called to audition for theater roles frequently, and have been an on-stage musician for a while now. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved with such a well-respected work as War Horse.
Lou.com: War Horse is a show unfamiliar to most people. What makes this show so special—and different—from other shows?
SW: When people think "musical" they might imagine dialogue erupting into song to forward the plot or highlight emotional moments. With War Horse, the music enforces the emotional flow but comes from the fact that, in an English village circa 1914, music would have been daily entertainment produced by the villagers themselves. The music in War Horse helps create the world of the play itself.
Lou.com: What is your role in the production?
SW: My main role is as the village accordion player, but I play various other ensemble roles.
Lou.com: Tell us a little bit about the daily life of a professional performer who tours the country. Is it really as glamorous as we think it is?
SW: Well, if you have a job, you must go to work. But I love my job, so I don't mind. When I'm not working I have the opportunity to explore, meet locals, eat great food and try new experiences. It is definitely the life for me. I wish it could go on forever.
Lou.com: So, you’re back in Louisville for a week. What’s on your agenda between calls?
SW: Visiting as many friends, mentors, family, and old haunts as possible. I'm so happy to be back. Derby pie here I come!
Lou.com: Looking ahead, what are we going to see more of: Spiff Wiegand the solo musician or Spiff Wiegand the theatre star?
SW: After War Horse leaves town, Louisville will probably see me playing locally as a solo musician, which I've done a handful of times already here. But I'm always open to more theatre, because there is such wonder in the myriad ways it can communicate.
Lou.com: Any advice for the aspiring musicians and performers in Louisville?
SW: Don't stop following your interests. If you are truly engaged in your own work, someone will notice and want your CD or painting or play. You can market your work in a million ways these days, but word of mouth still can't be beat. Focus on quality will keep people talking.
War Horse is the story of a horse named Joey, who finds himself enlisted to fight on behalf of the English in World War I. “In a tale the New York Daily News calls ‘spellbinding, by turns epic and intimate,’ Albert [beloved Joey’s owner], not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home.” War Horse features spectacular life-sized puppets created specifically for the show by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.
More about Spiff Wiegand and his career can be found here.
War Horse is part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series at the Kentucky Center. Performances run Tuesday, November 19 through Sunday, November 24. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online, in person at the Kentucky Center box office, or by calling 502-584-7777.
Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg