When Ethan Le Phong, who plays Pepper in the Mamma Mia! North American tour, steps onto the Fox Theatre’s stage, not only will he be fulfilling an ambition, but he will also celebrate his success in front of family and friends. A graduate of Duluth High School and Shorter College, Le Phong is a hometown guy who has achieved Broadway (Miss Saigon) and West End (We Will Rock You) success.
This tour stop marks the first time that Le Phong has been in a professional production in Atlanta, and he is excited to play in front of his family and friends, many of whom will be seeing him perform at the Fox Theatre for the first time. “Every night a group of friends are coming to see the show,” Le Phong states. “It’s going to be a busy stay, but it should be nice.”
He mentions that “it is going to be my debut at the Fox,” a theater where he sat and watched Les Miserables as well as other touring shows. It was during a production of Chicago that he had a sort of revelation. “I was like one day I am going to be on that stage,” he says. “I wanted to leap from my seat and join them. I knew I would be on Broadway and come to Atlanta.”
Born to parents who were both performers in Vietnam, he is proud to be a part of a talented family, which still lives in the Atlanta area. During this tour stop, he will be forgoing the usual hotel room and live in the comfort of home for the week to visit with them. “I get to stay at home and have my mom cook for me and spend extra time with my nephews that are special to me,” he says.
In addition to visiting family, he will also have a reunion of sorts with high school classmates who voted him Most Likely To Succeed. He comments, “I think I’m coming home to show I am doing what I set out to do when I left high school.” That success is something he has worked hard to achieve, but he’s proud of the work and excited to be a part of the Mamma Mia! tour.
Le Phong has been with the cast for about a year, and he has a few show-stopping numbers that he enjoys. One such scene is the “Does Your Mother Know” number, where he gets to dance around with Tanya (Alison Ewing). “I love that scene. It’s my big number and a chance for me to be on stage with Tanya,” he comments. “She makes the scene fun and it shows onstage how much fun we are having.”
Another aspect of the show that he enjoys is the creative freedom that the cast has been given during some of the dance numbers. Recognizing the talent, the creative team of the tour has allowed them to develop their own choreography during some of “the solo break downs.” Le Phong mentions, “Because we were a brand new cast, we got to experiment and try new things.”
When he is not on stage, Le Phong enjoys watching the talented cast in numbers such as “Take A Chance On Me.” “In the second act, I find myself watching the scene with Rosie [Mary Callanan] and Bill [John-Michael Zuerlein],” he says. “It is hilarious. I like to watch Mary; she is a comic genius.”
Like most performers, Le Phong hopes that the audience will enjoy the performance, even those who have seen it multiple times before. With its slight changes and new cast, audiences just might get a fresh take on the musical. According to Le Phong, many have. “So many people who have seen it three or four times have come up to us and said they enjoyed the show more than in the past or saw something new to them,” he comments.
Most of all, he wants to be a part of introducing Mamma Mia! to a new generation of fans, and it is something that he has noticed to be happening. Many kids and teens are discovering the musical. “It’s great there’s a new generation of interest [in the musical],” he says.
If nothing else, Mamma Mia! provides a chance to escape the worries of the day and enjoy the music of ABBA. Le Phong encourages audiences to “sit and take in the show, the humor and the heart of it, and then go out singing an ABBA tune.”
Mamma Mia! plays at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre from November 2 to 6 as a season special to the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta 2011-2012 series. For more information, please visit the Broadway Across America website. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster locations and online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/.
By Kenny Norton