With rehearsals underway for the world premiere of To Wong Foo the Musical, Peter Caulfield, Gregory Haney and Pablo Gómez Jones will star in the show when it opens at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester as Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson and Chi Chi Rodríguez respectively. To Wong Foo the Musical is based on the 1995 film and is set to open for previews this coming Saturday (21st October) and is currently booking until 17th December, with the story following three drag queens (Vida, Noxeema and Chi Chi) who embark on a trip across America to attend the Drag Queen of the Year Finals in Hollywood. Peter, Gregory and Pablo all have previous stage experience including Peter playing Billy Graham last year in Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre and originating the role of King Herod in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Gregory in the cast of Hamilton in the West End and on Broadway, as well as playing Chistery in Broadway’s Wicked and Pablo being in the original cast of In Dreams at Leeds Playhouse, having graduated from Mountview this year. Ahead of the musical’s world premiere, we found out from Peter, Gregory and Pablo about portraying Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson and Chi Chi Rodríguez in To Wong Foo the Musical, how rehearsals are going and what they are looking forward to for opening in the show.
Can you tell us about To Wong Foo the Musical and your character Vida Boheme (Peter), Noxeema Jackson (Gregory) and Chi Chi Rodríguez (Pablo)?
Peter Caulfield – To Wong Foo is a journey of discovery – where three drag queens get stuck in the middle of America when trying to get to Hollywood to realise their dreams. They realise love and acceptance can be found in the most unlikely of places, and that life is unpredictable. That’s what makes life so fun! It really is a celebration of drag and the value and importance of having the space to be yourself. Vida embodies the mother of all drag – and all the humour, warmth and generosity that comes with that role. She’s the ultimate queen. No pressure!
Gregory Haney – To Wong Foo is a musical about three drag queens’ journey from New York to Hollywood tripping into a small town and wakening its beauty. My character, Noxeema Jackson, is the icon of her own world. She exudes strength, compassion, and a strong compass with a sharp tongue.
Pablo Gómez Jones – To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is this fab movie from the ’90s, right? Well, in 2023, they decided to turn it into a musical. And I landed the role of Chi Chi Rodríguez! Chi Chi is this super sassy and fun drag queen on a wild cross-country adventure with her two fabulous friends. It’s all about style, humour, and embracing your true self, which is just so cool to perform on stage. I’m loving every moment of it!
How was it meeting the rest of the cast for the first time and how are rehearsals going so far?
Peter – The cast are all glorious human beings, so kind, funny, talented and all so individual! They fit into their roles so perfectly. It’s the dream cast for this show.
Gregory – Our first meeting was dinner at a Chinese restaurant before our first day of rehearsal. So, we felt like a family from day one. Rehearsals are going smashingly, we are learning quickly but still leaving room for laughs.
Pablo – Meeting the rest of the cast for the first time was amazing! Seriously, everyone is just so nice and talented. It’s like a big, supportive family. And let me tell you about these heels – they are sky-high! I mean, they make me feel like I’m on top of the world. Rehearsals have been a blast, despite the occasional stumble in those heels. We’re all working hard, but we’re also having a ton of fun, which is what it’s all about, right?
What is it like being part of the world premiere production at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester?
Peter – It’s an honour and a privilege. This show is so relevant to now and queerness within new musicals should be celebrated. I can’t think of a better theatre and city for this show to be born into.
Gregory – I am over the moon to be a part of the Hope Mill Theatre family. There has been so much care and support gone into the production, which only ignites us as a cast to share this wonderful story with Manchester and the world.
Pablo – Being part of the world premiere production at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester is such an incredible experience! Manchester is an amazingly inclusive city, and the Hope Mill Theatre is the perfect place for this show. The theatre scene here is so vibrant and diverse, and the city itself is known for its open-minded and welcoming atmosphere. Hope Mill, in particular, has this unique charm that adds something special to the production. It’s intimate, which allows for a close connection with the audience. It’s truly an honour to be a part of this world premiere in such a fantastic city and theatre.
What do you think each of your characters will be like to play and what are you enjoying about working together?
Peter – It’s going to be a riot. We are having so much fun discovering who these queens are and playing off each other. It’s going to be like having a big party on stage every night.
Gregory – Working with Pete and Pablo is a DREAM!!! We all get on like three schoolgirls, which helps our characters bounce off each other. There is a real sense of respect and appreciation for what one another bring to the table. The three of us leading this show is going to be a moment you won’t want to miss.
Pablo – Playing these characters is a blast! Chi Chi Rodríguez is such a vibrant and lively character, and it’s a thrilling challenge to bring her to life on stage. It’s definitely different from my everyday persona, but that’s what makes it so exciting. I get to explore a whole new side of myself and dive into the world of drag.
What I’m enjoying the most is the camaraderie among the cast. We’re like a tight-knit family. We support each other through every step of this fabulous journey. It’s incredible to see how we all transform into these larger-than-life characters and then come together to create something truly magical on stage. The energy, the creativity, and the shared love for the art of theatre – it’s a dream come true!
Had you seen the 1995 To Wong Foo film before auditioning and what drew you to the show?
Peter – I had seen it many years ago but purposely didn’t rewatch before auditioning as I wanted to give my own fresh take on Vida. Obviously drag has developed so much since the 90s and, although the film is iconic, I think it was important to come at it fresh rather than try and replicate it. Also, a lot of this show is sung through – so it’s a completely different beast, even if the message is the same. The film was magic and I know this musical version will be too.
Gregory – I have seen this film more times than I care to admit. It has definitely been one of the films in my life that helped shaped my adolescence. Which adds a little pressure, but also a whole lot of respect and care has gone into the creation of my role.
Pablo – You know what’s funny? I had heard of the 1995 film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, but I hadn’t watched it before auditioning. It was after I got the audition call that I decided to give it a watch, and let me tell you, I became absolutely obsessed with it! The film’s humour, its heart, and the incredible drag performances just spoke to me. I knew right then and there that I had to be a part of this show. It felt like fate, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision to dive into this amazing world of To Wong Foo the Musical.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see To Wong Foo the Musical at Hope Mill Theatre and who do you think will enjoy watching it?
Peter – I recommend booking because it’s already selling so quickly! So if you want to catch the new musical of the year get in their quick! Ha. But really just all the reasons I’ve said already. It’s a huge celebration of love, acceptance and all the joy that drag represents. You don’t want to miss it. Also, this show will appeal to not only fans of the movie but younger audiences too – who might not have heard of the film. The original story and concept was written for the stage and drag is inherently theatrical – Drag Race is amazing – but really you need a live audience to allow drag to really land. The audience are what breathe life into these queens so come and breathe on us, baby!
Gregory – If you don’t like having a good time or belly laughing or maybe even shedding a tear then this isn’t the show for you – kidding. It’s for the whole family, friends, nan, and even your boss. It’s a camp delicatessen with all the toppings!
Pablo – I’d absolutely recommend booking tickets to see To Wong Foo the Musical at Hope Mill Theatre because it’s a hilarious and heartwarming show that celebrates our differences. Anyone who enjoys a good laugh, fabulous drag performances, and a message of unity and acceptance will have a blast. It’s a feel-good experience that reminds us to embrace who we are and come together in the most fabulous way!
Peter, how was it playing Billy Graham in Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre last year?
Peter – It was so fun. The show was beautifully constructed by James Graham, Elton John and Jake Shears. Rupert Goold, the director, allowed me to play so much and Billy became this Elvis-esque preaching superstar. In real life, Billy Graham filled stadiums with 50,000 people, so we wanted to play on that kind of star status. Singing at the Oliviers live at the Royal Albert Hall with 10,000 eyes staring at me in the room and who knows how many at home really gave a taste of what that must have felt like. It was a special show and I’m really proud to have been a key part of it. I hope it has a further life, the show deserves it.
You’ve previously performed as King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, what was the show like to work on?
Peter – I originated the role of King Herod in the Regent’s Park production, which went on to win the Olivier for Best New Revival. It was fabulous because I was able to reinvent the role. Usually Herod can be played as a bumbling fool but this was a modern adaptation and I wanted them to be different. I had in mind this ageing star whose ego had got so big that they bulldozed over any competition. When talking to Tom Scutt, the designer, I told him I was channelling Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga and Leigh Bowery all rolled into one. He came up with the most incredible costume. A 30ft long gold cape which dropped to reveal me in a gold nappy. It was totally bonkers but it felt like all the things I just described. A totally subversive rock star with the ego the size of Pluto!
Gregory, what are some of your favourite memories from your time in the cast of Hamilton in the West End and on Broadway?
Gregory – There are so many favourites from Hamilton, both Broadway and West End. Getting to perform for President Obama, Prince Harry and Meghan, performing on the Tony’s and Olivier Awards, and taking a shot from the Grammy felt like rock star behaviour. Hamilton was a true gift and I am very thankful for my time in that show.
What was it like playing Chistery in the Broadway production of Wicked?
Gregory – Chistery was hard. Having to play a spectrum of emotions without saying but one word is a hard task. I was very fortunate to have the support of many beautiful Elphabas to help the journey.
Pablo, how was it being in the original cast of new musical In Dreams at the Leeds Playhouse and what was it like performing the Roy Orbison music?
Pablo – Being part of a group of Latino performers in In Dreams was truly special. It felt like a cultural celebration, and there was this incredible sense of camaraderie. What made it even more amazing was the show’s portrayal of Mexican culture and Day of the Dead. It was done so accurately and respectfully, which was important to me as someone from Mexico City. It was heartwarming to see our culture celebrated on stage, and I think it helped bridge cultural gaps for the audience too. It was a beautiful experience that made me proud of my heritage and the power of theatre to bring cultures together.
You graduated from Mountview this year, how was your time as a student and was there anything that encouraged you to train at Mountview?
Pablo – My time at Mountview was amazing! It’s one of those places that just felt like the perfect fit for me. I’d always dreamt of pursuing musical theatre, and what really encouraged me to train at Mountview was the incredible talent that had come out of there. So many of the performers I admired and loved had trained at Mountview.
The training was intense, but it was intense in the best way possible. It pushed me to my limits and helped me discover my full potential as a performer. The faculty’s dedication, the diverse curriculum, and the collaborative environment really shaped me into the artist I am today. I wouldn’t trade my time at Mountview for anything; it was the perfect launchpad for my career in musical theatre.
Do you each have a favourite aspect of working in theatre and what are some of your stand-out highlights from your career so far?
Peter – Theatre is totally unique. Having the live reaction of the audience informs everything you do on stage. You don’t get that anywhere else. Also, in theatre, the audience’s imagination allows you to do so much more than any CGI or AI ever could. You’ve listed some of my theatre highlights, but Our House the Musical, my first job out of drama school, will always hold such a special place in my heart. Creating a new musical from scratch is always such a joy and creating To Wong Foo gives me similar feelings.
Gregory – Favourite aspects of working in theatre have to be the families you create in each show. So many times theatre kids grow up feeling othered, or on the outside, which at times is isolating, but the beautiful thing about theatre is that we are all in it together.
Pablo – My favourite aspect of working in theatre has to be the exhilaration of live performance and the magical connection you build with the audience. There’s just nothing like that energy exchange.
As for stand-out highlights, well, playing Chi Chi Rodríguez in To Wong Foo the Musical is certainly a dream come true. It’s a role I’ve been waiting for since I first put on my mom’s heels and sashayed down the hallway to I Will Survive as a kid. It’s incredible how life comes full circle sometimes, and this is undoubtedly a career highlight I’ll cherish forever.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you get into the industry?
Peter – I was a singer and soloist in the choir as a young lad, and that really ignited my love of music and performing to an audience. From there, I joined a state run theatre company for local kids in Nottingham called NET (Nottingham Education Theatre Company). It taught me so much and from there I went to drama school and then into the industry. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Gregory – My love for acting and performing comes from my need to story tell and connect with people. I’ve been drawn to the arts and creating all my life so much so I remember taking my father to the touring production of Fame in my home town and during the interval telling him this is what I want to do. I’ve always known.
Pablo – My love for acting and performing has deep roots, and it might just go back to those playful tantrums as a kid. I remember my parents joking that they would sign me up for Televisa in Mexico because of those dramatic moments. Maybe there was a little actor in me even then!
My journey into the industry really kicked off when I got the chance to be part of the new production of Les Misérables in Mexico during high school. It was my first professional gig, and it was an eye-opening experience. I fell in love with the thrill of the stage and knew that this was where I belonged. From there, the passion for acting and performing just grew, leading me all the way to where I am today.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your free time?
Peter – I love watching interesting new plays and musicals. In my free time, I love to travel and see the world. Sometimes that happens with work as well – which is the dream. Otherwise I love cooking at home and seeing friends and family.
Gregory – Don’t really have a favourite but I really enjoy watching new works.
Pablo – I absolutely love watching theatre shows, and last night I had the pleasure of catching Guys and Dolls. Let me tell you, it was an absolutely incredible and immersive experience. I think it might just be the best thing currently playing in London. The talent, the music, and the overall atmosphere were just mind-blowing.
What are you looking forward to most for opening in To Wong Foo the Musical at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre?
Peter – I just can’t wait for the very first audience reaction when they see this world premiere! What an exciting moment it’s going to be! I’m so excited I could just spit!
Gregory – I am looking forward to feeling the energy of the city and hearing the audience laugh at this amazing script and company. Manchester is a true gem.
Pablo – Opening in To Wong Foo the Musical at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre is a dream come true for me! It’s been one of the theatres I’ve had my eye on ever since I moved here to study musical theatre. The anticipation of finally stepping onto that stage and sharing this fabulous show with the audience is what I’m looking forward to most. Oh, and let me tell you, the gowns, wigs, and the entire production for To Wong Foo the Musical are going to be absolutely amazing! The glamour and the attention to detail in creating those fabulous drag looks are something to behold. It’s going to be a visual feast for the audience, and I’m so excited to showcase all the hard work that’s gone into making this production a true spectacle. Get ready for a dazzling experience at Hope Mill Theatre!
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