“You grow up pretty fast when you have naked people around you,” says Robert Spaniolo, recalling – at just 8 years old – starring in his first show, “Pippin.” Before that he pursued community theater stints, like his very first in “Oliver!,” and now, after dilly-dallying as a “magazine merchandiser person” – and trying to make enough money to survive in Los Angeles – he’s returning to Michigan for “Wicked.”
The Muskegon native’s been part of the five-year-running show, which plays through Jan. 4 at the Detroit Opera House, for nearly two years. And though he’s starting to feel a little like Dolly Parton (without exactly the same hours), performing with the ensemble has its perks. “It’s fun to be able to get away from everything else that’s happening – the drama or your personal stuff,” he says.
He nabbed the ensemble spot in “Wicked,” the Oz witches story for those living in solitude, after a series of auditions in L.A., where the 25-year-old moved to at 18 – with only 3,000 bucks.
He trained as a dancer for two years and sometimes simultaneously worked four jobs (including one at a gay bar) to live the pricey L.A. life. And before scoring “Wicked,” which brought him to Lansing this past summer, he danced for pop performer Kristine W during San Diego Pride.
“I remember going to see Kristine W back in the day, before I even knew who she was – and she didn’t show up,” he recalls. “Later, I danced for her … it’s kinda funny.”
When he comes to Detroit to dance, he plans on probing the city, too. He’s only visited a couple times as a child, and the “Wicked” crew (many of whom are gay, he says) typically sight-see in each city on the tour.
“We do everything,” he says. “Myself, personally, I don’t like to do touristy things, but if there’s adventurous things – sometimes we go canoeing. We kind of see what each city has that we haven’t seen before, or haven’t experienced before. But I definitely like the nature side of things.”
Raised in northern Michigan, he recalls visiting Traverse City once a summer with his family, who didn’t go on many trips together – unless it was to the dinner table, he recalls. When the family moved from Fruitport at the end of Spaniolo’s freshman year of high school, he was relieved. And, we bet, so were his mom and dad.
“I told my parents I wanted to move, or I’d run away,” he jokes, adding that Mona Shores High School in Muskegon was known for its stellar performing arts program – perfect for an aspiring thespian. Well, except for the incessant teasing.
“Now, I look back and they’re working in a factory or have babies and kids,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and now that I’m in the place that I’m at, I think they respect me more than they did then.”
When his “Wicked” run is up – probably in the spring or summer, he says – he’ll go to college to study film and visual effects. For now, though, he’s looking forward to seeing his family for the holidays.
And visiting the dinner table.
Dec. 10-Jan. 4
Detroit Opera House