Actor with ties to Manchester performs locally in ‘Wicked’
By: Jim Erickson
Lips returned to St. Louis in the summer of 2011 to appear in three Muny Opera productions at Forest Park before starting his final year in musical theatre at the University of Michigan. He’s back again, this time as an ensemble member and understudy for the lead male role Fiyero in the national touring production of “Wicked” now playing at the Fox Theatre.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “To be part of a popular show that appeals to such a wide audience and to be able to bring that kind of production to those who can’t always go to a place like New York to see it – well, it’s the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do.”
Maternal grandparents Tom and Bev Hart and paternal grandmother Mary Ann Mace, all of Manchester, are sharing their grandson’s happiness. All were scheduled to attend the Dec. 23 evening performance, along with several dozen other friends and relatives, including Lips’ parents, John and Christie Lips, who drove here for the occasion from their home in the Denver area.
The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity for Lips, beginning with the University of Michigan’s May Showcase where graduating seniors perform before New York casting directors and agents with the hope of attracting the attention that will lead to the next career step.
“That turned out well,” Lips said, modestly commenting about the event and its results for him. A talent agency quickly signed him to a contract and he was called to several auditions. In late June, he was back at the Muny to perform in “Chicago” and then it was on to Canada where he learned his parts in “Wicked” during the tour’s stop in Ottawa.
He officially joined the “Wicked” cast for its Montreal run and has since performed in Kitchener, Ont, Baltimore, Schenectady, Syracuse and Louisville. When the St. Louis visit ends Jan. 6, the group will head south for performances in Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.
At 22, Lips is one of the youngest members of the “Wicked” cast.
“It’s really a great job to have right out of school,” he observed.
Lips started dance lessons as a youngster and added vocal training (he’s a baritone) and acting during his high school years at the Denver School of the Arts. The family moved from the St. Louis area to Colorado in 1994.
His work in “Wicked,” particularly the part of Fiyero, calls for more of a dramatic emphasis.
“It’s definitely a different form of expression than dancing,” he observed, adding that exploring any character he plays is both “fun and challenging.”
Lips never knows for sure when he might be called on to move from the ensemble to the Fiyero role. Vacation time-off, illness, injury and cast turnover all come into play and there rarely is much advance notice.
As for his future, Lips said he’s not thinking that much beyond his present work.
“A person in this business has to be open to whatever may come along,” he noted. “But right now my long-term goal is simply to keep improving and reach my full potential of being the best I can be.”