Anthony L. Festa’s two biggest musical influences were probably Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, although maybe not in the way you might think.
The King had passed on and the Chairman of the Board was well past his prime when Festa, a Ballston Spa native, entered this world 28 years ago. But his father, Anthony D. Festa, had plenty of records, and if that weren’t enough, the elder Festa also wasn’t a bad crooner himself.
“I can remember being in the back of the car and he’d be driving singing Elvis or Sinatra,” remembered Festa, part of the ensemble cast in the national touring production of “Wicked,” coming to Proctors on Wednesday for 16 shows through March 12. “I felt like I grew up with those two guys. My dad was a foreman at a nuclear plant in Milton for 40 years, and he would never say this, but he had a beautiful voice.”
The elder Festa passed away in November of 2015, but not before taking his family to Proctors for many national touring productions.
“I went there with my mom and dad countless times,” said Festa, who also occasionally accompanied his parents to New York City to see a live Broadway production. “We’d also go down on Amtrak to New York and see shows. Watching Adam Pascal in ‘Rent’ really inspired me. But we were at Proctors so many times. My dad, he would love to be there for ‘Wicked.’ He will be there, in spirit, right in the front row.”
Festa is a 2006 graduate of Ballston Spa who went on to SUNY-Cortland, where he got a degree in musical theater. He had started his theatrical career even earlier as a 12-year-old in the Schuylerville Players’ production of “Oliver!”
“I did a school play earlier, but it was really playing the Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver!’ that really gave me the bug,” remembered Festa. “That’s when I first really felt the energy from the audience. I was only 12, but that’s when I said to myself, ‘this is what I want to do.’ ”
Valerie Lord, a retired music teacher and chorus director at Ballston Spa who has also served as musical director at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, Schenectady Civic Players, Schenectady Light Opera Company and Albany Civic Theater, remembers Festa’s portrayal of the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!”
“I remember him from that, but I was in the pit and we really didn’t get to know each other,” said Lord. “Then when he was in ninth grade, I did get to know him, and I had him in all my classes through high school. I remember how he was always anxious to learn, to try more. He had a wonderful attitude, and he was never cocky or self-important. He just loved performing.”
Stacie Mayette Barnes, producing director at Home Made Theater, remembers Festa when he was 16 playing the lead in their junior production of “Aladdin.”
“There are some people who just seem to get your attention when they’re on stage, and Anthony was absolutely one of them,” said Mayette Barnes. “He really stood out. He was talented, he was charismatic. You just got this sense watching him that, ‘hey, this kid’s really got it.’ I have heard that he’s doing quite well out there and I wasn’t at all surprised.”
When Festa graduated from SUNY-Cortland in 2010 it didn’t take him long to find work. After performing as Link in a regional production of “Hairspray,” he headed to New York City and almost immediately got a job working on a cruise ship for Royal Caribbean International.
Since then he has performed in an off-Broadway production of “Bare,” in which he played five different roles, and then earned acclaim for his portrayal of Tony in a West End production of “West Side Story” in London and at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida.
“Tony and I go way back,” Festa said of the lead male role in the classic Broadway smash. “We did it in Florida and we toured with it for over a year. My mom and my sister flew to London to see me where we did it for 12 weeks. That was unbelievable. For them to not only see me in the show, but be the lead in the show was great.”
Festa, who recently became an uncle for the first time, said the enduring success of “Wicked” is all about friendship. He has been with this national tour since January of 2016, and along with being in the ensemble has also served as understudy for Fiyero and the Witch’s Father.
“For me the show is about the empowering message of friendship, and how we shouldn’t judge someone strictly on a first impression,” he said. “It’s about this complex relationship between two women, it’s about good and evil, and when we look closer at the witch we see she’s not really evil. It’s pretty scary out there these days, so it’s important to really examine things so we can see the difference between right and wrong.”
Festa’s long run with “Wicked” is coming to a close as soon as the show leaves Schenectady. He is heading back to his apartment in Astoria and will start another audition process.
“I got some irons in the fire, so I’m heading back to New York and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
You can bet Festa won’t be out of work for long. His talent and his passion for performing should keep him busy for quite some time.
“I think of myself as a storyteller, so any song I sing I approach it as a singer and an actor,” he said. “It’s about the lyrics, and getting the point the character’s trying to make across to the audience. So, in all honesty I am a singer and an actor, and I don’t separate the two. The voice kind of comes in and takes over, but it’s the story that’s really important. That is what’s moving people.”
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Wednesday and runs through March 12; check website for show times
HOW MUCH: $153-$38
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].