Art Is All Interpretation: A Conversation With Actor Andrew Tebo
“It’s a full-circle journey,” actor Andrew Tebo says of closing his three-year run with the musical “Mamma Mia!” at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. He grew up just outside the city in Wentzville, Missouri, and since graduating from Southeast Missouri State University, Tebo has been acting professionally for ten years. Performances over the years have found him acting, singing and dancing on stages in 49 states.
We sat down with Tebo to discuss what brought him to acting, the joy of allowing an audience escapism and his role as a storyteller.
What first drew you to performance? What motivated you to take the brave leap into performing full time?
Honestly, I started late. At my high school, everyone did everything. You were in sports, you were on student council, you were a part of the theatre, you sang in choir—I just grew up doing everything. I always loved performing, I loved singing. Then, when I got to university, there was an audition for “Guys and Dolls.” I jumped on it, though I technically wasn’t a music theatre major yet. I went into Southeast Missouri State University with an undeclared major. They wound up casting me as Nathan Detroit and told me I had to be a B.F.A. student to be in the performance, so I said “All right.” I jumped in head first and have been doing it ever since. It’s my passion, it brings me the most joy and I’m honestly living the dream. For the past decade, I’ve been touring around the country with “Mamma Mia!,” “The Fantasticks,” and “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve worked regionally from South Florida all the way to Alaska. I’ve performed in almost every state. Hawaii is the only state I’ve yet to corner.
What made you want to be a part of “Mamma Mia!” and play Harry Bright in particular?
“Mama Mia!” is an iconic show. It has this amazing ABBA music that I grew up listening to, and it has this beautiful story of a mother and daughter and these three potential fathers who show up, and everyone has a secret to tell. We get to relive that story every night, where an audience member can come and forget everything for a few hours.
To answer your question about why Harry Bright, I think Harry goes on an amazing journey within the show. He’s this uptight Englishman coming back to relive his golden days. He’s forgotten all about who he used to be, and coming back to the island really sparks that creative side and that spontaneity he used to have.
What’s it like to work with a big team on a complex theatre production?
It’s everything I’ve trained for. It’s spectacular. “Mamma Mia!” is a Broadway production that we’re bringing to the masses across America. We have high energy every night, and we’re excited to perform the songs and do this choreography that makes the audience feel like they can stand up and do it with us. We’re allowing the audience members to come, escape and tap their feet—it’s a magical experience to be a part of.
After ten years of acting professionally, do you feel like you’re at a point where you’ve mastered your craft?
We’re always learning. There is no such thing as a perfect performance. Every night as an actor, you go out there and you’re very vulnerable and you put yourself out there, never knowing how the audience is going to react. Touring is different, even with a show as iconic as “Mamma Mia!” You go to different states and they react differently to different jokes and songs. That’s part of the journey as an actor when you’re in a touring production. You never know what’s going to happen.
You’re an openly gay actor. Does that part of your identity come into play in terms of the roles you look for?
Honestly, no. I’ve played the gamut of every kind of character you could possibly imagine. I do tend to fall into father roles because of my energy. I’m tall—6’3—I’m a commanding presence. I’m called an ‘authority figure’ in the theatre world, so I can fall easily into the fatherly figure role. It’s wonderful for me because I feel like I have a lot of heart and love to give every night on stage.
I get the sense you’re very interested in storytelling. Do you do any writing yourself?
I’m definitely a storyteller. I have done some writing. But there’s something about interpretive work. I like finding something that speaks to me through another author’s or musician’s words and interpreting them in my own way. That’s art—art is all interpretation.
Is there a dream role you’d love to play?
Oh, my gosh—you know, my dream role would be to create a role, to be in a situation where I get to workshop a musical for the first time with writers and directors and have them entrust me with a character that they think is perfect for me to bestow whatever knowledge I have on that character. The biggest role in the theatre world is to create a role from the ground up and take it all the way to Broadway.