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TV Legend John Davidson Returns To Portland For Wicked

Friday, July 24, 2015


john davidson

John Davidson as "The Wizard" in "Wicked." Photo via Joan Marcus (image cropped)

Celebrating 50 years onstage and almost that many years as a television actor and talk/game show host, John Davidson, will soon land in the wonderful world of Portland as “The Wizard” in a touring production of the immensely “Popular” musical “Wicked” that opens August 5th at the Keller Auditorium.

It will be Davidson’s first time back on the Keller stage since 1987. That was the year Davidson was performing as “Harold Hill” in a national tour of “The Music Man.”  

At the time this very interviewer was employed by the local producers who booked “The Music Man” at the Keller. I remember John Davidson as an incredibly sweet man who was always very generous with his time. I also vividly remembered John didn’t mind walking around in his dressing room in his dance belt and very little else.

When I asked Mr. Davidson—“call me ‘John,” he said—what he remembered most about his time in Portland way back when his answer (sort of) surprised me. 

“I got a tattoo in Portland,” said the now 73-year-old. “I had always wanted to get a tattoo. But at that time the only people getting tattoos were street people, sailors and wrestlers.” 

The dimple-faced Davidson clearly wasn’t any of those, but that didn’t stop him. 

“I wanted to find out if it hurt,” said Davidson about a small boat anchor he had placed permanently on his body. “It didn’t. It just stung a bit.”  Since then Davidson has added an initial to the tattoo. It’s the letter “R” and it stands for Rhonda, his wife of 36 years. “She is my anchor.” 

John Davidson

John Davidson

Davidson has a thing for anchors…and boats. "In 1975 I bought the classic (1928) 96-foot diesel trawler "Principia" and owned her for 18 years. She was built at Lake Union Dry Dock in Seattle. I raised my kids on cruises around the Channel Islands of California, and took her up the coast to Seattle and British Columbia, Canada one summer to cruise the San Juan Islands.”

Davidson would eventually head south to cruise the Panama Canal. “I had just lost my job (as host of) The Hollywood Squares,” said Davidson. “I thought my career was over. I ran away on a boat.”

"The New Hollywood Squares" may have no longer wanted him to reveal the “secret square” but that didn’t mean he was done making waves. Someting he had been in Hollywood and beyond for a long time. 

For those who can’t recall (or are just too young to maybe know otherwise) Davidson co-hosted one of tv's first "reality" shows, “That’s Incredible,” as well as “The New Hollywood Squares' and “One Hundred Thousand Dollar Pyramid.” He was also Sally Field’s super cute husband on her super-short-lived sitcom, “The Girl with Something Extra.” 

But Davidson’s first love was the theatre, specifically musical theatre—it’s where he started his career and where he, once again, finds himself.

Davidson, who has performed on and off Broadway, sought out the role of “The Wizard” in “Wicked.” “My agent told the "Wicked" producers that “John Davidson” wanted to play “The Wizard.” They were open to the idea, gave me an audition, and, not long after that, I got the part.” Davidson performed the role on Broadway before joining one of four productions around the world  ("Wicked" currently has four productions around the world, in New York, London, a U.K. Tour, and a North American National Tour).

So does he bring a bit of himself to the role of “The Wizard”?

“When I was doing television I created the “character” of John Davidson who wasn't exactly 'me.'  We all do that in own our jobs in our own way. I just did it on television,” he said. “Often when I am asked to perform I will bring the character of "John Davidson" to the stage and just go with the flow. A “crying in your beer” song hasn't ever worked for me. People expect me to smile and I try to not disappoint them.” 

With “Wicked” Davidson is playing someone a bit different from previous roles, but also someone he’s familiar with. “I see “The Wizard” as a con man. I am coming back to the Keller to play a con-man, much like I did with “Harold Hill” in “The Music Man.” They are not bad guys, just survivors doing the best they can.”

And Davidson says he thankful he doesn’t have to carry the show. “Everybody talks about 'The Wizard' throughout the entire show, but, in fact, it’s not a big part. It’s the story of a woman of color—whose color just so happens to be green—and a very white woman and the evolution of that friendship. They both think someone else will solve their problems, in this case The Wizard. They have to discover that’s something they have to do on their own.”

So what does the actor, singer and former underwear model (he did stints for both Sears & Roebuck Co. and Fruit of the Loom very early on in his career) want to do next?

“I hope to play “Captain Hook” on stage in “Finding Neverland,” said Davidson.

And what might he do while he’s in Portland with “Wicked”? 

“I know we will spend hours in Powell’s Books, and my wife and I will take our bikes out for a long ride,” said Davidson. And he might even hit the water. “I remember last time I was here, back in 1987, I went down to the waterfront and rented a shell. I rowed it up and down the river. I remember the water was so calm and still. It was perfect.”

"Wicked" will perform at the Keller Auditorium from August 5 through August 23.  Tickets are available at www.BroadwayInPortland.com, and by calling the Portland Opera Box Office at 503- 241-1802 or toll free at 866-739-6737, or Portland’5 Box Office at 800-273-1530 and in person at all TicketsWest locations.

For more on John Davidson check out johndavidson.com where you can find out what it means when the son of two Baptist ministers becomes “openly secular.”


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