The cover of Alton Fitzgerald White’s book, ‘My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performance.’
(Photo: Jerry Metellus Photography)
By Ryan Leeds
As a reserved and awkward child growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, Alton Fitzgerald White never dreamed that he would be a King. Thanks to a private utility closet in his home where he could emulate Michael Jackson’s fancy footwork (and a supportive mother), White would find the inner strength on to pursue a successful career in the arts.
Since 1990, he has starred in six hit shows on Broadway, most notably as King Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King. He played the role in New York, Las Vegas, and around the country. When he left the show in 2015, he had 4,308 performances under his belt.
White has since focused his attention on television and film. Currently, he can be seen on the CBS show Bull. He’s also featured in the film adaption of The Goldfinch starring Nicole Kidman, which is slated for release in October 2019. White’s hard work, diligence, and spirituality is captured in his new book, My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performance.
The Broadway Blog recently spoke with him about the memoir and his thoughts on current events.
You’ve dispensed a great deal of advice in your book. What are 3 best pieces of advice that were given to you?
Most of it came from my mother. First, Commit 100 percent (in regards to pursuing a career in the arts). Don’t have something to fall back on. So many people are told to have two or three professions and it spreads out your attention too much. Second, Study it. Instincts are great and natural talent is fantastic, but study to be the best at what you do. The third piece of advice is that whatever you’re going through, know that this, too, will pass.
You spoke about the progressive nature of casting at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) where you attended. Much has been made about diversity casting in theater in recent years. Do you think casting directors are moving in a more positive direction where that is concerned? Is there still work to be done?
There’s always work to be done. We’re seeing tremendous progress, but it’s still considered a new concept for people whose eyes are just being open to it. Thank God there’s awareness around it. That’s one of the reasons I was so blessed to work for Disney. They have employed more people of color than probably all the producers on Broadway combined. Now, we have shows that have color-blind casting. It’s exciting and encouraging.
During your New York tenure in Ragtime, you were unjustly arrested in the lobby of your apartment building. The experience of a wrongful arrest is one that many—particularly African-American males—have faced. How did that affect your views of current friction between police and the African American community?
The same way it did before. I was able to discuss it without getting overly emotional. It’s really dangerous to pigeon-hole an entire group. It’s still a problem. Black men are just thrown into a category. I had a platform to talk publicly about what happened to me, but the incidents that happen which are publicized—like mine—are only a fraction of the cases. That’s just the reality.
How has spirituality influenced not only your work but your personal relationships and business sense?
My spirituality is ongoing, evolving, and constantly deepening. I think it gives me a belief in myself and a sense of service that I was put on this earth and given a desire to perform—that is my gift. Being rooted in that helps remind me that I have something to share and that it is something of value. It helps me validate myself, not in an arrogant way but in a humble way.
You emphasize the importance of preparedness. Throughout your career, you’ve been at the ready to face challenges that are presented to you. Were there any times when you weren’t prepared for a stage or TV role?
No. I can’t do that. There is too much at stake. For me, doing something like learning lyrics is challenging so I have to totally immerse myself in that. I can tell that there are times that I’ve not been prepared for an audition, but then I don’t go because I don’t want to ruin a potential relationship with a casting director.
If you hadn’t had that inner strength to pursue a career in performing, what would you have been doing?
I think I would have done something with transformation. Either being a designer, architect, or even a therapist. I’ve always been fascinated by the potential for change.
What are 3 things you couldn’t live without?
Music. Yoga. Love.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.