SALISBURY — Above all, Alton Fitzgerald White is positive.
He exudes positive energy, even during a phone interview, and his goal is to keep growing, learning and performing.
White will perform Friday and Saturday in Piedmont Players’ “Night on the Stage.”
White, who did 4,308 performances as Mufasa in the Disney musical “The Lion King,” loved the security and opportunity of that job. It gave him the chance to leap off into a variety of new performances.
When he performs at the Meroney Theatre for Piedmont Players’ fundraiser, he will share some of his collection of Disney songs and some favorites from other Broadway musicals.
White is in a new phase of his life, focusing on new venues and opportunities. He’s doing television and films and has a book coming out soon, and he is developing a speaking career.
“I’m excited to come to Salisbury,” White said. “After being in a show for so long, you get a feeling of security, but now I want to sing for myself. … I want to learn how I express the lyrics. I’m glad I have that chance.”
If you listen to his “Ted Talk” on his website, www.altonfitzgeraldwhite.com, you will discover he was a shy child, the only boy of seven children. His father was an alcoholic and White found himself seeking validation from people on television — especially performers in variety shows like Ed Sullivan’s or Flip Wilson’s.
His favorite show as a child was “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” starring Bill Bixby. “I loved that relationship, and I wondered what it would be like for me and my dad to have that communication and openness.”
White could sing but never let anyone is his family hear him. He auditioned for the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts and was accepted in 10th grade.
“I was around other kids who were creative and expressing themselves. It was great to have that outlet, to have taken singing from this big secret to where I was in a safe place to express it and be surrounded by talented kids my age. It was wonderful and intimidating.”
He learned to listen and learn from those kids.
“I loved the sensation of singing. … It makes me feel good, the vibrations in my body when I sing. I thought I would never find the nerve to sing in front of anyone. Even now, when my family sees me, they’re still impressed.”
He loves to be able to do it all — sing, act, write, speak.
“Though right now, I’m loving finding who I am as an actor in TV and film. Acting for TV and film is so much about trust,” he says.
On stage, directors don’t tell you to pull back — you’re playing to the back row. In TV and film, you have to trust the director.
“You have to be honest to connect with the emotion. The gestures won’t be as big. In your thoughts, you have to be honest. Even on stage, audiences can tell when somebody is giving honestly” and when it’s just saying lines. “It’s an energetic thing.”
White has a recurring character on “Bull” on CBS. He did a film with Sam Elliott; he’s filmed the movie for the book “The Goldfinch” with Nicole Kidman and has appeared with Ron Perlman in the film “Asher,” which should come out this year.
“Film is so different. You shoot it and never know when it’s coming out. Every set I’m on, I learn something. I enjoy being a student. One of the challenges of being a professional is you want to go in with what you know, but you also need the balance of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here.’”
White has been doing a lot of concerts, and he’s “loving finding my voice as a public speaker. … It’s healing for me. I have to learn that I am the authority on my experience. If it’s true, then it’s my story. All of our stories are valid. As an actor, it helps with confidence.”
All those years he played Mufasa in makeup and costume, no one knew who he was.
“It was an opportunity not to engage, but I realized I am the one missing out.” He says he is “finding my voice as Alton as a speaker and a singer, and I am always discovering.”
He says every year of his life has gotten better now that he has the confidence to explore and investigate new things.
“It gets richer and deeper and more full of quality.”
When he was young, he spent a lot of time planning, and it has served him well.
“You visualize it, then if it’s trying to find you, it’s easy not to sabotage it. … Here it is, create space for it. I am now open to being surprised.”
He never thought he’d write a book but found writing was the only way to express his thoughts. Then Disney wanted to publish it.
“I didn’t know it was in my destiny. Now it’s given me courage to look for other surprises inside me that I’m waiting to express.”
He loves traveling and is going all over the U.S. with his concerts and speaking.
On the other hand, he loves going home.
“I go home as much as I can.”
One of the reasons he left “The Lion King” was he wanted to go home more. Now he can be home for more than just a day and spend more time with his family.
“We get caught up and we forget that. We make the decisions, there’s no one else to blame. We always have choices. I was really blessed to be born into a wonderful, loving, thoughtful, kind, considerate family. My real wealth is in my family.”
He’s bringing his Disney CD and the audio book of his book, “My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performance,” to “Night on the Stage” to sell, with a portion of the proceeds going to Piedmont Players.
White says he planned all of this and talks about it in his book.
“I worked my butt off in theater. … I invested in myself and my future. … The investment was worth it. I can be more creative, do what I want to do. You can be of service to yourself. Honor yourself first, then share it. Don’t give all with nothing left.”
The Meroney Theater has a special place in the hearts and history of Rowan County and its residents.
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