Derek Klena on his Broadway debut in Wicked, working with Pasek and Paul in Dogfight, and reuniting with Lindsay Mendez

Dogfight Second Stage Theatre Cast List: Annaleigh Ashford Becca Ayers Nick Blaemire Steven Booth Dierdre Friel Adam Halpin F. Michael Haynie Derek Klena Lindsay Mendez James Moye Josh Segarra Production Credits: Directed by Joe Mantello Choreography by Christopher Gattelli Scenic and costume design by David Zinn Lighting design by Paul Gallo Other Credits: Lyrics by: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Music by: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Book by: Peter Duchan

Derek Klena in ‘Dogfight’ with costar Lindsay Mendez

Derek Klena has burst onto the Broadway scene quite recently and hasn’t had a chance to slow down yet. Soon after finishing his role as Eddie in Pasek and Paul’s musical adaptation of Dogfight, he was cast as the newest Fiyero in Wicked on Broadway.

Klena spoke with Stage Door Dish about taking on the iconic role of Fiyero, his experience with Dogfight and working with Lindsay Mendez for the second time in a row.

SDD: How does it feel to be playing such an iconic role so early in your career?

DK: Kind of like a dream. I remember Wicked was actually the first Broadway show I ever got to see. Growing up, and being from LA, I saw it at the Pantages Theater. I always wanted to play this role and it was always a dream of mine. For it to be a reality is mind-blowing really. It was amazing. I got to work with Joe Mantello on Dogfight, who directed Wicked, and I am working with Lindsay Mendez. To get to work with that group of people again is amazing.

SDD: Speaking of working with Lindsay again, do you find it’s easier to get that chemistry with your characters after working together once already?

DK: Definitely. I think the fact that we know each other so well is definitely a plus during the rehearsal process and doing the show together, because we know each other so well. We can predict how the other person is feeling and we trust each other. It’s definitely easier working with someone that you have a history with.

SDD: Has there been an actor who has previously played Fiyero that has inspired your portrayal of the role?

DK: Norbert Leo Butz. He hasn’t really inspired me so much with Fiyero, because I am really trying to just start from scratch and create my own, but him as an actor and a performer has always been an icon for me and I respect his career and what he does so much. He is definitely one of my theatre actor idols.

SDD: What do you hope to bring to the role that people have never seen before?

DK: Because it’s been running for ten years, it’s hard to make it original. Everyone is different. I am definitely one of the youngest Fiyeros. My youth might add a different spin to it. I want Fiyero to not only be this carefree and cocky goody boy but to be very compassionate and caring at the same time. He has feelings and he does care. I want to emphasize that aspect of him. I want to make the character definitely well-rounded.

SDD: Do you have a scene or musical number that you are most excited about performing in the show?

DK: “Dancing Through Life” is both terrifying and exciting. I’m not the best dancer, but I do have dance experience. That one I am probably most anticipating performing on stage in front of people. I’m dreading and anticipating it. I have been rehearsing it enough to the point where I feel comfortable and it’s very fulfilling at the same time.


Derek Klena (center) as Eddie Birdlace in 'Dogfight' with Nick Blaemire (left) and Josh Segarra (right).

Derek Klena (center) as Eddie Birdlace in ‘Dogfight’ with Nick Blaemire (left) and Josh Segarra (right).

SDD: Dogfight is definitely very new compared to something like Wicked. Could you talk a little bit about the show and the character you played?

DK: The show is based on the 1991 movie, with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. It’s about soldiers being stationed in San Francisco the night before they get shipped off to Vietnam. They throw this dance called the “dogfight” in which they go around San Francisco and try to find the ugliest girls that they can. Whoever brings the ugliest date wins a cash prize. So my character, Eddie Birdlace, stumbles across this waitress at a diner named Rose Fenny, which was Lindsay’s character. I take a liking to her and I take her, hoping she will be my ticket. Then on the way to the “dogfight”, I find that she is this really nice girl that I don’t really feel comfortable exposing to this horrific event. She finds out that the “dogfight” is just us taking a bunch of ugly girls to a party. She gets mad and starts punching me and then I go off with my friends to try to get over the whole thing. I tell myself I don’t need her and that she is wrong. I go back because I feel bad and I want to make it up to her by taking her out to dinner. She ends up accepting my request and we go and have this great night together. I end up spending the night with her and then I am leaving the next morning for Vietnam. She gives me her address because she wants me to write to her, but then I end up ripping it up and forgetting about her.

My character Eddie comes back three years later and hasn’t written Rose in the entire time. She’s been waiting for his letters, but he hasn’t written to her. He goes back to her because she is the only person he has left to go to. Through the show, she teaches him empathy and he teaches her to branch out and let go a little bit. It was really a heartfelt show and it was a great group of people to work with. Now I am getting to work with Lindsay again!

SDD:  Did working in Dogfight change you view of the military in any way?

DK: It didn’t really change my views, but it really opened my eyes to the tragedies of Vietnam. And what they go through and how much training they have to endure. A marine came and talked to us about etiquette and the stages of training you have to go through before you actually go to war. That was very eye-opening for me and it made me realize the struggles that the Vietnam vets had to go through. Not only when they went there, but when they came back especially.

SDD: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that they brought in a marine to talk to you guys.

DK: Yeah. Because all of our salutes and everything had to be so precise, they wanted everything to be authentic.

SDD: What did you take away most from working with the composers Pasek and Paul?

DK: I have always been a fan of their music. Those guys are so young and so up-and-coming. Every song is catchy. We just recorded the soundtrack and I am so proud of the way it turned out. It was just so much fun to sing. It was a bunch of guys singing their faces off to catchy songs. It was great getting to work with him and Joe Mantello especially Chris Gattelli. He won his Tony Award for Newsies while we were in rehearsal, so that was kind of fun. Getting to work with Joe Mantello as well- he was the greatest director I have ever worked with. Him being such a great actor himself, he really knows how to relate. Being under his direction was amazing.

SDD: So it’s got to be exciting to work with him again with Wicked.

DK: Yes, definitely.

SDD: Are you at all surprised by the success that Pasek and Paul have been receiving recently?

DK: I am not surprised at all really. Those guys are amazing and it was just a matter of time before their music was heard and exposed. I am so happy for all the success they’ve been having. I am so honored that I got to be a part of that journey of theirs.

SDD: If Dogfight ends up getting a Broadway run sometime soon, would you consider reprising your role?

DK: Oh yeah, definitely. In a second. That has been the highlight of my acting career so far. I had an amazing time and I would love to work on it again.

SDD: Since Wicked is the second show you are doing with Lindsay, is there another show that centers around a romance that you would want to do with her?

DK: I am not sure. I would love to work with Lindsay again, I am just not sure which show would be right. That’s a tough one- I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I would definitely love to work with Lindsay again.

SDD: What’s the best advice that you have received so far in your career?

DK: To always make good connections and keep good connections. Always be polite and respectful to everyone you meet, because you never know when your paths are going to cross again in the future. Never burn bridges. Always be appreciative and grateful for the opportunities you get, and take them as they come.

SDD: You lived in California before moving to New York. What has been the biggest difference between working on the east coast as opposed to the west coast?

DK: The west coast is such a tight-knit community and everything is so close to each other. Especially in the acting community, they are so passionate. In California, it is really hard for theatre actors to make a career because there is a lack of opportunities. But here, there is so much going on and you instantly get thrown into it. That community is so tight and everybody gets to know each other. Everyone is so passionate about what they do. I think that what California is lacking is the passion and you can really feel it here in New York.

SDD: What has been the biggest difference between Broadway and off-Broadway?

DK: I couldn’t tell you that, but the biggest difference is it kind of just a family, especially with Wicked. It’s been running for so long and everyone has gotten to know each other. I have been involved with two original shows off-Broadway, so that was kind of a stressful development process. But going into a show that has been running for a long time and has this family relationship is refreshing and comforting.

SDD: What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced in your career so far?

DK: Probably making the move out to New York and leaving all of my family. My family and friends are all on the west coast, so when I came out here, I had to make the best out of every opportunity. I had to make a whole new group of friends and I was lucky to already have some friends living out here in New York. Leaving my home has probably been the hardest.

SDD: Do you find it hard to keep in touch with your family and friends?

DK: Luckily, my family and friends have been coming out periodically. My friends have been coming out to New York a lot so it has been nice to see them. It has been hard to keep in touch with my college friends but they are all making plans to come out and see Wicked, so hopefully I will see them soon.

SDD: You played baseball in college, correct?

DK: Yes, I was a pitcher at UCLA my freshman year. Then I decided it wasn’t the path I wanted to pursue after my freshman year.

SDD: Do you still enjoy playing baseball? Are you playing for the Broadway Show League?

DK: I am actually. I play in two different softball leagues in Central Park during the week and I love it. It’s just enough to get my taste of the sport.

SDD: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

DK: I was on America’s Most Talented Kids when I was thirteen. I was on it and I sang “Lady” by Styx. Oh! I was on Family Feud with my family. That is a fun fact. We won five episodes and retired champions. That was something really fun that I got to do with my family. I get random people online, friends and family, saying ‘We saw you on Family Feud reruns,’ which is awesome.

SDD: Do you have any secret talents?

DK: I was on a swim and dive team growing up, so I have experience doing that competitively.

SDD: If you weren’t an actor, which career would you most want to have?

DK: I would want to be a sportscaster. I wanted to do that in college but I didn’t get the opportunity, so I would have done that if I didn’t have an acting career.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

DK: Caring, family-oriented, compassionate, hardworking and driven.

Klena with friend and two-time costar Lindsay Mendez

Klena with friend and two-time costar Lindsay Mendez

SDD: Describe Lindsay Mendez in five words or less.

DK: Very-caring, super-talented, loving, kind and quirky.

SDD: Off-Broadway or Broadway?

DK: Broadway.

SDD: East coast or west coast?

DK: East coast for now.

SDD: Glinda or Elphaba?

DK: Elphaba.

SDD: What are you currently obsessed with?

DK: The show Shark Tank. The show with the investors- the billionaires- and they invest in different things.

SDD: What cast recording have you been listening to recently?

DK: American Idiot. I listen to that one a lot and I love it.

SDD: If you could delete any song from existence, which one would you choose?

DK: “Call Me Maybe”.

SDD: What’s the last great show you saw on stage?

DK: Kinky Boots was the last one I saw. It’s so much fun and you can’t really help but leave feeling good.

SDD: What has been your most memorable fan experience so far?

DK: I got a drawing sent to me from a little girl of Elphaba and Fiyero. My girlfriend actually babysits this little girl and when she found out I was going to be playing Fiyero, she’s been looking forward to coming to New York to see the show.

SDD: Who was the last person who made you feel starstruck?

DK: Roger Bart. I got to meet him recently and that was fun.

SDD: How did you get to meet him?

DK: He was at the concert for the Dogfight CD release party.

SDD: I heard about the concert. How was that?

DK: It was great. A bunch of people came out and they sold a ton of CDs. It was really great to be able to sing the material again.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

DK: Probably Jeremy Jordan, because he is on a roll. Him or Aaron Tveit, even though Aaron’s been away from Broadway for a little bit.

SDD: If you could have a drink with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

DK: Norbert Leo Butz. He’s the man.

SDD: Do you have a phrase or motto that you live by?

DK: Albert Einstein said it. ‘Try not to be a man of success, but rather a man of character.’

SDD: If you could revisit any role you have played so far, which would you choose?

DK: Chad in All Shook Up. I played it a few years ago when I was in high school and I loved it.

SDD: If you could play any part that you haven’t already played, which would you choose?

DK: Probably Frank Abignale Jr. in Catch Me if You Can

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