Posted 3/7/16 | © Photo by Chris Waits courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals
From Chicago church pageants to the bright lights of Broadway in New York, Melvin Abston has made his way through the musical theater ranks as a triple treat performer, recently winning awards for Best Supporting Actor along the way. Now playing the role of the beloved crustacean Sebastian in the currently-touring production of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Melvin spoke with The Flash List about the rewards of acting and his volunteer work within the theater community as well as his interests as a history buff and self-proclaimed foodie.
When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
I would say pretty early on through Christmas pageants at church during the holidays, during family reunions and skits that we would do in a little talent portion. I found it a comfort in some way to make people laugh, so I was always into that. I found out later that you could actually make a living doing that. I would watch television and realize,
Hey, I saw that person in another show; so this isn't real life. I found that out very early on; and then through doing more research, I found out about acting,
Hey, that's a thing! I jumped on that pretty early.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your career in television and live theater?
That what I do onstage can affect someone so personally to the point where – I don't want this to sound egotistical and narcissistic, but – they need that as an outlet at times. Someone may be going through something in their life, a family member may have passed, and a certain show brings joy as if that person is still there with them. And to be directly involved or indirectly involved by doing a show or singing a song – you're providing that person with a respite from whatever turmoil or drama they may be having – I don't take that lightly.
Of all the characters you've played, which one was least like you and why?
Oh, I think that's easy! The last time I was in Dallas, I did Sister Act, the musical. By the time I got there, I hadn't taken over the role of the bad guy, but eventually I became the bad guy for the national tour. He's probably the least like me in terms of the violent streak and how he treats people. That's very much unlike me; although, there's a part of me that can make myself identify with what the character does and what he wants and how he goes about doing it. But that's not me at all. I'm a pussycat.
Aside from being a triple threat, what lesser-known or hidden talents do you possess?
I am a huge history buff. In most of the cities I go to, I spend some time either at a museum or reading about the history of the city. I'm also a self-diagnosed foodie. I will find myself somewhere in that city where I can't get something anywhere else except there. And I'm looking forward to Dallas because there are a couple of those places there.
Now we're so curious, which ones are you interested in?
There's a small little restaurant just on the other side of the Fairgrounds called Two Podners and they have some of the best catfish I have had that has not been made by somebody that has my last name.
Tell us about your volunteer work with Broadway Serves.
I've actually just had a Kids Serve event which was established as a kids' portion of Broadway Serves. They can actually serve any other time that the adults do, provided there are not any restrictions. We do about two Kids Serve events a year; and at this one, there were about 80 kids that showed up. And basically, what we did this year was that we put together toiletries bags. The kids come by and they decorate the bags and they put shaving cream and toothbrushes and toothpaste and things of that nature into this bag, and then we go out and deliver the bags. But I'm very, very active in that. And then one of the last things I was here in town to do was the Sleep Out for Covenant House, a multi-national organization. There's an age where young men and young women kind of slip through the system when they're a little too old for foster care and they're a little too young to be in the homeless shelter system. So Covenant House fills the gap, and they provide counseling and job training. They like to say that the least important and the least fascinating thing about the people that come there is the fact that they're homeless. These young men and women come from a variety of backgrounds and usually by the time they are able to leave the system, they've found out how to hold themselves in a job interview and how to carry themselves. They discover new skills they didn't have, or improve upon skills that they had so that they can be functioning men and women within society. That was one of the last things we did was the Sleep Out that brings awareness to Covenant House and we raised funds.
What effect do you hope that your role as the crustacean Sebastian will have on theatergoers?
I hope they have a really, really good time. But beyond that, there are some underlying issues that we tackle; and one of them is prejudice. A lot of people don't think about that; but in the show, King Triton – and even Sebastian – gets caught up in the fervor of ‘us versus them' (the sea creatures versus the humans). There's this disdain that we speak with when we talk about humans, and we lump them all together like there 'all this' or 'all that.' It takes Ariel having these experiences with Eric or different creatures outside of the water to make us realize that painting with a broad brush like that is usually never a good idea. And it opens our eyes to other people's experiences and other people from other places. And I think, at the end of everything, we realize that we're a lot more alike than we are different. And I think it's easier to focus on the things we have in common versus those things that we don't. So, fun show? Absolutely. Great music? You better believe it. Dancing? Oh, these young men and young women are twirling all over the stage. But beyond that, there's still a lesson to be learned.
See Melvin Abston in Disney's The Little Mermaid which returns to Dallas Summer Musicals on Friday, March 11 and runs through Sunday, March 27, 2016. For additional information and tickets, visit: