The 6’3” Mike Jackson plays the Tin Man in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
by Donalevan Maines
Where Mike Jackson goes, Judy Garland follows.
First, there’s his job as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, which lands in Houston this month. Often waiting at the stage door, says Jackson, are young fans dressed as Dorothy Gale, the role that Garland immortalized in the 1939 film classic.
Then, during breaks in the tour, Jackson returns home to Toronto, where he’s greeted by his partner’s shrine to the gay icon. “She’s big at my house,” says Jackson. “Records and posters of her—my partner is a huge, obsessive fan.
“I decided to ask my partner Michael about his love of Judy,” adds Jackson. “He responded with this: ‘For me, it wasn’t a gay thing at all. I discovered her very gradually, with each [of her various aspects]—the MGM Judy, the TV Show Judy, and the Concert Judy all presenting almost completely different people, who actually happened to be the same woman.’”
Jackson recalls how Garland showed up on his family’s TV set around Christmas every year when he was growing up in the picturesque city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. “Same as in the States, it was a tradition every holiday season,” he explains. “I always thought the movie was very sweet. I loved the characters.
“I was fascinated by the black and white-to-color aspect of it,” says Jackson, referring to the film’s transition from sepia tones in the Kansas scenes to Technicolor when Dorothy lands in Oz.
“I’ve always had enormous respect for Judy Garland. She has such an enchanting voice,” says Jackson. “I think the success of the tour is in large part due to Judy Garland.”
“Over the Rainbow,” “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” and all of the film’s musical favorites are included in the new production being presented by Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), along with a half-dozen new songs by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.
When Jackson was 16, he was cast in a local stage production of The Wizard of Oz. “Funny enough, I played the Tin Man in it,” he says.
Now about to celebrate his 44th birthday on March 16, Jackson feels tailor-made for the part. “I’m a big guy—6’3, 225 pounds—and they were looking for a quite masculine, lumberjack kind of guy,” he says.
(Jack Haley played the Tin Man opposite Judy Garland. Nipsey Russell portrayed him in the 1978 movie version of the musical The Wiz starring Diana Ross, while that other “Mike” Jackson—the Gloved One—co-starred as the Scarecrow.)
Jackson’s acting career began as soon as he graduated from high school. “I got whisked away,” he says, working in Ontario, Japan, and Germany.
“I came out when I was 18, when I was doing my first semi-professional show. It was the first time I was around other gay people in the cast, and it gave me the support I needed,” says Jackson.
“It was probably five years later that I came out to my father and stepmother, when they came to visit me in Germany, and we had ‘the conversation,’” he says. “They weren’t surprised. We had ‘the talk,’ and they were great.”
Ten years ago, while at home in Toronto for a few weeks, Jackson met his partner. “We were set up by some mutual friends,” says Jackson. “He was a normal guy, which I wasn’t meeting on the road.” On Broadway, Jackson appeared in Chicago. He was in the national tour of Contact, the “dance play” that won Susan Stroman the 2000 Tony Award for Best Choreography. When Stroman directed the 2005 movie version of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, she cast Jackson as the American Indian in “Keep It Gay.” It’s the campy musical number that convinces cross-dressing director Roger De Bris he can win a Tony for directing Springtime for Hitler by making the play more “gay.”
“That was a riot,” he says.
Playing the Tin Man assures Jackson he will get to perform for a big LGBT audience in every city. “‘Over the Rainbow’ is such a mantra for the gay community,” he says. “The show is about total acceptance and finding your family, wherever you are.”
What: The Wizard of Oz
When: March 4–16
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Info: tickets, which start at $24, are available at tuts.com or by calling 713.558.2600.
Donalevan Maines also writes about the play Ruined at Obsidian Art Space.