If life is one big stage production, then everyone plays a role: mothers and fathers, daughters, sons, siblings, students, workers, even humanitarians and CEOs.
As William Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…and one man in his time plays many parts.”
For Filipina actress Deedee Lynn Magno Hall, life has many different stages, and on each she has had many roles — from a peasant bargirl, to a Wicked Witch, an Arabian princess, and an alien crystal gem.
But her most favorite role to play is herself.
“This is what I love to do,” she told the Asian Journal. “I am so blessed and grateful to be able to perform and act for a living, for my whole life, and to also provide for my family. To be able to do what I love and say that’s my job? It’s wonderful.”
For Deedee, performing has been a series of blessings in disguise: her first audition, her first lead role, finding love and beginning a family. It didn’t happen all at once; rather, like a musical, her life has had many acts. At 40, with two kids and an exciting role in a new touring musical, Deedee’s show has just begun.
Act I: Growing up, Mickey Mouse Club, & The Party
Deedee was raised in sunny San Diego, California, where her Navy family relocated from Portsmouth, Virginia. Her dad is from Baguio, while her mom grew up in Manila.
“I really wish my parents had taught me fluent Tagalog. They didn’t want us to grow up with an accent or have difficulties in school,” she recounted about her upbringing. “But aside from language, we were so immersed in Filipino culture—we always ate the food and had movies, music playing in our house. I always gravitated toward Sharon Cuneta, of course.”
She grew up listening to Original Pilipino Music (OPM) and a variety of Filipino singers, including Cuneta, Kuh Ledesma, Regine Velasquez, Vilma Santos, Lea Salonga, and Gary Valenciano.
“They’re some of my biggest vocal influences,” she said. “Filipinos are amazing singers.”
Encouraged by her parents and three siblings, she often performed at school talent shows, local competitions and pageants. As a child, she was a sensation at family “pancit parties,” where the house karaoke machine was a must.
She remembers her first large stage performance—a humble singing gig at a new park attraction at SeaWorld. “I was hooked,” she said. “Afterwards, I always knew I wanted to perform.”
After quickly gaining local fame and performing a few gigs, Deedee and her family knew this would be her full-time commitment. When she was 12, she traveled across the country to Orlando, Florida to audition for the revival of an audience-favorite variety TV show, The Mickey Mouse Club.
“We sang and danced, performed comedy skits and music videos, interviewed outstanding kids and celerity guests,” Deedee recalled of her first professional acting job. “It was like ‘Saturday Night Live’ but for kids. It was fantastic, because at such a young age I got to learn many different aspects of the entertainment business: being in front of the camera, knowing my blocking, live audience participation, choreography and lighting, etc.”
“It was like an acting school. [The Mickey Mouse Club] provided great training for what was to come in my future,” she remarked. “And of course, filming on a set so close to Disney World, we snuck out sometimes for a few rides and ice cream bars between lessons.”
From 1989 until 1991, Deedee was a TV Mouseketeer until Hollywood Records noticed her distinct voice and all-around talent. She was recruited to a new teen pop group, “The Party,” where she recorded and traveled worldwide for a few years. The Party’s initial success landed it opening-act spots on major tours, with artists such as Hi-Five, Taylor Dayne and Vanilla Ice.
“It was so exciting, especially at such a young age, to be traveling and performing everywhere. And all with the amazing support of my family, who has worked hard and sacrificed so much for me,” she added, tearing up. “I really owe it all to them. It could not have been a more perfect beginning of a career.”
Act II: Miss Saigon and Princess Jasmine
At 19 years old, Deedee found herself in Los Angeles auditioning among hundreds of girls for a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Sunset Boulevard.”
“My first thought was, I don’t look anything like these tall, blonde, long-legged women. But my manager told me to stick it out. And it ended up being the greatest blessing,” Deedee shared. “The casting managers called me back not too long after my audition, only it wasn’t for ‘Sunset Boulevard’—but for the Toronto company cast of ‘Miss Saigon.’”
At the time, due to an important family trip to the Philippines, Deedee ended up not taking the part. But her initial “no” ended up a huge blessing in disguise.
Not long after her return, Deedee was offered the starring lead role of Kim in the 2nd US national tour of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical drama, “Miss Saigon.”
“Of course, I freaked out,” she remembered. “I had seen the show in London with my mom a few years before, and I fell in love with the role. I told my mom, I want to play that part. I wanted to play Kim.”
From 1995 and several years afterward, Deedee toured the country in her first major theatrical role. She also played Kim for a time on the Broadway cast, following veteran Lea Salonga’s departure in New York City.
“Lea is lovely,” Deedee gushed when asked about working with Salonga, at the “Suites by Sondheim” show sponsored by the Philippine Development Foundation in 2011. “We never quite worked together in Broadway, most likely because we’re often auditioning for the same roles. But she has always been one of my musical idols.”
Deedee also shared of her deep connection with the show, and how it has opened many doors for her professional and personal life.
“In retrospect, if I were given the opportunity to play a role again, it would be Kim. I think now after having my own children, I would have a deeper connection to the role. Singing the words, ‘I’d Give My Life For You’ would mean so much more, and I’m sure it would be extremely difficult to get through night after night without a good cry.”
Expanding her colorful acting resume, Deedee has had several roles in major films and productions, including “Sister Act 2”, the Tony award-winning “Wicked” (as Nessa Rose), and a brief run in the contemporary musical “If/Then” (as ensemble part/understudy). In 2003, she also played the original Princess Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” showing at Disney’s California Adventure.
“Alan Menken wrote a new song for the show, and it was amazing to be featured on the original soundtrack,” Deedee shared. “And in ‘Wicked,’ at the time, I was the first Filipina to play Nessa Rose, which was special because they hired someone who didn’t look Caucasian. And someone said, ‘It makes sense; you are the Wicked Witch of the East!’ ”
Her most recent, favorite role was playing Mrs. Walker in the Los Angeles-based East West Players’ rock musical production of The Who’s “Tommy.” She also got to play the part alongside her husband, Cliffton Hall.
“I’ve been a fan of EWP for years. I think more and more because of things like East West Players, and theater companies that promote heritage and encourage diversity onstage, it is slowly getting to a point in entertainment where people are going to be colorblind.”
Deedee continued, “I’ve been so blessed to be able to play roles where it didn’t matter what I looked like—I could be the Wicked Witch of the East, Captain Walker’s wife, or Princess Jasmine. For most of the roles I’ve done, the color of my skin was not an issue.”
“I hope my own kids experience that same diversity in this industry. There are so many issues and stories to tell, and so many resources to share them. If you don’t see those stories being played out, then maybe it’s your destiny to write them, act upon them, and put them out there for yourself.”
Act III: Finding love on and offstage
Deedee’s first major role in “Miss Saigon” was not only a turning point in her onstage career, but also a real-life opportunity for romance.
“It was also my first experience to do a love scene in front of people…and little did I know, it was where I would meet my husband,” she smiled.
In 1995, during the 2nd national touring company of “Miss Saigon,” Deedee met a Filipino-Japanese-Caucasian actor from Hawaii named Cliffton Hall, who just so happened to be playing her love interest (Chris, an American GI soldier). They were both 19 years old.
“I always thought he was so cute and nice, and we were such good friends,” she shared. “I fell in love with my leading man. You put two people together onstage and they fall in love every night; it was inevitable.”
The two reunited several years later, after Deedee re- joined the Broadway company of “Miss Saigon.” Cliffton was also in New York, starring as Marius in a revival of “Les Misérables.”
“We were, first and foremost, always good friends, and then things just kind of happened. We were initially scared of destroying our friendship, but it always felt right in the end, like it was honestly meant to be,” Deedee said.
As a couple, Deedee and Cliffton worked briefly together as Kim and Chris in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway, then later joined the international tour for six months in Singapore and Hong Kong. They also starred opposite one another in the first national tour of “Wicked,” playing Nessa Rose and fiyero.
“We didn’t have any scenes together, but we were always sneaking kisses backstage. And at the end of the show at curtain call, I got to hold his hand!” she shared excitedly.
She and Cliffton were married in 2003. Their first son, Kaeden, was born in 2005—around when Deedee was playing the original Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular,” and Cliffton was departing for the “Wicked” tour. Brycen, 4, was born in 2011.
“During shows, the hardest thing about [our jobs] sometimes is having to leave our sons at home. Luckily, my family has always been so gracious, helping me take care of them while Cliffton and I are out every night onstage,” she said.
“Now we’re getting ready to start homeschooling them on the road, so that we can stay together while we travel. We’re very excited for our family adventure.”
Act IV: Telling her story
Over the years of building her life around her family and passion, Deedee has kept herself quite busy.
Recently, she has been voice acting in a new animated Cartoon Network series, “Steven Universe,” as the fun-loving alien crystal companion, Pearl.
“It is so, so fun!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to be a cartoon character, or at least the voice of one. And this show is a perfect combination of music and voice acting, where we’re definitely acting out even though we’re not on camera. Our cheeks are always hurting when we record in the studio.”
Her two sons and their Universe-loving friends think “Mrs. Pearl” is a hit.
“I think I gained some cool points with my kids,” she laughed. “The series has a wonderfully fast-growing following, and I look forward to a long run!”
Deedee also shared news of an upcoming project for her and Cliffton: both are joining the 1st national tour of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s “If/Then” in the fall, as understudies/members of the ensemble. Deedee, who briefly joined the company earlier on Broadway, said the part is “exciting and an amazing opportunity.”
For aspiring actors, artists, and musicians in the industry, Deedee has one simple advice: don’t limit yourself.
“Nowadays, we have vehicles like YouTube and the Internet, where you can virally share your God-given gifts and talents. Go out and perform. Be seen and be heard. There is so much talent out there. If you choose to put it out, you just never know who’s watching. Maybe even the right person who can change your life in a positive way.”
To those struggling to find their voice, Deedee said, “No matter where they are from, human stories are stories. They’re your story. And now, more than ever, those narratives are being written by people from all different backgrounds. There are so many resources out there; make yourself known.”
“You make your life what it is. You play a very big part in this world, so choose the right one.”