Vigthor Zophoniasson is Back – The Kansas City Star

Actor returns to the stage where he tore an Achilles tendon

by Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star

Vigthor Zophoniasson is starring in “Master Class” this fall, after an onstage injury while performing “The Fantasticks” in May.

Vigthor Zophoniasson is back.

The 31-year-old tenor and actor, a native of Iceland, is appearing in Spinning Tree Theatre’s production of Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” at the Off Center Theatre.

And he’s standing unassisted on two feet.

In May, Zophoniasson contributed a particularly vivid footnote to Kansas City’s theater history when, on the opening night of “The Fantasticks,” he was wheeled into a waiting ambulance at intermission.

Zophoniasson played the dashing, seductive El Gallo in Spinning Tree Theatre’s production of the classic musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Toward the end of Act 1 there’s a sword fight and a mock rescue of the heroine, and during the staged melee Zophoniasson heard something pop.

He had no reason to expect a tear in the Achilles tendon of one ankle, an injury that’s a distinct possibility for athletes and dancers but not so much for musical-theater actors. So he was as surprised as anyone.

“I hadn’t torn anything. I hadn’t slipped or anything,” he said during an interview in the Off Center green room. “It really snuck up on me, and I just got up off the stage and something snapped. I didn’t know what it was. I thought I had stepped on something, so we just kind of kept going.”

The producers and the audience could see that he was limping as he left the stage at the end of Act 1. The lighting designer already had ice packs waiting.

“I came in here, got the shoe off, puked and passed out,” he said with a disarming smile.

Zophoniasson was bitterly disappointed as paramedics wheeled him out of the theater. Mainly, he was disappointed in himself.

“I never felt so bad in my life,” he said. “Physical pain is one thing. But the inner pain is what I had to deal with. … This was their third production, and I ruined it, you know. It was very difficult.”

But some theatrical clichés happen to be true. Because after consulting with Zophoniasson at the hospital, Spinning Tree’s founders, director Michael Grayman and choreographer Andy Parkhurst, decided that the show, indeed, must go on.

The following Thursday, after a few days of rehearsals and reblocking, the show staged a second opening night. This time Zophoniasson performed on crutches and in a wheelchair. Grayman was a mute presence onstage. His duties included pushing Zophoniasson to his exits and wheeling him out for his entrances.

It gave the show an extra dimension that eggheads might call “meta-theatrical.” It was a show about putting on a show. Having a lead actor in a wheelchair simply made it more pronounced. All in all, it was the most memorable night of theater of the spring season.

Zophoniasson said he and his wife, soprano Ashley Wheat, who was in the audience on opening night, received support from friends and colleagues.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “We were so overwhelmed with all the love and caring.”

For his part, Grayman said Zophoniasson’s eagerness to do the show with an injury was impressive.

“He’s very funny and has natural charisma that was perfect for the role,” Grayman said. “(In the green room) he was feeling a little faint, and we knew something was wrong. We had to take his boot off as carefully as possible. I knew the moment it happened. I could tell he was pushing through and trying to get through the pain. But he was such a trouper that he finished the act. At the hospital he was saying, ‘I want to go on tomorrow.’ ”

In “Master Class,” Zophoniasson plays a role closer to his experience: a young opera singer taking instruction from the legendary Maria Callas, played by Cynthia Hyer. Also in the cast are Natalie Liccardello, Sylvia Stoner, Tom Lancaster and musical director Tony Bernal, who plays the class accompanist.

There is no sword-fighting in McNally’s play, so the potential for onstage injuries is slight.

Grayman said he had had Zophoniasson in mind for the role of the tenor in “Master Class” ever since “The Fantasticks.”

Zophoniasson began performing theater when he was a 16-year-old student in university preparatory school, which is the Icelandic equivalent of high school plus a couple of years of college.

He performed in “Hair,” “My Fair Lady” and “The Rocky Horror Show,” all in Icelandic.

“After two years of doing shows and musicals back home, my folks said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna be an actor, if you’re gonna be on stage, you’ll want to learn how to use your voice and project and everything, so we’re gonna buy you some voice lessons,’ ” Zophoniasson said. “And it so happened that in my itty-bitty hometown there was an American voice teacher.”

The teacher, Keith Reed, began to broaden the young singer’s musical horizons.

“I started taking voice lessons, and he introduced me to classical music,” he said. “At that point classical music was something on the radio at my grandparents’ house. I mean, I had taken some piano lessons … but I just listened to rock music and such. But he opened up a whole world I had never been exposed to. Opera and musical theater are very similar. You know, it’s theater with music, just a different style of music.”

At 24, Zophoniasson decided to get into an American voice program. His teacher recommended the University of Washington because tenor Vinson Cole taught there. When Cole moved to the New England Conservatory, Zophoniasson followed him and earned a bachelor’s in music. When Cole, a Kansas City native, came back to teach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory, Zophoniasson followed him again and earned a graduate degree.

“It’s like finding a good coach in any sport,” he said. “If it works for you, you stick to it. And I’m still working with him to this day.”

Zophoniasson said that theater is always performed in Icelandic in his home country, but there are too few translations. He was unfamiliar with “The Fantasticks,” an old chestnut in American theater, and “Master Class,” which ran on Broadway, before he worked in either.

“There’s a lot of musicals that I was exposed to when I came here that I hadn’t seen at home,” he said. “ ‘Ragtime’ hasn’t been translated. ‘Master Class’ hasn’t been translated.”

Zophoniasson and Wheat have been performing with Stone Lion Puppet Theatre, but what the long-term future holds is unclear.

“I think we’re just trying to get our foot in the door,” he said. “We’re trying to bridge the gap between students and professionals.”

Zophoniasson’s first name is pronounced “Veeg-thor.” But most people just call him Victor. “It’s simpler that way,” he said.

Zophoniasson said he has worked to tone down his Icelandic accent — in essence, Americanize it — and the process became simpler after he made a key discovery. The Icelandic language requires all facial muscles, and especially one’s lips, to be actively engaged. Not so much with English.

“You can pretty much speak English without moving your lips,” he said with a chuckle. “The less I move my mouth, the better off I am, accent-wise.”


“Master Class” continues through Oct. 28 at Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. Tickets are $22-$29. For more information, call 816-842-9999 or go to

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to


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