Redding-born Ashley Parker Angel went from the Shasta College stage to MTV reality show fame to the Broadway stage.
All that happened in the 30 years since he accidentally set the Buckeye Elementary School football field on fire.
Angel was 9 years old when he set off a model rocket at Buckeye, where his mother taught music. “The launch was successful, but the nosecone that was supposed to open shot straight back down and exploded in the field,” he said. It started a fire that burned the field and a pine tree in the neighbor’s yard.
He ran home to call 911 so fast, and was so terrified, he was gasping for breath while speaking to the operator, he said.
The field was still charred black when he started third grade at Buckeye a couple weeks later, he said.
Now 39, Angel lives in Los Angeles, his home since the Broadway musical “Wicked” wrapped up its national tour in 2018.
Angel launched a television production company last year, but all projects are on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
This year is the first chance he has had to chill in a long time.
The youngest of five children, Angel was born on Aug. 1, 1981. “My mom loved Ashley Wilkes from ‘Gone with the Wind.’ She named me after him,” he said.
He credits his parents for his love of music. Pianist Paula Angel started her son on the piano at age 2. Angel’s stepfather, Angel Construction owner and acoustic guitarist Ron Angel, turned him on to the guitar when he was in middle school.
The acting bug bit him at 14. His mother took him to an audition after answering a Record Searchlight ad for voice actors, he said. He walked away with his first acting job, a lead role in role-playing video game, “Lunar the Silver Star.”
While a student at Central Valley High School (CVH), Angel worked steadily as a voice actor and lifeguard.
Lifeguarding at WaterWorks Park was his “dream job,” he said. “I had to work my way up, starting as a janitor. I got my lifeguard certification at 16. We had to really keep an eye out for heat stroke and heat exhaustion.”
During his senior year at CVH (1998-1999), Angel took classes at Shasta College, landing the lead role (Danny Zuko) in the theater arts department’s production of the musical “Grease.”
His drama teacher, Rebecca Olsen, helped him launch his career, he said. Under Olsen’s management, he spent August 1999 sending head shots to casting directors.
A month later he auditioned for what became his first big role: A part in the original cast of the ABC/MTV reality series “Making the Band,” and a member of boy band O-Town.
The show’s creator Lou Pearlman (Backstreet Boys and NSYNC) saw it as an unscripted contemporary version of “The Monkees,” Angel said. “When we got our record deal, we were signed by (Rock and Roll Hall of Famer) Clive Davis.”
Angel followed the show’s success with another MTV reality series in 2006. “There & Back” followed Angel’s efforts to launch a solo singing career while carving a life with then-partner, Tiffany Lynn.
Our son, Lyric Lennon Parker Angel, was born on the show, he said.
A Broadway career followed, during which Angel played teen heartthrob Link Larkin in the musical comedy “Hairspray,” and Fiyero — Elphaba/Witch of the West’s love interest — in “Wicked.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Angel returns to Redding regularly, he said, most recently for his birthday in August.
I went kayaking with Lyric, 15, at Whiskeytown, he said.
It’s one of his favorite spots, he said. I was a lifeguard there, too.