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Interviews

“You can take the kid out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the kid”: Jonathan Bennett on making his Broadway debut in Spamalot

By Ben Togut

Jonathan Bennett has always had his sights set on Broadway. A self-professed “musical theatre freak” who spent much of his adolescent life performing, Bennett moved to New York at the beginning of his career with the hopes of getting on Broadway. However, fate had other plans. He soon booked a role on All My Children, and later landed the part of heartthrob Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls, leading to a successful career in TV shows and movies. After putting his theatrical aspirations on pause, Bennett finally fulfilled his dream of being on Broadway when he joined the cast of Spamalot as Sir Robin on January 23rd. 

Jonathan Bennett as Sir Robin in Spamalot. Photo courtesy of the production.

“You can take the kid out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the kid,” Bennett told Broadway’s Best Shows. “And my whole life has been longing for that itch that has never been scratched. And that is Broadway.”

Bennett has been wholeheartedly welcomed into the cast of Spamalot, especially by Michael Urie, who played Sir Robin in the revival before Bennett. Ever since Bennett closed the deal to take over as Sir Robin, Urie has gone above and beyond to make sure Bennett feels confident for his Broadway debut, including taking him out to dinner and personally introducing Bennett to everyone backstage.

“[Michael] has been in constant communication with me from the day that this happened to make sure that I feel comfortable because he cares so much about the show,” Bennett said “And he cares so much about the character. I don’t know of that ever happening with someone coming into a cast. And that’s because Michael Urie is a superhuman with the biggest heart.”

For Bennett, one of the challenges of being Sir Robin is playing a character who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed yet is completely unaware of their shortcomings. Taking over the role from Urie, Bennett plans to exaggerate Sir Robin’s naïveté and to channel his feelings about being on Broadway for the first time to capture Robin’s excitability. 

“I think my Robin is a little more eager for acceptance,” Bennett said. “He gets excited a little bit more than Michael’s Robin. And I think I’m going to just pull from my excitement of making my Broadway debut and my dream coming true.”

More than his time as an actor, Bennet believes his experience hosting shows like Cake Wars and Times Square Ball has prepared him most for the Broadway stage, allowing him to stay present, and think quickly and creatively on his feet. As someone who is often in front of the camera, Bennett is eager to go all out with Spamalot’s irreverent humor and make a fool of himself in front of a live audience.

“I am a gay, only-child actor,” Bennett exclaimed. “There is nothing I love more than attention, and people clapping and laughing at my stupid jokes. I can’t wait to get on stage and play and test out material and jokes and different ways to deliver lines and different improvs.”

Jonathan Bennett joins the cast of Spamalot for his first Broadway curtain call. Photo by Andy Henderson.

Speaking with Bennett ahead of his Broadway debut, his enthusiasm for Spamalot’s spirit of play and the revival’s dynamic cast is palpable.

“I’ve never seen a cast that has such an unexplainable spark,” Bennett said. “It’s different every single night because you never know what the heck is going to come out of Alex Brightman’s mouth. You never know what the heck Leslie Kritzer is going to sing. And so every night the whole cast is electrified as they stand there and wait to hear who’s going to try to crack the other one up. And when you have that happening on stage, the audience just goes nuts for it. I’ve never seen lightning in a bottle on Broadway the way that you see it when you see Spamalot.”

Bennett is making his Broadway debut soon after the movie musical version of Mean Girls comes to theaters, which he finds mysterious but in no way a coincidence. As the film that launched his career reaches new audiences, Bennett will take the next step in his career, finally realizing his Broadway dreams. He hopes Spamalot is just the beginning.“My goal, with doing Spamalot, and making my Broadway debut, is to continue to aggressively work in the Broadway and theatre space, “ Bennett said. “Because, as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz once said, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

Jonathan Bennett celebrates his Broadway debut. Photo by Andy Henderson
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Interviews

The ‘Rorschach Test Possibility of Theater’: An interview with Job playwright Max Wolf Friedlich

By Katie Devin Orenstein

Max Wolf Friedlich made a splash this fall with the world premiere of his play JOB. Starring Sydney Lemmon (Tár) and Peter Friedman (Succession), and directed by Friedlich’s longtime collaborator Michael Herwitz, the psychological thriller about tech workers in San Francisco, opened last October at Soho Playhouse. Now, the new play moves to the Connelly Theatre beginning on January 19th. 

We recently spoke to Max about his inspirations, from Martin McDonagh to AI Instagram influencers, and how the production hopes to bring new audiences to the Off-Broadway space. 

JOB playwright Max Wold Friedlich. Photo by Nikky Ayra

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Broadway’s Best Shows

Congratulations on the upcoming remount of Job at the Connelly! I’d love to know your influences, and how this script began. 

Max Wolf Friedlich 

I think at my core, it was growing up seeing Conor McPherson plays and Martin McDonagh plays, and Jez Butterworth and Sarah Kane, very British [and] Irish. Dark, twisty, supernatural, perverted, surreal, but also very real, often with a horror element. I think those were the things that as a kid were really foundational, and they are the kind of writer I still aspire to be.

Job is not the most autobiographical work. I started writing it as part of a theater development group in LA in fall of 2019. We were really actively working on it until the final preview that we locked. This past summer, we did a week-long workshop, where going in the script was 14 pages longer [than it is now.]

BBS

That was a very fruitful workshop if you cut 14 pages! Congratulations.

MWF

Thank you! I have worked with our director, Michael Herwitz, and our dramaturg-slash-producer Hannah Getts for many years. I write the plays, but we really develop [them] as a core trio. To be honest, it was pretty seamless. Where the play comes from is twofold. One is, I met someone at a party who had the job that is portrayed in the show, working in content moderation [for social media.] And the other element of it was, I worked for this very strange tech company that built fictional influencers, the most famous of which was called Lil Miquela

So I have the strange experience of being a famous woman on the internet by playing this character professionally. The parts of the play that are really autobiographical are like, when you have 1.3 million followers, and you’re portraying a 19-year-old young woman–I didn’t mainline the internet the same way that the character in the play does–but, I could look at my phone any hour of the day, and someone [would be] saying something really heartfelt, or really disturbing, or very weird, or, you know, “I’m in the Philippines, I love your fashion.” That’s crazy. It’s literally me, you know? 

BBS

That sounds like a truly surreal experience.

MWF

Really ran the gamut from Martin McDonagh to fake influencers. Yeah.

BBS

I’m imagining you at eight years old, just reading The Pillowman.

MWF

Maybe not eight, but probably…10. Yeah.

BBS

What was the theatrical experience that got you from a general interest in theater to playwriting?

MWF

I was a really self-conscious kid, which is why my mom suggested that I try acting. I really didn’t enjoy being on stage in that way. I didn’t like being told what to do. And then I wrote a Christmas play that I won’t disclose the details of because I picked it up again recently, like 10 years later, and it’s the next play that I want to do [after JOB.] It was a very perverse Christmas play. And my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Byrne, was like, “I need to tell your parents about this. Because this is disgusting.” And also, “This is great, and you should keep going.”

JOB at Soho Playhouse. Photo by Emilio Madrid

BBS

The play takes place in a therapist’s office. And without saying too much, it is about a woman, Jane, who has been deeply traumatized. The show is constantly questioning mental health care, its relationship to being a participant in labor, and then also how trauma functions [in the brain]. 

MWF

Yeah. I did very little research into the actual job. That is encapsulated in the fact that it used to be fairly obvious that Jane worked at a very specific company. And then we were like, well, we’re not really doing the due diligence. We’re not representing these people. So the play is really an accentuated hyperbolic version of what it is to be on the internet. The experience of being online and growing up online is so ubiquitous that we don’t think of ourselves as having our brain chemistry altered and having seen traumatic images and had experiences that we shouldn’t have had, due to our access to the internet. 

There’s a lot of my own relationship with therapy too, which is I think a very uneasy one. I don’t go, not currently, but, I have historically gone. I think therapy is good. But I’ve always been unnerved by that relationship and being like, Who is this person? What have they done? I had a therapist once who, anytime I’d mention something in my relationship, he would be like, “women can be really difficult.” And then I found out through our setting [that] he was divorced. And I was like, “Okay, you’re kind of bringing your own stuff.”

I’m more interested in the Rorschach test possibility of theater, rather than being like, this is where I want you to get to. I think anything people take away from it is something that I’m cool with.

BBS

You’ve spoken about how this play is about and for young people. Can you tell me more about how Job is trying to show young people that theater can be about them?

MWF

I’m an avid theater goer. I grew up in New York and have seen a s***load of theater, and I simply don’t see a lot of things that address our generation’s experience. And I think that that can exist across lines of race and gender and sexuality. JOB is really about our modern relationship with labor. First and foremost, it’s a play about how Millennials and Gen Z see work and see their role in the world. We were really conscious [of that] in our branding. We used photographers and graphic designers who typically work in music editorial, because we didn’t want it to look like a play. Which – accessibility means a number of things, right? There’s very tangible things like ticket prices. And then there’s things in the middle. How do we actually reach this audience? You can make your ticket prices as low as you want but if the content isn’t for the demographic that it seeks to reach, and if you’re not reaching them, then there’s no way to get them there. It’s little things. I’m a huge advocate of saying, “hey, doors at 6:30, show’s at 7”, because, when young people go see music, and it says the show’s at 7, the show is never actually at 7. It lets people know that this is for them, that there aren’t tricky rules that they don’t understand. As a young person seeing theater when I was 10, or 11 or 12, I was made very aware that I was an outlier in those spaces. I don’t want 10 year olds coming to see JOB, to be clear! 

BBS

Ha, yeah, I was going to say.

JOB starts performances at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th St, January 19th, and runs through March 3rd. $32-$127. 

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Interviews

TONY TALK: Kara Young

Meet Kara Young, Tony-nominated actress from Manhattan Theatre Club’s COST OF LIVING.

COST OF LIVING. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

After her Broadway debut in last year’s CLYDE’S and stunning turn in COST OF LIVING, Young is nominated in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role for the second year in a row! She is recognized alongside her co-stars Katy Sullivan and David Zayas, the production’s director Jo Bonney, and the play itself by Martyna Majok, nominated in the Best Play category.

CLYDE’S. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Young is an exciting rising Broadway star, with several film and theater projects on the horizon. Learn more about her with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

My mom and dad! 

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

Crystal Lucas PERRY!!! I’ve been watching her for years and her work always blows me away. Also, Nikki Crawford, when I saw her at The Public Theater’s production of Fat Ham, I walked out of the theater crying to the entire cast… This is what theater is supposed to be (and I’ve seen it twice on Broadway.) Nikki’s work is literal magic. Stephen McKinley Henderson. Omg!!! This man is our golden gem; watching him is a masterclass!! And David Zayas!!!! I can’t believe I was in a play with him; after watching him for years, I was watching him from backstage every night and genuinely feeling like, “Whoa, is this real?”

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Glass House Tavern

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

The Christmas Spectacular, the fabulous Rockettes!! 

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

I was a mime when I was five years old at the 92nd street Y. My instructor Zahava Gratz took me under her wing. At the time, I didn’t know the full concept of what theater was, but I believe that was the first time I fell in love with performing. 

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

There are too many!!

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

Well I have to say Ariana [DeBose] because I gotta see her do it live! 

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

Also because I was there last year, being a long time fan of the great Bernadette Peters; seeing, hearing and feeling her from my seat was one of the most magical experiences of my life. 

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

Phylicia Rashad for her performance in [A Raisin in the Sun], and her speech last year as well in Skeleton Crew. Her grace is colossal, her work is paramount, and her legacy is monumental. 

What is one play or musical (and role) would you like to perform on Broadway, and why?

I’m not a singer but I would love to be Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.

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Interviews

TONY TALK: David Stone

Meet David Stone, the Tony-nominated producer of KIMBERLY AKIMBO.

Photo by Joan Marcus

With this season’s new musical KIMBERLY AKIMBO, which transferred to Broadway’s Booth Theatre after endearing audiences at Atlantic Theater Company last year, David Stone earns his eighth Tony nomination as a Broadway producer.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Stone’s contribution to Broadway theater is immeasurable. He is responsible for bringing to Broadway so many of the musicals that we now consider modern classics, including WICKED, THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, and NEXT TO NORMAL. He has also produced a number of plays, including THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, THE BOYS IN THE BAND (for which he won his Tony Award in 2019), and this season’s revival of TOPDOG/UNDERDOG.

Topdog/Underdog. Photo by Marc J. Franklin

Get to know this Broadway producing giant in our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination news?

My husband and I were watching on CBS and then New York 1. My phone immediately buzzed with a text from my nephew. 

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

Ben Platt’s deeply soulful performance in Parade makes me very proud to be Jewish. And, it’s impossible not to acknowledge Jessica Stone’s miraculous work on Kimberly Akimbo. She navigated the trickiest tone imaginable, with grace and confidence. 

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Joe Allen for food, Glass House for drinks

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Man of La Mancha at the Martin Beck Theater for my 5th birthday. I eventually produced Man of La Mancha starring Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Martin Beck Theater. It was my mother’s favorite show. 

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

Ha! I wish I could remember the moment. I don’t know if there was a decision. It’s all I’ve ever done. 

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

My parents had taken us to see A Chorus Line right when it had opened, so we got to watch the Tony Awards that year. I think I was 10. 

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

My dear friend Kristin Chenoweth (I call her Bubbles) was dressed in an E.T. costume when she hosted. I mean…

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

Patti LuPone singing A New Argentina from Evita (1980). And Jennifer Holliday singing And I Am Tellin’ You I’m Not Going (1982). It’s a tie. 

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

Idina Menzel’s speech. My heart almost burst.

What is one play or musical you would like to adapt or revive on Broadway, and why?

Our Town, but I think it may already be in the works 🙂

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Interviews

TONY TALK: Annaleigh Ashford

Meet Annaleigh Ashford, the Tony-nominated star of this season’s revival of SWEENEY TODD.

Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

Ashford earns her third Tony Award nomination as Mrs. Lovett in the latest revival of Sondheim’s demon barber murder musical, this time for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. She has already collected several of the season’s precursor awards for her performance, taking home a Drama Desk Award and the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award. 

She has previously received Tony recognition for her role in the 2013 musical KINKY BOOTS and then for her performance in the 2015 revival of the play YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, for which she then won the award.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

A regular of the Broadway stage, Ashford has appeared in seven Broadway shows before this year’s revival, dating back to her turn as Glinda in WICKED. She was also seen in LEGALLY BLONDE, HAIR, SYLVIA, and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.

Get to know more about this distinguished diva of Broadway with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

The first person to hug me and give me a kiss was my sweet husband who was sitting with me having our morning coffee as I was also getting my blood drawn for a physical. The blood draw timing was very apropos for Sweeney Todd. 

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

I have so many wonderful old friends and new friends who are nominated this year. I haven’t gotten to see any of the other shows except for Into the Woods. Sending big love to that beautiful production and all involved. 

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Always Joe Allens. It’s a theatre legend and always top notch tasty.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Les Miserables.

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

Even as a young child I knew that I wanted to be a storyteller. I found theatre as a 7 year old and my soul immediately loved the light that came out of the dark space. I knew I was home.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

I remember watching the Tonys with my theatre friends and cast mates in Denver, Colorado. Someone would always host a party and we would huddle around to watch the magic. 

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

I can’t have a favorite host. They are all brilliant in their own ways. And I’m friends with a bunch of them. I can’t have a favorite.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

I love the anniversary celebrations where they would perform snippets of past years. Angela Lansbury sang By the Sea to celebrate Sweeney Todd one year.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

There have been so many incredible speeches but I will always remember Lin Manuel Miranda saying love is “love is love is love.” We needed to hear that right at that moment.

What is one play or musical (and role) would you like to perform on Broadway, and why?

A new play written by a female playwright with a strong female character… and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

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Interviews

TONY TALK: Dane Laffrey & Lucy MacKinnon

Meet Dane Laffrey & Lucy MacKinnon, the Tony-nominated team responsible for the scenic design in last holiday season’s one-man Broadway staging of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

A Christmas Carol Live

The spooky magic surrounding Jefferson Mays’ tour-de-force performance as all the characters of the classic tale is largely attributable to Laffrey’s set and MacKinnon’s accompanying video projections transporting us through time and space. Laffrey conceived of the production alongside director Michael Arden, and also designed the production’s costumes.

This is neither designer’s first rodeo, with Laffrey having been Tony-nominated for scenic design of the 2018 revival of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, and MacKinnon a prior Tony nominee for designing the video in JAGGED LITTLE PILL. 

Spring Awakening. Photo by Joan Marcus

The pair previously worked together on Arden’s 2015 revival of SPRING AWAKENING, for which Laffrey also designed the costumes. Some of Laffrey’s other Broadway credits include . MacKinnon has designed video assets for nine productions, including THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT and HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE. 

Both designers are currently represented on Broadway! Laffrey designed the set for this season’s multi-nominated revival of PARADE, currently running at the Jacobs Theatre (another Arden collaboration), and MacKinnon provided video design for KIMBERLY AKIMBO, the Best Musical-nominated show running at the Booth Theatre.

Get to know more about this design duo with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

Dane Laffrey: When the nominations were announced I was on a plane with no wifi – when I landed my phone did a great deal of pinging and vibrating. Hard to know who reached out first, but I received a lot of wonderful notes.

Lucy MacKinnon: My associate on the show! He called me early because he’d mistaken the predictions for nominations, but I appreciated it all the same.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

DL: I have to be biased and say my creative partner and dearest friend Michael Arden, nominated this year for Parade. We conceived A Christmas Carol together and he directed it brilliantly. His work on Parade is also staggeringly nuanced and expert. What can I say…he’s the best! I’m incredibly lucky to share all the work we have so far, and coming up.

LM: Bonnie Milligan in Kimberly Akimbo. I worked on the show so I’m biased, but every performance she gives is incredible.

Top restaurant in the theater district?

DL: Vice Versa

LM: Bea on West 43rd street.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

DL: Not counting the big tours (eg. Rent, Les Mis, Miss Saigon, etc.) I believe on Broadway it was Dame Edna: The Royal Tour at The Booth in 1999. I laughed ’til I cried. May she (and her manager Barry) rest well!

LM: I saw The Lion King the year it opened with my fifth grade class. I went to PS139 in Brooklyn, and seeing that show was a big event for all of us.

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

DL: After struggling a lot in school and at other ’normal’ childhood pursuits, theatre was the first thing I encountered that I actually wanted to do. I was hungry for it, and looked forward to it and was sad when it ended. Basically it’s been clear to me for as long as I can remember that theatre was what I was supposed to do. 

LM: Watching David Byrne’s Stop Making Sense over and over again on a VHS tape got me interested in design. Seeing William Kentridge’s Magic Flute at BAM made me want to try to become a projection designer in earnest.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

DL: Watching (and re-watching) old Tonys telecasts on VHS with my theatre friends, naturally. Fast-forwarding through the commercials. 

LM: When Fun Home won Best Musical in 2015. I was there with my husband, who was also nominated for the show, and it was the most thrilling moment.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

DL: I’m going to say the Once On This Island performance in 2018. My first nomination was for that show, and I was SO happy that we managed to capture the feeling of Circle in the Square for the performance. It was also quickly followed by us winning Best Revival, which doesn’t hurt either!

LM: Sydney Lucas standing all alone on stage singing “Ring of Keys.” That performance was so simple, and it was such a remarkable display of courage on her part.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

DL: It’s a tie. Ali Stroker for Oklahoma! Ali’s a friend, we did Spring Awakening together, which was both of our Broadway debuts. Her work in Oklahoma! was extraordinary and I was so thrilled to see her recognized. And Deirde O’Connell, last year for Dana H. That show off-Broadway was the last thing I saw before the pandemic and her work is burned in my memory. I think Dede is one of the best actresses we have and her encouragement to “Do the weird art” are words to live by.

LM: David Byrne accepting a special Tony award for American Utopia. His show didn’t quite fit the Tony boxes.

What is one play or musical you would like to scenic design on Broadway, and why?

DL: A wonderful new musical called Maybe Happy Ending which, fingers crossed, we’ll be bringing in very soon. Michael Arden and I did it out of town right before covid and it’s both a thrilling production and a fabulous, original story by Hue Park and Will Aronson. I’m very excited for the world to see what I know is going to be a very special show. 

LM: I’d love to work with Kate Berlant on just about anything.

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Interviews

TONY TALK: Joshua D. Reid

Meet Joshua D. Reid, the Tony-nominated sound designer of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

This year’s nomination for Best Sound Design of a Play marks Reid’s first Tony nomination after serving as an Assistant or Associate Sound Designer on 11 Broadway productions over the last decade.

Some of Reid’s previous Broadway credits include AMERICAN PSYCHO, the 2017 revival of FALSETTOS, THE FERRYMAN, and FLYING OVER SUNSET.

AMERICAN PSYCHO: THE MUSICAL. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Last holiday season’s one-man iteration of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is recognized in several categories for this year’s Tony Awards, including in scenic design for set designer Dane Laffrey & projections designer Lucy MacKinnon, and in lighting design for Ben Stanton.

Learn more about Reid with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

Within seconds of the nomination, my wonderful agent Amy Wagner at A3 Artists Agency was calling with congratulations.  I was watching the live announcements and was in such a state of bewilderment that I’m not exactly sure what was said, but it was heartfelt and genuine. At the same time, I was receiving all kinds of messages from friends and family who were also expressing their admiration and adoration. 

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

If I absolutely only get to pick one, I have to send my heart to Crystal Lucas-Perry. Her performance in Ain’t No Mo’ left me feeling like I wanted to challenge my own thoughts towards others and make positive changes in my own life; and at the same time it was a performance that complimented every other actor and story being told.  There were so many really amazing contributions to the broadway community this year; and I have to admit the personal bias of my choice.  Crystal and I went to college together, and she is one of the most kind and caring people I know.  So I feel personally fortunate to have seen her grow so beautifully as both an artist and as a person over the years.  For both of us to be nominated in the same year, and in our broadway debut year, is something I’ll always be able to cherish and share with her.  

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Definitely Glass House Tavern on 47th Street. I’ve spent so many occasions at this restaurant, catching up with friends, celebrating a special occasion, or simply unwinding before or after a show.  The atmosphere is perfect for connecting with people, and there isn’t a single thing on the menu that I wouldn’t recommend. I’ve been going there for years, and have some wonderful memories with people I cherish.  It’s definitely a staple of my time in the theatre district. 

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

The 2008 revival of Sunday in the Park with George.  It was my first time in New York City, and this was the first show of 6 that I saw with my mother over the course of a week.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect first Broadway experience.  The production and the performances were all pinnacle experiences, and really showed how selective focus could be used to enhance the storytelling and the audience’s experience.  I left the show with fascination for what my own technical artistry could contribute to a live performance. 

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

I really discovered my passion for theatre and live performance in high school; and I very much discovered it by chance. I was a musician who was asked to play in the pit orchestra for the spring musical of the Wizard of Oz. Once I saw the community that theater artists had, even at that young age, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of. I (very briefly) tried my hand at acting, but felt like my musicianship and technical skills were what I really wanted to cultivate.  So over the next three years I helped out on the technical side of productions and discovered a passion for scenic and sound design.  It wasn’t until my senior year that I even considered pursuing a collegiate education and making a career out of it. 

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

I remember going to a friend’s house for a Tony Party in 10th grade. At this point, my theatrical knowledge was shallow at best; but all my friends were discussing the various shows, which were their favorites and who was performing in them.  It was also my first time watching the Tony Awards, and the first time that I got to see what Broadway had to offer.  To my friends, this was their Super Bowl, and I was simply there to be exposed and enjoy their company. But I’ll always remember the feeling of exhilaration, seeing all of the various artists nominated for making contributions that brought the productions to life, and the caliber that these productions were delivering.  In a word, it really inspired hope – that this relatively new love I had discovered was something worth pursuing. 

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

I have a particular adoration for Neil Patrick Harris as the host of the ceremony. I think in his time as the host he’s always known when to be comical and featured, and when it’s necessary to step out of the spotlight to provide praise and support to the productions and people that are being celebrated.  Neil Patrick Harris was also a public role model for the LGBTQ community at a time in my life when I was searching for my own identity.  So while I have great admiration for him, I also have tremendous respect for other hosts who have used this honor to reach out to their own communities. 

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

In 2018, in the wake of the Parkland High School mass shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Drama students were invited to the stage to sing ’Seasons of Love’ by Jonathan Larson. It was a heartfelt moment that acknowledged the very same hope and community I felt when I first became a theatre artist.  As an arts educator myself, I wholeheartedly believe that seeking and cultivating change begins at the entry point to industries; and in our industry, this begins by nurturing young artists as they are discovering theatre and their own artistry. This performance was a brief moment where the Broadway community shared their own national spotlight to reach out to local communities everywhere with their support and strength.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

Broadway shows carry a message of their own that are able to reach far and wide through the retelling of their stories and music.  But the Tony Awards offer a rare opportunity for the general public to hear directly from the people who create those works and compose those messages.  Lin Manuel Miranda delivering his acceptance speech for Best Original Score in 2016 was a raw and heartfelt moment. The fact that he was able to deliver such a powerful address on the very evening of the Orlando nightclub shooting spoke to his character and empathy for a community in mourning.    

What is one play or musical you would like to sound design on Broadway, and why?

Ragtime. Without a doubt.  Every contribution to this production on its own is beautiful, and collectively it has the potential to be breathtaking.  Ahrens and Flaherty wrote a truly beautiful complex symphony of both storytelling and musicality, and this musical brings audiences back to the hope that we all once felt when beginning to pursue the things we are passionate about.  I also think that these are the types of stories that need to be told so that they can resonate and be reflected upon in today’s cultural climate.  I love being able to design and be a part of the storytelling for any new production that challenges the status quo. Honestly, anything that holds a mirror up to society deserves to be celebrated.  

Categories
Interviews

TONY TALK: Tom Kitt

Meet Tom Kitt, the Tony-nominated composer of this season’s ALMOST FAMOUS.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Tony, Emmy, Grammy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and orchestrator Tom Kitt earns his seventh Tony nomination with ALMOST FAMOUS. He shares his nomination with co-lyricist and book writer Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the original film. 

Kitt won his two Tonys, as well as a Pulitzer Prize, for composing and orchestrating NEXT TO NORMAL with lyricist Brian Yorkey. He has also been nominated for orchestrating SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and JAGGED LITTLE PILL, and for composing IF/THEN and FLYING OVER SUNSET. He won an Emmy for composing the 2013 Tony Awards opening number with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a Grammy for the JAGGED LITTLE PILL original Broadway cast album. 

Get to know more about this Broadway musical stalwart with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

The first text I received was from my friend Sarah Levine Hall who is a producer on the Tony Awards.  I was watching my son’s percussion recital, and I briefly checked my phone and saw that she had sent me a hand clap emoji.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

This is a hard question to answer as there is so much brilliant work on Broadway this season, but personal favorite would be my friend Annaleigh Ashford whose work in Sweeney Todd is virtuosic in every way.

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Joe Allen is my go-to.  Love the food, the ambience, and the “High Fidelity” poster.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan.

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

It was when I was at Columbia University as an undergrad.  My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) Rita Pietropinto introduced me to another student named Brian Yorkey and we began writing shows together, dreaming of someday getting to Broadway.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

My earliest memory is of me convincing my mom to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the show with her and my sister.  We couldn’t wait for the performances of the musicals we were constantly singing songs from.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

This would be a tie between Neil Patrick Harris and James Corden, because they both entrusted me with the great honor of co-writing the opening number for them.  Also, special shoutout to my friend Ariana DeBose who was incredible last year.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

It would be “Bigger,” the opening number that I wrote with Lin-Manuel Miranda for Neil Patrick Harris in 2013.  It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, and it was so gargantuan and terrifying.  And then on the telecast, everything clicked, and it was truly magical.  To this day, I marvel at what the entire team (Neil especially) was able to pull off and how emotional it all makes me feel.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

For me, it would be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech in 2016 for Hamilton, where his “love is love is love” rallying cry was a direct call for humanity to rise above the hate and violent acts that divide us, and for artists to continue to find the melodies that bring us into harmony.

What is one play or musical you would like to adapt or revive on Broadway, and why?

I would love to explore an adaptation of Sam Shepherd’s play, “True West” as a musical.  It would be exciting to see Shepherd’s indelible characters and rich dialogue become songs, maybe in an alt-country feel.

Categories
Interviews

TONY TALK: Jessica Hecht

Meet Jessica Hecht, the Tony-nominated actress from this season’s two-hander SUMMER, 1976, in which she stars opposite Laura Linney.

SUMMER, 1976. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Hecht is one of our most versatile and gifted theater artists, with Broadway credits dating back to 1997, when she starred in the Tony-winning play THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO. This year’s marks her second Tony nomination, after being recognized for her work in 2010’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Additional Broadway appearances include BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, among several others.

Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus

She has appeared many times on the New York stage throughout her career, including this season’s LETTERS FROM MAX by Sarah Ruhl at Signature Theatre Company. She is also known for her television roles on Friends, Breaking Bad, and Special, for which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, among others.

Get to know this New York theater icon with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination? 

I texted Laura Linney to express how indebted I am to her.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

I loved David Zayas in Cost of Living.

Top restaurant in the theater district? 

I like Bond 45 for the incredible Antipasto…Also I met Todd Haimes there several times and it now holds these memories of him.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Shenandoah!! Which I saw in 1976! I went with my class from middle school in Bloomfield, CT. It was a revelation!

When did you decide to become a theater artist?
While at Connecticut College, I met the great Morris Carnovsky and he was so devoted to the work he had done in the Group Theatre and I was awed by him and just followed him around like a puppy and he told me to go to New York and Study with Stella Adler and I never looked back.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?
Well I think being at the live awards for The Last Night of Ballyhoo…and having our play win for Best Play…as we sat in the nosebleed seats (in a dress I borrowed from magnificent Dana Ivey!) has become my earliest adult memory…and it just trumps all other memories.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why? 

Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick made you feel like you were on the inside of some delicious joke in a familiar and true, “this is our time” way that was thrilling.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

Hamilton… Come on… 🙂

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

Danny Burstein. So genuine, so simple. It was ultimately a love note to the community from him …and Becca.

What is one play or musical you would like to perform on Broadway, and why?

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss would be a dream to do on Broadway. It’s equally theatrical and intimate …ingeniously so. I’d also do anything by Tennessee Williams of course….for much the same reason as Stage Kiss….Isn’t that the thrill? To be both wonderfully theatrical and steadily real. 

Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of SUMMER, 1976 is running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, currently scheduled through June 18, 2023.

Categories
Interviews

TONY TALK: Audra McDonald

Meet Audra McDonald, the Tony-nominated star of this season’s OHIO STATE MURDERS.

OHIO STATE MURDERS. Photo by Richard Termine.

A bona fide Broadway star, Audra McDonald is the only actress to have been recognized in all four acting categories. This year, she is nominated for the 10th time for her performance as Suzanne Alexander in Adrienne Kennedy’s OHIO STATE MURDERS. The production marked Adrienne Kennedy’s Broadway debut at the age of 91, and was directed by Kenny Leon.

THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.

Of her 13 Broadway outings, some of her most notable include CAROUSEL (1994), MASTER CLASS (1996), RAGTIME (1998), A RAISIN IN THE SUN (2004), THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS (2012), and LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (2014), all of which won her Tony Awards for her performances.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday for LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (Photo by Warwick Saint)

Get to know more about this Broadway icon with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?
I was on the train heading to the city for rehearsal, and my friend sent me a video message of his son saying “Hi Auntie Audra, congratulations on your Tony nomination!” That’s how I found out.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?
I was bowled over by “Fat Ham”. I thought it was an incredible adaptation and I was truly blown away.

Top restaurant in the theater district?
It’s just south of the Theater District, but Boqueria – incredible tapas!

The first Broadway show you ever saw?
Starlight Express

When did you decide to become a theater artist?
When I was 9 years old, the first time I stepped on the stage in my dinner theater in Fresno, California. I felt such electricity and the sense that was where I belonged. I felt normal for the first time in my life.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?
One of my earliest Tonys memories was being in the elevator heading to the stage for “Carousel” to rehearse our number and running into Sally Mayes. She had just come from rehearsal for their number, she was starring in the revival of “She Loves Me” and we both had nominations in the same category. I didn’t know her very well, but we saw each other, fell into each other’s arms, gave each other the biggest hug and said, “have the most amazing night!” It was my first sense of true camaraderie with performers and theater makers. I learned in the end, it’s all a lovefest.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?
Rosie O’Donnell always did a wonderful job. With Rosie, it was about the love of the community and musical theater. She gave so much support to the theater with her TV show. There was such a love and an ease, and she hosted with awe and joy.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?
There are so many amazing performances, but what comes to my mind is Jennifer Holiday’s ‘And I Am Telling You’ from “Dreamgirls.”

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?
I remember being incredibly moved by Billy Porter’s speech when he won for “Kinky Boots” declaring “this is who I am.” He spoke about his mother not necessarily understanding who he was but loving him anyway and her acceptance. She was there for him and nurtured him so he could grow to be his best self. His love for his mother in that moment and honoring her in that way was intensely moving.

What is one play or musical you would like to perform on Broadway, and why?
The answer is all of them, because I love Broadway so much.