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Broadway, Off-Broadway Deliver Season to Remember in NYC Theater

Comedian Steve Martin and actress Carmen Cusack talk about 'Bright Star,' and the recent Broadway theater season.

Comedian Steve Martin and actress Carmen Cusack talk about ‘Bright Star,’ and the recent Broadway theater season. (Photo: Iris Wiener)

Broadway and Off-Broadway productions delivered one of the most exciting New York City theater seasons in years. There was a lot to appreciate outside of the Hamilton juggernaut, and the artists who starred in the shows shared their reflections on the just-ended season.

Whether you were taken by a revival of Arthur Miller plays, A View From the Bridge, The Crucible, or swept up by Bright Star or The Robber Bridegroom, the season was as diverse as it was memorable.

IM caught up with Broadway and Off-Broadway artists at the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards and asked them to reflect on the season and look forward to the upcoming season.

Actress Carmen Cusack and comedian Steve Martin, who wrote the book and co-wrote Bright Star talked about the brightest moments in their first Broadway experience.

“Just being there and in it,” said Cusack of the production.

“A little musical called Bright Star has been the bright star of this year and the last few years, working with Edie Brickell, Walter Bobbie, and Carmen Cusack, our fantastic star,” said Martin.

“The process was exactly what I expected it to be–a lot of work and a lot of fun. Both Edie Brickell and I do find fun in doing the work on music and the script in Bright Star,” he added.

On a line from Bright Star that epitomized their experiences, Cusack chose, “You never know what life will bring, only what you bring to life.”

“I like the standing ovation at the end. ‘Anything’s possible with people,'” said Martin.

* * *

Jennifer Simard (Photo: Getty)

Jennifer Simard (Photo: Getty)

Jennifer Simard, who starred in Disaster!, talked about the irony of getting accolades and her first Tony nomination for a show called… Disaster!

“It is wonderful that I get to celebrate this show that we did Off-Broadway on Broadway. I never could have dreamed that the greatest role to date would be written by my good friends Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick,” she said.

“So the irony, if there is any, is that when I met them twenty years ago, they were just my sketch comedy friends. Now they’re responsible for my first Tony nomination.”

* * *

Danielle Brooks

Danielle Brooks

Danielle Brooks who starred in The Color Purple explained what she loves about the theater.

“I think the theater is supposed to change us and make us want to be different,” she said.

“I think that’s what we’re doing in our show, making people look inside themselves and say, ‘What do I need to fix? What’s ugly? What can I help someone else to fix?’ That’s why I got into theater,” she added.

She also talked about the challenges of being on stage for eight shows a week.

“I’m kind of transparent with myself when it comes to things like fear, so it’s really challenging to be on stage for eight shows a week,” she said.

“I haven’t really considered myself to be a singer until now, to be in front of over 1,100 people every night and not know if your voice is going to hold up. You’re so tired. Is your brain going to shut off today?

“I have human thoughts and fears. But every night I get to counteract with, ‘Hell No!’ Sometimes I see myself in Celie, and I get to say, ‘Pick yourself up! You can do this!'”

“I feel like every character that you get to play gives you a gift, and Sofia’s definitely given me a gift every night. The other part about her is that she does fall. That happens in life too, but I get to get back up again. I think that’s what people are experiencing when they watch The Color Purple.”

* * *

Jane Krakowski

Jane Krakowski

Jane Krakowski who appeared in She Loves Me found great strength in female roles on Broadway this season.

There’s great strength in the women roles that are on Broadway, even in a show like She Loves Me that is so old-fashioned,” she said.

“I think Amalia (Laura Benanti) is actually a smart, strong woman. For the lead ingénue and vocal part to have that moxie, brain and strength, is rare for the time when Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote it.

“What I love about Ilona is that although she’s street smart, not book smart, and she picks the wrong guys in the time frame that we’re in the show, she finds her own strength to go on the right path and I think there’s a beauty in that,” she added.

* * *

Paul Alexander Nolan

Paul Alexander Nolan

Paul Alexander Nolan, who appeared in Bright Star finds great inspiration in his wife and his niece, Chase, who died at 14. “She’s always in me. That was three years ago,” he said.

“Whenever I’m working with grief, I think it’s impossible not to have my grief come up. In Bright Star, I dealt with a little bit of grief in the show. For most of the show I didn’t, and I’m like Tony in West Side Story–I was ten feet in the air! In the second act I spent a little bit of time in the dark.

* * *

Robert Creighten

Robert Creighten

Robert Creighton, who acted in and co-wrote Cagney talked about his “bromance” with Fiddler on the Roof actor Danny Burstein.

“If you pick someone you look up to and want to model yourself after, and if you said, ‘Who would you like your career to look like?’ That’s it. He does plays and musicals, and he’s widely respected for his work. He’s a phenomenal guy.”

Creighton is atypical looking for a tap dancer, but he says that worked to the show’s advantage.

“When they say in Cagney ‘You look more like a boxer than a dancer,’ it’s a great thing to say! It’s a true statement, but inside I’m a dancer. Tap dancing has always brought me such great joy, even when I wasn’t good at it,” he said.

“I started late when I was 20. It’s never too late to start. I obviously worked very hard at it to get good at it. I love not being what people expect when they look at you, and then you have a certain skill set that they didn’t see coming.”

* * *

Saycon Sengbloh

Saycon Sengbloh

Saycon Sengbloh, who appeared in Eclipsed picked her favorite line from the show: “They say, ‘You can go.’ I can just go wherever I want?’” she recites.

“[My character] said that because I was seeing that anything that I want is possible. Personally, I can go forward to being acknowledged for my work in drama. I can go forward and be acknowledged as a woman in theater,” she said.

“I’ve been working as a theatrical artist since I was 14 years old, and the live theater is part of me. It doesn’t mean that I can’t go and do movies. I can go and have a family. I’m growing in my relationships with my family and my friends. The theater season represents me and my life.”

* * *

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera, given the opportunity would dedicate the 2016 Drama Desk Awards to actor Roger Rees.

“Roger, we miss everything about you, but we thank you for all the great that you’ve given to us, in the theater and in life. I miss you and I’ll see you,” she said.

* * *
Jessie Nelson, Book Writer for Waitress said one line epitomizes her experience with the show: “Sugar, butter, flour.”

“It’s all about the ingredients, and getting the right ingredients together to make something special,” she explains.

“We were lucky, we had some pretty extraordinary ingredients on this one. Sara Bareilles, Diane Paulus, Lorin Latarro, Jessie Mueller, Chris Fitzgerald… the dream ingredients.”

* * *
Bartlett Sher, director of Fiddler on the Roof described the moment he he knewFiddler star Danny Burstein was magic.

“We first met when he came in for an audition for South Pacific. I’d seen his work on The Drowsy Chaperone and I thought, ‘Who the hell is that? He’s pretty amazing.'”

“He was extraordinary in his audition for South Pacific, and all of the work on that show was probably where we first came to know each other as collaborators. I think he’s got that rare ability to be a great actor and an unbelievable comic, plus he can lead a company. He’s a very special person.”

Sher said the character he is most connected to in the show is Perchik. “Strangely, because he’s the Socialist and he’s sort of the rabble rouser; It would have to be one of his moments. Perchik would be my doppelganger in the show.”

* * *
Danny Burstein talked about his surprise that Fidler on the Roof was one of the most talked about revivals this year on Broadway.

“I think it’s a beautiful production, and I’m very proud of it. I think [Director] Bart Sher did the show as well as it could be done for today’s audiences,” he said.

“When he was first offered the show, people kept asking him, ‘Why Fiddler on the Roof? Why now?’ He wanted to answer that question with his production, and I think he’s done a great job of it. I’m very proud of him.”

The line from the show that most epitomizes his experience this year is “To life. God would like us to be joyful, even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.”

“It’s a beautiful lyric written by our great lyricist Sheldon Harnick. I try my best to just live my life and be happy, so whatever comes my way, I’ll be happy no matter what.

* * *
Jesse Tyler Ferguson who starred in Fully Committed said he would kill to work with Bart Sher. “Are you kidding me? He’s one of my all-time favorites.”

But not in Fidler.

“I don’t think I’m a great Tevye. I can’t follow up what Danny Burstein is doing. Danny is so brilliant in that show. I would not want to touch that. That performance is huge, beautiful and so subtle, yet it’s so layered. I would not want to follow in those footsteps.

“However, I do want to work with Bart, so whatever he needs me to do.”

* * *
Danai Gurira, the Writer for Eclipsed and Familiar, talked about how her experience with New York theater this season has changed her perspective about her work.

“It has given me so much fuel to keep going and to keep creating for the stage. Honestly, when I look at the work out there, it has been so inspiring. It has given me new ideas and astounding respect for the people I’ve been around during this season,” she said.

She was ecstatic about turning “The Walking Dead” into a Broadway show. “Walking Dead Musical, my showrunner could kill that! Put it to him. Call him, Scott Gimple. He could do that. I’m going to go talk to him about this. This is a great idea!”

* * *
Savion Glover, choreographer for Shuffle Along talked about the differences between dancing in a show and choreographing it.

“Once I realized that [Director] George C. Wolfe was serious about me not being in the show, I just fell into choreographer mode. It was great being able to give the dancers some ideas that I had been thinking about, but I could not execute myself at that point,” he said.

“I was happy that I still had at least a creative mind and could try new things. Then to see it come to life was a beautiful thing. Everything worked out.

Of his favorite line in the show, he said it’s “Do it all.”

* * *
Ivo van Hove, director of The Crucible and A View From the Bridge talked about how the classic Arthur Miller plays were big hits this season.

“What happened this year is that old plays were brought to audiences in a fresh way with new energy, and that’s what I think theater directors should do; they should not do what the directors before them have done,” he said.

They should think about it for themselves and say, “’What does this play tell us today?’ Audiences react to that. That’s what happened this year with A View from the Bridge and The Crucible.

“People can buy entertainment at home very cheaply, you just have to switch on your television or your computer, open it up, and you have it. I think in the twenty-first century, people go to the theater not only for entertainment, but also to think about the deeper issues of life and to see actors live on stage in front of them.”

In A View From the Bridge, the ending epitomized his feelings about the show.

In many productions there is a lot of shouting. I said, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s keep the energy more of an inner energy.’I worked up a long crescendo, and of course at the end you have this rain of blood. I hear from everybody they felt choked, like they had to have two whiskies afterwards.

With The Crucible, the most moving moment was also toward the end when Elizabeth is sitting with John Procter and they have their last meeting in their life together.

That is played by Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo in such a moving, fragile way. They danced to that in front of an audience, and played it very minimalistic,” he added.

“They go totally for the emotions and fragility, and they did it in a very sincere way.”

* * *
Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, who wrote the Music and Lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen explained why they thought the musical spoke to the audience on such a profound level.

“I think that our goal with the show was to hit on people’s need for community and connection, and to feel part of something. I know that that’s a very universal theme because it’s something that we all feel at one point in our lives, for most of our lives, or for all of our lives,” Paul said.

“I think a lot of the reason we connect with the characters is because of the painstaking, devastating performances and real human beings that these actors were giving to us. They feel so relatable and so real, it’s like you were watching people up there, not actors and performers. That’s a big part of it.”

Pasek credited book writer Steven Levenson for keeping the audience centered on the show.

“[He} helped us every step of the way, and created the bedrock for every single song and where it came out of. He’s an amazing collaborator and we were so lucky to have him,” he said.

Opening the show on Broadway later this year following it’s Off-Broadway run is a dream come true, says Pasek.

“We’re thrilled that Dear Evan Hansen is going to Broadway, and we’re so excited that people are going to get to see the show, and that they’re going to get to see the amazing cast, and a story that means a lot to us that’s come from a very raw and vulnerable place for us. It’s exciting that people are excited about seeing it,” he said.

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