MY COMET RIDE TO THE TONYS
June 2017 | THE TONYS
The 2017 Tony Awards are over. It's taken me a week to recover. Wow - After a moment of calm it feels like the Tony performance was such a blur. The lights went down, the crowd cheered, hearts were tired but it was adrenaline pushing us through to the last kick of our performance. Groban started us off, we shot out like a cannon and the rest was a blur. All I remember was Keegan Key's voice announcing our long show title, trying to look fierce without falling on my face, losing my breath, it all being over and then getting on the bus back to the theatre to change out of our costumes. It was such a high and walking into work Tuesday felt like the comedown. It was as if the Tony buzz drugs wore off, we were all soberly back to Earth and finally got to revel in the 2 Tony awards that we get to call our own. It hit me in the calm how much this show has been a part of my life. 4 1/2 years it has been. I think about my own timeline with Comet and the amount of things that have gone on during my run with this show - there have been deaths, engagements (including my own), babies born, jobs booked, jobs ended, weddings, tours, moves to new cities, travels around the world. Without too many details I want to go back and explain how this long, strange Comet trip came to be.
January 2013 | THE AUDITION
I got a submission from my agents for a show called Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. The breakdown was a head scratcher for sure. Now that I know Dave and Rachel it makes sense but at the time it was as confusing as me reading a New York Magazine when I'm tired. (Have you ever tried? It hurts your brain.)
"Musically the piece is eclectic and ambitious, encompassing romantic, modern and avant-garde classical music, Russian folk, indie rock, jazz and electronica. The vocal style should be unique, soulful, idiosyncratic and decidedly un-Broadway."
Excuse me? I clicked on the soundcloud link to 'Preparations'. A few measures in, before I realized it was Dave Malloy, the composer, singing (every song), I pictured his voice over a megaphone in an abandoned warehouse in Red Hook Brooklyn and a group of skinny pasty vegans dancing ala Martha Graham. It was the oddest thing and as I listened to other songs, there was an echo to Dave's voice as if he had a blanket covering his head recording garage band style in his bathroom. He layered over his own harmonies with Radiohead style sound bites. There was nothing subtle or apologetic about it. Just Tolstoy's words and Dave's voice. This was either something really odd or just pure brilliance.
Keep in mind I had just finished the musical Hair and I was one foot out the door with the idea of leaving the business to start cooking professionally. The plan was to start a catering business so that I wouldn't have to rely on the rat race of auditioning anymore. But I prepared anyway and thought 'why not?'
PS: Learning a song on guitar at the time was short of impossible, let alone playing convincingly to a table of creative directors who I'm sure can spot a fake a mile away. But I committed. I learned Mumford and Sons I Will Wait. 4 simple chords - how hard could it be? This would be a good challenge for my career torn heart. I practiced until my callouses were hard and I didn't have to look down (although I did end up looking down). PPS: Never underestimate the power of practice.
I went in, I sang, and you know what? It wasn't bad. Weeks went by until one day my agent calls, "You booked it!". I would play the Dolokhov and Andrey/Bolkonsky understudy and be in the ensemble. Casting needed an answer soon and I was on the fence for being in another ensemble/understudy track. Jaime, my agent, said very assuredly, "It's getting a lot of buzz right now. I think you should do it." So, I said yes.
February 2013 | KAZINO
From the start, this Comet experience has been a rollercoaster ride. We were always waiting for the next piece of big news to drop. Would we be shut down? Is the show going to transfer? Is Circle In The Square the only theatre that could possibly house our show? Would Comet lose its appeal in a bigger space? Would the fancy outdoor toilets need emptying? These were big question here. 2 weeks into rehearsal and the word was that Howard Kagan, our producer, still didn't have a space for our show to open. Within a month they secured an empty lot under the High Line in a tent equipped with a full bar and restaurant serving seafood towers with flowing vodka and caviar. The tent was named Kazino, Russian for casino. I had never heard of anything like this having been done before. It was a big cross your fingers, lets hope this works feeling. For some this could feel risky and scary but for me, oh boy it was fresh and new and felt like something I had never done before and that was what made it exciting. It was a big experiment. It's safe to say the summer of 2013 was HOT - literally but mostly figuratively. Even if we were far removed from the lights of Broadway, it was the thing to go see that summer. NBA stars, Liza Minelli, huge movie stars, everyone showed up, including Josh Groban.
Our clarinetist, Mark Dover, would play New Orleans jazz as we stretched out on our lawn chairs on our private deck and watch the drunk Standard Hotel guests from across the street. Anytime our group gathered anywhere, there was music. The musical talent surrounding us was insane. After the shows, the cast and musicians would gather by the piano, sipping endless amounts of free booze and we would jam through the night. This is where I discovered Pippa Soo's secret talent for freestyle rapping.
Being downtown with a different audience crowd, any rules (if they existed at all) were tossed out the window and just added to the show's drama already taking place. There was that poor woman who puked into her purse mid-show. And this story: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/natasha-pierre-and-the-great-cell-phone-smashing-of-2013. Too many good memories to count. One of my favorites was after a night performing at the SoHo House, and a few drinks on Howard, the cast and musicians made their way to the pool on the roof and Rachel Chavkin leading the charge, fully clothed in her evening-wear jumps right in. So we all jumped in. The young and excited energy we all felt diving into that perfectly cool pool was a good metaphor for how this Comet ship took off. This show was a bold move but if we didn't take the plunge how would we know? That's when I knew this group was special.
That fall of 2013 I booked the first national tour of Evita and I said goodbye to my gypsy lovers. It didn't feel like 7 months - the time I spent with this cast and crew was special and it was hard to walk away, especially since they were right in the middle of the madness. I left at a good time and had no plans on looking back but if I was meant to see this group again, I would do it with open arms.
Being on the road was a good chance to step away and examine things. People in the business warn that if you're not in the city, you miss out on bridging new opportunities and staying relevant. This is true to a point but the timing couldn't have been more spot on for me to be away from NYC. PS: I also met my future fiancee on this tour. I wouldn't have traded that Alicia blessing for anything :)
By that winter, Comet had moved uptown to a lot on 45th street (next to where our current home is). I heard they were fighting to keep out the snow drifts, the cold, and the rain from getting into the tent and dressing stations. The Comet movie deal rumor had also spread and died and a theatre still wasn't available. I could feel the cast seething from NYC - I felt both guilt and relief that I wasn't there with them.
After the Evita tour ended in the fall of 2014, an old NYC chef friend and restauranteur, Andrew Buffalino, reached out to see if I wanted to help start up an Italian pizza shop that he was opening in Wilmington, NC. Like most things, I saw it as an opportunity to try a new experience. I didn't feel ready to head back to the pavement of NYC and Coastal Carolina seemed like perfect timing. Alicia joined the Pippin tour (she does wigs and makeup) and I would visit her often but traveling back and forth wasn't working - I wasn't able to put full attention to the restaurant or to our relationship. After living in NC for 6 months, I joined Alicia out on the road, this is when she pushed me to start up this blog again and we started journaling our travels. Then in the fall of 2015, the email came. Comet was being reworked for a proscenium stage at A.R.T (American Repertory Theatre) in Cambridge. The goal was to see if they could present Comet in a Broadway sized house without losing the intimacy from the tent. They wondered if I was still interested in the show and I signed on immediately. Two weeks before rehearsal began, another email arrived saying they wanted to bump me up from ensemble and offered me the part of Andrey/Bolkonsky and of course I said YES. That was icing on the Comet cake.
September 2015 | AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
Arriving in Cambridge felt like being back at school, in our own incubator, safe from the harsh critics of NYC. We would organize basketball games, football games, movie marathon nights, and long runs along the Charles river. Hosting parties and cooking for friends is a huge love of mine and this was the perfect spot to do it in.
Alicia had a 5 week break from Pippin and was able to share Cambridge with me - we celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas in our sweet Harvard apartment. This is also where I asked Alicia to marry me.
If things couldn't get better, rewind a couple of weeks to the night of opening, Rachel found me walking to our after party. "Can I share something with you? You can't tell anyone else!", she said. "We're going to Broadway next fall and Josh Groban is playing Pierre annd we want you to keep playing Andrey!"
2015 would be hard to top.
October 2016 | BROADWAY
We land in the Imperial Theatre.
It's hard to recap it all and give it the weight that it deserves. Let's just call it like it is and say Howard and Janet Kagan are party promoters dressed as producers. For our opening night, the Kagans threw a three tiered bash of the century at the Plaza Hotel. With my family and Alicia by my side - it was magical.
Looking up at the comet each night when Groban sings, no matter what my attitude, I go into a mini meditative-like state. Sometimes it's reflective, sometimes its pure joy and elation, and sometimes I think about whether I was focused and proud of myself and the show that day. I don't ever want to take this show or that special moment for granted. Either way, I know there will be nothing quite like this experience and nothing quite like rising up on the Tony stage and dancing my butt off in front of millions of viewers.