Alex Boniello has hit the big time on Broadway, but his career didn’t always look so promising. Take, for instance, his turn as Lumière in his high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast.
“I am wrong for that role in every single way that a person can be wrong for it,” Boniello says of what he deems not his finest work. “My French accent was offensive at best, and if you ask me to dance now, my kneecaps would probably just give out instantly.”
The actor has found a more comfortable home on Broadway as Connor in the Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen, a role with thankfully minimal dancing required. Broadway Direct caught up with Boniello one morning to discuss why he became an actor, his love of professional wrestling, and why making his Broadway debut in the Spring Awakening revival was such a full-circle moment.
1. What inspired you to become an actor?
It was when I saw the original production of Spring Awakening on Broadway in 2007. I had been a musician my whole life — I played guitar and was in bands and things like that. I was in musicals in high school just for fun; there was no reason for me to do them, I just signed up for them to hang out with my friends. It wasn’t until I saw that show that I saw something that was different from what I always thought musical theater was. Spring Awakening was different. It was something that I actually really liked and the music was the type of music I liked. John Gallagher Jr.’s performance of Moritz really spoke to me at the time. It still speaks to me. I mean, it was just seeing people do something different on stage that did it for me. I’m sure a lot of people had the same story with Rent, and I’m sure a lot of young people now have the same story with Dear Evan Hansen or Be More Chill. It’s funny how those sort of shows pop up in every young theater performer’s life.
What a full-circle moment for you, then, considering that you made your Broadway debut in the first revival of Spring Awakening, playing Moritz
Yeah, it sure was. That was a weird one. I can’t really comment much on it, outside of that it’s just one of those things that feels serendipitous, like the universe manufactured it to happen for me. I dare say I’m that special that the universe would conspire something so wonderful for me and only me. [Laughs.]
2. Who in your field inspires you?
You know, it changes all the time depending on where I’m at and what I’m feeling. If we’re talking about people who I kind of see myself in, that’s one answer. If I’m saying people who I just think are incredible, that’s a different answer. People who I think are so at the top of their field that I bow and pray at the altar of them, that’s like a whole different answer. So which answer would you like this morning?
For Connor, I looked at actors who I like and who I think have really figured out this type of character — a character who’s got so much going on with them — but that never feels fake or forced. There’s so much about this character that could very quickly and very easily fall into a stereotype. The writing is obviously fighting against that because it’s so good, but I think that actors can sometimes fall into those sorts of traps. I don’t know if you know this guy, he’s mostly done film, but his name is Dane DeHaan. Sound familiar?
I definitely recognize the name.
He’s who would play Connor in a movie version of Dear Evan Hansen if he were, like, 10 years younger. But I think he’s incredible. This has nothing to do with Connor, but I’ve loved Bill Hader forever. His transition into what he’s doing on Barry is mind-boggling to me because he went so seamlessly from Saturday Night Live to now playing someone who is carrying this incredibly difficult show that balances between comedy and the blackest of dramas within two seconds.
3. What is it that audiences love about Dear Evan Hansen?
Well, there’s the obvious, which is that the show is just good. I think the show struck the amazing balance of being mainstream enough to make its way into a nontraditional theater fan’s home, you know, someone who doesn’t always see musicals but was able to find out about it. So I think that’s really important. I think that Benj [Pasek] and Justin [Paul]’s music, it’s become clear that they’ve cracked something, considering their success with La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and Dear Evan Hansen. Musically, they found a way to let people in with the sounds that they’re used to hearing in pop music, while still doing the job of telling a story in a meaningful and important way. I think that Steven Levinson’s book is like perfect. I mean, I can’t say good enough things about it. And I love that he’s now show-running Fosse/Verdon, because, again, more people who are unfamiliar with his work are going to start to find it, and then maybe those people will circle back to Dear Evan Hansen, which is amazing.
But then I also think that the discussion around mental health and how this show deals with it is a huge part of this show’s success. I feel like we as a culture, at least in America, were really desperate to start talking about this stuff. This show came right at the time when people were ready to stop pretending that this isn’t happening. The show just does an unbelievably good job of having real characters who everybody at every stage of life can relate to. I think it’s crucial that the young people can relate to Connor, Evan, and Zoe, but then the grown-ups can relate to Larry and Cynthia. The show ended up being like this perfect storm of incredible craftsmanship, but also being something that we all needed.
4. If you didn’t need to sleep at night, what would you spend your time doing?
Well, I’m a professional wrestling fan, and there’s simply too much wrestling to watch every week, so maybe I would watch some of it. But also I probably wouldn’t because there’s too much wrestling to watch. There is simply a limit. I would play a lot of guitar, through headphones of course, as to not bother the other people who don’t have the superpower of not needing to sleep. I would play more video games than I already do because I’m behind on that as well. And I would probably just stare at my cat because I could just pet her and stare at her all day.
So I have I have a wrestling follow-up question: You wouldn’t want to actually participate in the wrestling? Maybe become an amateur wrestler yourself?
Absolutely not. I have no desire to actually participate. I am purely a fan. It is one of my few hobbies that I do not plan on making my job. You know, like acting was my hobby that became my job. As an actor, even when you’re seeing theater or watching TV, you’re still thinking about it in a different way. I am so far removed from professional wrestling. I have no desire to ever “take a bump,” as they say. Maybe one day I could be somebody’s manager, a giant wrestler, who I can walk down the ring and hype them up and then I get put through a table once. But only once for a very dramatic and hilarious effect. But other than that, I will remain a fan.
5. What is your favorite part about living in New York City.
It’s definitely the access to not just Broadway, but to world-class theater of all kinds. We take it for granted. I’ve been in Dear Evan Hansen for over a year now, and I haven’t been able to see stuff, which sucks. Well, I mean, obviously it doesn’t suck because I’m employed, but you know what I mean. There are very few other cities in the world where every night of the week you could see people creating theater at the absolute top of their game. There you go, there’s my nerdy-actor answer.