What happens when the queen of stand-up comedy goes head-to-head with musical-theater royalty? Broadway audiences will find out this fall when Amy Schumer and Laura Benanti costar with Keegan-Michael Key and Alan Tudyk in Steve Martin’s highly anticipated comedy Meteor Shower, directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks.
It’s been an eventful year for Benanti, a Tony winner for playing the title role in Gypsy and four-time Tony nominee. The actress welcomed her first child, Ella Rose Brown, on Valentine’s Day, won raves for her spot-on impression of Melania Trump on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and spent the summer in Alberta filming season 3 of the TBS sitcom The Detour. But the best is yet to come, as the vivacious Benanti made clear during a chat about the Broadway premiere of Meteor Shower, which is set to begin a limited engagement at the Booth Theatre November 1.
Meteor Shower centers on two couples who get together to watch the celestial event in the play’s title. Give us a preview of how the evening unfolds.
I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that we’ve all had guests who bring out the worst in us and in our relationships. That’s what happens here, presented through the lens of a very funny script, a wonderful cast, and the brilliant direction of Jerry Zaks. It’s a clever look at how we communicate with other people.
Steve Martin has written novels, screenplays, a memoir, essays, lyrics, and plays. What did you think when you read Meteor Shower?
I loved the absurdity of it. There’s a lot of visual comedy, so it’s very theatrical, with a twist I didn’t see coming that really delighted me. Obviously, Steve Martin knows how to make people laugh, but as everyone saw in the musical Bright Star, he also knows how to make audiences think and feel. The four characters in this play are studies in human behavior in ways that are funny but also very intriguing. It’s not a run-of-the-mill comedy.
What causes the comedic friction between the couples?
The characters played by Amy Schumer and Alan Tudyk have a practiced, almost therapeutic, way of speaking to each other. Keegan-Michael Key and I, on the other hand, say whatever we want at any given moment. Our purpose in the play is to make Amy and Alan as uncomfortable as possible!
We hear you have great chemistry with Amy Schumer. What’s it like to work with her?
It’s not hard to have chemistry with Amy because she is so smart and such a good actress. She’s exactly how you would want her to be: cool and real and funny and generous.
So Amy Schumer is ready for the Broadway spotlight?
She’s going to be amazing. I was very moved by her performance in Trainwreck, in the funeral scene. She studied theater in college and actually has a theater company. She’s a focused person who has succeeded at everything she’s put her mind to.
Broadway fans are thrilled that you and Alan Tudyk were cast alongside Amy and Keegan-Michael Key.
I think the production did a smart thing by choosing people from all walks of the entertainment industry. There are so many different ways to be an artist — Amy and Keegan have made such an impact on the comedy world, and Alan and I come from the theater. Musicals will always be my true love, but my focus right now is on comedy. It brings me joy to make people laugh, and I think we’re in a place in our world where we need some joy. I’ve been trying my whole career to convince people I’m funny!
You must be excited to work with Jerry Zaks, who won Tonys for directing The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation long before his current success with Hello, Dolly!
I did Swing!, my second show ever on Broadway, with Jerry [in 1999]. He is a master at comedy. Nobody gets timing the way he does, but he also has a giant heart. He is so patient and interested and interesting. It’s a fun rehearsal room to be in because there’s a lot of freedom, but at the same time he already knows where he wants you to go. He gives you the space to get there and kindly lets you think you did it by yourself.
How has becoming a mother changed your perspective about your work?
I really believe that if we’re constantly muscling our way through life, trying to grab something, it won’t come to us. Having my daughter changed that. All of a sudden, she is the most important thing, much more so than any job. And yet releasing that [ambition] brought me all these incredible experiences: playing Melania with Stephen Colbert, doing concerts with my mother [Broadway vet Linda Benanti], my role in The Detour, and now this play, which will allow me to be with my daughter most of the day once we open. I feel very blessed.
Can you sum up what the experience of seeing Meteor Shower will be like?
It’s funny and refreshing and just plain fun. It’s absurd in the way that life is absurd. People need to laugh right now, and this play will surprise them — in a good way.