ELYSA GARDNER: Welcome to Stage Door Sessions, by Broadway Direct. In this podcast, we have in-depth conversations with Broadway’s brightest, bringing you what’s new, what’s noteworthy, and what’s coming next to a stage near you. I’m your host Elysa Gardner and today we’re speaking with you from the Tony Awards Nominees Press Reception, where some of those brightest and most noteworthy artists have gathered on a two-show day—no doubt running on sheer adrenaline —to talk about their work, the season, and being tapped by Tony, as the big night approaches. In this episode, we have some of this year’s Tony-nominees for Performance by an Actor or Actress speak with us about what brought them to their productions and characters, and what the ride has been like since then.
ELYSA GARDNER: We are here today with Brandon Uranowitz who is Tony-nominated for playing Larry in Burn This. Congratulations on your third Tony nomination
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Thank you!
ELYSA GARDNER: …in I think four or five years?
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Yeah, four years.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s not a bad run.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Yeah, it’s wild. I’m still shocked and floored.
ELYSA GARDNER: Well you’re doing something right.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: I guess.
ELYSA GARDNER: Had you been familiar with this play or ever seen a production?
BRANDON URANOWITZ: I had never seen a production of it.
ELYSA GARDNER: You must have been in utero when it was playing. [laughs]
BRANDON URANOWITZ: [laughs] No, I was one. I was one.
ELYSA GARDNER: Alright, well I was close.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Yeah, so I didn’t make it to the original production. But, I knew of the play in sort of small little snippets, just from scenes that I had seen people do in college and reading parts of it in college. But I had actually never read the play cover to cover before being involved with this production.
ELYSA GARDNER: Did Larry appeal to you as a character you would want to play?
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Within two or three lines. Yeah. As soon as he entered while I was reading it and his first couple of zingers came in, I was like I know exactly who this man is.
ELYSA GARDNER: How did you recognize him?
BRANDON URANOWITZ: We have a very similar of navigating the world and using humor as a defense mechanism and as armor as the very soft tender interior.
ELYSA GARDNER: Hmm, I see. Well, this play was written in Lanford Wilson in a very different time and I guess you could call it something of a period piece. It was one of the first plays on Broadway or in New York, I think generally to address aids. But, I think it also speaks to audiences very much today…
BRANDON URANOWITZ: It does.
ELYSA GARDNER: …for different reasons.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Um, you know and I think it’s a testament to Lanford’s writing and his intellect, I really do feel like this is a very timeless play. Sure, the circumstances sort of underlying the action of the show are of the time period, like the AIDS epidemic and the 80s political climate. That’s all in the undertow, but what’s on the surface of this play is really just four people exploring passion and grief and friendship and love. All things that all humans throughout the history of humanity have been navigating and dealing with. So I feel like this play could have been written years and years ago and it could be written years and years from now. Yeah, it’s a special piece, I think.
ELYSA GARDNER: And a special performance, so thank very much…
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
ELYSA GARDNER: …for joining us.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Of course.
ELYSA GARDNER: Congratulations.
BRANDON URANOWITZ: Thank you so much.
ELYSA GARDNER: We are here today with Caitlin Kinnunen who is up for her performance in The Prom…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes!
ELYSA GARDNER: …for Leading Actress in a Musical. Congratulations.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Thank you so much!
ELYSA GARDNER: This musical addresses a subject that is so timely right now, the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth which you deal with in ways that are very funny with these loveable Broadway invaders coming into your town.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: I love that, Broadway invaders [laughs]
ELYSA GARDNER: Yes yes, but also very moving. So how did you juggle that? Was that a challenge?
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: No actually. It’s really cool how the show is balanced because there is this crazy, over the top Broadway world, but then there’s also the world of Indiana which is very real and very heartfelt. And I have the joy of playing Emma, who is a real and honest and vulnerable girl. And she’s that way through the entire show. And it’s just… you know I start the show at night just, I continue on the same level of like, I’m just here. I’m just trying to go to prom, you know? And so I don’t, I don’t really get pulled into the crazy Broadway element of it, I just get to show up and be, like, stable.
ELYSA GARDNER: And you’re young enough I would think to uh, to maybe, you know, have these issues. Sort of like, know people who these issues are confronting?
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes, definitely.
ELYSA GARDNER: Did you draw on that at all?
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the most amazing parts about being a part of this show is that I get so many young kids and young adults who are part of the LGBTQ+ community come up to me and say thank you and that they feel seen and heard and represented in a way that they haven’t before. And to hear those stories is heartbreaking and overwhelming, but it also is so amazing that we can connect over this piece and have a conversation.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, yeah. And you know I spoke with several of the people in the cast…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes yes
ELYSA GARDNER: …and the creative team before the show opened and they were really enthusiastic about it in a way that was genuine. And it was clearly a labor of love…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes.
ELYSA GARDNER: …And I got the sense that they felt audiences would share that and clearly they do.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: They do. It’s really, it truly is a magical show, you know. People come and see it and they start very skeptical and like what is this, but by the end of every single performance, they are on their feet cheering and yeah, it’s incredible.
ELYSA GARDNER: And you have some very funny and also poignant interaction with some of those veteran…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes.
ELYSA GARDNER: …performers.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Yes, yes I do.
ELYSA GARDNER: Has that been a learning experience?
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Oh yes! Working with Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas is a learning experience every single show and it truly is incredible and amazing and like they are so funny and so genuine and kind and smart and talented. Being on stage with them is everything.
ELYSA GARDNER: Well thank you so much for joining us…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Of course, thank you for having me
ELYSA GARDNER: …and congratulations. And, I want you to describe your outfit so we can, we can’t see it but…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: [laughs] I am wearing a…
ELYSA GARDNER: …it looks like a prom dress sort of
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: …like a lavender pink pleated skirt with a bluey-green jungle shirt with purple tigers on it.
ELYSA GARDNER: And a black leather jacket.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: And a black leather jacket. And silver…
ELYSA GARDNER: Let’s not forget the jacket!
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: …pumps. Yes.
ELYSA GARDNER: Oh my gosh! Let me see the pumps.
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: They are quite high.
ELYSA GARDNER: Okay so she’s like “prom” from the waist down and then…
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: Sparkly sparkles
ELYSA GARDNER: …funky on top. All right, well thank you so much again
CAITLIN KINNUNEN: I appreciate it, you guys
ELYSA GARDNER: Congratulations again. Take care.
ELYSA GARDNER: We are here with Fionnula Flanagan who is nominated for her wonderful work in The Ferryman, an extraordinary play that I’m sure a few of you have heard about. This play addresses the troubles between Ireland, between Northern Ireland and England at a certain time, at its peak in the early 80s. Did you think that it would resonate with American audiences as strongly as it has or for that matter did you think it would be timely here because of current tensions of our own?
FIONNULA FLANAGAN: I think actually this play resonates with like everybody because as well being set in the North of Ireland in 1981 at the height of the tragedy that was the hunger strike, it also is about family. And we all come from families. And it’s about all those things that you experience in a family, at least I did certainly, which is love and loyalty, deceit, secrets, surprises. All of those things and death, which stalks us all and occurs in families. And I mean I know families who won’t even talk about the deaths that they’ve experienced because it’s shameful and because it’s difficult and because those secrets are best left untouched. So it’s about all those things, much more so than it is about the politics of the piece. I think it rises above the politics and that’s what’s so brilliant about it.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s very true, that is true. And it is such a rich ensemble show, it’s a really sprawling ensemble, all of whom did fantastic work under Sam Mendes’ direction. What was that process like working with this cast?
FIONNULA FLANAGAN: Well here’s, first of all, I was terrified when Sam invited me to join the show for Broadway. All of the cast from London who came over, they had all been doing it off and on for two years. So, the thought of joining those seasoned actors who knew the play so well was really quite terrifying. But I have to say that Mendes has that particular gift of being able to put an actor at ease, just at ease enough so that you can trust him. And, and I do trust him. I think he is an absolutely exceptional director. And his way of protecting his actors and looking out for them and taking care of them is so sensitive that you don’t feel pampered, you just feel trust. And it’s all right, follow, do what he tells you to do and so I did it unquestioningly.
ELYSA GARDNER: You have a lot of children and animals in this cast, is it true what W.C. Fields said about, you know, being difficult, not being difficult, but you know, you can always be upstaged by children and animals.
FIONNULA FLANAGAN: Well he said never work with animals or children
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s what he said, thank you.
FIONNULA FLANAGAN: Well actually our children, I don’t work with the animals, in fact I don’t even see them when I’m on stage because the actor who is playing, Schuler, who is playing Tom, has his back to me and when he pulls the rabbit out of his pocket and I’m not on stage when he carries the goose onstage. So I only meet them in their dressing room down below in the basement when I’m passing by. But, the children, I can speak about the children. The children that I work with, they are all from New York, they’re absolutely wonderful. They’re marvelous and when I was struggling early on with the lines, the three little girls said to me “we have an idea. We can write your lines on the palms on our hands and then just hold up our hands in case you need to search for a word” which was so endearing. They’re wonderful, really. It’s difficult for them to sit and they have to sit and look entranced by my storytelling. Well, it’s difficult to do that night after night and performance after performance. But they’re truly marvelous.
ELYSA GARDNER: It’s a phenomenal cast. Well, thank you once again for joining us and congratulations.
FIONNULA FLANAGAN: Thank you very much, thank you. It’s a pleasure.
ELYSA GARDNER: On Stage Door Sessions, we’re so happy to feature a wide range of the amazing shows playing on Broadway right now. There’s truly something for everyone. But, with so many options for buying Broadway tickets, it can get very confusing. Broadway Direct makes it simple. We will always direct you to the official source for tickets, whether you’re trying to decide on the best show for you or you know exactly what you want to see. We’re able to get you the information you need to get the best seats at the best prices with the best customer service on Broadway. Buy tickets, get news, and explore all things Broadway at BroadwayDirect.com.
ELYSA GARDNER: We’re here today right now with Andy Grotelueschen who is nominated for his featured performance in Tootsie the musical. This movie, this musical rather, based on a very famous movie is just being loved by everybody. Were you a fan of the movie originally and was the prospect of playing a role introduced by Bill Murray in any way nervous making or intimidating?
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Um, well, I was a fan of the film. I had seen the film I think the first time probably like 10 years ago or something. And then when this came up I had to reacquaint myself with it. And it’s just really, it has this beautiful, beautiful feeling. It’s very very funny, but it has this big big heart that’s behind it. And so when we started working on this and Scott Ellis, the director, was like “hey, come over and read this part in a workshop” and it was the Bill Murray part, you know I went back and I watched the movie to get the feel of things again. And I was like oh, okay all right all right. Now, of course, Bill Murray is Bill Murray. And when he does things he does things the way that he does it. So, I also knew that no one would be interested in my impression of Bill Murray, least of all me. Most of all me, you know. So, fortunately, Robert Horn, our book writer, he wrote… the character that I play, the Bill Murray part Jeff, is even more fleshed out than it is in the film, which is great. But yet I still have some amazing one-liners. But, yeah, I’m not trying to do Bill, but it’s a great character.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, yeah no, you’ve actually already answered a couple of my questions…
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Oh that’s all of them! [laughs]
ELYSA GARDNER: …which is great. Your character has evolved very much as have the others and it’s set in our current time. There’s been some updating, some pretty extensive updating. Tell us about that, without giving any spoilers about how this show now addresses the time we’re living in.
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Well in terms of updating, I remember when we first did this in Chicago over the summer and I had some friends come and see it who were so enamored. They’re old fans of the film and they thought that they were just coming to watch, you know, that version with some musical numbers. So it’s kind of just an exercise in nostalgia or something. And so it took them time to get used to the new frame, which is not a spoiler. The soap opera has passed away and now it’s taking place today, right now, and with a Broadway musical. That’s what Michael gets a role in dressed as a woman.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Sort of the function that I have in the show, in large part, is to remind Michael that this is a terrible idea, he doesn’t understand the ramifications of his actions, and in a certain fashion I think as well, to hold up my hand and say it’s not 1982 anymore.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s very true. You do, yeah.
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: There’s different things that are going on here and like you, in order to be a full person, you just have to understand that, your politics with a much, much greater specificity and a much larger breadth.
ELYSA GARDNER: And there’s a twist involved with your character which I will not give away toward the end. Was that part of the… it feels like the characters have been flushed out and kind of given their own stories and had their relationships enhanced. Was that a big part of the show’s kind of mission as well?
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: I’m not totally sure about that. But I do know that Robert like, again the writer, our book writer, I know that Robert had a huge affection for these characters and so giving them more meat to play around with I think is there. And it’s something that also like, a musical can afford kind of the swath of, you know, more of an experience in an evening.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s right.
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Yeah
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, well thank you so much for joining us.
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Sure
ELYSA GARDNER: It’s a terrific performance and a great night at the theater if you haven’t seen it yet.
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Thanks very much
ELYSA GARDNER: Congratulations on your nomination
ANDY GROTELUESCHEN: Thanks a lot
ELYSA GARDNER: We are here with writer and actress Heidi Schreck. Pulitzer Prize finalist this year and now a Tony nominee as both a playwright and an actress for the one-woman play What the Constitution Means to Me, which she also performs in obviously. Congratulations!
HEIDI SCHRECK: Thank you
ELYSA GARDNER: On everything!
HEIDI SCHRECK: Thank you so much
ELYSA GARDNER: So this is such a timely play obviously, but did you have any idea when you began this, that your love affair with the constitution would prove so infectious and take you here?
HEIDI SCHRECK: I did not. No. I started the play 10 years ago. I first performed it in 2015, a very different time. And I had no idea that, you know, the conversation I’m having in the play and the things I’m exploring in the play would become so timely or that so many people would respond to them.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah. And it’s I would imagine evolved a bit also as our country has…
HEIDI SCHRECK: Yes!
ELYSA GARDNER: …I don’t want to say evolved.
HEIDI SCHRECK: I mean it absolutely has evolved, although I will say the play in 2015 is not substantially different than the play now, I think because it’s about 230 years of history and it’s about four generations of women in my family that it… it… different parts of it resonate now. But I think the things that I’m exploring in it have always been true and just the conversation about those things is much louder now.
ELYSA GARDNER: Well finally having been nominated as both a writer and an actress and you’ve been very prolific in both, not just for stage, but for TV as well and in film. Does one nomination mean more to you than the other?
HEIDI SCHRECK: Oh gosh. I don’t… they’re both so exciting to me. I mean I will say, they’re both incredible to me. I… my first introduction to the theater was as an actor. I played Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was six years old. So in a way, maybe the actor’s nomination is like… calls to my little girl self. [Laughs] That would be the childhood dream. That was my childhood dream so that’s exciting.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, but the Pulitzer must have appealed to your writer’s self…
HEIDI SCHRECK: That’s, that appeals to my adult self. [Laughs]
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, well both are richly deserved. Thank you so much for taking out a few minutes and continued success.
HEIDI SCHRECK: Thank you! Wonderful to talk to you, thank you.
ELYSA GARDNER: We are here with Kristine Nielsen who is up for Featured Actress in a Play for Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. Congratulations and just, boy, this play was so spectacular. So moving…
KRISTINE NIELSEN: Oh, I’m so glad. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
ELYSA GARDNER: …,and so funny, weird and wonderful. You were originally in another role in this play and that’s now played by Julie White who is also up for a Tony. But you had to replace Andrea Martin after an injury. Does that make that a bit of… this a bit of a bittersweet thing?
KRISTINE NIELSEN: It’s crazy. It’s not bittersweet. I… Andrea has been so incredibly supportive all during this. I mean it was an accident that happened that had her leave the show. So she’s… you know it’s lots of goodwill and like good luck and help. So I feel very, very happy about that and I love Julie. You know I’ve done a play with her, a couple of things with her and I just think she’s heaven. So, she’s so totally different it’s kind of fun to hear her take and think “oh well that was better” or “oh, hahaha I got that laugh.” You know it’s fun to do, we torture each other, but she’s just sublime in it so it’s really great.
ELYSA GARDNER: Well as I mentioned, it is such a brave and beautiful and different play full of gore and wackiness and devastation…
KRISTINE NIELSEN: Kind of like the news, right. [Laughs]
ELYSA GARDNER: …but there’s hope in this play. That’s the difference.
KRISTINE NIELSEN: I tell you, I do tell you.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s the key difference.
KRISTINE NIELSEN: It is. That’s what… when people say it’s way out there and all that I always say well it is about our world. Not just our country, but imagine if you lived in England and all those crazy places right now. Or Venezuela. All that’s going on.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah yeah
KRISTINE NIELSEN: It’s so scary. But you go… what we do offer is hope. And that you can see like a great history play, but it’s cyclical in some way. That we survived it and we’ll survive it again.
ELYSA GARDNER: What kind of responses have you gotten from audiences? Are there people who come to see you and Nathan Lane and they’re like “hmm, this is different”?
KRISTINE NIELSEN: Well, I think more Nathan. I think he’s more out there most likely. “When is he gonna sing” you know, something like that. But, I think… I think for the most part we’ve gotten the young people sit in the front you know so they get spattered with the blood and all that. So that’s interesting. So they love… they love it. They really get it. They get what Taylor’s trying to say and what the play is trying to say and how it’s being said. They really get it. So we always feel great love coming so…
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah
KRISTINE NIELSEN: …very grateful for that.
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, it really really does…
KRISTINE NIELSEN: And exuberance, you know. It’s always exciting. It feels a little bit like a rock concert sometimes.
ELYSA GARDNER: Oh, well I didn’t get any blood on me. I have to go back now and see it again.
KRISTINE NIELSEN: See you’re lacking! It’s a badge of courage. [laughs]
ELYSA GARDNER: Well thank you so much for joining us and congratulations again!
KRISTINE NIELSEN: Thank you, thank you very much.
ELYSA GARDNER: So don’t forget to tune in to the Tony Awards which are going to be airing live Sunday, June 9 at 8/7 central on CBS. This podcast is produced by Broadway Direct and the Nederlander Organization with Iris Chan, Glenn Halcomb, Erin Porvaznik-Wagner, and hosted and produced by me, Elysa Gardner. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you soon on Broadway.