By William Wolf


The subject in the latest Drama Desk panel (June 17, 2013) was “Making My Broadway Debut,” but when you get a group of stars together, they are likely to have things to say beyond the immediate topic. In a discussion smoothly moderated by Robin Milling, host of Milling About on Blogtalk Radio, the participants ranged broadly in their colorful responses, reflecting their individual experiences and observations. Milling was introduced by Drama Desk President Isa Goldberg.

The event took place at Fordham University’s Pope Auditorium, Columbus Avenue at 60th Street. Arrayed on the platform were Richard Kind, Drama Desk award winner for Outstanding Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for his role in “The Big Knife;” Keala Settle, Drama Desk and Tony Award nominee for Featured Actress in a Musical for “Hands on a Hardbody;” Jonny Orsini, winner of the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence presented by Theater World for his performance in “The Nance;” Carrie Coon, Tony Award nominee for her performance as Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?;” Dee Nelson, who performed in “The Heiress” and Shalita Grant, Tony nominee and Theatre World winner for Outstanding Broadway Debut in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

Richard Kind said he got to know Broadway very well, starting as a youngster and “seeing everything.” He went west, as he put it, to make money (his television work includes his comedic performances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), but he liked to do plays every summer. He counted five plays that he has done on Broadway. “But it is difficult to live in New York,” he said.

What he likes about being on stage is control. On film he pointed out, his comedy is at the mercy of an editor. “Cut, cut, cut. On stage I can take all the time I want to get a laugh and there is nothing anyone can do about it.” But theater has its hazards these days. Kind told of one performance at which a woman’s cell phone went off four times. When he castigated her for it, he said her defense was, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t call them. They called me.”

Jonny Orsini traced his route to his Broadway debut via his original desire to be a journalist because he liked to tell stories. Now he finds himself enjoying helping to tell the story in “The Nance,” and he said tries to keep in his mind all that is happening in addition to his part, so he is in tune with more than his role. As for how he felt on opening night, he said, “I was just happy that my mother and sister were in the audience.”

Carrie Coon said that the role of Honey was the third part she had done n Chicago and had no idea of what was going to happen next. Her thrill on opening night when she took the curtain call was that playwright Edward Albee was present, and that there she was, not only with her other cast members, but with the great playwright himself there.

Looking elegant and projecting self-confidence, experienced actress Dee Nelson said about making her Broadway debut playing Mrs. Montgomery in “The Heiress” that she thought she was very fortunate to be coming to New York with a job already set.

Shalita Grant, who generates tremendous laughter in her role as housekeeper in “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,” stressed that the challenge she faces, whether on opening night or any night, is to get everything in the play exactly perfect, but the nature of the work is that the ideal goal is never completely achieved, or at least hasn’t happened yet, and is the perfection for which to always strive. She said that she is totally concentrated on that mission when on stage.

Grant surprised the panel audience with her observation that being in the play didn’t seem like her real occupation. “My real job is looking for work,” she asserted, echoing the frequent lament of actors that most of the time is spent looking for the next job.

Keala Settle has a big, outgoing personality, evident on a discussion platform as well as on stage as a contestant in “Hands on a Hardbody.” She said she knew “I’d kick myself in the butt” if I didn’t audition for the role, and “I’d kick myself in the butt” if she got the part and didn’t do it. On stage she looks utterly at home, as she starts laughing and gets the rest of the cast laughing in one of the show’s more hilarious moments. As she described how she built the laughs, it was clear she had no need to do any butt-kicking.

Drama Desk, created in 1949, is comprised of theater critics and journalists, and it is the only organization with Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-off Broadway shows competing against each other for awards in the same categories. Posted June 20, 2013.


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