The stars came out for this year’s The Drama Desk Awards, which honor the best of New York theater, be it Broadway, Off-Broadway, or non-profit. Everyone from The Big Knife’s Richard Kind to Kinky Boots’ Billy Porter won awards and The Improper talked with many of the talented actors about the theater season.
Only the Drama Desk features categories in which The Nance’s Nathan Lane competes against The Whale’s Shuler Hensley, and Matilda competes against The Other Josh Cohen on an even playing field.
Here are some of the insights and reflections from the actors and actresses who made this a memorable season in New York theater.
Amanda Green (nominee, Outstanding Lyrics, Hands on a Hardbody and Bring It On: The Musical)
The Red Carpet at the Drama Desk Awards
Improper: How is being nominated for Drama Desk Awards different from being nominated for others?
AG: I’ve never been nominated, so it’ incredibly exciting. It’s wonderful to be nominated by the Drama Desk because there’s no ulterior motive, they’re really just, “Hey, we like what you did this season, and we think it should be nominated.”
IM: If you could take one thing away from the Hands On a Hardbody experience, what would it be?
AG: It was such a joy for all of us. We really are a tight unit. I think we always will be. We really love each other, and we all went through something. We all felt we made something special.
IM: Is there any chance you and Lin will do some rapping or beatboxing, a la In the Heights, in your next collaboration?
AG: I’ll do most of the rapping. I’ll just let him be the human beatbox.
John Bolton & Joseph Robinette (nominees, Outstanding Actor in a Musical and Outstanding Book of a Musical, A Christmas Story: The Musical)
IM: Will you guys be doing a sequel called The Chanukah Story?
JB: I wonder what could take the place of the leg lamp? Actually, the leg lamp is non-denominational. It could have a blue light on it instead of red and green. Actually, I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood in Rochester, and I used to be jealous of all the families with blue lights. My family only had red and green.
IM: What’s next for you guys?
JR: I think this show is already scheduled to be back next year.
JB: Only the Ouija board knows if it will be in New York again, at this point [winks].
IM: John, will you be a part of it if it goes on tour or comes back to New York?
JB: There is intent to hire me back, against their better judgment.
JR: He is the only one who has been in the cast of every production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.
JB: It’s the role of a lifetime and I’m thrilled to be trusted with it.
Keith Carradine (nominee, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Hands on a Hardbody)
IM: In doing Hands on a Hardbody, did you ever go to a Phish concert?
KC: I never made it to a Phish concert. I tried once, it was a Saturday night. We tried to get out to New Jersey because Trey (Anastasio) was playing. The Lincoln Tunnel was backed up for two hours. I gave up because we had rehearsal again the next day. Maybe this summer.
Kate Wetherhead (nominee, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, The Other Josh Cohen)
IM: What is the one thing people need to know about The Other Josh Cohen?
KW: That it’s probably the funniest show about doing the right thing you’ll ever see.
Donna Murphy (nominee, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Into the Woods)
IM: Would you do Into the Woods if they brought it to Broadway?
DM: I absolutely would. I don’t know if that’s in the cards for it, but you never know. Right now I just treasure the experience that we had in Central Park, which was quite magical- sweaty, but magical.
IM: If you had to choose one quality of the witch that you also find in yourself, what would it be?
DM: This may seem weird, but the desire to be a good mother. She wasn’t a good mother because she didn’t know how to be one- but she wanted to be one. I do my best, but it never feels like it’s good enough. But you just keep doing your best.
Richard Kind (winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, The Big Knife)
IM: You joked that you started campaigning for the Tony Award 35 minutes after the nomination announcement. Have you kept up the campaigning?
RK: I haven’t. You just pray, you go do your job, if they like you and think you’re the best of the five, then you’re the luckiest guy in the world. You just do the show. Honest to God. I can’t say there’s campaigning, but there’s parties. It’s everything I want to do at 10:30 at night, it’s great.
IM: Nobody will admit to writing a speech. Did you?
RK: Hell, yeah! For forty years I’ve been preparing a speech. In high school I was okay with giving speeches, but that has nothing to do with this.
IM: Our favorite aspect of this show is that your name is Richard Kind, and you played the nastiest person. Is there any small part of your character in you?
RK: I wish to God there was. I think if I had six percent of his cruelty, I’d be a much more successful man.
Andrea Martin (winner, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Pippin)
IM: Tell us one line from Pippin that encompasses your experience with the show.
AM: There’s magic to do. Every single moment, from the minute you walk in, to the beautiful set, the magical lights, and the costumes. I think every single person has contributed to making it a wondrous evening.
IM: What are you thinking about while you’re flying high above the audience?
AM: I’m really thinking about doing the job as well as I can. I’m very focused on making it beautiful, and making it a little nostalgic. It should be a beautiful memory piece for people.
IM: Is there one award show with which you have been involved that epitomizes all awards experiences?
AM: Gosh, I think when I won an Emmy Award for SCTV I had just found out I was pregnant. I was sitting in the audience in LA, and it was so surreal because I really just wanted to celebrate the fact that I was pregnant, and yet there we are getting an Emmy Award. It shows you the balance you have to have in life.
Bertie Carvel (winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Matilda)
IM: Is there any part of Miss Trunchbull that you also find in yourself?
BC: There’s quite a lot of me in her because I play her! People are fascinated by the fact that I don’t look like my character, which I’m very flattered by because it means that I’m doing my job right. I think if you’re animating someone well enough, you can seem like a completely different person. In order to mean what I say when I say what she says, I need to know what it feels like to feel what she feels.
I’ve had to figure through my own experience to try and understand how it would feel to hate children but work with them. Miss Trunchbull is consumed by jealousy, she’s bitter, she’s twisted, she’s insecure, and I’m none of those things. I’m a perfectly well-rounded, well-adjusted adult human being, but I’d have some idea of what those things feel like, and you just have to turn up the volume on bits of it.
Judith Light (winner, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, The Assembled Parties)
IM: What is the best part of playing a Jew?
JL: I would say that these characters are so well-represented by Richard Greenberg’s brilliant writing and by Lynne Meadows’ extraordinary directing. It isn’t about “the Jews,” it’s about who these people are…and they happen to be Jewish. There is of course the color and the flavor of Jewish culture and Jewish life, but it’s not just about that, it really is universal and it really is iconic.
Michael Urie (winner, Outstanding Solo Performance, Buyer & Cellar)
IM: What would you say to the two heavyweights, Bette Midler and Holland Taylor, that you were up against in your category?
MU: I would say that I still think that they’re amazing. I still can’t believe it happened. Not just Bette and Holland, but all of those other three guys nominated who did their amazing plays.
IM: If you could meet Barbra Streisand, what would you tell her about winning this award?
MU: I would say that it was all because of her, that if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have won. That’s who I forgot to thank, it was Barbra, because she is brilliant and inspiring, and getting to play her and watching her and learning from her work and film and what her cadences were like and energy was like, getting to learn that from watching the movies was inspiring. She definitely puts on a little show herself in Buyer & Cellar.
IM: What does this say about the Drama Desk, that you were up against these huge performers and you still won?
MU: The Drama Desk doesn’t have any prejudice against Off-Broadway, downtown, shows that have closed, they don’t honor based on how many people see them, they honor things based on their quality and their personal taste. I think and I hope that they’re keeping us all in check with these awards. The other thing I like about the Drama Desk is that they’re telling the theatre that they’re doing great, by spreading the wealth the way they are, by nominating so many shows. They really do keep everyone in the community sort of together and relevant. The relevance is extremely important to everyone.
Tracey Letts (winner, Outstanding Actor in a Play, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
IM: What was it about your performance in Virginia Woolf that made it your own?
TL: You’re only as good as the part you’re playing, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You’re only as good as the writing on the page. George is one of the greatest characters in the English language. He’s a fascinating, complex, challenging, hilarious, awful person. Some great actors before me have taken him on, and great actors after me will take him on. I’m very lucky to get a chance to play the part. If I did anything different with it, it’s by accident.
IM: Audiences seem to walk out of the theater changed after having seen it.
TL: That’s the idea. You should change people over the course of a performance, otherwise, what’s the point?
Laura Osnes (winner, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella)
IM: If you could talk to your 5 year-old self and tell her that she would one day be Cinderella, what do you think she would say?
LO: It’s every little girl’s dream. Everyone kind of has this princess mentality. I was definitely a girlie girl growing up. I guess I would have said, keep singing and dancing, because one day you’re going to get to play Cinderella!
IM: Was Cinderella one of your favorites princesses?
LO: Actually, no. I feel like I have to say yes, but I didn’t grow up watching it. I had seen the Brandi version once, but I grew up more with Mary Martin and Peter Pan. As far as princesses go, I was more into Belle and Jasmine. My husband and I met doing a production of Aladdin, we understudied Aladdin and Jasmine.
IM: Where are your glass slippers tonight?
LO: I feel like there’s this strange expectation. Cinderella gets to wear the glass slipper. I had an opening night Stuart Weitzman shoe that was amazing that resembled the glass slipper, and these are still metallicy and glass-looking (pointing).
Billy Porter (winner, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Kinky Boots)
IM: After all of these years of hard work, what would you tell your younger self as you were just starting out?
BP: I would say, Billy, continue to be patient. My mother always says God’s delay is not his or her denial.
IM: What is the kinkiest pair of boots that you have at home that you will wear while celebrating?
BP: That’s a crazy question, I don’t have any kinky boots at home. I wear them in the show, they can’t get kinkier than that!
IM: Where will you put your Drama Desk Award?
BP: I just moved into an apartment, and I don’t have any furniture yet, so I have no idea. It’s going to go in the closet or on a windowsill for the time being.
IM: What has been the best part of this experience?
BP: Being able to go to work everyday and play a character that I believe in, in a show that is necessary.