Killian Donnelly has noticed a trend while signing autographs at the stage door of Broadway's Kinky Boots. "At every single show, there are four or five people who go 'Welcome to the United States' or 'Welcome to New York.' I've never said that in Ireland!"
"Actually, everyone is really friendly in New York," Michael Xavier, the leading man in Sunset Boulevard, interjects. "I was expecting New York to be full of people going 'Get out of my way!'"
"All of the guys who work in my building know my name," Alistair Brammer of Miss Saigon adds. "All of them. The doorman, the concierge, the mail guys. I need to learn all of their names."
Donnelly, Xavier, and Brammer, along with Jeremy Secomb, have something in common this season: they're all making their New York stage debuts in shows that they've already performed in London.
Donnelly, Irish-born but a West End vet (Memphis) is the new Charlie Price in Kinky Boots, a role for which he received Olivier and Grammy Award nominations.
Xavier was Joe Gillis to Glenn Close's Norma Desmond when Sunset Boulevard played the English National Opera in 2016, and travels here with the show. Brammer is Chris in the new Broadway revival of Miss Saigon, a role he took on in 2014.
The trajectory for Secomb, a native of Australia, is a little different. After starring in Sweeney Todd in an actual pie shop in the London suburb of Tooting, and reprising his performance in a reconstructed version of the venue in the West End area, he's now leading the company here at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Spending their springtime in the Big Apple is a dream come true for these four actors who've longed to see the bright lights of Broadway.
How did you find out that you'd be coming to New York with your shows?
Jeremy Secomb: It came from completely left field. I had put Sweeney Todd to bed and was doing Les Mis. Then my agent rang up and said, "We have an offer. Cameron [Mackintosh] came and saw the Shaftesbury Avenue production and absolutely loved it, so when it came up, he said, 'I want you to do this.' "
Michael Xavier: I was in L.A. at the time and Glenn called me. But I was on a bus tour that goes around famous people's houses and sitting right next to the guy who was the host of the tour. My phone started buzzing. I pull it out and it had Glenn Close's name on the screen. I thought, "I can't answer this call." But when the tour finished I called back and she said, "We're going to Broadway!"
Killian Donnelly: I was at the Oliviers. Kinky Boots UK was up for a few awards, and I was scheduled to leave the West End production. Our two producers came up to me and said, "We'd love you to come over to the Broadway show." They're saying all this stuff to me and I'm trying to be really cool, just like nodding. And then English became a second language. [laughs]
Alistair Brammer: I was on my honeymoon in Bali, and I had six weeks doing Les Mis in Dubai straight after I got back, but nothing afterwards. While my wife was in the shower, I sent my agent an email: "We need to come up with an action plan when I get back from Dubai." I was worried. My agent was like, "Calm down, come into the office when you get back, there's something on the table but I won't discuss it now because you're on your honeymoon." And it was that.
Is working in New York a dream that you've always had?
Jeremy: I think it is for anyone.
Michael: Broadway is the home of musical theater, isn't it? To be doing a musical on Broadway is the top rung.
Alistair: And it's cool how they get these small shows that people write, these musicals that do a little run and then they end up on Broadway. In London, if it's not Rodgers and Hammerstein, it's considered too risky. Whereas here, people like to see something new, like Dear Evan Hansen.
Jeremy: Which is strange, because it's more expensive to put a Broadway show on than it is in London. I saw Comet. It's obviously a big Broadway musical, but it started [small] and it's fantastic. I absolutely loved it. You can draw similarities to what's happened to us. In Tooting, it was thirty-four seats, in Shaftesbury it was seventy, and now we're at one hundred thirty. I don't think that our production would work in a big Broadway house.
Michael: But that's OK.
Jeremy: We're in New York.
Michael: You never thought. [laughs] Tooting. The only Broadway I know how to get to is Tooting Broadway. [laughs]
Killian: I was doing The Commitments and Jeremy came to see me. We had just worked together at Phantom and I go, "What are you at now?" And you laughed. You were like, "I'm going to do Sweeney Todd in a pie shop. Sounds fun." Look at it now. Unbelievable.
Is it comforting to know that most of you are here in the same show, with several similar cast members?
Michael: Absolutely. You know that the chemistry works and that they're amazing actors and singers. You feel it's going to be OK.
Alistair: Our process has been very creative. It hasn't just been "let's do the same thing." It's been very "let's try and start again." It's a similar framework, but because we've got a handful of new leads — I've got a new John and a new Ellen — you have to forget what you did previously and start again.
Killian: The first day of rehearsals we were on the set, and it was the exact same as London. But when I'd turn to my left to pick up the prop, the prop would be there, but the face giving them to me would be different. And the emphasis on the lines would be different.
How different are the audiences so far?
'''Killian'': There's something in the air over here. When the lights go down, the audience is one hundred percent behind you. The first guy walks onstage and he gets a round of applause.
Jeremy: Just for walking onstage?
Killian: And I'm there on the side asking, "What? What happened?" Even at the stage door afterwards, you usually get one or two or five people at max in London, but here there's like twenty, thirty people after each show. It's this sort of community.
When did it hit you that you're working in New York?
Killian: Like everyone, I was going, "I'm not gonna believe it until I've done it." But when I landed and the taxi went through Times Square, and Kinky Boots went up on the big neon lights of Broadway, it was insane.
Alistair: It's gonna sound lame, but it's having my new wife with me, just our sharing it. We've got an amazing apartment. Our view is ridiculous. The sun sets in our window. It's very romantic.
Jeremy: The cab coming into the city is when it hit me. Having the cityscape in front of me, I was sitting there thinking, "Oh my god it's the Chrysler Building!" I'm such a geek!
Michael: Standing on the stage for the first time. I stood up there and looked out and said, "Yeah, it's happening." That was an amazing feeling.
- Kinky Boots
- Broadway revival
- Sweeney Todd
- Miss Saigon
- Times Square
- Les Mis
- Barrow Street Theatre
- Glenn Close
- Sunset Boulevard
- Charlie Price
- pie shop
- Dear Evan Hansen
- Eva Noblezada
- English National Opera
- Michael Xavier
- Alistair Brammer
- Killian Donnelly
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