Here is Part 3 of our series of behind the scenes interviews with the director and cast of 1st Stage’s Altar Boyz. Now, meet Edward Nagel.
Hi, I’m Edward C. Nagel, and I’m playing the role of Mark in Altar Boyz, which is playing at 1st Stage over the holiday season. I’m still fairly new to the professional world, but I’ve had some fantastic opportunities thus far. Last season I played Cecily Cardew in a cross-gender cast of The Importance of Being Earnest with SCENA Theatre, which almost immediately followed my professional debut at 1st Stage in By Jeeves as Bertie Wooster, directed by Stevie Zimmerman. Both shows were fun to be in, and I’ve met some incredibly supportive and encouraging people through them. During my undergraduate career I had the chance to play a broad range of characters; everything from an eleven year-old boy in 1960’s Brooklyn to a 17th century English king.
Where did you get your theatre/vocal training?
Growing up I moved around a lot, so my theater and vocal training has been all over the map, figuratively and literally. I was always involved in after school lessons, but started taking more serious voice classes while I was living in London. After that I pursued a BA in Theater from The University of Vermont, and completed a focus in Performance and a minor in Classical Vocal Performance. I’ve also been fortunate to participate in workshops and intensive programs with theaters and schools around the world. I studied physical theater, trapeze, and stilting with L’Avant Rue in Paris, and did a series of workshops and lectures with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. More recently, I worked with some of the professors from Circle in the Square as part of a summer intensive. Throw in the standard after-school plays and summer camps that most actors did as kids, and it’s kind of an eclectic mix.
Why did you want to appear in 1st Stage’s production of Altar Boyz?
I heard about this production of Altar Boyz through the casting director, Jane Margulies Kalbfeld. We met during the casting process and rehearsals for By Jeeves, and have kept in touch since then. I had an amazing experience during that show, so when she sent me the audition notice, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try and work with 1st Stage again.
Have you seen the show before and have you appeared in Altar Boyz before?
Going into the audition, I knew almost nothing about Altar Boyz. I took some time to look into it and prepare, but had never heard any of the music. Friends of mine are big fans of the show, and rightfully suggested I would enjoy it, so I’m glad to have the chance to work on it now with such an incredible cast and crew.
Introduce us to Mark and how you relate to him.
Talking with Steven Royal, the director, I realized that Mark is almost sunny to a fault. He sees the world through such heavily rose tinted glasses that even when something goes horribly wrong he finds a way to see the positive. There’s something really lovely and uplifting about that. I’m not sure how similar it is to my own personality, but I do think we’re both overwhelmingly enthusiastic. He’s also a little unaware of himself, but he’s chosen to be surrounded by people he loves and who love and support him. He knows he has the rest of the Boyz encouraging the aspects of his personality that might otherwise be unappreciated, so there’s this absolute openness about him. I’ve definitely had that in my personal life, and in working with this cast.
What is Altar Boyz about from the point of view of Mark?
Altar Boyz, to Mark, is a show about love more than anything else. It’s about being with this group of young men who he’s grown up with, and cares about deeply; some in more specific ways. I think he has this incredible desire to share that love with the audiences he performs for.
Have you worked with any of your fellow cast members before?
I had never even met any of the other Altar Boyz until casting started. Over the course of the auditions and callbacks, we were brought back in different groups and combinations, so I had met everyone but Zack by the time rehearsals started. There were some fun moments during callbacks where BJ (Jonathan G.), Derek, Jonathan W., and I would be working on the dances together in hallways and helping each other learn them.
What did you sing at your audition, and why did you select that song?
For the auditions we were encouraged to bring in a pop song, but when it comes to pop music I’m sort of a neanderthal. I had no idea what to sing, so instead I used a section of We Beseech Thee by Stephen Scwartz. I was in Godspell a few years ago and loved performing this song. Plus it’s really upbeat, has a fantastic range, and easily fits in with the religious themes of Altar Boyz.
How did you prepare for your role?
Aside from the rehearsals and learning all of our dances and music, preparing for this role has really been all about building up stamina for the performance. It’s a fairly brief show, but we do a lot of intense dancing, and most of the vocal score is at the top of my register. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe more. I’ve also explored character references to create Mark, and taken time to look at the research on Catholicism which Steven has brought in. It was important that I figure out what that sense of faith means to Mark.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and rehearsing?
The biggest challenge for me in this show has undeniably been the dancing. Jeremy McShan, our choreographer, makes it all look so effortless, but it took a while during rehearsals to not feel like a bull in a china shop by comparison. He was very patient with us, and always offered helpful advice and corrections to make sure we could be confident in ourselves and each other. I’ve never been in a show that required me to learn such intricate choreography.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor/singer – since becoming involved in this production?
Because of all the dance we’ve have to do, I’ve become much more confident in my movement abilities and in my physical presence on stage. It’s an ensemble piece in so many ways, but we all have to be completely present and committed throughout. I’ve also drastically increased my vocal range. Some of these songs have me singing notes I didn’t know I had in me.
What is the most vocally challenging song for you in the show?
“Epiphany” is a huge challenge. It comes in toward the end of the show after the majority of our serious dancing and about ten other songs. Its a massive diva moment, which I’ve always wanted the opportunity to do, but is a bit daunting. There are fairly clear pop culture references and some shout outs to more than one musical icon, but it has a huge range vocally and a lot of room to play and riff, which you don’t always get in musicals. I love the build to it and the way it just keeps growing beyond all reason. I had to sing a section of it at one of the callbacks, which made me a little nervous, but exploring it through rehearsals has been a lot of fun.
Why do you think Altar Boyz is so popular all around the world?
Altar Boyz is more of a concert than a play, which I think is a huge draw. There’s an element of the classic 90’s boy band era mixed with more modern pop and musical theater which appeals to a wide array of people. It’s got a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor which kept the cast and crew laughing throughout the rehearsal process, but behind that it’s about a group of really genuine guys who are doing something they love, which is fun to watch and be a part of. There are messages and truths behind the humor music which are relate-able across the board.
Why should DC theatregoers come and see you in Altar Boyz?
This is an uplifting show with catchy music.1st Stage has put together an incredible cast and crew who have all put a lot of work into it. At the end of the day its just really fun. It’s been a blast to work on, and is exactly what you want to see in a fantastic holiday season show.
‘The’re the Altar Boyz': Part One: Steven Royal on Directing Altar Boyz at 1st Stage.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Two: Meet Zack Powell.