Not only is the mega-mega-mega-talented Alex Brightman a two-time Tony Award nominee for his blockbuster lead performances as the badass substitute teacher Dewey Finn in School of Rock (2016) and the outrageous outspoken eponymous ghost of Beetlejuice (2019), he has also turned in memorable appearances, since his Broadway debut in 2008, in Matilda, Big Fish, Wicked, and Glory Days. And during the ongoing pandemic shutdown of live in-person theater, the irrepressible star of stage, voice, and film (most recently cast in Billy Crystal’s upcoming screen comedy Here Today) and writer (currently developing the new musical It’s Kind of a Funny Story, based on Ned Vizzini’s 2006 novel of the same name, with co-writer Drew Gasparini) has continued to maintain a full calendar of online appearances, including a key role in the Broadway Podcast Network’s new serial soap opera As the Curtain Rises.
Created by Broadway veterans Dori Berinstein (who also directs) and Mark Peikert, and recorded entirely in quarantine, the hilarious theatrical parody, following the cut-throat journey of a secret new musical to Broadway, features Brightman as The Narrator. With his signature humor and gusto, he introduces the comical characters and plot, intersperses passages of laugh-out-loud commentary, and delivers the end credits (so be sure not to log out early and miss them; the ones for himself and Be More Chill’s George Salazar are particularly sidesplitting!).
Following the release of the second installment of the farcical audio-soap, Alex made some time in his super-busy schedule to take our Warhol-inspired Pop-quiz interview about his career, the situation of theater artists in the age of coronavirus, and the shows and characters for which he became famous – for well beyond Andy’s proverbial fifteen minutes.
- Were you ever a follower of an actual TV soap opera?
I don’t think I’ve seen an entire episode of one soap opera. Every once in a while I would have a friend who would guest star on one and I would watch for them. But I don’t know that I actually know too much about them. I know that they mean a lot to a lot of people, so I’m happy they exist for them. :)
- Have you ever encountered any personalities like the characters in As the Curtain Rises in the Broadway shows you’ve been in?
Broadway shows, much like any other workplace, have personalities to spare. There are micro versions of everything you hear in As the Curtain Rises within a Broadway show. Now I’m trying to figure out which one of those personalities I am. Hmmm. Maybe I’m the diva. No . . . that can’t be right. You know what? I actually think I fit in just perfectly as the narrator type. I’m always commenting and adding bits of levity to conversation . . . so maybe I was typecast.
- What have you enjoyed most about being a part of this podcast?
Aside from the fact that it’s allowed me to feel creative in a time where creativity is a commodity, I really enjoy working with constraints. Doing a radio play is a skill that I never thought about until doing these. You have to convey all sorts of emotion and your body and face can’t do any of the heavy lifting. Your performance must be carried by your voice. So it’s taught me a lot about going for it, being bold, not questioning huge choices, and also knowing that we can do it again if we need to.
- Since the BPN listeners can’t see you, do you even bother to put your pants on, comb your hair, or wash your face when recording?
To be totally candid, there was a session where I had a t-shirt on, but definitely no pants on. I was wearing my MeUndies and I’m proud to know that fans everywhere are listening to my voice while I was definitely half-dressed at the time. I never comb my hair. And I wash my face, but not because I’m recording. I’m really glad that you can’t smell radio plays.
- What’s the best thing about recording from home?
When you’re done working, you’re immediately home. What a luxury.
- What three thoughts or feelings do you have when a show is about to begin and you’re ready to go on?
“It’s somebody’s first show.” “Nerves are exciting.” “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
- Have you ever had stage fright, either real or virtual?
Whoever invented the term “stage fright” should be pushed off of a building. Nerves are an essential part of performing. The scary feelings one has in their body are actually just exciting feelings. But growing up, we hear about this thing called “stage fright” and we buy into it. I don’t get stage fright. I get stage PSYCHED.
- Are you more like Dewey Finn, Beetlejuice, or The Narrator from As the Curtain Rises in real life?
I think, cadence wise, I’m more like Beetlejuice, in that he’s performing for a crowd and he knows it. But I think (if you listen to the whole thing) you’ll hear some real asides (sarcastic and otherwise) that feel very Dewey. Basically I just steal from myself all the time. So far so good.
- Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
No, but I look forward to my first.
- What three things do you always keep close at hand, so they’re there when you need them?
My phone (duh), a cup of coffee, and my dog Kevin.
- What do you love most about being famous?
I love that you think I’m famous. I like to think of myself as maybe . . . “known” in the world of entertainment. But I never got into any of this for FAME. I really enjoy doing shows. That’s what I like about having more people know who I am. It means that maybe they’ll like me and hire me to do more stuff. I just enjoy working immensely . . . with different people . . . all the time. Stop calling me famous. Just call me Alex. :)
- What have been your greatest comforts to get you through the pandemic?
My wife, my dog, my family, cooking all the time, streaming content, and getting to keep working on certain projects. That last one has really kept me going in a world where there isn’t a ton of work going around.
- With Thanksgiving coming up this month, what are you most thankful for this year?
I’m extremely thankful for my health and my sanity. I have anxiety about a lot of things . . . and just anxiety and depression in general. But having a nice reminder that I am breathing and seeing and getting the wonderful opportunity to walk around in the world (with my mask on) – that keeps me going and keeps me positive that next Thanksgiving we might be a little better off.
- If you had a pet turkey, what would you name it?
- What are your dreams and expectations for 2021?
I hope that slowly but surely theater comes back. That’s the big one. My more specific dreams include producing and filming the television show I’m working on, getting more voiceover work (I’m new, and it’s a blast), learning more recipes and nailing them, saving money like it’s my job, and I want to finish writing a book on the mindset and psyche of auditioning.
Thanks, Alex, for sharing a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous 15 minutes with us, and for keeping us all laughing through these difficult times! I look forward to seeing lots more of you virtually, and back on stage as soon as it’s safe.