In On the Twentieth Century, the cast takes us aboard a train headed to New York City where anything can happen and we are all along for the ride. Kristin Chenoweth, who plays a dramatic, but lovable actress, and Pete Gallagher, who is her debonair ex-director, dazzle as the leads, but the show also has an ensemble of talented actors who keep us entertained by lending their voices and kicking their feet to the upbeat musical numbers. “The show is really great in that every single person has little stand-out moments here and there, so everyone gets their time to shine,” said ensemble member Justin Bowen.
After a matinee, Bowen, Ben Crawford and Andy Taylor met at the American Airlines Theater, where the show is running until July, to talk about the comedy and their start as actors. The men, who are all Upper West Siders now, each came to New York to pursue his dream of being on Broadway. They recall standing in line in the cold for auditions that ultimately led them to such memorable experiences as transforming into Shrek, dancing the role of Charlie Chaplin and reciting jokes with Carol Burnett.
What’s the atmosphere like on set?Andy: It was good all along and then we got all these rave reviews this weekend, so we know we’re in something that’s worth watching, which helps. But it was always a good group of people. I think we always felt like, if this show was going to work, we’re gonna have a good shot at it because we had great people. We had Kristin, Scott Ellis [director], Warren Carlyle [choreographer] and everybody. I think the atmosphere is really loose, fun and pretty cool.
Justin: It’s great. It’s really close quarters back there. The show is really big for the space that it’s in, so we’re pretty tight-knit backstage. There’s a lot of respect among the cast members for every person because everyone gets to do something special or something that they’re good at. It’s a really great environment; I don’t think anyone feels underrepresented in the show. I think it helps that the show is a madcap comedy too; it’s not dark and heavy, so it lends itself to us having a good time doing it, on stage and off.
Ben: Yeah, I would totally agree with these guys. I think it’s a great atmosphere backstage and at rehearsals. Even from the beginning, we’ve just been laughing every day and having a great time. I think if we didn’t have such a great time with each other, it would probably be a little nuts back there, because it’s so cramped. But everyone has a great time, so it works out really well.
How did you all train as dancers?Ben: I think Justin is the most danciest of the three of us.
Justin: There are four really dance-heavy roles in the show. I also cover those roles as well. I’ve been doing theater since I was six and went to a high school with a strong performing arts program. Then I went to college and majored in musical theater with a lot of musical training.
Andy: The stuff that I do is story choreography; it’s movement. I remember when I first came to New York, people were like, “I don’t sing” or “I don’t do soap operas.” And 20 years ago, I was like, “That’s 90 percent of all the work in New York.” I kept dancing after college just enough to keep working in the business. I’m not a great dancer, but can move around enough to do a show like this.
Justin: They used to have separate choruses- a singing chorus and a dancing chorus- but now everyone has to do everything. So if you go in saying you’re just an actor or you just sing, you’re limiting yourself. The majority of our cast is made up of singers, but everyone has to kick, move and do choreography. Our choreographer would always say, “Just try it, even if you’re afraid of looking foolish, because more often than not you’ll surprise yourself.”
What’s your dream role?Ben: Billy Bigelow in Carousel.
Justin: There’s a tiny show running off Broadway called The Fantasticks. I think it’s the longest running show in New York.
Andy: Fifty years.
Justin: Since high school, playing the Boy has been a dream role of mine. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do it because I’m getting too old at this point. Bur I think it’s so simple and beautifully told.
Ben: It is a cool story.
Andy: When I was young, I always wanted to play Henrik in A Little Night Music, because it required a tenor and I’m a tenor. And the character played the cello and I’m a cellist. However, I got to finally do it at the Goodman in Chicago. I played the cello and sang, and no one in the audience knew I was playing because they thought it was coming from the pit. So I didn’t get the payoff I wanted. Nobody cared at all.
When did you know you were going to be an actor?
Ben: I don’t think I really thought about it until college, when I was pre-med and lost the passion for the science part. I was in the middle of college and didn’t really know what to do. I was always in the arts in high school and had a lot of fun doing theater and music, so thought, “Maybe that’s something I can do.” I didn’t take it seriously until maybe my junior year in college.
Justin: I think I always wanted to do it for as long as I can remember. When I was six, I did Singin’ in the Rain, where I was a street urchin, and since then, it’s the only thing I wanted to do. Pretty much everything I’ve done has been to get me to this point, because I’ve always wanted to live in New York. I’m from Virginia, but my parents used to bring me up every once in a while to see some shows and I was just enamored with Broadway.
Andy: I was a music double major, so I was on the fence about being a cellist. When I was in conservatory in music studying both theater and cello, it became really clear to me not so much that I loved the theater more, but loved what they did and liked the atmosphere and hanging out with actors more than cellists and string players.
To learn more about the show, visit roundabouttheatre.org