Reliving schooldays has definitely been rewarding for 26-year-old actor Samuel Barnett, whose performance as the sensitive student Posner in The History Boys has earned him a Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Featured Actor. But he's glad that the experience is limited to the stage.
"I wouldn't want to go back to that age," he says. "I had a bit of a painful time growing up. I understand Posner; he isn't very happy with himself. He has a lot going on, such as the whole unrequited love thing [for his classmate Dakin, played by fellow Drama Desk nominee Dominic Cooper]. I remember what it was like to feel that kind of self-consciousness and to fall in love with someone for the first time. I found that the character came naturally to me."
Though The History Boys makes a point of Posner's Jewishness, many viewers have remarked that Barnett doesn't look stereotypically Semitic. "When we did the play in Australia this spring, some guy came up to me after the show and said, 'You don't look Jewish and that's compliment,' " he relates. "Actually, my dad's family is Jewish; it's just that I got my mother's looks. There was some talk about making me look more typically Jewish; we even thought about dying my hair, and I was all for it. I'll do anything to change my appearance. But then we decided that, because the family is from Sheffield, we didn't need to do anything after all."
Barnett and his castmates have been together for three years, since the play's initial London production, and he recalls that their first week of rehearsal was a definite bonding experience. "We did some improvisations to help us feel like we were 17 or 18," he says, "but the thing that really got us working as a group was learning all those quotations and references in the play. That jelled us together."
TV viewers are aware of many of Sara Rue's talents, from the keen comic timing she shows on her ABC sitcom Less Than Perfect to the sharp card sense she displayed on Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown , but they may not be aware that she can also sing. If you want proof, head to West Hollywood's Matrix Theatre, where Rue has the lead in the world premiere musical Little Egypt.
"When I first moved here about six years ago, I used to go around to the local bars and play guitar and sing," she says. "My voice is more at the end of the rock/soul spectrum. I always say I'm a tenor who pretends to be a soprano, which suits the music in the show perfectly. The songs were actually written in the perfect keys for me, but I have gone back to taking vocal lessons just in case."
She's having a blast playing Celeste, the brainy girl who falls in love with Victor, a mall security guard played by fellow TV star French Stewart. Says Rue, "I lovingly refer to Celeste as a complete social retard. She's an intellectual with all this knowledge and nothing to apply it to, especially since she's moved back to this small Illinois town. What's great about playing her is that she's a total enigma -- so, as an actor, you can make your own wild choices and everything is justifiable. I see her as this big puzzle I have to put together, and I can use my own weirdness to do it."
This is not her first professional pairing with Stewart: "He did a few guest spots on Less Than Perfect as a gruff office manager, and we got along like gangbusters. I've been acting since I was nine years old, and I've never felt this way about any other acting partner; we trust each other completely and we've become really good friends," says the happily married actress.
Life after Little Egypt is uncertain for Rue. ABC canceled Less Than Perfect earlier this year, and she's still waiting to hear if her pilot Play Nice (which also stars Fred Willard and Swoosie Kurtz) will be picked up. If not, this native New Yorker would love nothing more than to come home and be in a show here. "Just doing this play," she says, "I feel like my battery is so charged that whatever I do after it will be better just because of the experience."
Actor Christopher Denham and playwright-director Adam Rapp are spending an awful lot of time together these days. Denham is currently starring in Rapp's acclaimed play Red Light Winter at the Barrow Street Theatre, for which the actor recently won the coveted Lucille Lortel Award, and Rapp is now directing Denham's new play cagelove at the Rattlestick Theater.
"We have a real camaraderie," says Denham. "We can complete each other's ideas without even talking sometimes. Adam runs a fun rehearsal room, so working with him on cagelove isn't feeling too labor intensive. It's more like coming to play with my friends -- which is a good thing, since doing both plays at once is a little taxing."
At one point, Denham considered directing cagelove, which focuses on a man who tries to discover his fiancée's secret past as their wedding approaches. "But once Adam came aboard, the show was actually an easier sell to theaters," he tells me. Like his collaborator's work, Denham's play could be described as dark. "I would say my favorite genre is horror. I grew up watching a lot of horror movies -- Halloween is my all-time favorite -- and I want to bring some of those chills to the stage. But I prefer my horror to be less gory than the current crop of films, like Hostel. I think it's more scary when the blood is spare. That way, you let the audience do the work."
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward will be among the luminaries on hand for the City Center gala benefit performance of Of Thee I Sing on May 15. That same night, former Rabbit Hole co-stars Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly will reunite for the Manhattan Theatre Club Annual Spring Gala at the New York Hilton, while Donna Murphy, Susan Lucci, Cameron Mathison, and Marty Richards will be on hand for The Women's Project 21st Annual Women of Acheivement Gala at Cipriani 23rd St.
Moving ahead, on May 22, David Garrison, Debbie Gravitte, Marin Mazzie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Faith Prince will be among the stars performing songs from six new Broadway-bound musicals in Coming Soon to Broadway: The 92nd Street Y Gala Benefit. Charles Busch, Cheyenne Jackson, Michael McElroy, Karen Mason, and Julie Wilson are just a few of the stars set for Broadway Backwards: Songs of Survival and Love, a benefit for the New York City LGBT Community Center on June 5. Three Days of Rain star Paul Rudd, Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-Vega, B.D. Wong, Sam Waterston, and other notables will participate in the Our Time Theatre Company Annual Benefit Gala at NYU's Skirball Center on June 12. Finally, the peerless Barbara Cook and Audra McDonald will team up again for the Paper Mill Playhouse's benefit on June 19.
To help another very worthy cause, you can purchase the new cookbook Ya Tibya Lublu: Recipes of Love for Orphans of Eastern Europe. It features recipes contributed by numerous celebrities, including actresses and adoptive mothers Christine Ebersole and Donna Murphy (both of whom are expected to attend an invite-only kickoff party on May 16), as well as Kristin Chenoweth and Donna Mills. (Visit www.arkangels.org for more information.)