Interview: Christopher Fitzgerald on Returning to Broadway in Both Waitress and Company
Fitzgerald takes the stage in two productions as the New York theater reopens.
One of theater's most gifted comic actors, three-time Tony Award nominee Christopher Fitzgerald has brightened up the stage in Wicked, Finian's Rainbow, Young Frankenstein, Chicago – and, rather notably, the 1999 Encores! staging of Babes in Arms, where he was met his now-wife of 22 years, actor and director Jessica Stone.
This fall, he returns to Broadway in two familiar roles. He's back (for the fifth time) as the exuberant diner patron Ogie, a role he originated to great acclaim, for a six-week run in the hit musical Waitress at the Barrymore Theatre; then, on November 15, he returns as David in Marianne Elliot's innovative, gender-bending production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Fitzgerald recently spoke to TheaterMania about going back to both shows, being on Broadway at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and returning to it now, and some singular experiences with superstars Sara Bareilles and Patti LuPone.
How does it feel to be finally back onstage after almost 18 months?
It is the definition of surreal. It is both completely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time; parts of it are harder and sadder than before, and parts of it are joyous and awesome. It is really its own unique experience and a new part of my personal story. In some ways, it's like when they said you can first take off your masks, you could imagine this huge celebration of Broadway returning – that art is back, music is back, the country is back – and now, even though we're not fully back, we'e doing this anyway while still dealing with the pandemic. In a way, I think theater is always ahead of the curve; it shows us where we are going as a society. So I think it's fitting that Broadway is leading the way back – and especially fitting that this show, which had closed even before the pandemic, has come back to kick things off!
Why do you like the role of Ogie so much?
The 13 minutes or so I have onstage are amazing! [laughs] Also, given the last 18 months, it was important for me to come back to something familiar to start. When you do a new Broadway show, it's the most dynamic part of acting; but it is emotionally and physically hard to crack. For me, it's wonderful to step back into a show without enduring that same cost, even if it doesn't have the same advantages of a new show. And to work again with some of the same people I started with in Waitress is great.
How different does the show feel to you with Sara Bareilles in the lead?
I've never experienced being onstage with the person who wrote the show's songs – never mind someone who can sing them so beautifully and then to be able to get deeply into such a complicated character. Sara just has an innate richness that translates to the stage. In one of our rehearsals, when she did "She Used to Be Mine," it almost literally stopped the room. Those moments are from another planet, and I wonder how I get to be so lucky to be there to watch them.
In November, you return to Company, which was in previews during the pandemic. What was it like to just stop a run that suddenly – and never know if you were coming back?
Really hard! Jess had been reading about [Covid] for a bit, so we were talking about it at home. And we knew what was happening with some of the folks at Moulin Rouge! So, we were both convinced what would happen did happen and I brought that fear into rehearsal, although everyone in the cast had their own take. Still, it was a shock, and the real worry for me was if I was going to get sick, especially since I have a wife and two sons. Three days before they shut us down, we had this huge cast party in Patti LuPone's dressing room, and as soon as it happened, my first thought was that party was going to be the actual death of Broadway!
How do you feel about coming back to Company in November?
I talked earlier about the cost of doing a new show, and after the six or seven weeks of work it took to crack that show, we finally felt really good about what we were doing. The train was chugging, chugging, chugging, and then to not have that release of our opening night was very frustrating. But now, we're going to really rehearse again – for about four or five weeks – and we'll make it new again in our way, which is so exciting. This is a luxury I've never had before!
How much of the show – and your role – do you remember?
Some of it is stuck in my brain; thankfully, I do have a baseline. And, as an actor, the body always remembers. But doing Sondheim, especially the way Marianne has directed this show, is so precise and there so much movement and so many costume changes, it will be great to have all this time to rehearse. Better yet, for me, I get another chance at making discoveries about my character. I have a feeling the whole show will be different than before the pandemic.
In both shows, you're probably going to play to a lot more New Yorkers and fewer tourists. Any guesses how that will change the shows?
I am going to be so interested in how our audiences will react, especially coming from what we've experienced and are still experiencing. I've told people I work with the audiences may be more subdued – we may not get the same laughs as before — or maybe they'll be more excited. I just know it will be different and I'm excited to see what happens!