Final Bow: Looking Back From Barrington to Broadway With the 5 Stars of On the Town
Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Elizabeth Stanley, and Alysha Umphress share their favorite memories from their yearlong run of this 1944 musical comedy.
It's hard to pick just one cast member to interview when a show has a half-dozen principal characters. So in the case of On the Town, which ends its yearlong run at the Lyric Theatre on September 6, we decided to chat with the five actors who've been with the show the longest: Tony Yazbeck, a 2015 Tony nominee for his performance as Gabey, Clyde Alves (Ozzie), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), Alysha Umphress (Hildy), and 2015 Drama Desk nominee Elizabeth Stanley (Claire).
Together, they began their journey in the summer of 2013, when a prototype version of John Rando's revival ran at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires. Little did this group know they'd soon set sail for the bright lights of Broadway, with visits from DeNiro, bloody injuries, and the world's most inappropriate stage-door commentary.
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
Tony Yazbeck: Very old-era lines like "I'm gonna do this old berg up brown." I say "gee" a lot. I love that word. "Gee" and "swell." I probably won't say those words in a show anytime soon.
2. What is the punch line of an unprintable inside joke between you and your castmates?
Elizabeth Stanley: I have one but I don't know if everyone knows it. The punch line is "constant craving."
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
Alysha Umphress: This horse clip-clopping sound effect happened right at the top of the museum scene after "Come Up to My Place." Also the projections stopped at the aquarium.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Jay Armstrong Johnson: A tile with paint-penned lyrics to my favorite Beyoncé song, "Love on Top." It was a very sweet present, hanging up in my dressing room as we speak.
Elizabeth: I got a letter that said, "I wondered where you went. I'm glad you're making a comeback."
Clyde Alves: I got a really intense fan letter, and then an extra page with a recipe. Just a recipe.
Tony: My favorite thing at the stage door is some of the stuff people say. It's really remarkable. You have to keep a straight face and just smile and say, "Thank you so much," when they clearly have to go to school to learn how to talk to us.
Elizabeth: "You look so old on stage!"
Tony: "You're such a dual threat! Is there anything else that you can do?" I just wanted to say, "Which one do you think I don't do well?"
5. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
Elizabeth: Jon Hamm.
Tony: DeNiro. He was pretty sweet.
Clyde: Josh Groban last night. That was pretty cool.
Alysha: Bette Midler, but she didn't come backstage. She tweeted nice things.
Jay: The Dance Moms.
Elizabeth: Wrong answer.
Jay: They came like three times.
6. Tony, describe what Broadway's award season is like for laypeople who don't see anything beyond the fancy red-carpet photos.
Tony: I didn't sleep much. I got up early every day. I don't know how to dress myself very well in life, so I had people helping me understand that I can't wear the same thing for every shoot. I actually hired an assistant because there was no way I was going to be able to handle all that. I tried to have fun, but it was a lot of just showing up and trying to be present and say the right things. I would have loved to have these guys with me, too…It all looks glitzy and glamorous, but on the inside, it's a whole heck of a lot of work.
7. What are your favorite tweets that your costar Jackie Hoffman has written over the course of the run?
Tony: A cell phone went off the other day in the front row, and I could see she really wanted to step out of character and say something, but she just went backstage after her scene [and tweeted] "I hate you." That was the tweet. I'm sure On the Town did not retweet that.
8. What is it like to do a dance-heavy show like this for a year?
Jay: My body wasn't ready for this kind of a run. We set this show in Barrington thinking we had a month to run it, and then they told us we were going to Broadway and signed a year contract. It was going to physical therapy once or twice a week; it was making sure to do your physical-therapy exercises every single day. I have a janky hip and I have to align that. I had to wear an ankle brace for the first six months of the run because I sprained my ankle the day before we opened the show. When you're in a dance show, that's kind of what happens. You're gonna get bloody and your bones are gonna hurt.
Tony: The last three months, right after the Tonys, my foot blew up because I banged it too hard on the ground and had internal bleeding in one part of my foot. I had a doctor come in and say we have to drain the blood out of your foot after three months. So he drained the blood and three days later I went back into the show and I was, like, "Now I can feel the ground." Most of the time when it was that inflamed, halfway through the ballet I couldn't feel my foot anymore.
Jay: The weirdest parts that people don't know about doing a long-running show, whether it's a dance show or not, is that the smallest movement could create so much tension…You're, like, "What is that in my shoulder?" but it's literally from doing this [mimes holding a subway strap] every single night. Doing the same movement over and over…
Tony: That's what kills you.
9. Do you think your characters meet up after the war ends?
Alysha: I hope so. I feel like if it were a movie, though, given the roles that everybody plays, I feel like Gabey would come back intact as a hero, [Chip] would come back injured, and I feel like Clyde's character would die.
Elizabeth: John Rando would give us talks about remembering the heart of the story, with tears in his eyes. Like, "You guys are gonna wait for each other, and you're gonna get back together," so I definitely think that's John's vision, for what it's worth. Not as fun as Clyde dying.
Clyde: I think I do come back, but my arms are gone, so I just look like a T. rex.
Alysha: So it's full circle!
10. How many times have you been asked the question, "If you had 24 hours in New York, what would you do?" And do you have the perfect answer?
Elizabeth: It was a question on the first-day press event, and I felt so unprepared.
Tony: My answers were terrible!
Alysha: And I don't think they'll be much better now!
Clyde: It's still hard to answer. This city has so much to offer. How do you pick one thing?
Jay: I'd go to Starbucks, because it would be a long day.
Elizabeth: I'd go see On the Town before it closes!