Final Bow: Derek Klena Says Goodbye to The Bridges of Madison County
…and his career as a backstage cheerleader.
Every show ends sometime (unless you're Phantom), so before the cast takes their final bow, there are a few things we want to know.
Following an auspicious Broadway debut as carefree hunk Fiyero in the long-running hit Wicked, Derek Klena decided to revisit adolescence as Michael Johnson in The Bridges of Madison County — the troubled teenage son of Iowa farmer Bud (Hunter Foster) and the adulterous Francesca (2014 Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara).
As Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman's new musical prepares to play its final performance on May 18, Klena reflected on his time on the great Midwestern plains of the Schoenfeld Theatre, much of which has been spent backstage while O'Hara and her romantic costar Stephen Pasquale share more than a few intimate moments. Luckily, Klena and the rest of the cast have come up with several creative ways to keep themselves occupied. Let's just say coloring tables, YouTube videos, and interpretive dances have served a noble purpose throughout the show's run.
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
My favorite line would have to be, "What's all the yelling about? I was just going to get us some ice cream. Do we all hate ice cream now?"
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. So tell us…
a. What's the best one from your show?
"Leeeerrrrrooooyyyyy Jeeennnnkkkiiiinnnnsss!" We all saw this YouTube video that featured this guy named Leeroy Jenkins and now we try to find a way to squeeze it into every conversation.
b. Since there probably is one, what's the punch line of your cast's most unprintable inside joke?
"Get clean."—Bud aka Hunter Foster
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
We have been fortunate enough to not have had too many large technical difficulties, but there was one time that stands out to me. Toward the end of the show my character, Michael, steals the keys and tries to steal the car. When I enter on stage to go to the car, one of the slats on the side of the stage that flies in and out got stuck, blocking the car from coming on. At the time I didn't know what the problem was that was keeping the car from coming on — all I knew is that it wasn't there! So there I was, standing alone in the middle of the stage trying to figure out what I was going to do if in fact the car didn't ever come on...After a few extra seconds of waiting (which felt like an eternity) I finally saw the car emerge from the wings and all was good after that!
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
I haven't received too many gifts at the stage door, mostly just some hand-drawn pictures and letters, which are always really nice.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
Sara Bareilles and Regis Philbin came to the same show once and that was pretty awesome!
6. How did you access your inner angsty teenager to prepare for this role?
Well I do have a fifteen-year-old brother, so...I channeled some of his energy into the role.
7. Which song from the score is the most played on your iPod?
I would have to say it's a tie between "One Second and A Million Miles" and "It All Fades Away." You can't beat Kelli and Steve just singing their faces off to JRB's music. I still get blown away listening to them every night.
8. How did you and Caitlin Kinnunen go about developing your chemistry as onstage siblings?
We were lucky because we became pretty good friends right off the bat in rehearsals, which made it easy and comfortable to connect on stage. She is such a great person and actor so it definitely makes the job easier having a good relationship with the person you work with. We goof around (professional, of course) and are always trying new little bits, which keeps things lively and fun.
9. This story strikes a lot of emotional chords in people. What is the most memorable audience reaction you've witnessed?
There is a point in act two when Francesca is literally placed between staying with her family or leaving with Robert. When Francesca chooses Robert in her fantasy, there have been audible gasps and clapping from the audience, which tells us as actors that the audience is into the story and invested.
10. How do you spend your time offstage while Kelli and Steven are snogging onstage?
Oh so many ways...we have a community coloring table where we all like to express our artistic abilities. We had a baby guessing contest where everyone brought in baby pictures and we all had to try and guess who was who. There is also a point in the show where Kelli is in the bath on stage and then has a quick exit to sprint to the opposite side of the stage to make an entrance. While she makes her cross underneath the stage, Luke Marinkovich (Paolo) and I always make signs and hold them up for her stating either a special message or inspirational quote. Sometimes, if she's lucky, we will even do interpretive movement and/or dance to accompany our signs...it's an art.