Hunter Parrish Looks Back on Spring Awakening and Forward to The Pirates of Penzance
The veteran of Broadway's Godspell and Showtime's Weeds returns to the New York stage in Gilbert and Sullivan's classic operetta.
"So I just got married," Hunter Parrish says proudly, "and when you have these big things in your life, you check out for a little while." And yet, amid the organized chaos of planning a wedding, Parrish found a project he couldn't turn down: a two-night concert staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (or The Slave of Duty), directed by Ted Sperling at New York City Center, opposite a sterling cast that includes Phillip Boykin, Betsy Wolfe, Montego Glover, and opera icon Deborah Voigt.
Parrish, last seen on Broadway as Jesus in Godspell, and before that, as Melchior in Spring Awakening, is a musical-theater kid at heart, despite having made a name for himself as the wannabe drug dealer Silas Botwin on TV's Weeds. But he had never done Pirates. Parrish jumped at the opportunity to explore this new territory, which gives him the opportunity to exercise a whole new theater muscle.
How familiar were you with The Pirates of Penzance when you signed on to this production?
Growing up as a musical-theater kid, I'd heard of it, obviously. I had never seen it live or the movie. I'm learning more as I get into the material. [MasterVoices] director Ted Sperling and I have danced around each other in the theater world. He said, "Come and do this." It's such an honor. It was a crazy happenstance thing and I'm grateful. Ted is an amazing musician and leader.
And you, as Frederic, get to lead the way of a cast of heavy hitters.
When I came on, it was just [opera star] Deborah Voigt. It's been great to see this amazing group of performers [sign on to the project]. It's a pleasure to work with them. Phillip Boykin is the Pirate King, Douglas Hodge is the Major General, Julia Udine is Mabel, and she's got an amazing voice, Montego Glover and Betsy Wolfe are a couple of the sisters. And obviously, Deborah is Ruth. I'm just happy to keep company with these Tony Award-winning and nominated people.
Were you missing musical theater when this came along?
I did Hair in L.A. [in 2014 at the Hollywood Bowl]. We did it super fast, but it was a fun experience. I got a little of my musical theater-ness in there. But I come to New York a lot, so I'm never too far from it. I'm looking forward to performing in New York again.
You made your Broadway debut as Melchior in the original production of Spring Awakening. Have you seen Deaf West's new revival yet?
I have, but only [in Los Angeles]. A couple of my friends are working on it. I went to the opening night of the L.A. version before it moved. Those guys are incredibly talented and have brought it to life with the same spirit [as the original]. It's super awesome what they do. The deaf aspect just translates in such a beautiful way. It almost seems like it should have been done like that from the beginning.
Who do you know that's involved with the show?
Shoshanna Stern [who played Parrish's on-again, off-again TV girlfriend on Weeds]. She has wanted to be on Broadway for years. She almost did Big River with Deaf West, and she was asked to come on [Spring Awakening] as an ASL master. They needed to translate the very cryptic-poetic lyrics into something visual in the deaf language, and she is one of three people to do that. She was in my life when I was doing Spring Awakening, so it's just an awesome mirroring of this show bringing us together creatively. I literally just went for her and to enjoy watching some silly little downtown L.A. production of Spring Awakening. I can't believe how transformed I was in the process and how insanely inventive they were in their production. It's incredible.
Did your experience in the original production come flooding back to you when you were watching the new version?
Oh yeah. It's crazy to be a fan of something you've been a part of. I pretend I'm a part of Next to Normal, even though I've never been a part of it. I sing those songs and listen to them frequently in my life. To have that type of relationship with something you've been a part of, like Spring Awakening…it just never feels too far from you. I was going to support my friends involved, but then I got tied up in it again. As a giddy fan, I'm enjoying the new life it's been given.
Are there more Broadway musicals in your future?
We've been talking about this for a while. Before Pirates came up, and even, I think, before Godspell, I had said I want to do a play. I want to not have to vocalize something. I've been looking at that for a while, but these amazing vocal productions keep bouncing up, and I keep being lucky to be a part of them. Pirates is one of those. Hair was one of them. It's like summer camp, these little productions. You fall in love with them in a way that I don't know you would in a long run. I'm really looking forward to that.