Out of the Ring and On the Twentieth Century: Andy Karl on His Latest Broadway Role

The ”Rocky” star will appear alongside Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher in a new production at the American Airlines Theatre.

Andy Karl plays Bruce Granit in the Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century.
Andy Karl plays Bruce Granit in the Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century.
(© Matt Hoyle)

This time last year Andy Karl was deep in tech rehearsals for Rocky, the Broadway musical extravaganza based on Sylvester Stallone's 1976 breakout film. As the show's star, Karl fought hard for the production, putting up his dukes all over the Great White Way. He was nominated for a 2014 Tony Award for his efforts.

Sadly, Rocky did not last. Karl, however, is back and busily preparing for yet another musical. The Broadway workhorse will be appearing opposite Kristin Chenoweth in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of On the Twentieth Century, which beings previews February 13 at the American Airlines Theatre.

First on Broadway in 1978, On the Twentieth Century takes place on a luxurious train traveling from Chicago to New York. Broadway impresario Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher) wants to convince superstar Lily Garland (Chenoweth) to appear in his next Broadway show. Her boyfriend, Bruce Granit (Karl), thinks she should stick with Hollywood. This comic operetta is the creation of composer Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity) and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On the Town).

Karl spoke to TheaterMania about Kristin Chenoweth, his latest role, and his secret life as a Broadway composer.

Andy Karl star in On the Twentieth Century, directed by Scott Ellis, at the American Airlines Theatre.
Andy Karl stars in On the Twentieth Century, directed by Scott Ellis, at the American Airlines Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

You're playing a Hollywood guy in this, right?
Bruce Granit is a rising Hollywood star. Like Errol Flynn, he's probably done more action films and he's trying to make his way into the upper echelons of the movie business. He's never done any theater. He doesn't like it. Lily Garland, who is played by Kristin Chenoweth, comes from the live theater. Lily has also become a huge movie star and Bruce has attached himself [romantically] to Lily to become much more famous. I think you get that in the first couple of seconds I'm onstage: It's all about the cameras. It's a status relationship as opposed to true love.

But still, you get to have Kristin Chenoweth as your onstage girlfriend. What is that like?
It's exactly the same as the character: I'm riding her coattails to fame. Hahaha. When I was first cast I was so intimidated because she's just so good in everything she does. She's an incredible performer. I'm just a regular guy who's done a few shows and worked with some really great people. Having a chance to work with Kristin Chenoweth…it's a bit intimidating. As soon as we got together and started talking about what we were going to do, within five minutes I was already lifting her over my head and throwing her around and laughing. We have all sorts of bits we do together. I've had the best time working with her.

Bruce Granit was originated by Kevin Kline, who went on to have a very successful film career. Is that something you've thought about for yourself?

I have two films under my belt. I feel like I have a little something going, maybe some simmering TV and film stuff. Kevin Kilne went on to real fame. This was sort of his breakthrough role. I really wish I had seen him in it because if there's anyone to play Bruce Granit, I'd want to see Kevin Kline. I can only imagine the things he was doing onstage. I guess it's sort of my thing to take over iconic actors' roles.

You did it quite convincingly in Rocky. How are you doing in this one?
With Scott Ellis as director and Warren Carlyle as choreographer, it couldn't be easier. The high jinks I do onstage are basically what I do backstage at other shows. I'm just cutting up and making people laugh and doing stupid things. Now I get to do that onstage in really great costumes.

I understand that you also write music backstage when you're in a show. How long have you been composing?
I started with the BMI musical-theater-writing course seven years ago. It was during Legally Blonde. I had offstage time and I wondered what I should do with it. So I started writing songs and I submitted them to BMI. I wrote with them for a couple of years. Then they kicked me out because I was fortunate enough to keep working in Broadway shows and I didn't have time to write songs. Now I do it in my spare time.

Who are your influences as a composer?
Most recently I've been influenced by Ahrens and Flaherty, who wrote Rocky. Lynn Ahrens runs some of the BMI classes. So she teaches this process of music-writing. I see what these composers have to do, the mountains they have to climb. These people never stop working. They're definitely my inspiration.

Will we be seeing an Andy Karl musical anytime soon?
I have a few in the works. Maybe now that you guys are paying attention to me I can have some media savvy and say, Hey, check out this! I have a lot of good and bad ideas as well. But you know, the bad ideas can be great. Maybe I'll finish something up in my offstage time in On the Twentieth Century. You never know.