Alex Brightman, who received a Tony nomination for his performance as Dewey in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock, is back on Broadway this season in the title role of the new musical Beetlejuice at the Winter Garden Theatre. Brightman, whose Broadway credits also include Matilda, Big Fish, Wicked, and Glory Days, scored his second Tony nomination for his performance as the titular demon in the new musical directed by Alex Timbers. The multi-talented Brightman is also a writer, whose musical writing credits include It's Kind of a Funny Story, The Whipping Boy, and Make Me Bad, all with writing partner Drew Gasparini. His newest plays, We Left It Here and Everything Is Fine, will be presented later this year in Manhattan.
We recently asked the two-time Tony nominee to pen a list of his most memorable theatregoing experiences; his choices follow.
Michael Cerveris in The Who's Tommy
The moment that I gave my heart to theatre was the moment I saw The Who's Tommy on Broadway. It galvanized something inside of me that I couldn't put into words. And in the center of it all was Michael Cerveris. He gave a performance that was somehow electric and nuanced all at the same time. His voice, his presence, his everything. He's one of the big reasons I do what I do.
The Cast of Choir Boy
I read nothing about the show before I saw it, and I'm thrilled I didn't. At every turn, the story is surprising and inevitable. And the infusion of music and movement makes it something that you can only see in a theatre. The performances by one and all were breathtaking.
A Strange Loop
Without a doubt, the greatest theatrical experience I had this year and perhaps for the next couple of years. I have literally never seen anything like it. Michael R. Jackson has created a show that is hard to watch, self-referential and self-reflective, and one of the greatest coups de théâtre (I will not spoil it) I think we'll ever see on a stage. I want to go back and see it again and again, but I am using restraint so that others can see it. Go see it. Go.
Jefferson Mays in I Am My Own Wife
A tour de many forces. Jefferson Mays has always been one of my favorite actors. He is unusual, inviting, enigmatic, and filled to the brim with creativity. I've seen everything he's ever done, but I Am My Own Wife was its own brand of special. One man portraying a multitude of specific and complicated characters, telling an impossible story and bringing it to life in a way only Jefferson Mays could.
Something that is tough in theatre is “terror.” The Pillowman was one of the only plays that truly scared me. The performances given by Billy Crudup, Jeff Goldblum, and Željko Ivanek were razor sharp. But it was Michael Stuhlbarg that completely undid me. He masterfully and (more importantly) truthfully played a person with a developmental disability without commenting on it. It was truly not something I thought was possible...but Michael Stuhlbarg has now made a name for himself being a master of the undoable.
Nothing made me happier than when I heard the news that John Mulaney and Nick Kroll were coming to Broadway. And then nothing made me happier when I heard that Alex Timbers would be directing them. And then nothing made me happier to witness the genius that was the show. And THEN nothing made me happier than to be asked to be on “Too Much Tuna.” One of the more fun nights of my life. I'm thrilled they captured it on Netflix...I watch it at least once a month.
August: Osage County
I imagine I'm not the only one who has this on a favorite list. It's a three-hour-plus play that goes by in 25 minutes. Amy Morton, Rondi Reed, and the rest of the dynamite ensemble give performances so bracing, you sort of feel uncomfortable watching it so closely. It's brilliant. It's simply brilliant.
Steven Boyer in Hand to God
I saw this show four times (twice Off-Broadway, twice on Broadway). The play is exceptional and unique, the cast set a tone and hit it every second, and the subject matter was hysterical and terrifying all at once. But it was Boyer's performance as Jason/Tyrone that solidified all of it for me. When Tyrone was talking, Jason was listening and reacting. It was a true Jekyll and Hyde performance that I still think about today. I honestly don't know how he did it.
Caroline, or Change
Less of a show. More of a living art piece. I remember not being able to move or blink while watching Tonya Pinkins give a career-defining performance. The design, the direction, the music (my god, the music). I remember thinking to myself, “This is exactly what theatre is.” It also taught me the word “anthropomorphism.”
Mike Birbiglia in All of His Things
Theatre is storytelling. And there is no better storyteller than Mike. I remember reading a review about him that touted his finesse for “weaponizing silence,” and I couldn't agree more. He is a rare performer that constantly makes you literally lean in.