When Andrew Keenan-Bolger was a freshman in college studying musical theatre, the University of Michigan was one of the first colleges to get Facebook. As a child actor, he’d already made his Broadway debut as Chip in Beauty and the Beast, then appeared in Seussical as a teen. But what was happening in social media during his college years really opened up what he and his friends were able to do as theatremakers.
Two of my classmates were Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who basically wrote a musical together while they were in school and figured out how to market it through Facebook. YouTube was happening. So, we were making concerts and benefits and putting them online and figuring out what branding was, and watching as sort of this new generation of theatre artists was entering the theatre industry,” Keenan-Bolger says of those days in the mid-aughts. “It was an exciting time.”
Since that time, Keenan-Bolger has gone on to Broadway. But he’s added a few other hyphenates to his actor title. He writes (everything from a travel blog to a children’s book series), he produces (first web series and now podcasts), and he’s even developed a few Instagram filters available for sell on his website. But he remains, first and foremost, an actor. And his latest gig is really stretching that muscle.
Keenan-Bolger is back on the New York stage in the new, sexy, gender-bending Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors, in which he (and the rest of the cast) play several characters each. “I think I have eight different accents,” he says.
The work, which runs through January 7 at New World Stages, reimagines Bram Stoker's classic vampire tale, recasting Dracula as a pansexual Gen-Z Count in the midst of an existential crisis. Keenan-Bolger plays a boatswain, a gravedigger, and various suitors. But his main role is Lucy’s fiancé John Harker, a nervous real estate agent who sells Dracula his mansion. “I end up in a bit of a love triangle with Lucy and Dracula that plays out in a very fun and juicy way,” he teases.
And he’s having a ball doing the show. Keenan-Bolger is known primarily for his work in musical theatre. In fact, all his Broadway credits are musicals, notably Tuck Everlasting and Newsies. “I think there’s an assumption that plays are easier. That is not true with this. This feels like I am in a large ensemble musical with dance numbers almost,” he says of the fast-paced comedy. “I think the theatrical elements are just really great. Anytime you are kind of limited to just having five actors, you have to get very creative with the way that you tell the story. At times, there are characters jumping out of a window on stage and making a falling screaming sound as they do a quick change.”
Having only five actors play over 30 characters also lends itself to a bit of gender bending. When the show was casting, they auditioned both men and women for the same tracks, and sometimes a female understudy will go on for an actor who identifies as male. “They’re also able to play with the kind of stereotypes at the time, this sort of built-in misogyny within that time period in a really fun way. You have a female-presenting actor dressed as a man making incredibly misogynistic comments about women. And it is just a huge kind of gender F-bomb all throughout,” says Keenan-Bolger.
The actor hasn’t left his social media days behind, though. It’s very much an integral part of how he shares his art and he’s found tremendous value in using it as a tool to communicate with his audience. For Dracula, Keenan-Bolger has started a companion podcast called…wait for it…Dracula the Podcastula. In the “bite-sized” episodes, he takes listeners behind-the-scenes of the Off-Broadway comedy with his fellow company members in dressing room chats and vampire diary segments.
The actor does admit that he’s far more selective about what he chooses to post than in the early days of Facebook when “you would go to a party and take 75 pictures and upload every single one.” His focus is more on his work and less on his personal life. There are moments that he keeps just for himself and his family and his husband.
But still, he’s got a devoted fan base that he’s collected over the years through tweets and regrams and shares. He can still be found autographing Newsies Playbills at a stage door, 10 years after he appeared in the show. He recognizes that he will likely forever be linked to that show and he takes a lot of pride in that. And he understands those fans in a really personal way. “The Newsies fans—they’re the most pure, unproblematic fandom of anything I’ve ever seen. I think there’s a real connection between a theatre kid and a Newsie. It’s young people trying to find themselves and take claim to who they want to be in the world. It’s really earnest and not ironic or sarcastic in any way.”
The cast of Dracula also includes Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton, James Daly, and Ellen Harvey. It’s a fun romp and absolutely worth a visit. But if you’re stuck out of town, do check out Keenan-Bolger’s Instagram or follow along with the podcast. He’s got you in mind, saying: “There are a lot people who are not going to be able to come to New York every time there's a new show that they want to see. And so being able to bring that process to them, and kind of meet them where they are is important, and something I love to do.”