Lucas Steele has been breaking hearts, ruining reputations, and belting a high C sharp in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 since May 2012. And in those five years, he’s learned more about the human anatomy than most actors learn in a lifetime—especially in a Broadway production whose direction by Rachel Chavkin and choreography by Sam Pinkleton requires him to run up and down 80 or so flights of stairs a performance. Here, he breaks down playing the devilish Anatole, who spends his money on women and wine.
On the increased degree of difficulty with the Broadway production, as opposed to the prior Off-Broadway performances in a tent and at Ars Nova.
I think it serves the piece that the entire production got larger. It’s a Russian epic! It’s always been fascinating to me that we started out so small and every naysayer was going, “Well, I don’t know if it’s going to work in a large theatre.” When the fact that it worked small is what shouldn’t have worked. But with the larger production certainly comes many more stairs and much more distance to travel. And there really isn’t any more music to travel that distance! So when you used to have two measures to travel three feet and now you have two measures to travel 12 feet, it definitely keeps you moving throughout the entire piece. I’m very focused on the moments when I can stop, because if you’re constantly orbiting you lose power in that regard. But it’s been a fascinating lesson to learn how to command attention while moving.
On surviving two-show days.
I go out the stage door and I do my best to say hello and sign; I get my food; I go back to my dressing room; I eat it; I lay down and take a nap; I wake up, warm up, put my costume back on.
On having custom-made boots for Broadway.
I learned from the other productions that so much of it comes down to the foundation. When I won the Lortel for this, I accepted that hobbling to the stage using a cane, because that’s how done my body was with the experience. But I learned from that whole thing that there were things I was doing intrinsically wrong with my musculoskeletal system. And these are things they don’t really teach you in everyday life, just how to go up and down stairs correctly, sit and stand correctly. If you’re not doing that stuff in an accurate way, once you start putting in the cumulative effect of doing thousands and thousands of stairs each day, it’s those connecting things that start to wear down. You can maintain a level of the injury or the pain, but it’s very difficult to heal unless you stop.
On maintaining his body doing eight shows a week.
I work with an incredible physical therapy company, Neurosport Physical Therapy. And because we learned last time the challenges facing us, I was able to implement workout routines and also know how much physical therapy I would need in order to maintain that. So I work with them twice a week, and two other days a week I also see a massage therapist. So it’s four days a week I have someone’s hands on my body. [Laughs] The maintenance alone is a full-time job in order to keep doing it. I’ve never done anything this hard before, and I don’t think—well, I almost don’t want to say it, because I don’t want to do anything this hard again! But I doubt I will ever do anything this hard again in live performance.
On becoming aware of others’ physicality.
Walking down the street behind someone, [I’ll be] looking at their gait and thinking, “Their right hip is more turned out than their left hip.” And I can see how their ankle is kind of splaying to the side. And you become hyper aware of your own symmetry and where you are not symmetrical and how that becomes a challenge for you. I have to say it really is something they should teach you when you’re younger. They never talk to you about the basic foundation of how you need to do daily movements. Even standing up straight starts with your feet and then into your glutes, all that stuff influences the rest of your spinal column and the vertebrae.
On running around the stage and still hitting the notes.
Because it’s been a gradual process, I’ve always sort of had a sense of what I needed to accomplish musically from the breath. You are definitely aware of when you need to pull it back and trust that there are so many other things happening that you pulling back will be an appropriate response and another interesting thing that’s happening. And our bodies become conditioned to it, and you do cardio to stay on top of it. The end of the show, I get my ass kicked onstage, and then I have to run up 14 stairs before I sing this crazy high note unaccompanied by an orchestra. Sure, you can do that in the rehearsal room, but toss in everything that just happened before… The multi-tasking on this show is like nothing else.
On getting on the Great Comet rollercoaster every night.
You have no other choice but to be present. Once the show is moving, you can’t turn back. And that’s a good thing because it’s very difficult for the piece to get old for me. The audience is different every night, and they’re like the third scene partner. But they’re always fresh and that’s something, energy-wise, you can play off of.