PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bobby Steggert

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bobby Steggert
 
Rising young actor Bobby Steggert could have done worse than 110 in the Shade for his first professional musical.
Bobby Steggert
Bobby Steggert Photo by Aubrey Reuben

His co-stars in the Lonny Price-directed revival of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt-N.Richard Nash musical are, after all, 2007 Tony Award nominees Audra McDonald and John Cullum, musical veterans who already have six Tony Awards between them. Steggert plays Jimmy Curry, the green, goofy, good-natured younger brother to Audra's Lizzie. While reviewers mainly singled out the glory of McDonald's blazing performance as despairing Dust Bowl "old maid" Lizzie, as well as her easy rapport with the seasoned Cullum, many also threw compliments in the direction of newcomer Steggert. It's all been an education for the NYU and RADA graduate, who thought he'd be spending his career in dramatic plays.

Playbill.com: You worked on the recent Broadway revival of Master Harold…and the boys. Is that where you met director Lonny Price?
Bobby Steggert: Absolutely. He gave me my first job out of college. I hadn't even graduated when I auditioned to be the stand-by [for the leading role of Hally in that play]. It was my very first job. It's funny — I don't really do musicals. The only reason I went in [for 110 in the Shade] was because I knew he was directing it. I said, OK, I'll go in. And it all worked out, all because of Lonny.

Playbill.com: Why do you prefer to do plays?
BS: First of all, I think I've gained a lot of respect for musicals from this, because I realize how hard they are to pull off and how many more skills it takes to do them successfully. But, I tend to like more complex material, more complex texts. I like to do Shakespeare a lot, a play you can really sink your teeth into.

Playbill.com: Have you had vocal training?
BS: When I was a kid, yes. I sang in choirs and I took voice lessons.

Playbill.com: Did you have to bone up on your singing for this?
BS: Thankfully, I didn't. I tried to approach the part — Jimmy's singing really isn't that complicated. It's really just an extension of what he's saying. I really tried to connect it to the story I was telling. Playbill.com: I have to think that between Audra McDonald and John Cullum, you found a lot to learn from on stage in this show.
BS: Oh, my God. Yeah. There's a young legend, and then an old legend, playing my father and my sister. They're both geniuses at it. First of all, they're great actors, aside from the singing. Both of them know how to translate thought into song and to do it seamlessly.

Playbill.com: Were there any specific lessons you learned from them?
BS: Oh, God. You know, John Cullum, the best thing he said to me was to listen to everyone's advice and take it very seriously, but at the end of the day trust your own choices and own instincts. You know yourself better than anyone else. That's harder to do as a younger actor, because you want everyone to like you and you don't want to rock the boat at all. To watch how well he did that and how respectfully he did that was a huge lesson.

Playbill.com: And I would think that if there's any actor who could make you take musicals seriously, it's McDonald.
BS: Oh, yeah. She's changed my whole view of musicals and performing in musical theatre. There is just not one ounce of artifice to her entire being onstage. She sings what she's speaking. You don't even realize it's singing, she flows so naturally into it.

Playbill.com: What has been the most challenging part of this experience?
BS: I guess my personal challenge was always riding the line between making my character funny and the comic relief and making him a real person with a struggle and a conflict and hopefully growing in the end. He's given a lot of the one-liners. I wanted to make sure no matter how broad he was, he was real.

Playbill.com: What sort of roles would you like to do?
BS: I guess this experience has also gotten me more interested in comedy. I'd like to explore that more. And, in spite of how young I look, I'd like to explore more young-men roles, as opposed to young-boy roles. I'm ready for it internally.

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