On March 25, the 25th anniversary revival production of Angels in America opened on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. Directed by two-time Tony winner Marianne Elliott, the show opened at the National Theatre in London in the spring of 2017 prior to its Broadway transfer. Stars Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Amanda Lawrence, and Susan Brown all made the transfer with the production and new stars Lee Pace and Beth Malone (at select performances) joined the company.
After the marathon performance day, beginning with Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches at 11AM and concluding with Part Two: Perestroika close to 10PM, the company greeted Playbill LIVE at the opening night celebration at Espace in Manhattan.
Tony Kushner’s two-part manifesto originally opened in 1993. Millennium Approaches won a Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1993 and Perestroika won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1994. Millennium Approaches also won Kushner the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The cast—as well as Elliott and Kushner—shared some revelations to help audience understand Angels in America as well as secrets behind character backstories, detailed accounts of the rehearsal process, and more. Below are a few of the highlights from the broadcast, but be sure to watch the full livestream above for all of the interview insights.
Beth Malone: As the alternate for the Angel, whose wings are operated by ensemble puppeteers, Malone’s first day in rehearsal was a puppetry workshop. “We all built puppets out of paper bags and learned how to make our puppets breathe and walk and think and have ideas, and it was amazing. My first day of rehearsal was my birthday, January 2, and I was like, 'This is an amazing birthday present—a puppetry workshop with the War Horse creators!'”
Tony Kushner: Kushner talked about how his play, which he intended to be the usual two-hour fare, became an eight-hour Gay Fantasia. In a previous interview, Kushner said the characters kept doing things they weren’t supposed to: “The first thing was in Act 1 of Millennium when Harper and Prior meet, that wasn’t in the outline. I just woke up one morning and decided to do that. I had written the first two acts of Millennium, that was already two hours of material and the Angel hadn’t come through the ceiling yet. And I didn’t kow what I was gonna do so I decided to ask one of the characters to explain the play to me. So I thought I’ll ask Louis, he’s the most like me. He talks too much. Jewish. He’s gay. ... I sat down at my table and I said ‘What is this play about?’ And then I just sat and wrote “Why is democracy succeeding in America?’ And then I just started writing and writing and writing and writing and I was having this great time answering that question. Then I realized he was really nervous. Then I realized he was talking to somebody. Then I realzed it was Belize. Before I knew it I had finished a scene that was about 17 pages long, which is not a scene that is going to fit in any ordinary length play, but this is, I think, also the best scene I’ve written. We did a reading of it at the Eureka and it worked as well as I had hoped it would work. And I thought ‘Something’s gonna have to give because I have to find room for this scene in a play and it's clearly not going to be conventional length.’ So they [the characters] just kep saying we’re gonna do these things.”
Marianne Elliott: Elliott had taken a year-long sabbatical, but ended up using it all as research for Angels in America. During that time she re-united with lighting desinger Paule Constable (who designed War Horse and The Curious Incident and the Dog in the Night-Time). “I think she’s the best artist there is and I love working with her. She’s a scientist as well as an artist.”
Amanda Lawrence: Lawrence plays the Angel, Emily the Nurse, and the Homeless Woman. (Fun fact: In Lawrence’s mind, her Homeless Woman’s name is Dorothy.) To play Emily, Lawrence watched a documentary about caring for AIDS victims, “there was a nurse on this video ... she was really caring and she was talking about how important it is to be tactile,” she says. But there’s a reason the same actor plays these particular roles. “Because Tony’s written that the actress playing Emily looks down his trousers to look if there’s any lesions down there, she has to be really intimate. That’s his sex and later the actress doing that becomes the Angel as well [who causes a sexual response in Prior], so there's connection there.”
Andrew Garfield: Many of the viewers asked about Garfield’s pre-shows rituals to prepare for his performance. “I spit on the stage,” he says. ”It’s an old theatre actor thing from a long time ago. It's a ritual where you go, 'I'm not going to be perfet. I’m giving you all of me. I’m giving you the bile and the saliva and the disgusting stuff too. You have to hold all of it.'” Garfield also reveals his favorite scene in the show.