On March 26 Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage made her Broadway debut when her Sweat bowed at Studio 54. “Taking the bow tonight felt kind of electric … very different than winning a prize like the Pulitzer,” Nottage told Playbill on Facebook Live from the opening night red carpet. “Taking a bow in front of the audience is what we do as theatre artists, so it was special.”
Nottage opened our live stream and spoke about her interview-based approach to playwriting—and how she spoke to residents of Reading, Pennsylvania (where the play is set) to create Sweat from a blank canvas. She expressed great pride, as well, in bringing along actors who have dedicated their lives to the stage. “These actors in the show are killing it,” she said. “In this culture people are so focused on celebrity and on names and what they forget is there are people who know their craft, who are deeply invested to bringing those characters to life, and this cast does it.”
Director Kate Whoriskey echoed the sentiment when she spoke to Playbill (9:40). “The play is about people who work, who are workers, and there are different kinds of actors,” she said. “There are movie stars, and there are the workers who daily offer their lives to theatre, and we’re excited to have those people celebrated in a play about the working class.” Whoriskey also let us in on the secret to placing her audience in the exact timeline of the play.
Tony-nominated actor John Earl Jelks (13:50), who plays Brucie, was the first member of the cast to join. Having transferred with the production from Off-Broadway, he shared his joy at being able to bring the play to Broadway. “You get another chance to get it right,” he said. But his most memorable performance was the one in Reading—the home of the piece. “I had a chance to go to the place where this really happened. It shifted in a way that it made me go deeper. It enriched me as a person. I got to see the streets this character walked on, the alleys he must have laid out in.”
James Colby (17:15), who plays Stan, has also moved with the production and spoke to the community within the ensemble. “The whole thing has settled into a different place,” he said of the play. “It’s gotten deeper and richer, our connections are deeper and richer offstage, which translates to onstage.”
Actor Lance Coadie Williams (21:00), who plays Evan, spoke about the gift of speaking the opening lines of the show. “It’s an amazing responsibility to set the tone, set the rhythm, set the pace. You’re the first person to be heard,” he said. “It’s like checking in with the audience. They’re checking in with you to see what play they’re at. It’s just to drive with the language and make the language very important. I kind of look at it as a relay race, so in the beginning I’m like a sprint runner who has the baton.”
Broadway newcomer Will Pullen (24:00), who plays Jason, credited his performance to Nottage. “I and everyone in this company, we owe everything to Lynn,” he said. “This play forces you to see other people, really see them, especially people that don’t have the same points of view about the world. We need to come together and see each other and hear each other.”
Rose Byrne, Sandra Oh, and More at Sweat Opening Night on Broadway
For Khris Davis (27:00), who plays Chris, and Carlo Albán (32:00), who plays Oscar, the play feels personal. As Albán sad, “This play gets under your skin. You step into it and you get lost.” “To be quite candid, I grew up with those relationships whether they were friends or family of mine,” said Davis. “I understand what it is to have a dream and because of your circumstances you get shut out of your dream or you give up because someone tells you it’s not a good idea.”
Playbill wrapped up with the three ladies of Sweat, beginning with Tony-nominated actor Johanna Day (45:35). “It terrified me at first,” Day said of taking on the role of Tracey. “[I thought], ‘Oh my God, no one’s going to understand her. How do I make her somebody that we know?’” She had help by building the relationship with co-star Michelle Wilson (41:00). “There’s so much love and community within this ensemble that everything that we have to do onstage it’s done with such commitment and love and purpose,” said Wilson. “I think there’s something about acting in which we practice instant intimacy. You walk into a rehearsal room, and everyone sits down around the table and they’re commited to whatever the relationships are. Actors are able, because they have so much humanity and it's so accessible, they’re able to bridge that gap.”
We closed out the night with Alison Wright (52:30), the newest member of the ensemble joining for the Broadway outing. She felt it’s “a blessing to be part of a show that is more than entertainment and that is really cultural commentary.” “I’m very proud to be part of the chain that lifts up Lynn Nottage and Kate Whoriskey, female writer and director,” she said. “I think we need a bit more of it.”
Tune in to Playbill’s Facebook Live On Opening Night to see the stars just after they step off the stage on opening night and give us instant access to their post-bow emotions, behind-the-scenes secrets, and more. Follow Playbill on Facebook and opt in to receive live video notifications. Watch Playbill’s next live stream April 3 on the opening night of Amélie starring Phillipa Soo.