By Thomas Peter
21 Aug 2010

Robbins in Brighton Beach Memoirs
photo by Joan Marcus

What were rehearsals like?
NR: They were great. They were really fun and relaxed. I was lucky that I didn't feel — maybe it was because I was naïve or maybe it was because people were actively trying to make me feel this way — but I never felt a whole ton of pressure of having a big part in a Broadway show. I knew the gravity of what I was doing, but I never felt scared or shaking in my boots. And I think that that was probably because of everyone trying to make me feel calm and relaxed. So it was a very relaxed, fun rehearsal period, and I love David Cromer dearly. He's become a great friend of mine, and the cast I remain close to to this day. Even as short of an experience as it was, I think the relationships have stood the test of time and I think that they will continue to do so.

Was Neil Simon around for rehearsals, as well?
NR: Absolutely, he was. Yeah, he would come up and he would also make rewrites, which were amazing. [Laughs.] He never, I think, viewed the show — even though it was such a success — he never viewed it as a finished product. He would always be making changes and trying out new things, and that was awesome. And he would also be giving me positive reinforcement, which was equally thrilling. To hear it from Neil Simon himself is quite something, and when I look back on it, I think the fact that I worked with Neil Simon will be the thing that makes me realize just how unbelievable the experience was. Forget about being on Broadway or the reviews or whatever. Getting to be a part of his career is quite something.

You've worked with some very impressive theatre professionals in your young career. Would you say that you've had a mentor relationship with any of them that is any way similar to the one that Andy has with Martin in the play (hopefully without some of the more bittersweet aspects)?
NR: You know, I feel that way about Debbie Allen in a lot of ways, because I think I knew her better than any other person that I've worked with just because I'd worked with her over a span of six or so years. I think, actually, she did more helping me out than Kerner does for Andy. She was just so helpful, because she would just take me out to L.A. She brought me to L.A. twice, actually — once in sixth grade and once in 11th grade. And it was because of her that I got an agent, and it was because of being in her show that I was able to be seen. I definitely feel that I have a relationship with her that is close enough that it can be called a mentor-mentee relationship. She's kind of a mother figure to everyone in the cast, and I definitely felt that. She was sort of a guiding influence.

That's great that you had that so young.
NR: Yeah. When I was too young to really know what it was! [Laughs.]

You had graduated from high school by the time you got Brighton Beach, right?
NR: I was in the end of my senior year when I got the part, and then I graduated and then I did the show, so it was perfect timing.

Are you planning to stick around New York theatre and work and audition, or are you going to go to college?
NR: I'm gonna go to college, like, two days after this closes. I'm going to Columbia, so I'll still be in New York. But I think one of the things this year has taught me is that I want to be a college student [Laughs] for the next four years. This was a very important, formative year for me, I think, and I'm glad that I had it. Certainly a lot happened; it was very eventful. But now that I've sort of put my foot in the water, I think I want to just be a student for a while.

No summer theatre?
NR: You know, maybe. Who knows? I'll probably keep auditioning for things if there's something that comes up. [If it's] worth taking time off for, I would totally do it. But it would have to be something pretty amazing, because I want to go to college. [Laughs.]