Mormon Boy Makes Good: Andrew Rannells Discusses His Journey from Hairspray to Hedwig

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02 Jul 2014

Andrew Rannells
Andrew Rannells

Andrew Rannells, who is best known to theatre audiences for his hilarious, Tony-nominated turn as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, will step into the high heels of transgender glam rocker Hedwig — the role created on Broadway by Tony winner Neil Patrick Harris — beginning Aug. 20 in the Tony-winning revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Belasco Theatre.

The Omaha, NE, native, in fact, has a history of being part of Tony-winning productions: The boyishly handsome singing actor made his debut on The Great White Way in 2005 when he joined the cast of the 2003 Tony-winning Best Musical Hairspray.

"For everyone else in the cast, it was just the start of a week, but for me it was a dream come true," Rannells recalled over coffee in a Chelsea café just a few days after his Hedwig casting was announced. "The amazing thing about Hairspray was that it was such a young cast that the enthusiasm about doing the show was very high, so it immediately felt very special.

"In the opening moment of Hairspray, 'Good Morning Baltimore,' you do this silhouette with the ensemble and then the scrim is supposed to fly up," Rannells continued, "and I remember standing in my place being in my little pose ready to go, and I closed my eyes to sort of center myself, and the scrim didn't go up! There was some sort of malfunction, so they had to stop the show and start over, which no one explained to me was ever a possibility on Broadway. I thought that I had had a stroke. I opened my eyes, and it was still black, and I was like, 'I think, maybe, I died. I think something bad has happened.' I was standing next to Becky Gulsvig, and she said, 'Everything's fine.' I didn't know that that was a possibility, that there were technical problems on Broadway."

At the end of the show, however, the multitalented artist said he was "absolutely thrilled. I mean, that's all I've ever wanted to do. It's still all I really want to do is be on Broadway. I love doing it; it was the only professional goal I had for a long time was to be in a Broadway show. When I get to do it, it makes me the happiest."

Following Hairspray, Rannells, who boasts a crystal-clear, rangy tenor, had the chance to open the Toronto engagement of the Tony-winning Best Musical Jersey Boys, later re-creating his work as Bob Gaudio, one of the Four Seasons, on Broadway in 2009.

"I was part of a new company, so I got a full rehearsal period with Des McAnuff, which was very exciting," Rannells said. He also had nothing but praise for the Clint Eastwood-directed film version, which opened in cinemas around the country last month. "My boyfriend, Mike Doyle, plays Bob Crewe in the movie, so I've seen it a couple times. It's great. It's exciting to see it on screen because they really did a lovely job with the adaptation, and it's pretty much the Broadway show. They didn't really do anything drastic, and it's nice to see so many people from various productions involved in the movie."


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