ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: How a Young, Sweaty Zach Braff Got His Big Break

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04 Jun 2014

Zach Braff
Photo by Robb Johnston

I had him on "Seth Speaks" and reminded him of another gig we had in 1996: It was an outdoor concert in Battery Park and I had him and Kate Chapman sing "The Phantom of the Opera." During the part where she's singing the obligato at the end, he spoke the signature Phantom lines but "made it his own" as we say. He started with "Sing!" then moved on to "Sing for me," and finally as she got near the high note he hauled out "You better sing!" Werk!

Throughout the years, Norm told us he's often heard from younger black actors who've told him that he's been an inspiration to them by being a successful Broadway actor, so he's decided to put together a concert at Carnegie Hall where he's going to honor those who have paved the way. It's called The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live the Dream and I haven't seen a longer title since I was on MTV's "Legally Blonde: The Search For The Next Elle Woods." I advise you get your tickets asap here

On "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox" I had the smart/funny Zach Braff, who's currently starring in Bullets Over Broadway. He told us that he grew up in New Jersey and hated sports. His father did community theatre and watching his day play Horace Vandergelder (opposite Norm Lewis as Dolly?) made him fall in love with theatre. He started going to theatre summer camp (Stage Door Manor) and loved it! As a matter of fact, his love segued into a Broadway-themed Bar Mitzvah. First, take that in. Even I didn't have the nerve to try that one.

Let's hear what it consisted of. He told us that there were various actors scattered throughout the reception hall dressed as signature Broadway characters AKA a cat from Cats. They remained frozen on top of tables as the guests arrived. Then, the entire room filled with the song "Let's Hear It for the Boy." At that point in the story, I reminded Zach that Footloose wasn't a Broadway show in the '80's. He completely concurred and told me that the entire Bar Mitzvah was filed with mixed metaphors, and I loved how easily he analyzed the inappropriateness. He described the next inappropriate pairing as thus: When the song got to the actual lyric "Let's hear it for the boy," Zach made his entrance with his family and the Broadway characters unfroze and started doing the robot. So amazing!

Seth with Zach Braff
photo by Robb Johnston

Later on, Zach realized what a horrible gig it was for the actors. The lack of respect manifested itself when one of his friends tied a spoon to the tail of the guy playing the cat. I could add a joke at this point, but why? The description itself is enough.

He was auditioning for things when he was young and actually got cast in "Manhattan Murder Mystery" as Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's son. Getting a Woody Allen film meant so much to him because his family is completely obsessed with the film "Annie Hall." On the day he shot, he was in his trailer on the set completely panicked to have to act with Woody and Diane Keaton. Someone knocked and told him that the director wanted to run lines with him. Ahhhh. Only the director. That he could do. He walked into the director's trailer and suddenly remembered the director was Woody! AH! Diane Keaton was there, too. There he was, completely obsessed with "Annie Hall" and he's playing their son! Woody told him that they wouldn't say the exact lines and he should just try to keep up. Woody and Diane started and were doing their amazing "we've worked together for twenty years" riffing and Zach was desperately trying to find openings to say his lines. He hilariously compared it to playing Double Dutch!

Zach went to Northwestern for film because he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker one day and moved to New York afterwards, where he worked as a PA on video shoots. Once they were doing a shoot for Mariah Carey. The song was called "On the Roof" and they were, quite literally, filming on a roof. However, the elevator in the building didn't work so Zach had to make tons of trips carrying the props up tons of stairs. While climbing yet another horrifically long staircase to the roof he told the other PA, "I hope her next song is called 'In the Lobby.'" Still got it!


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