In the past year, Noah Robbins has graduated from high school and played the young alter ego of a living playwright in two high-profile New York productions.
The first was the highly anticipated Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon's fictionalized account of his Depression-era childhood. The staging only lasted a week after opening on the Great White Way, despite an appealing performance by Robbins in his Broadway debut, direction by David Cromer, a distinguished cast and warm reviews.
Now, the Washington, DC-area native is starring in the Primary Stages production of Jonathan Tolins' Secrets of the Trade at 59E59 Theaters. Robbins plays Andy Lipman, a star-struck kid who, in the early 1980s, is obsessed with the theatre and begins a correspondence with distinguished Broadway playwright-director Martin Kerner (played by Tony Award winner John Glover). Tolins has admitted in interviews that Andy is based on him, although he won't say who the model is for the charismatic but often frustratingly unavailable Kerner.
We caught up with 19-year-old Robbins the day after the play's Aug. 10 opening to talk about his crazy year, his formative years working with Debbie Allen on children's shows at the Kennedy Center — and what's next for him.
Congratulations on your opening last night! How'd it go?
Noah Robbins: It went really well. Opening night audiences are always great because they mainly consist of your friends and family, so they're already supportive. But yeah, I think it was a really great performance, and I loved meeting everyone afterwards. I like opening nights; they're a lot of fun.
Your character ages ten years over the course of the play, which you portray very believably, but you're kind of in the middle of that age range yourself. Is that something you consciously worked on?
NR: Oh, yeah, definitely. That was probably the main thing I worked on, the main challenge, just because I was a little intimidated. When I first auditioned, I didn't think I'd get it because I thought I was too short. I wanted to get it — I thought it was a great play and a great part — but I thought, "Well, you know, maybe I just don't look right for it." But when I got it, I was thrilled and I found the idea of playing older than I am a little daunting, and I think that over the rehearsals, that was basically the main and biggest challenge — to really chart that growth and that transformation over the course of [the play] and do it believably. That was the main thing, and with a lot of help from Matt Shakman, the director, and just a lot of practice and playing around, I think it finally clicked and I've been able to sort of get a grasp on that growth.
What's it been like working with John Glover and the rest of the cast?
NR: Unbelievable. [It's] such an unbelievably talented and relaxed atmosphere and cast. I had seen John Glover in Waiting for Godot maybe a year ago, so to be on stage with him now is a bit surreal. My parents would agree; my parents always tell me how much of a thrill it is to see me onstage with John Glover. But they're [all] so completely in it, and they definitely make me a whole lot better as a result.
|photo by James Leynse|
Has Jonathan been around and worked with you much during rehearsals, since you are essentially playing his younger self?
NR: He's been here a whole lot. He was in Connecticut, but he would come in [and] take the train. A lot of times, he was there for the table work, and then he'd come see the run-throughs. He'd make changes to the script; some of them were unbelievably helpful. And yeah, he's been so, so encouraging and supportive to me. He's given me all sorts of positive reinforcement, which is always great for an actor, to have the playwright tell them, "Good job" and "We’re so happy that you're doing this." It definitely was thrilling to hear that.
Just to get a little bit of background: You grew up outside of DC?
NR: Yeah, I grew up in Potomac, MD, which is, like, 15 minutes outside of DC. I was born in DC but grew up in Maryland, and then I went to high school in DC. But I usually just tell people I'm from DC, because people have heard of that more than Potomac, MD.
And you worked with Debbie Allen in several shows at the Kennedy Center?
NR: Yeah, I did. From age 11 through 17, I would do shows with her. She would take fairy tales and [create] spin-offs for them. They'd feature kids and they'd be for kids, and they were just a lot of fun. And then in my junior year of high school, I went to L.A. to do a show that I had done in DC the year before, because she would always do a show at the Kennedy Center and then the next year she'd do that show in L.A. And so that year, I went with her to do it in L.A. She brought me out there, and that's where I got an agent. I just sort of got ridiculously lucky and seen by an agent. And then I started auditioning. I didn't audition that much because I was still in high school and I wanted to focus on that, but I auditioned for the big things that came my way, and one of those was Brighton Beach Memoirs my senior year, and after about six auditions for that, I got it. There was just a crazy roller coaster of an audition period, but it was a happy experience to say the least. [Laughs.] And then it all went from there. I guess my first audition was January of 2009. I didn't get a callback because it was sort of a sketchy audition. And then they couldn't find who they were looking for, so I got a second chance, and then four callbacks later and I got it.
I imagine the whole experience of doing that show was quite a way to make your Broadway debut, to put it mildly.
NR: Yeah, it was a whirlwind of an experience, but at the end of the day, it was a thrilling experience that I wouldn't trade for the world.
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