THE LEADING MEN: Broadway Newcomer Corey Cott Seizes the Day in Disney's Newsies
By Michael Gioia
Corey Cott, fresh out of college — a graduate from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama — stars as rebellious paperboy Jack Kelly in the Disney musical Newsies, where he made his Broadway debut last summer.
Since graduating Carnegie Mellon University in May 2012, Corey Cott, 22, moved to New York City, landed his first Broadway show and, most recently, tied the knot to Meghan Woollard in the beginning of 2013.
"It's just one thing after the other that I never, ever would have ever imagined," Cott told Playbill.com by phone Feb. 21. "If you told me [what my life would be like] six months ago — even a month before my audition — I still would have just laughed in your face because, you know, [during] senior year, you just prepare for the worst! You prepare that you're going to move to New York and have four roommates and live in Brooklyn and have no money and just be toughing it because it's what you love to do — not that you'll all of a sudden be in the spotlight."
The actor began his journey with the 2012 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical Newsies on Aug. 7. He initially booked the Jack Kelly alternate, performing the lead role on occasion in place of Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan, who was juggling both the musical and filming the NBC musical drama "Smash" (where he currently stars as bad-boy songwriter Jimmy Collins). Cott officially stepped into the spotlight — as the musical's newest Jack Kelly — Sept. 5.
"My goal was to not have to wait tables," admitted Cott. "I just really wanted to be able to work in the industry I went to school [for]. I was trying to prioritize coming to the city just to get audition experience, let alone actually booking a job." During his last semester at CMU, where he earned a BFA in Music Theatre, Cott flew back and forth between Pittsburgh and New York City for auditions…and was on a roll. The actor booked the Off-Broadway-bound Bare, the national tour of Wicked and work at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. However, he turned down all opportunities.
"I decided that it might [be] better for me, with the momentum that I had, to maybe stay in New York and keep pursuing things here," he confessed, "especially because your first year out of school is, as everyone says, one of the most important years of your career when you're first starting out."
"The spot opened in Newsies," Cott continued, "and I went in, and it felt just so right. I mean, that was probably the biggest audition of my life — that audition."
During that audition, Cott was paired with Newsies leading lady — and fellow Carnegie Mellon alum — Kara Lindsay, who stars as the headstrong, yet quirky, journalist Katherine Plumber. Although Cott's demeanor comes off as cool and collected, nerves were at an all-time high for the Broadway-bound actor.
"I knew of [Kara] because she was like one of the star alums, and I knew that she was awesome, and everyone talked so highly of her — and rightfully so!" Cott explained. "I was a little star struck when she was in my audition. I [thought], 'Oh no! The awesome Carnegie Mellon alum, who is killing it on Broadway this year… I've got to do good!'"
At the audition, with most of the creative team in the room — including Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher — Cott and Lindsay were asked to perform the scene before the second-act duet "Something to Believe In." Before they began Lindsay gave Cott the heads up and said, "I'm gonna kiss you!" Cott thought, "Okay! I guess we're going there, aren't we?"
Although the duo's first kiss made for an awkward beginning, they soon began to bond over their own individual love stories. "We both got engaged within a month of each other, so that was kind of cool. We had something to talk about right off the bat." Former Memphis cast member Kevin Massey popped the question to Lindsay last summer.
Before entering the world of Newsies, Cott said that he was most looking forward to planning his January wedding (and honeymoon at one of his favorite locations — Disney World). Then, he said, the show "took over for a bit, which is kind of nice because it let Meg focus on [the wedding planning, while] I was able to start a life here and kind of get a grip on who I am as a person in New York City, and who I am as an actor in New York, and who my friends are and what our community is like… So I felt like it was a much easier transition to have a stable job for six months, and for her to come here and me introduce her to the world of what New York and Broadway is. She's not in the business or anything."
Despite the fact that his wife is not a "theatre person," Cott explained that they bond over sports — his other passion. "I've always been a big sports person. When I come home at night, I turn on Sports Center," said Cott — who was heavily involved in basketball and golf before he was bitten by the theatre bug in high school — with a laugh. "Sports was the first thing that taught me about teamwork…and I grew up in a sports family, even though all three of us are now artists — my brother, sister and I. My brother's an actor now, and my sister is a photographer."
Cott's childhood also included a friendship with his current Newsies co-star Ben Fankhauser. "We literally grew up together, since we were ages 13 and 14," said Cott. "Ben was always a good friend, and we've probably done at least ten shows together — the last show, actually, being Rent. We played Mark and Roger, which is crazy because now we're in the Nederlander playing opposite each other, and Jack and Davey are — Ben and I were actually just talking about this — very, very synonymous to Roger and Mark."
"Like I said before, everything just gets better and better with every day. The fact that I am on Broadway, and the fact that I'm playing the lead role, and the fact that I'm able to tell this story that I love, and the fact that it's Disney — a company that I've wanted to work for my whole life — and then the fact that one of my good friends growing up is playing opposite me…! That was kind of like the icing on the cake," added Cott — Newsies newest "King of New York."
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
Cott's performance of "Santa Fe" at Broadway in Bryant Park:
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