THE LEADING MEN: Danny Burstein Digs Into a Group Theatre Classic, Golden Boy

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05 Dec 2012

Danny Burstein
Danny Burstein

Danny Burstein, lauded for his work as a musical theatre character actor, works up a sweat as Golden Boy's boxing trainer in a new Broadway revival of Clifford Odets' American classic.


Danny Burstein is back on Broadway these days, in Lincoln Center Theater's revival of Golden Boy. It's playing at the Belasco Theatre, where the classic Clifford Odets drama premiered 75 years ago this month.

Burstein, 48, has garnered three Tony nominations in his last four Broadway appearances — as Buddy Plummer in Follies (2012), Luther Billis in South Pacific (2008) and Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone (2006). His other Broadway credits include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2010), A Class Act (2001) and Titanic (1997). He is married to the Broadway musical star Rebecca Luker.

In Golden Boy, Seth Numrich — who searched for the beloved title character in Lincoln Center Theater's War Horse — has the title role of Joe Bonaparte, who gives up the violin for what he hopes will be a lucrative a career as a boxer in Depression-era America. Tony Shalhoub, TV's "Monk," is Joe's father, who has had different dreams for his difficult son. Burstein portrays Tokio, Joe's ring trainer. The director is Bartlett Sher, who helmed South Pacific for Lincoln Center Theater, as well as its highly praised 2006 revival of Odets' Awake and Sing!

Burstein talked to about the play, Burstein's role, his past and his future.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I know how busy it is for you, with rehearsals in the morning and afternoon and previews at night. Tell me about Golden Boy — what's your view of the play, and what it says. And why you wanted to do it.
Danny Burstein: One reason I wanted to do it was I'm a huge Clifford Odets fan. I really think he's New York City's Shakespeare. He was brilliant. The language is poetic and beautiful and heightened, and to be able to make it seem natural and just pour out of your mouth is always a challenge. When it does come out beautifully and right, there's nothing quite like it. For me, growing up in New York City, I've heard people speak like this my whole life. But Odets was the only one writing like this.

And the play itself — it's a beautiful New York morality play. It poses many questions that are very important for today's society. We just went through an election where half the country was voting basically for finances, and the other half was saying we should all just help each other. The play raises questions about what it means to be a success in today's society. Is it just that you've made a lot of money, or is success more than that? Is it something intrinsic, and based in morality and love and the arts and things like that? So Golden Boy is unbelievably significant, even 75 years later.

So you obviously think it's relevant today.
DB: Absolutely. Joe struggles, trying to decide what's most important in his life, something deep inside, his love of music, versus his wanting to be rich and famous. He's not sure he can have genuine happiness with either, but I think — I don't want to give too much away for the people who haven't seen it — but he obviously makes the wrong choice, or he makes the choice too late, and that's why it's a morality play.


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