You may recognize Dan Amboyer as Prince William from the made-for-TV William & Catherine: A Royal Romance or opposite Hilary Duff as Thad on TVLand’s Younger (which also stars two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster). But before the screen there was theatre. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Amboyer attended Interlochen Arts Academy. A true theatre nut, Amboyer now makes his directorial debut with Off-Broadway’s Whirwlind, from The Wild Project, which runs January 23–February 10.
The new comedy by Jordan Jaffe tells the story of Bethany, a health and safety manager at Arrow Energy—whose hundreds of wind turbines disrupt the migratory path of endangered birds. When wildlife advocate Michael tries to stop Arrow’s expansion, Bethany must circumvent his efforts—which gets complicated when they become involved romantically and as her boss inappropriately hits on her. Whirlwind examines questions of sexual politics, business, and what it truly means to be eco-friendly.
In this “Theatre Firsts” interview, Amboyer goes back to the first show that inspired him, the first job he ever booked, his first stage kiss, and what he's learning from his first outing as a director.
What was the first piece of theatre you ever saw?
Dan Amboyer: As a kid, I was obsessed with the Toronto sit-down production of Phantom [of the Opera]. I geeked over Colm Wilkinson and Rebecca Caine. I definitely didn’t understand everything, but those performances made me feel something. For my second visit, I created some colored pencil “phan” art for them, huddled outside their stage door in a blizzard, and then actually got invited in for a backstage tour by Rebecca. I was in awe.
What was your first audition ever?
As a kid, my parents took me to see the long-running annual production of A Christmas Carol at Meadow Brook Theatre, just outside of Detroit. After seeing the kids onstage, I begged my parents to help me get involved. We typed up a résumé of my second grade school plays (including my star turn as Captain Book in “Reader Pan”), and I slid it into the theatre’s box office window one day. I then auditioned for the next year’s cast, and got in!
What was your first paid acting gig?
That production of A Christmas Carol. I was the Turkey Boy at the end, and covered Tiny Tim. Booth Coleman (known for the 1945 (!!) production of Hamlet on Broadway) was Ebeneezer. He scared the beejeezus outta me every night.
What was the first theatre show you ever participated in?
A Christmas Carol was first. I also was part of the Donny Osmond tour of “Joseph” later on in my youth. I even auditioned for Gavroche and Chip (but I was actually “typed out” at the open calls before I could even open my mouth for being, well, too plump).
What was the first stage door you ever visited?
I became a huge Rent-head. One of those who slept out on the sidewalk for tickets and saw the show over and over. I also tried to audition for the show when I was 13 during their open call in Detroit, but, well... they smelled teen spirit, and I was ousted after the first 16 bars of my Fugees cover.
What was it like to see your name in a Playbill for the first time?
My first authentic Playbill was when I appeared in the world premiere of The Eclectic Society, a production that celebrated Walnut Street Theatre’s 200th anniversary of operation. I had the dressing room that once housed both Edwin Booth and Marlon Brando. My parents framed that Playbill for me and now it hangs in our guest bedroom.
What was the first fan gift you ever received?
I was gifted royal memorabilia after playing Prince William in the TV film William & Catherine: A Royal Romance, around the time of the royal wedding. I got a great royal coffee mug that I still use—that was delivered to me by a Prince Will fanatic while we were still on set shooting in Europe.
When did you first realize you wanted to direct?
Before going to college, I took a gap year to work with Meadow Brook Theatre assisting the artistic director, and I also worked backstage on Cirque du Soleil’s touring production of Quidam. I’ve always been very interested in all aspects of creating theatre. At Carnegie Mellon, I dabbled in directing a one-act, and also I remember taking over our freshman play project of “Curse of the Starving Class” after our teacher had to miss the final classes. I’ve always loved the process of creating something with a group of talented people—whether that’s onstage or off. I love supporting actors to discover the most exciting and dynamic version of a text, supported by innovative design choices.
When did you first come across Whirlwind? (And why did it speak to you?)
I originally played Cooper in the first workshop of Whirlwind that we did with Nico Tortorella and Annapurna Sriram. Once The Wild Project was lined up to put up the production, Jordan approached me to see if I would have interest in acting in it again, or if I would have an interest in taking the director’s chair. We have been developing the play between us for the past year or so, focusing much more on Beth’s (Annapurna Sriram) journey and development. The play has a very offbeat sense of humor, but it deals with extremely important environmental and political issues that face our world today. I believe this to be our next great task as a society—to create responsible changes to save our planet. This play brings that conversation to the forefront in a sly and intelligent way.
Who was your first theatre-celebrity talent crush?
Definitely John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig [and the Angry Inch]. I saw him at the old Jane Street Theatre back in the day on a school trip (little did I know I’d one day get to play opposite Miriam Shor on Younger!). When JCM returned to the role at the Belasco, I saw him play it five times. Fearless and full of life and humor. (Even when laid up for the entire performance in a leg cast!)
When (and with whom) was your first onstage kiss?Compleat Female Stage Beauty at Carnegie Mellon. As Ned Kynaston, the last actor to play female roles in Shakespeare, I got to start the show as Desdemona kissing Othello, and by the final scene, I was reinvented as Othello kissing a biologically female Desdemona. So that was cool!
In one word, what was it like to watch the first performance of Whirlwind?
I’ve never been so nervous for a first preview in my life. As an actor, you can dynamically adjust onstage if something goes awry, in a subtle feedback loop with the audience. But as a director, I suddenly realized I was powerless to help in any way, should something go south. My heart raced and palms sweated the entire show, even though everything went incredibly well!
What was your first thought when the curtain rose?
Maybe for the Broadway production we will have a show curtain!
What was the first thought you had when the curtain came down?
I probably [thought], maybe I should have used more staples?! But truthfully, just pure joy. I was so proud of the fantastic actors and designers, who meet every challenge with ease, humor, and determination.