BWW Interview: Debut of the Month - DAMES AT SEA's Danny Gardner
Danny Gardner is making his Broadway debut as 'Lucky' in the delightful new musical Dames at Sea, a jubilant celebration of the golden era of movie musicals. Directed and choreographed by three-time Tony Award nominee Randy Skinner, the show has been re-imagined for Broadway and features rollicking tap dancing, love at first sight romance, joyful music and plenty of laughs.
Today, Gardner talks exclusively to BroadwayWorld and shares his journey from a hyper, five-year-old little boy to a tap-dancing, show-stopping star making his Broadway debut!
[NOTE: Kicking off with the October Debut of the Month, BroadwayWorld.com's fabulous photographer Walter McBride has set up a special shoot to capture images of the rising Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column. Check them out throughout the feature below!]
Let's start from the beginning. How did you first become interested in tap dancing?
Well I started when I was about five years old. I'm the middle child, I have an older brother and a younger sister, and when I would come home from school I would be bouncing off the walls because I had a lot of energy, and my parents wanted to find an after school activity for me to do that would tire me out! And so they found a local dance studio and originally I started with acrobatics. I did that for about a semester, and I was about to leave the studio when the owner said, 'why don't you put him in tap dance?' There was an all-boys tap dance class for boys about five and six years old, which is very unique to have at that age, and I really liked it. So then of course, my parents still had an energetic kid who also now had metal on his shoes! But anyway, I've stayed with it ever since I was five years old.
Your character Lucky is also very energetic, so I assume you can relate to him in many ways.
Yeah, absolutely! I think I mostly relate to Lucky because he is always very energetic, and he's always ready with a joke. I decided his animal spirit would be a dog. He's always kind of like, 'hey, what's that over there? Oh yeah, we should totally do that! Oh, wait, what's over there?' and he gets distracted, especially by women, all the time. I mean that's kind of his M.O. and he goes with it. And [his girlfriend] Joan is the only one that can handle him in that way. She can give it right back to him, and that really intrigues him. She is played by Mara Davi and she is just so wonderful. She's a star.
She is a star. She literally glows up on stage.
She really does, it's amazing. I tell her that all the time, I'm like, 'hey, I'm just trying to keep up with you, I hope you know that!' We both adore each other so much and we have a similar relationship that Joan and Lucky have, as far as the mutual respect that they have for each other. So yeah, I just love how Lucky is so energetic and excited and ready to jump in full force for pretty much anything that comes his way.
What do you think it is about the era of the big Hollywood movie musical that is still so appealing to Broadway audiences today?
You know I think it's that this type of entertainment will never go out of style, because there's something really American about it. We know it, and it feels comfortable in a way. And one of things that is so exciting to me this season on Broadway is the variety of shows. I mean you have "Hamilton", which is ground-breaking, you have "Fun Home", which is amazing, it won the Tony as well it should, we have all these amazing, beautiful shows, and then there is also room on Broadway for these kind of shows that harken back and remind us of where this all really began.
So many people who have seen the show have said to me, 'I've just been transported. I just forgot for two hours!' And I think that's really unique. This show seems very ingrained in our entertainment style. We know these characters before we are even introduced to them and I think that is exciting and something that audiences clue into. And that relatability is so exciting and galvanizing for the audience. So yeah, that's why it's important to say this is where it all started and people still get joy from that. There's something simple about saying a few lines and then tap dancing and singing. And I think the purity of it is what is so joyful. It's so simple and that's the way it was and the way it is.
Or the way we wish it was.
Yes - the way it can be!
Speaking of those old, classic movie musicals, if you could go back in time, is there one particular actor from that era who you wish you could have worked with?
Oh my gosh. Well I wish I could have worked with Fred Astaire. As I was doing research for this, there's a specific number in 'Follow the Fleet', it's this really short tap dance that he does, and the amount of control he had to have in order to look out of control still amazes me to this day. I don't know anyone that can do that nowadays. I mean his upper body, his feet, his rhythm and style are so unique, even today, that I would have just loved to have been in the room to watch him and ask him 'how did you create that?'
To see Astaire and [choreographer] Hermes Pan, coming up with those steps - that to me is magic. For those two giants to be in a room and to create steps together and then to film - there's something just so magic and pure about that, I think that is who I really would have loved to meet, but also to watch work.
And Astaire was also a perfectionist. When he was younger, it was his sister who got all the praise so he felt like he wasn't good enough, which is crazy. But that's why he was notorious for working all the time until the number was perfect. It was because he had this fear that he wasn't good enough. And he would come off screen and be like, 'was that okay? I don't know.' And I think every artist has that, but just to know that he was that good, yet also that insecure was mind-boggling. And humanizing, which is really beautiful. So I would have loved to have seen that.
And I read another one of your idols is Tommy Tune, who you actually had the chance to work with at Encores' "Lady Be Good" last year. What was that experience like?
It was overwhelming! When I found out that I got the part I was like 'oh great!' But when I found out that Tommy Tune was involved I was like, 'oh my gosh, that's great but that's terrifying!' He came by my hometown when I was 10 years-old and I got to see his traveling show, which was amazing. And I stayed after and he signed my shoes, and he took a picture with my sister and I, because she was a tap dancer as well. And I showed it to him during rehearsals for "Lady Be Good", and he said, 'oh, we have to take another picture!'. So my sister came in and we took another picture!
Oh, how great - I love it!
Yeah, he was so great and so generous and nice. Randy Skinner had choreographed "Lady Be Good" as well, and he had choreographed this beautiful solo for me in Act II and the first time I showed it to everybody in the rehearsal room I was walking back to my seat and Tommy stopped me and said, 'that was heavenly!' And that was, well who could ask for anything more? The King of Broadway - it was amazing. My dream came true!
And now here you are on Broadway!
And I really have to thank Randy Skinner. I think Randy fought for me. I think he said, 'he needs to be in this' and there's no way I can repay that beyond trying to uphold his beautiful work. You know it's so hard in this business to get here and I try to continually remind myself of that. There are so many other people who are doing their work and doing beautiful work and I'm very,very lucky. My fiance and I, she's an actor as well, we say that fifty percent is you and fifty percent has nothing to do with you. So you have to be ready, with your song, with your dance, but fifty percent has nothing to do with you. And that fifty percent for me I think, was Randy Skinner. He fought for me and said give him a chance. And he started my Broadway career.
And what has it been like to make your Broadway debut in Dames at Sea?
It's been amazing! Everybody in the cast is so enthusiastic about each other's performances. The camaraderie is tangible. And specifically, at our first preview, they were so happy for me and everyone's been very generous in saying, 'this is long overdue, you should be here, You're in the right place.' And the response from my hometown has been amazing too. Because I've been in New York for a little time now, and doing the regional gigs and I learned a lot there and on the road a little bit, so to know that I worked really hard and now it's paying off in this beautiful show, it is really great to have that response from home. Again another dream come true. 2015 has been a very good year for me - knock on wood!
Congratulations to Danny Gardner on making his first appearance on Broadway. The American Musical Theatre Academy is also making its debut in New York! Our school has been grooming young performers in London for five years and we are proud and excited to be opening a school in Manhattan. We're happy to support BroadwayWorld's Debut of the Month, since bringing fresh new talent to the stage is what we're all about. Check out our website www.tamta.com - training takes place in New York AND at our school in London for part of the winter term. All our tutors are working professionals."
About Danny Gardner: Danny Gardner's New York credits include Dick Trevor in LADY, BE GOOD at City Center Encores!; Everybody Gets Cake! for which he received a Drama Desk nomination; TIME STEP at the New Victory' ALL DANCING! ALL SINGING! at the 92nd Street Y and ROOM 17B for which he received a second Drama Desk nomination.
National tours include Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS, HERE TOSTAY: THE GERSHWIN EXPERIENCE, and 42ND STREET.
Regional credits include four shows at Goodspeed, including Frank in SHOWBOAT, ; nine shows at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, including Chuck in PROMISES, PROMISES; and the world premiere of Noah Racey's PULSE at Asolo Repertory.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos