BWW Interviews: TV's New Normal Star Andrew Rannells Talks About Singing for S.T.A.G.E.
Actor/singer/dancer Andrew Rannells, Tony nominated Broadway star of The Book of Mormon, for which he won a Grammy Award, and new star of NBC TV's The New Normal as well as HBO's Girls, will make an onstage appearance for one night only singing in S.T.A.G.E.'s Broadway My Way on Saturday April 6 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. In our chat he talks about success in Mormon, Jersey Boys, in his two current TV sitcoms, both of which focus on gay men, Broadway My Way...and more.
Tell me about Broadway My Way and what you're doing in it. I love David Galligan's sense of humor, so I'm sure it will be a great show.
Yeah, it's quite a group. I'm very excited about it. I'm thrilled to join them. I was asked what I might like to sing or what I've always wanted to sing, so I'm doing "What Kind of Fool Am I?" from Stop the World I Want to Get Off.
You have a great voice for that!
Oh, thank you very much! I'm really excited about it. I've never sung the song before and I've always wanted to.
Any comedy involved?
No, I'm not the comic relief this time. I'm leaving that to some other folks. I'm playing it straight, as it were.
Well, I'm sure it will be great. What's it like to have a Grammy and a Tony nomination?
(he laughs) Well, it's very nice. The Grammy thing...Josh Gad and I were so surprised by that. When it happened, we were still doing The Book of Mormon in New York, so neither one of us really got to participate in the activities. All the parties we were invited to were in Los Angeles, so the evening the awards happened, we were doing a show, and we got a text message saying that we had won. It was very exciting, but it felt a little funny not to be there.
You're from Omaha, Nebraska, a small town boy. Did that help you to develop the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon?
There was kind of a midwestern shorthand that came in handy. I'm from Nebraska, Elder Price from Colorado. It wasn't so much religion...I wasn't raised Mormon, I was raised Catholic. But there was just an understanding of the general tone of this guy and these kids who go out as missionaries. So being from the mid west was helpful, I will say that.
I saw Gavin Creel do the role here in LA. I understand you guys are pals.
He's one of my oldest and best friends. I was so excited that he's getting the opportunity to play this part.
Tell me about Jersey Boys and your involvement in that. You were with that quite some time, correct?
I did it for about 2 years. I started in a company in San Francisco and then moved to a company that toured a little bit, and then we opened the Toronto company and then I finished my run with 6 months on Broadway. All in all it was about 2 years that I did Jersey Boys. I loved doing it...completely different from Book of Mormon. It was also such a great role, playing Bob Gaudio. The real Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli were very much involved in the production at the time. It was very cool to get to meet him and hang out with those guys. The show was such a hit every place we went. It was thrilling getting to open it in these new cities.
What are you two TV characters like?
Two very different characters. Elijah on Girls is a little bit of a mess. He and Hannah in this last season just kind of tripped around New York and Elijah made a lot of bold and hilarious mistakes in his friendships with Hannah and Marnie. Bryan Collins in The New Normal is a very established, very successful television producer who is in a very committed relationship and ready to start a family. It was interesting. We shot Girls first and I finished in July. Right away I went to Los Angeles and started in early August with The New Normal. We start the third season of Girls in mid-April and it's yet to be decided exactly what my involvement will be, but I'm happy to be there.
Who are your idols? Do you have any?
Most recently, at the time I moved to New York, I think that Patrick Wilson was a really big influence.Watching him do The Full Monty, and the tour of Carousel, and then seeing his whole career sort of explode with the film of Angels in America...he was definitely inspirational for me. He's a great actor and such a nice guy. I've never gotten to work with him, but have had the chance to hang out with him a little. Dick Latessa has also been a big influence on me. I did Hairspray, but not with him, and then years later we did workshops on Little Miss Sunshine. I just completely fell in love with Dick. I think he's a great example of somebody who just consistently does really great work, and he's worked for decades in the theatre and on TV and film. I think that's what every actor aspires to, that kind of longevity and that body of work he's created. I greatly admire him. Role models are an ever changing thing for me. I work with people that maybe I didn't know before and...
Well, you're just beginning.
People ask me what the turn was. It feels like it was getting my first Broadway show. Being cast in Hairspray was a huge deal for me. Even though I was a replacement in the ensemble, it felt like the biggest thing that had ever happened. Hopefully you keep having these moments where you feel like you've reached a new level.
What role would you like to play?
The Book of Mormon taught me it's probably not been written yet. What I took away from that was the excitement of creating a show and creating a role. If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would have had a long list of things that I would love to do...and maybe some of those things are still possible... but it's the shows that are yet to be discovered that mean the most to you. I would love to go back to New York and do another musical, certainly, but I haven't pondered what, because maybe it doesn't exist yet.
Do you have a favorite musical of all time?
I think that's a tie: West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. West Side Story was the first musical I was aware of as a kid. Sweeney Todd to me is a perfect show.
As an openly gay man, how do you feel about the way things are right now? Do you think we've made strides?
I think you have to look at where we were five years ago to where we are today. I think there are big strides. Historically speaking, we're moving much faster than a lot of civil rights. It sometimes feels like there's not a lot happening. Since Gavin (Creel) and Rory O'Malley started Broadway Impact in ... 2008, even in that brief amount of time, it's amazing to see how much work has been done and how much progress has been made. We're definitely on the right track, and it's definitely moving. I may not be satisfied but I'm encouraged by what's happened. There's very much a conversation that's happening that didn't really exist even a few years ago. Public opinion is changing, and I'm happy to be a part of a television show with The New Normal. Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler (executive producers/creators) really are conversation starters. I'm thrilled, being the other half of a gay relationship with Justin Bartha, to be a little part of a larger conversation that includes gay parents, gay marriage... so we're definitely on the right track.
Andrew Rannells is most assuredly on the right track to stardom, so catch him on April 6 at the Saban Theatre for S.T.A.G.E.'s annual fundraiser for APLA (Aids Project LOs Angeles), this year's show called Broadway My Way.