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Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony Nominee David Pittu

We talk to Tony Nominee David Pittu, who is currently playing "Bertolt Brecht" in LoveMusik (Outer Critics Circle Award: Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical).

David appeared on Broadway in The Coast of Utopia, Never Gonna Dance. Off Broadway: Stuff Happens (Drama Desk Award: Outstanding Ensemble), Celebration & The Room (Drama Desk & Lucille Lortel nomination: Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play), Of Thee I Sing (Encores!), The Fourth Wall, Sympathetic Magic, The Lights, Hot Keys, The Butter and Egg Man (as director), and, as co-author, The Audience (Drama Desk nomination: Outstanding Musical). Regional/National tour:  Parade (National Broadway Award: Best Actor in a Musical), Titanic, Company (Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration), Moonlight and Magnolias (Alliance), The Mask of Moriarty (Old Globe). Film:  King Kong (Peter Jackson), Shortbus, The Spanish Prisoner.  TV:  "The Black Donnellys," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: SVU," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Third Watch," "Sex & the City," and "The Sopranos." Member: Atlantic Theater Company.

For tickets and more info on LoveMusik, click here.


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Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony-Nominated Actor: David Pittu

BROADWAY BULLET: LoveMusik is the new musical directed by Harold Prince, settling around the story of the marriage of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill. But everyone who's anyone in theater knows that a major character is that whole story is Bertolt Brecht, and actor David Pittu has gotten a Tony nomination for his very interesting portrayal of Bertolt Brecht. How are you doing?


David Pittu: I'm great. How are you?

BB: Good, it's so nice to have you here.

DP: It's great to be here.

BB: First thing I've got to say is: this performance of Brecht is really -- I don't know if I've seen a role where -- really, in a musical, the villain and the comic relief were like, all balled up in one. It's such a great, quirky performance.

DP: (laughs) Thank you. Thank you.

BB: So, what was behind this whole interpretation of Bertolt Brecht?

DP: Well, a lot of people had a hand in it, I guess. Hal Prince [director] and Alfred Uhry [bookwriter] and Pat[ricia] Birch [choreographer], and even -- I would include Judith Dolan, the costume designer. It was trying to find the perfect balance of a really strange non-song-and-dance man. and trying to turn him into one.

BB: Bertolt Brecht definitely was not the song-and-dance man.

DP: (laughs) But I think it's more of a sort of fantasy depiction of the myth of Brecht, you know? A lot of the myths about him and his women, and his ways of dealing with people were sort of all thrown in togethe, and heightened, certainly. (laughs) Because everybody says that he was an absolute prick to deal with in real life. But he was a genius and, most people say: "The more that you read about Brecht, the less you end up liking him," which could be true, but if you have to play him, obviously, you have to love him.

BB: And you play the most perfectly lovable/hatable -- (laughs) And you have a great tango number – your entrance, basically, that really, kind of steals the show.

DP: Oh, well thank you. I think that that's actually one of the best sort of things that the show tries to do, and actually really kind of pulls off, because it's taking, obviously a song from another show – a Brecht/Weill show, obviously, The Threepenny Opera – and using it to our own storytelling end. And, yeah, I think we've reworked that one in a really good way in terms of showing, especially since it's the introduction the audience gets to Brecht, that he was -- he certainly had this sort of factory of women around him, and I think the song really kind of – even though the song lyrics are about a pimp and a prostitute – in a way, symbolically, that is how many people see Brecht as having used the women around him, because a lot of [the women] contributed to his writing and sort of went uncredited. And I guess you could consider that to be pimping of a certain kind. (laughs)

BB: And the choreography puts you in continuous, very close proximity with three very lovely women. 

DP: Yeah, it's a great little number.

BB: Was that difficult to pull off?

DP:  It was difficult rehearsing, certainly, because it was really, like, putting a little puzzle together, and we -- Pat Birch never wanted us to really be disengaged once we sort of come together, and I think it's -- yeah, we turn into this little machine. It's really cool, and it's really fun to do.

BB: You've had kind of a busy year. This is already your second Broadway production this year, as well.

DP: Yeah. Or you could say my fourth! (laughter) [referring to the three plays of The Coast of Utopia] Yeah, I've had an incredible year. I've had so much fun, and I've worked with so many incredible people, and such great material. It's really kind of amazing. 

BB:Yeah, Harold Prince, and another legend in the playwriting field with The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard.

DP: Tom Stoppard himself, who's an amazing guy and great to be around, and certainly this sort of thread off communist thinking through both the shows [Utopia and Lovemusik], which seems to hold them together.

BB: What was the process like? How grueling was the full days of The Coast of Utopia?

DP: The marathons?

BB: Yes.

DP: They were great. I have to say the very first one was tremendous, because we had no idea what to expect. And we didn't take a curtain call after each play, obviously, and when we took the bow after the third play, it really was like nothing I'd ever experienced, or I don't think anybody else had ever experienced before, or ever will, because after nine hours of theater, it was just immediate standing ovation before we were hardly even -- the lights had barely come up ,and the audience had just rose to their feet. And Jack O'Brien had staged this bow specifically for marathon days, where we knelt down, and we put our hand over our heart, and then we applauded the audience. So it was really just exactly what you always want it to feel like. It was really thrilling.

BB: How did you get involved? Where did you study? What was your kind of career trajectory heading into acting?

DP: I went to NYU, and I graduated in '89. The last year I was at NYU, I was involved a lot with Atlantic Theater Company, who had just started, for a few years, doing a program through NYU, and I studied with them the last year. And then when I graduated, I continued working with them, and apprenticing, and stuff, with the theater company. We used to go to Vermont a lot in the summertimes. And then about '92, '93, I think, I became a member of the company. And so I've been connected with them a lot, too, and I love working there: I teach there, I've directed shows there, acted in shows there --

BB: And Atlantic Theater Company definitely had a hot streak this past year.

DP: Yeah! Also connected to Brecht, because, Wedekind, who wrote Spring Awakening, was a huge hero of Brecht. And actually, that was one of the  surprises I learned about Brecht, reading about him – that he really modeled himself in large part after Wedekind, and even his own early singing style was modeled after Wedekind, who used to perform. And Brecht's whole performance style was kind of stolen from him a little bit. But in homage, you know, that kind of enfante terrible sort of persona.


BB: One thing I find amazing for this, in a lot of ways, is it's pretty much a jukebox musical -- you've taken a lot of Kurt Weill's songs, just from various places, and compiled it -- but what I found kind of intriguing is: it really doesn't feel like a jukebox [musical]. The lyrics do pretty much fit the situations pretty well, of what the characters are going through, and they --  

DP. Yeah, and also you have to remember, too, thank God, that most jukebox musicals are songs written for jukeboxes.

BB: Yeah.

 DP: These songs [in Lovemusik] are written for the theater, so it's -- and a lot of them did become popular standards obviously, but yeah, I think it's a great catalogue of -- I mean, certainly, there are lots of people who say: "Why didn't you use 'Pirate Jenny'?" and other songs, but, you know, there's -- I think the primary interest was telling the love story and not just, you know, showing off the songs.

BB: So what's it like, getting the reviews that say that you often manage to steal the scenes from such established legends as Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy?

DP: I didn't know I had gotten those reviews! (laughs) 

BB: I know I've seen a couple that use those wordings!

DP: Oh, I don't know. I mean, tt's such a joy to work with the two of them, I can't tell you. I love acting with them. I think that when the three of us are doing it onstage together, we really do feel like the three of those people, I think. The chemistry between us seems like it --   we can try to approximate what it would have been like between the three of those legends. It is cast well, I must say, Hal did a good job in that regard. I think everybody walks into a Hal Prince project knowing that really good acting is expected of you. And, I think Donna and Michael are definitely, as I like to think of myself, transforming actors: they don't just have a, sort of persona that they play all the tim,e and they really do kind of lose themselves in their parts. And that's the kind of stuff I like to do, somehow, I don't know, channeling whatever it is I like to think Brecht would have been like, or something, if I can be so presumptuous. (laughs). But I keep thinking he's gonna do something horrible, like his ghost is gonna drop something on me, or something, because he's just, you know, when you read the stories about him, you think he would definitely not like somebody playing him. (laughs)

BB: (laughs) I'm sure he'd be very flattered. (laughs) 

DP: I hope so!

BB: Now, another kind of interesting twist on this whole show is that Hal Prince worked with Lotte Lenya in the original Cabaret. And how many layers does that add to the production, when the director, way back in his, you know early days --

DP: I don't know, I think you'd probably have to ask Donna that because I think -- I didn't really hear him talk too much about her so much, but I must say that you can really see how he is a -- he's internalized Brecht, whether he realizes it or not, there's a lot of similarities between Hal and Brecht. I mean it in the positive sense, in terms of: like, his sense of fighting, and his sense of, you know, always sort of reacting against something, and wanting his shows to have some kind of social commentary. I think that's there even in this, there's still, like, this sort of jab at America, even with Brecht, and his lawsuits, and all of these things that sort of become hand-in-hand with American success, is the loss of one's goodness, or something.

BB: Brecht, who most dislikes America, takes on its most Americans lawsuit qualities.

DP: Yeah, exactly. And I think that that's a theme that runs through so many of Hal's shows: Pacific Overtures, certainly, obviously, even Follies, just that sour sort of -- Sweeney Todd, certainly. It's that feeling of corruption, what happens to people in the world, and especially in America, I think. And Hal Prince's life, I think, is an interesting combination of that, too. He's somebody who's really, hugely successful in American show business, but yet, he's always kind of twisting it a little bit in the shows, I think. He's never satisfied with being comfortable. And he was always saying that to me, when he has me in the audience, obviously a few times, and I was really resistant to it because I have to walk through people's aisles, and step on their feet, and everything, and I said, "People aren't gonna like this." And he said, "That's exactly why I wanna do it. I wanna make them uncomfortable." And when he said that, I thought: Oh, I see. Okay. That's how I have to think of this, and embrace that.

BB: Are you anxious for the Tony awards?

DP: Yeah, I mean, anxious -- I don't know, I'm excited. I'm keeping my expectations extremely low, but I've never been to the Tonys, so I'm happy to go the first time as a nominee, especially for a Hal Prince show, which is sort of like a childhood dream come true. So yeah, I'm very excited; very excited to go to that. I had to buy a tux, which I've never done before, so it was about time. 

BB: Off-the-rack or did you get a designer?  

DP: It was off-the-rack. (laughs) But it was certainly not off-the-rack price.


BB: Well, I definitely wish you the best of luck.

DP: Well, thank you. 

BB: And I do urge people to rush to check out LoveMusik, because --

DP: Yeah, I hope they will. I think it's a really -- a lot of people, which always surprises me, say that they've never heard of these people, and they didn't know their story, and I think that's really important. I think it's a really great way to learn about this period of history, and theater history, and the contribution that these – yes, Brecht, but the show really isn't about Brecht, it's more about Lenya and Weill. It's great to hear people talk about how they wanna go out, and read books about these people now, and buy the CDs, and listen to [Weill's] shows. I always assume everybody knows the Kurt Weill canon, but a lot of people really don't. They know Threepenny, but his music is incredible, so --

BB: Well, David, I thank you so much for stopping by the studio, and chatting with everybody.  

DP: Thank you for having me. 

BB: Best of luck with everything upcoming in your glowing career.

DP: Thank you. Take care.


You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol 118. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

 or MP3 Feed with XML

Third photo by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.

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