Debut of the Month: Once Upon a December Debut - ANASTASIA's Cody Simpson
Australian singer-songwriter Cody Simpson makes his Broadway debut as "Dmitry" in the hit Broadway musical ANASTASIA. Featuring a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, and score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the musical tells the story of a brave young woman who sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, she enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family. Today the talented pop star speaks to BroadwayWorld about making the transition from arena rock concert to the lights of Broadway!
[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Walter McBride captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Cody Simpson throughout the feature!]
Congratulations on ANASTASIA! Was Broadway something you always hoped to do at some point in your career?
Yes, it's something I've always been interested in. You kind of view it as something almost unattainable until you start to rationalize doing it yourself. So yes, I've always been interested in it, since the time I was thirteen or fourteen. The very first time I came to The States I came right to New York and I remember walking around Times Square, I saw a couple of shows and I thought, "I'd love to come here and do this." But I was so young then, and it's funny now, nine years later, to be here doing it, it's incredible. I had started doing auditions for films and musicals, and that eventually led me to this role, which was a perfect first project to be introduced to theater.
How difficult was it to come into a lead role of a show that has been running for almost a year and a half?
Yeah, it was certainly a lot of pressure. I think typically you'd start in a supporting role or an ensemble role, or maybe even an off-Broadway role. So to come into a lead role on Broadway, especially taking over a role that has been played by two phenomenal actors in the past, that is some large shoes to fill. So all you can do is take it in stride and not be intimidated by it and just do the very best you can. And that's kind of what I've done. I've done a little bit of vocal training in Los Angeles and I had about three to four weeks of formal, daily rehearsals before going in, and that is a relatively typical amount of time for someone being put into a show.
Were you able to do a complete run-through with the entire company prior to your opening night?
Yeah, only one. I had my first dress rehearsal, full company run-through on the afternoon of my opening.
Wow - talk about pressure!
Yeah, but I was well prepared by then, I knew my part and I was ready to get integrated into the production. And I was certainly amazed by the whole thing. I had seen the show many times, but being up on stage with the whole production, the whole cast, the set design, the whole thing, it's really remarkable how well it's done. I actually often found myself getting distracted by the amazing screens they have going on stage, but I had a wonderful time and I went in guns blazing.
Do you think your concert experience helped you prepare for the Broadway stage?
Yes, in a sense there is certain common ground between the two experiences which translates well from a rock concert to the theater experience. In both cases, you are entertaining people, but as an actor it was a new kind of a thing for me, especially having been an aspiring actor for a few years now. To have the opportunity to carry a leading male part is a large responsibility, but is something I was really excited to do, more so even than singing these incredible songs. To be able to play a role like this is really the exciting part for me.
Have you been able to find similarities between yourself and your character, Dmitry?
Absolutely. In particular, his rebellious nature and his contempt for authority were things that I was very quickly able to identify with. At the beginning of the show, Dmitry wants to revolt against authority and make his way in the world, go against the grain a little bit. And it's similar to me choosing a life that is not really typical, dropping out of school quite young and taking the route I've chosen to take. I've always been interested in kind of doing the thing that you weren't necessarily recommended to do. So that was definitely something I liked about Dmitry.
Do you think the story of ANASTASIA is relevant to what is going on in the world today?
I do, and I think it is a good time for this kind of story to be told because I think in a sense people need almost mythological figures to look to and believe in, especially when you have people in power who are not necessarily ideal moral examples. And while monarchies are obviously outdated, one of the things that I like about this story is that we get to play out the romance behind them, the almost mythological idea behind them, and kind of go against that whole Leningrad mentality. So I think it does feel, in some ways, that there is a common thread with today's times. And that's probably what I like most about theater, the idea that you are able to play out stories and you're able to play out myths and you're playing out people's fantasies on stage for them. And I believe that is why theater is still going so strong today, because people want to see these things unfold and want to live vicariously through the characters and project themselves onto them. And for me, that's a really fun thing to do.
What advice did your fellow cast mates have for you when you joined the show?
Eat sour candies to keep your mouth salivated and keep your voice from drying out. That was one of the things I learned from Christy [Altomare]. She eats Sour Patch Kids throughout the show and it actually works surprisingly well! And there were other tips here and there, but what I like about the theater is that actors like to give their fellow actors the freedom to perform however they are feeling in any particular moment or any particular evening. You can develop your relationships with your cast mates, but at the same time, everyone lets each other play the way they'd like to play, and that's kind of the fun of it. Because you surely never know what you're going to do every night, especially working with someone like John [Bolton], who has such a comedic mind. He's always changing things up for me every day, and it's really fun because I'm often caught in a state of suspense on stage, looking at him and wondering, 'what the hell is he going to do now?!' And that's really fun because if it was so repetitive and robotic, I don't think it would be enjoyable to do eight times a week.
Has this experience inspired you to write new music?
Absolutely, I've already been extremely inspired by it. And the experience has also been amazing for everything from my vocal abilities to my discipline as an entertainer, having to perform so regularly at such a high caliber. So it has really benefitted me in all kinds of ways and of course creatively too.
What was it like to make your Broadway debut in Anastasia?
An extreme blur! I really don't have a whole lot of recollection from it. I remember getting dressed and getting ready to go out and drinking some tea and then doing the show and before I knew it, it was over and everybody was congratulating me and all that. It was really a lot of adrenaline of course, but I've always had a knack for turning that into positive energy, and so it was a ball. And I remember we went out afterwards and I hung out with the entire cast, and for me, it immediately felt like family!
BroadwayWorld congratulates Cody Simpson on his Broadway debut in ANASTASIA. Simpson burst onto the music scene in 2009 after being discovered and signed by Atlantic Records. He has gone on to release multiple records, tour with Justin Bieber, and created his new band, Cody Simpson & the Tide. Cody recently performed for the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace and spoke at the United Nations Ocean Conference as the UN Development Program's Ocean Advocate.