BWW Interview: Megan McGinnis Reflects On Her Journey with COME FROM AWAY On Tour
The hit Broadway musical that has taken both New York and the rest of the country by storm, "Come From Away," has landed at the Aronoff Center through Sept. 29.
During her time here, I sat down to talk with Broadway star, Megan McGinnis (Bonnie & Others), to reflect on her time with the tour, touring with a toddler, how doing something as simple as smiling can turn a day around and so much more in the interview below.
McGinnis has had quite a career on stage, screen and in the recording studio. Broadway credits include: "Side Show," "Les Misérables," "Little Women," "Beauty and the Beast," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Parade" and "The Diary of Anne Frank." Before hitting the road with "Come From Away," she was last seen on stage in both London and Off-Broadway's productions of "Daddy Long Legs," which you can view on BroadwayHD.
McGinnis's other TV/film credits include: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "The Goofy Movie." She is also featured on the original cast albums of "Little Women," "Parade" and "Daddy Long Legs," as well as duets on Sutton Foster's "Wish" and "Take Me to the World" albums.
"Come From Away" has touched so many hearts in its two and a half years on Broadway as well as this past year on tour. What first drew you to this show?
I actually saw the show in previews on Broadway. It was my first date night out with my husband [Adam Halpin] after our son was born, and the first time we left him at home. He was three months old. We had some friends involved, so we wanted to see it purely as people who want to support their friends. I didn't know much about the show, except that all my friends who are involved in it spoke so highly of it. So, I sat in the audience, not knowing what to expect, but I knew I'd be emotional. Obviously, it deals with a very sensitive topic, or at least I thought, that's what it was about. I thought it was about 9/11, and I was in New York, on Sept. 11. I thought, "I don't know if I can handle this. First date night out, and I'm going to be reliving that day." But it was so unexpected how beautiful the story was and how I felt so uplifted by it. The story isn't about 9/11. What we say is it's about 9/12. I didn't know that this had happened in Gander. I didn't know about the planes diverted there; I didn't know about the people of Gander. I was just so filled with joy at the fact that there are people out there in the world who are this kind and this generous, and that it's this easy for them to act this way. And I was just happy to be an audience member, witnessing it, and then telling all my friends to go see it.
About a year later, my husband got an audition for it, and we talked about it and how he couldn't go on tour by himself. It had to be the both of us, but I didn't have an audition for it. So, he encouraged me to call my agent, and after some back and forth, I finally got in the door. We both ended up getting hired, and we realized this would be the perfect opportunity. Our son was 15 months old at the time, and we thought, "Wow. We get to go across the country and tell this incredible story to people who may not be able to make it to New York. Actually what's been fascinating is I meet a lot of people at the stage door who have seen the show in New York and just want to see it again in their hometown. But It's been such a privilege to tell this story this past year.
How did you find your experience with "Come From Away" to be different than the previous shows that you've worked on, such as: "Sideshow," "Little Women" and "Daddy Long Legs?"
I've never been in a show that's purely an ensemble. I've been in an ensemble. But this is simply 12 principal actors on stage, who are playing various roles. Everybody's role is about the same size. Everyone takes the spotlight and then gives the spotlight to their co-star. It's so back and forth, nobody leaves the stage, essentially, and if we do, it's only for a couple of seconds. We are all helping each other on stage, sort of in the same way that all the people help each other in Gander. There are simple little things. I pick up a prop for Claude two scenes before Claude needs it, and then as we both move between chairs, I give it to him so that no one can see it, and then he uses it five minutes later. It's these little things back and forth that we take care of each other. I always feel that the arts community embodies that, but I've never been in a show where it felt so much like that on a minute-to-minute basis.
You're about to leave the tour in two weeks, so it's only appropriate that we look back on this journey with the show and the company. What has been the greatest joy of working on "Come From Away," And is there something in particular that you'll miss?
Oh, I can't even talk about it without crying. I'm just going to miss everything so much. I can't even say that there's been a highlight because truly the entire year has been a highlight. I've never been involved in a show that has just spoken to me on such a level of humanity. It hasn't felt like I'm acting or doing a job. I mean, of course, I get tired, the travel's been absolutely exhausting, and we've had plenty of trials with traveling with a toddler. But it's just been so gratifying. I love telling this story every night. I love my company so much. They've truly become an extended family, especially traveling with my son.
He actually just left. My husband and my son left two weeks ago because my son started nursery school. I FaceTimed them the other day, and Beckett was really upset. I said, "What's wrong?" and he said, "I want to go home." I said, "Oh, buddy, You are home." He said, "No, new home," which is what we would call the hotel every week. We would say, "Oh, going to our new home!" And I realized he misses tour and he misses the family. He comes to the theater once a week, and he knows as much about the show as a two-year-old could know. He knows about the fish, and he knows about Gander the goose, and he knows about the turntable. He knows how to sing, "I'm an islander," and stomp his foot really hard. It's been such a perfect show to share with him.
In these stressful travel days, Adam and I think about just being kind because boy, is that hard to do sometimes. If these people can do that in the most extreme situations, we can surely do it on a long travel day. We can at least be kind to each other. Sometimes it's even easier to be kind to strangers.
But, I'm just going to miss absolutely everything. It will be good to go home. That's why we're leaving, we made this very difficult decision to leave, because we thought it was time for the three of us to be in one place together. But we're still going to miss it so much.
I can't imagine what it has been like for Beckett to see the country at such a young age and get to learn all about that.
Yeah, I wonder what he thinks about it because I don't know if he knows. We try to explain the states and the countries. For example, "We're at a new zoo. Do you understand this zoo is a five-hour flight from the other zoo we saw last week?" It's been very interesting.
You touched on the kindness of the people in Gander. Obviously, that's an overarching theme in the show: kindness, acceptance, and willingness to help others. Have you seen yourself grow in this aspect over the past year?
Yes, 100%. I feel like it has changed who I am. That may sound like an overstatement, but it's not. I think becoming a mom did that too in some ways. Like feeling how hard it is to have a kid and if I'm alone with him, or even not alone with him. Then I'm on the subway, and I have all the stuff, and when someone comes to help me, I just feel so, so happy that there are good people out there. I just try to do the same thing for others. But I do find myself in this last year looking for places to help people. Even if it's the smallest thing, like a smile, a thank you, a please or opening a door, volunteering when I can, giving money when I can. My goal is not to let that go when I leave the show. It's easier because I'm reminded every single night. I can't get lost in the energy of New York City, or too much in my own head of my own life because I get to tell the story every night. So, I know that that's helped me. Check-in with me in a year and I'll let you know how I'm doing.
There's obviously real-life people that you're telling the story about, and they've come to visit and see the show, so what has that been like getting to be on stage telling these people's story to them?
Oh, it's so cool. Bonnie is the best. We started rehearsals, and I Facebook friended her, and we started chatting. There are five companies of "Come From Away" now worldwide, a comfortable way. There are five Bonnies out there, plus, two standbys in every company that knows Bonnie, and I still think Bonnie is so floored by the fact that there's a musical telling her story. It was just what she said to me.
They come to visit us fairly frequently, considering the fact that they live so far. It's so great and so wonderful to meet these people who, when you talk to them about [9/12] and say, "Oh my gosh, you're incredible," they respond, "We just did what anybody would do," like it's no big deal! To this day, there are five companies across the world telling your story, and it's still no big deal.
We just love visiting with them. Oz. Beulah and Brian Mosher came to see us in Ottawa, and they screeched us in. We had a "screech in," and they brought the cod from Gander that we had to kiss, and let me tell you, the actual ceremony is way worse than what we portray on stage. You have to eat so many disgusting things to be screeched in. And certainly, the real-life cod is way more disgusting than our rubber one onstage. It was very cool, though.
We raise money for Broadway cares twice a year, and we ended up also collecting for the Gander SPCA last fall. We raised, I think, over $100,000 for them to build a new shelter. So it's really great when we get a chance to give back to them specifically.
Here's a little bit more of a fun question after the tearful ones. If you were to get diverted to Gander with any three of your previous characters, who would you pick?
That is fantastic! Oh, well, I mean, number one is Jerusha [from "Daddy Long Legs"]. She is the eternal optimist, so she really makes the best out of any circumstance. Beth [from "Little Women"] would be pretty calm about all of it, so that might be a nice addition. She'd see the beauty in everything. Then, Belle [from "Beauty and the Beast"] would want to go out and explore, so I think the three of them would be pretty great.
She wants adventure in a great, wide somewhere for sure.
*Laughs* Exactly! Then the thought of the three of them being screeched in... oh, that's fun. Someone's got to write a musical about that. But, all of them should be in their own period costumes still.
I want Belle in her gold dress.
Oh, I was envisioning the blue one, but sure. *Laughs* Let's do the gold one. That sounds more fun.
Finally, what is one thing that you will take with you from this experience as you go back to life at home with your husband and your son?
I have to pick one! Well, what we were talking about before with kindness. I just want to remember that being kind is not hard. Especially in our lives in New York, there are so many frustrations every day, and that's true in everyone's mundane life: the train is late, the train is packed, someone pushed me, someone let the door slam in my face, Beckett had a tantrum in Whole Foods... there's just so many things that want to get your blood boiling, or it's easier to get upset you think, right? That's your automatic reaction, and I just want to smile. I know that sounds so simple, but I want to think about where other people are coming from; not just me. I've got to look outside myself so much more than I do, and I think that's going to make me happier. So, I hope I can remember that when I get home.