BWW Interviews: Colin Hanlon of DCPA's THE 12 Chats About His Show, Submissions Only, Modern Family
I sat down with Colin Hanlon, whose Broadway credits include Rent and Wicked. BroadwayWorld fans know him as Tim from Submissions Only. You might also recognize him from his role on Modern Family. Currently, Colin is currently performing in the world premiere of The 12 with Denver Center Theatre Company.
So tell me about The 12.
It's great! I would say it's a huge undertaking for everybody who's involved in it. From what Robert Schenkkan tells us and the research I've done on my own, there's really no history on the three days after the crucifixion. No one knows what these 11 guys talked about in a room and what happened. But they're really good about not making it a solely Christian show. It's really about these 11 men and two women who lose somebody who's really important to them. It's rocked their world and made them look at everything a completely different way within a matter of days. And all of a sudden, he's gone. How do they recover from that?
It doesn't get too religion heavy. I think that's hard because, well, [composer] Neil Berg is Jewish, and all the disciples were Jewish to begin with. I'm very, very fascinated to see what audiences will take away from it. It's sort of a universal story, so anyone who comes, regardless of what your faith or non-faith is, or your sexuality or ethnicity, it's a universal story. At least that's what we're hoping it will be.
It's being compared to Jesus Christ Superstar. Is it pretty much the same genre, music-wise?
I would say no. Tony Vincent, who's in our show and played Judas in the revival, we were talking the other day, and to me Jesus Christ Superstar feels like musical theatre rock and roll...like, there are rock elements to it, but I feel like Neil has such a good job of really having an authentic rock score, from what I can tell. There's a little bit of pop in there, a little rap, some musical theatre, some folk music infused into it. Jesus Christ Superstar to me is one-sound rock. It sounds like '70s musical theatre rock and roll, while our show has a specific way they sing, in a specific music type. I feel like my songs are very different from what Tony sings, and what Christina [Sajous, who plays Mary] sings. She's more Janis Joplin, I'm giving more Billy Joel, and Tony's giving some U2.
Who's your character?
My character is Peter. He is considered the rock out of all the disciples. He's the first one in the play to unravel and admit he betrayed "teacher," as we call him. The word Jesus is never used in our show, ever, which I think is super smart and fascinating. It goes back to me saying they're really trying to make it a universal story. Peter's a super complicated character. You don't know in the first few numbers what's going on with him, but something's up. And then he has a huge confession about what he did wrong. Slowly, one by one, all the other guys admit we betrayed our teacher in a way and didn't step up when he needed help. In the end, it's like it was meant to be, and that's what we all had to learn. He ends up being a sort of leader as the play goes on. Everyone looks to him for guidance, but he doesn't really have the answers, at all. He's working it out as he goes along, and people challenge him at time. He's got a lot of conflict with others. It's a very cool character. A lot of singing. I feel very lucky, and I have some of the most beautiful stuff to sing.
Did you get your beard for the show?
My beard came out of pure laziness. In the fall, I just did not feel like shaving, at all. The longer I kept it, friends were like, "That looks really good, you should probably keep it." And then I came in for audition, for an apostle, and I figured I'd keep it. It worked, and when they called to offer it to me, they were like "Tell him to keep his beard if it's okay." So I did. Other cast members who can grow facial hair did too.
Tell me about some of your cast mates.
They're all great. It's crazy, I've never done a show with so many men in my entire life, and that's hilarious. I mean, I did Rent on Broadway for a little while, but there were so many women in it as well-we were split 50/50 -- but this is so heavily male-oriented. The first few days of rehearsal the female actresses didn't even show up. It was just like guy bonding, you know? It's interesting because there's gay guys and straight guys in the cast, and everyone gets along. It really is awesome. I feel like I'm on an episode of The Real World because we've only known each other for three weeks, but we know so much about each other. Now I get why those reality TV shows work. You're staring at each other and crying and doing scenes and you learn so much about everybody. I know people say that all the time about their cast mates, but I really do love these guys. The play couldn't happen without everybody on stage being super connected to what we're doing. It's a very special piece.
I've also never done a show where as soon I enter, I never leave. No one leaves except the two females at certain points. Once we set foot, we never leave until the curtain call. There is an intermission, though. It'll never be the same show ever.
There's an incredible moment where Mother Mary, Jeannette Bayardelle, sings...I'm not gonna tell you where it is or what happens, but it's really kind of amazing. She has an incredible voice. She slays us every day. I feel like they cast great singers for the most part in our show, but then she comes out, and you're like "...nope." Nobody sings like her.
Is there a focus on dance in the show?
Connor Gallagher is our choreographer, and Nancy Renee Braun and him work as a team. Nancy was out here first because Connor was choreographing something for Disney, and then he came out for the last couple weeks. The movement is very cool and interesting. It's very character- and actor-driven before it's just movement, but to me it looks really cool and fits with what they're doing lighting-wise. At certain points you really feel like you're in a live rock music concert. There are points when I'm like, "I'm in a Janet Jackson video...crazypants." The pictures I've seen look super cool.
Have you worked in a space like the Stage Theatre before?
I've done a couple things in a thrust stage. George Street Playhouse is like that, but not as big as this theater is. I'm very impressed by Denver in general. This theatre company is pretty outstanding. They treat their employees well, the space is really clean. All of us are not ready to leave Denver anytime soon.
This is the first full staging of The 12, right?
To my knowledge, yes. They did a concert, but this is the first time.
And some of the same cast from the concert returned?
Tony's done it, and Andrew Mayer, who plays Bart. [Andrew] is also one of the musicians; he plays violin. There are some cast members who play during the piece. I've never done it.
I didn't know any of the creative team except Wendy Cavett, who's our music supervisor. We worked on a couple projects in New York. When I got the audition, I read it, then I realized it was Robert [Schenkkan] who wrote it. I had seen All The Way, that play with Bryan Cranston, last year, and I was very impressed by him, so I was excited to go in. That was in December. I'm happy they asked me!
It's not easy subject matter, but there are moments of laugher. You feel like you're being shot out of a cannon, at least as a performer. It's super intense, but the payout at the end is beautiful. It allows the audience to breathe for a second.
Do you relate to any of the show's religious content?
I didn't grow up with any kind of organized religion. My parents both went to Catholic school. They told me what happened to my character in the story, biblically. I think that speaks volumes to the play itself because I don't think you have to have an understanding of religion to be interested. You watch the struggle of these characters. Anybody who's ever lost anybody, whether it's death or a relationship broke up, can relate to the struggle they're going through. If you love somebody, and then they're gone, it's totally out of your control. You just go through the 10 steps of grieving. That's really what this play is about. At the end, they try to pull themselves up, like: "We can't wallow in our self-pity. We have to go out and try to make a difference in the world. Or at least a difference in ourselves."
Could you compare The 12 to another show, content-wise?
I don't know if there's anything to compare it to. I'm very fortunate I've lived in New York for 15 years, and I've seen probably 80 percent of the things that come and go. This is unlike anything. I think people are ready to be challenged. This will definitely challenge audiences. This is going to make them feel different things, and that's the most exciting kind of theatre. We're not doing Beauty and the Beast.
What's it like working your creative team, including a Tony winner?
Robert [Schenkkan] adds a lot to it. He's very musical in a way. It's a rock musical, but when I read it, and as I'm doing it, it really feels like a play with music. It works that way because when it launches into a song...they're really trying to smooth that [transition] out. Robert's words are amazing and Neil's music is incredible. They're writing the lyrics together. Our director Richard [Seyd] is super patient and smart. He always has an answer. I can't speak for the other cast members, but I feel very supported. They're very open to ideas.
Do you see a lot of things changing during previews?
I hope they use the preview process, and I think they will, to test new things out. Whether they toss out a song or beef up a scene a bit. It'll be interesting. It's quite an extensive preview process for a regional theater. It feels as though they're building it to use it. No musical is ever perfect the first time out of the gate, and they're aware of that. I don't think they have egos thinking it is. I truly think they will change things depending on how the audience reacts.
The 12's style...is that what you usually go for, or do you just keep falling into these musicals?
It's funny, I was joking with [music supervisor] Wendy today. We did the end of the show, which gets a little weepy...for us, at least. I leaned into her, like "This is why I haven't done drama in like four years because it's so much." Like, I prefer comedy these days, and I was in that world for a while, so when I got the script, I was like...oh my god, I haven't done anything like this before, or something of this kind in a really long time. The last really traumatic thing I did was in Falsettos, I played Whizzer, and the year before that I did The Last Five Years. Those are shows that just weigh on you. I haven't done a play or musical in about three years, so when I got this job, I was very excited to be on stage again.
I've been doing my web series, Submissions Only, so I was producing that and on it with Kate Wetherhead. It's been a four-year process when you add up all the time. And then, luckily, through that I got Modern Family, and I've been flying out to L.A. to film that. Both of those things are such a far cry from what I'm doing now. So, I feel very lucky that people can see me in both. For a couple years, I was getting so lumped into playing gay characters, which is totally fine because that's what's trendy right now. This job came out of nowhere for me, and I'm so happy it did. If you had asked me six months ago where I'd be at the beginning of 2015, I never would have said Denver.
Submission Only just launched Season 3 on YouTube!
It did! We were contracted with BroadwayWorld for a while, and it was time to release season three for a wider audience on YouTube, so more than just theatregoers can see it. BroadwayWorld was really cool with us, and we have a great relationship. When we released the third season on YouTube, everyone kept asking if we were going to do another season. I really don't know if we're going to do a fourth season. It's not from lack of wanting, it's just a lack of availability with cast and finances. Sadly, it's not cheap to do it for the product we want.
We actually finished filming it almost 2 years ago. When I look at it, I can tell certain people look different already. We filmed it and held onto it. It took us about five and a half months to film season three.
It was a blast. We didn't think anyone in the world would see it besides our friends and family on our computers. We filmed the pilot, it took two months to put it together, and then we were like...OK, there it is. It's done. Then [creators] Kate [Wetherhead] and Andrew Keenan-Bolger kept showing it to people, and everyone was really enjoying it, so we decided to write a few episodes and go from there.
You guys got a really good response from stars being on it.
We were really lucky. It kinda began like a word-of-mouth thing, through friends. Like, our friend Anne Nathan knows Kristin Chenoweth, and I worked with Kristin a long time ago, and she was like "Sure, I'll help you guys out!" And then Kate Wetherhead's brother-in-law is Chita Rivera's drummer, so we asked her, and she was like, oh hell yeah! And then we were on set with Chita Rivera...like "What's happening?!" Once we got a few of them, the other stars were like, " I want to be on your show!" Linda Lavin was like hell yeah, put me on your show. Everybody who's on was super professional and great. I thought they were all hilarious...and on their game.
Who were you excited to see appear on this past season?
We were blown away. Judith Light's on the finale. She's so good. She's just, like, the theatre's sweetheart. She's just the coolest, nicest person. She's so humble and so funny. Kate had written her giant monologues, like tons of stuff to do, and she e-mailed her: "If this is too overwhelming, just let us know, we'll cut it down." And [Judith] was like "No, no, I got it." It was a lot of dialogue. And she came fully memorized and ready to go, which is unheard of. She came with an e-cigarette with this perfect character. She plays Kate's possible manager.
Those opening bits. Do you write them on the spot?
It's really run like a real TV show. When we first started, it was more improv-y. The cast usually gets the script a week before, which is way more than TV. We do a table read for some episodes. Usually everybody is cast and in place. The cast has always worked out the way it was supposed to work out. If you were a celebrity, depending on how much dialogue you had, we tried to keep their time to a minimum.
Kelli O'Hara is on episode three. The funny thing about Kelli is that she showed up to set, we had her falling on her face, we all react and she's turning red. She was four months pregnant at the time! But she didn't tell anyone she was pregnant. She kept falling and falling like, "I can do it harder!" and we're like, "Cool!" A few months later, she and Kate got close, and Kate asked "Are you pregnant...?" Kelli was like, "Yeah!" Kate was like "You were pregnant when we did all those crazy pratfalls!" And Kelli was all, "Oh, it's fine, I do yoga all the time. Nothing's gonna happen." We were not insured! (laughs) But for the record, her baby was fine, and now Kelli's the lead in The King and I.
We couldn't believe all these people kept saying yes to us. They came and they were excited, and we were excited. But I will say the cool thing was there were theatre celebrities on our show, but we were also able to cast friends of ours that hadn't really gotten a chance to shine. Our New York and L.A. friends that nobody would give an opportunity for them to be on film. For a while there was such a separation between theatre and film actors. That line is blurring so much now. I'm not saying it's because of Submissions Only, but we jumped on that bandwagon to give these actors we knew the opportunity to play with us. I think it all worked out.
So you're doing The 12 right now. What's everyone else in the Submissions Only cast up to?
Kate and Andrew are on a book tour. They wrote a tween novel called Jack & Louisa about two little theatre kids. To be honest, I haven't read it yet, but once we open, I'm gonna go to a park and read it. Every other day I text them to apologize. I'm a good friend, and I haven't read their book yet. (laughs) I went to the launch party, and they read a little section together, I think it's on YouTube, and they had these two little kids that Andrew worked with in some Broadway show. They rewrote the lyrics to Sondheim's "It Takes Two" about Kate and Andrew working together. It was so cute.
The cast really has sort of taken off. We all went into our 30s, and I feel like actors sometimes in New York really hit in their early 20s, but other really slowly progressed. Like Lindsay Nicole Chambers is the lead in Kinky Boots on the road, Steven Booth was on our show and he's a lead as well. Santino [Fontana] was always amazing, but he did Frozen in the middle of our thing, and now he's doing an HBO pilot with an actress named Donna Lynne Champlin, who was on our show as well. She's in the Jeremy's Fort scenes being super shady to everybody. Really funny. Andrew was on Looking for a bit...I can't keep up with Andrew, he literally does not stop working. Kate went to do The Heidi Chronicles at The Guthrie, which was huge for her. It's been good. I'm interested to see where The 12 cast goes.
You've been on Modern Family on a few times!
Yeah, I play Steven -- part of Steven and Stefan, the gay neighbors of Mitch and Cam. It's really fun. I feel very grateful every time they ask me to do it. I fly out to L.A. The last two episodes I did were the big gay wedding last year. We shot for two weeks, which was kind of unheard of. That cast is incredible. They are so nice. It's like a dream job, and they're so appreciative every day to have that job. You can just tell. Not a bad word to say about it.
Do you see yourself trying for more TV or stage?
I feel like whatever is meant to be is meant to be. I feel like all my friends who really achieved in television got there through theatre. I really enjoy being a theatre actor, so if that's it, I'm very lucky that I'm even getting these opportunities. The good thing about TV is you make more money, and you're able to do more side projects. I feel like a broken record, but I'm really just lucky. It's all about luck.
Have you been to Denver before?
My sister used to live in Boulder about 10 years ago, so I came out here when I was younger for a couple days. This is the most as an adult I've been here, and I'm looking forward to the show being up and running so we can do more during the day. We really haven't had time to explore. Just a few restaurants, and on days off we've went to Boulder to go hiking. It's such an exhausting show. When you do it for eight or nine hours a day, over and over, changing stuff all the time, it's just physically exhausting. You want to do nothing.
What's on your must-do list in Denver?
Our goal is, once we open, we want to go around to all these bars that have been recommended to us, and get specialty cocktails. Even this area is great. We're so centrally located. I have to go to Casa Bonita. I'm taking my family there. We might do Red Rocks and go hiking.
Is there anything on Broadway right now you'd like to be in?
The 12! (laughs) I don't know to be honest. Being here [in Denver], I'm out of the loop. It's funny, I don't think there's a lot on Broadway for me right now. Sometimes you look at things like "I should be playing that part!" or "Why wasn't I seen for that?" I just haven't had that feeling in a long time. Which is kinda why we did Submissons Only. Me and Kate wanted to do our own thing and find a way to make ourselves happy. I really enjoy doing TV. There is something to be said about doing a scene once or twice then never having to do it again. The hardest thing about theatre to me is finding a way to keep it fresh. That's the challenge, and that's why it's awesome. I hope my next project is a play, not a musical...unless it's The 12.
The 12 opens tonight and plays through April 29 at the Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at www.DenverCenter.org. Follow Colin on Twitter at @ColinHanlon.