BWW Interview: Andrew Samonsky of COME FROM AWAY which runs 11/26-12/1 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place Des Arts
Andrew Samonsky was born and raised about an hour north of Los Angeles in the coastal town of Ventura, CA. He majored in Music at California State University, Northridge, which just so happens my Alma Mater. Part of the Opera Program, Samonsky started taking drama classes from two professors, Peter Grego and Linda de Vries, who were the first theatre professors to direct operas in the music department. It was a huge educational opportunity for Samonsky to get acting training, which prior to this, the opera students never got. Samonsky says Grego and de Vries were instrumental in helping him prep and get into Grad School at UC Irvine. He shifted into theatre/musical theatre and hasn't looked back. A veteran of several Broadway and off-Broadway shows, along with several national tours and a Drama Desk Award nomination, I had the incredible good fortune to have a long chat with him about his career and his role in the National Tour of COME FROM AWAY, which lands in Montreal on Tuesday, November 26, 2019.
HANNIBAL: I'm a huge fan of the film SOMEWHERE IN TIME. You performed in a production, playing the role Christoper Reeve immortalized on film. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
SAMONSKY: I wasn't familiar with the movie initially. I was asked to do some readings and then we ended up doing a full production at Portland Center Stage in Oregon. I didn't know that the movie has such a huge, cult following. There is a fan club that goes to Mackinaw Island every year to celebrate the film. Some of those fans came to our show, dressed up in the period garb and everything. It would have been nice if something had developed beyond Portland, but it was a fun project and we had a good time.
HANNIBAL: You've been on tour with COME FROM AWAY for over a year now. With it being a Canadian musical, do you notice a difference performing it in Canada as opposed to the US?
SAMONSKY: In a general sense, the audiences are incredible everywhere we go. I saw this show on Broadway before I was ever a part of it and absolutely fell in love with it. This is the reason we go to the theatre. To be moved, to laugh, to cry, to be challenged, to be more kind, to be reminded of our humanity. We are selling out in every city. It's really spectacular. I have never been part of a show that gets this kind of audience reaction before and I've been in some good shows! Americans have a very personal relationship to 9/11. It was an attack on our country. Canadians surely remember that day and have a personal relationship as well, but they get to rejoice in the fact that they got to help our country in this time of need and in that way it's more of a celebration, where as in America, there is still that feeling of horror and tragedy. The Canadian jokes just land like gangbusters in Canada. We say 'Tim Hortons' and the audience knows exactly what that is. My favourite example of that is a line I have near the beginning of the show. I'm one of the plane people. As the plane is being diverted to Newfoundland, I say, 'I look out the window and all I see are trees and rocks and nothing.' In America, there is kind of an eerie reaction of, 'oh my God. Where are they going?' When I say it in Canada, the whole audience erupts in laughter because they know in Newfoundland, there are trees and rocks and nothing. We certainly have to hold for some different laughs in Canada.
HANNIBAL: Have you met the real Kevin T, who you play in the show?
SAMONSKY: All of our real people play in the show came to our opening in Seattle, which was
wild. We are all Facebook friends with them. I have Kevin T's number and we text all the time. We have seen them more than you'd think. The people from Gander all invite us to visit and say, 'oh, you can stay at our place!' They are so kind. This whole musical is true! It just made the show all the more real and tactile. It's kind of a peculiar thing to play someone that's still out there in the world. It gives us a greater responsibility to tell their story well, knowing they are still living that experience and that memory.
HANNIBAL: You have been part of some amazing shows. Do you have a favourite musical?
SAMONSKY: That's a tough one. I honestly feel so grateful for the shows I've gotten to do, like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. The roles of Francesca and Robert Kincaid are two of the greatest roles in musical theatre. The sweeping beauty of that musical...To sing that score and to tell that intimate story, is my favourite kind of musical theatre. I think it just might be my favourite of Jason Robert Brown's scores. It was the thrill of a lifetime to have been able to sing that score around the country. COME FROM AWAY is honestly one of my favourite musicals that I've seen. To get to do this show on tour has been another dream come true. I did a show the summer before last in Williamstown called LEMPICKA, which is a really exciting piece. It was directed by Rachel Chavkin (HADESTOWN). I did a Michael John
LaChiusa show called QUEEN OF THE MIST**, which was a beautiful piece of musical theatre. To get to work with all of these people, I seriously have to pinch myself. We all go back to that time where we were in college and just starting to sing these people's songs or becoming fans of these composers, directors, actors. I'm so grateful and I've been so lucky.
HANNIBAL: Do you have a dream role?
SAMONSKY: I think a popular answer, which I think is a true answer, is that the dream role is a role that has yet to be created. A great part in a new musical. I think that's always kind of the most exciting piece to work on, like this LEMPICKA piece I did where I got to be on the ground floor of creating this role. No one's ever done it before. You get to leave your mark and build the role from scratch. There are no cast recordings or clips to influence your performance. You really get to make it your own. That's always really exciting. There are always other shows that you wish you could do. In maybe 10 years or more, I'd love to do SWEENEY TODD. It has always been one of my favourite musicals. It's nice to pick roles that are in the distance...that you have time to grow into.
HANNIBAL: SWEENEY TODD is my favourite musical, so in 10 years, I'll play Mrs. Lovett and you'll play Sweeney. We'll have a sold out run all around the world.
SAMONSKY: And Peter Grego will direct!
HANNIBAL: Amazing! Is there anything else that you will like to share with our readers that we may not have covered?
SAMONSKY: I think a lot of people hear the title COME FROM AWAY and think, 'what is that?' Every single person I have talked to comes to the show not knowing what it is. They have not heard this true story about the people of Gander and they always overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed by the humanity of the story and the kindness of the people of Gander. The story of these humble people, who never wanted any recognition at all for this act of kindness, Here we get to celebrate them and are reminded that we, as a people, are capable of great generosity and kindness and connection. No matter where we are from, what country we are from, what our backgrounds are. It's a story that this world needs, at this moment. It often feels like an act of service telling this story to audiences around the country and Canada. I would just like to ask people to come, check it out and be moved by this story and these people. Come check us out!
**Nominated for the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, 2012
COME FROM AWAY opens November 26, 2019 and runs through December 1, 2019 at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, Place des Arts, 175 St-Catherine Street, Montreal. Tickets can be purchased by phone by called 1-866-842-2112 or online at ww.evenko.ca