Congrats on ''Urinetown''! What it's been like to make your Berkeley Playhouse debut?
Great! It's such a warm and caring company. My cast is unstoppable. They're beautiful people with the sweetest souls. Andrea [J. Love] plays Hope, and she's the loveliest. She's so easy to connect with and gives 110%. Jessica [Coker] is Pennywise, and she's a powerhouse. Jessica amazes me every time I see her. ... I've been lucky to work at so many Bay Area theaters, and we're a community that supports each other.
Did you know ''Urinetown'' before you played Bobby?
Yeah, our high school [in Alameda] did it when I was a junior, and I played Hot Blades Harry. Luckily since then, my vocal coach, Matthew Liebowitz, has really expanded my range. In my research, I also saw the clip of ''Urinetown'' on the Tonys, and you gotta love Hunter Foster.
I once asked Hunter what he loved about playing Bobby, and he said: ''It's everything I've ever wanted to do in a musical: to be funny, to lead a revolution, and to sing a gospel number. It was like 'The Fantasticks,' 'Les Miserables' and 'Dreamgirls' all in one show.''
I love that description. So many different musicals come into ['Urinetown'], and not just the show itself, but into the characters. Bobby takes you on a ride, and you don't stop. I love Bobby's confidence and charm. And when I sing ''Run, Freedom, Run!,'' I wanna burst. It's a blast.
Your director, Danny Cozart, says: '' 'Urinetown' is a cautionary tale about what can happen if we stop paying attention to politics, the environment and the privatization of public programs by greedy corporations.'' What would President Trump think of ''Urinetown''?
Trump probably would think: ''[Charging people for the privilege to pee] is something I would do.'' Our cast has always compared Caldwell B. Cladwell [played by Paul Plain] to Trump. They're both businessmen. For Cladwell, it's the company first. He doesn't care about the people. Senator Fipp [Matt Standley] says Cladwell only thinks of himself, which is what Trump does. We can only hope Trump doesn't go as far as Cladwell.
You've done so many shows in the Bay Area, but tell us about starring in the West Coast premiere of ''Catch Me If You Can.''
It was so wonderful to work at Woodminster; our cast was one of the best bonding experiences I've ever had. And I really fell in love with ''Catch Me If You Can.'' I watched the Leonardo DiCaprio movie dozens of times. And I had played the Broadway CD for months. Aaron Tveit is one of my very favorite actors. His voice is so beautiful. I love that score [by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman], and I knew every song by heart.
In ''Catch Me If You Can,'' Frank is a charming teenage con artist who passes himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. When Leo portrayed him in the movie and Aaron played him on Broadway, they were both around 27. How old were you?
Just 19. It was a lot to handle, and I was dealing with Equity actors who were at least 10 years older. It's a giant role, and it's a 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. Sometimes, it got chilly, and planes would fly overhead. ... I was obsessed with that part. By the time we started rehearsals, I totally memorized the script. Frank is 16, but I looked even younger. One critic said I was a 12-year-old mix of James Franco and Jim Carrey.
And that critic said he meant that as a compliment, but ''Catch Me If You Can'' also changed your life in other ways.
A lot of amazing things happened there, including falling in love with my girlfriend, Elizabeth Peterson. I call her Liz. She's a Radio City Rockette and performs in New York a lot. When I was auditioning, everyone was saying, ''The Rockette is here! The Rockette is here!'' But I was so focused on the callback that I thought: ''That's great. But I have to get this part!'' Later, she caught my eye, and she's beautiful. Liz has got long legs for days. If there's an icing to the cake, that was the best one. We've been together for two years now, and it's made me the happiest guy.
I'll bet something else that would make you happy is making your Broadway debut.
Omigosh, that would be my dream. It's in my blood. I'd love to do ''Dear Evan Hansen.'' And I'd like to play Dmitry, Derek Klena's role in ''Anastasia.'' I'm of Russian descent. There are so many guys on Broadway who inspire me: Ramin Karimloo, Aaron Tveit, Derek Klena, Ben Platt, Adam Jacobs, Jeremy Jordan, Zachary Prince, Jonathan Groff, Josh Young. I'm also a big fan of Josh Groban. He's in ''The Great Comet,'' which is Russian and based on ''War and Peace.'' Plus, his version of ''Anthem'' from ''Chess'' is incomparable and perfect. And that role is Russian, too!
So tell me about your Russian heritage. And how do you pronounce your last name?
It's BURSH-stain. I'm a mix of Jewish and German descent. I was born in a town called Angren in Uzbekistan. I came to the U.S. when I was 6, and I'm a full American citizen. My parents, Andrey and Casey, speak Russian, and so do I. I've been performing since I was 3, and they've supported me and my brother, Danila, every step of the way. Danila's a wonderful performer, too, and he just was in ''Billy Elliot'' at Berkeley Playhouse.
Finally, what's in a name? Have some people advised you to switch it to something simpler?
They have. And others say: ''Keep it, it's unique.'' Leonardo DiCaprio was asked to change his name and he refused. I'm trusting it'll all work out.