Two big new productions have just opened in Atlanta with major gay talent behind the scenes. The Alliance’s “Tuck Everlasting”—based on the famous book by Natalie Babbitt—is directed by out Tony winner Casey Nicholaw, a former actor turned choreographer and director who has worked on Broadway hits such as “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Aladdin” and “The Book of Mormon.” Gay actor Wyatt Fenner, based out of L.A., is one of the leads in Actor’s Express’ new comedy “Bad Jews.” We caught up with both men to talk about their projects.
Casey, how did “Tuck Everlasting” come about?
I read and the book and said it had great potential. It’s unlike the other things I am attached to. This is more about the heart-warming, human side of love and death.
Why do you think it will translate into a good musical?
It’s very life affirming. It gets you to think about life and helps deal with it. Some people say it’s for kids. I have to say, when we did it in New York there were so many sniffles at the end and I turned around and it all was men in suits. I think it appeals to everyone.
What kinds of changes were made to bring it to the stage?
We took some liberties to expand the characters, giving them reason to sing and giving them more of an arc.
Did you have a hand in the cast?
Absolutely. Some of the people I knew in New York. Most were cast from auditions but some were cast from the reading. The cast is a mixture of people coming in and local. (Atlanta‘s Sarah Charles Lewis plays the main character, Winnie). It’s a lot of show for a young girl to carry and she does it well.
What is the biggest challenge of doing this?
With a lot of characters, it’s how to weave them together carefully and have the audience interested in that. It took a while to figure out how they worked together.
Wyatt, how did you get involved in ‘Bad Jews?”
I was in the world premiere of “Pluto” last season with Actor’s Express. That production was such a joy to work on and an incredible introduction to this company, and Atlanta. Freddie (Ashley, the company’s artistic director, directing the show) and I kept in touch.
Can you tell us a little about your character, Liam?
Liam is returning home for his grandfather’s funeral but, for reasons which you’ll find out, he is late and missed the actual ceremony. That’s about all the info I’m willing to give—the play is full of surprises and I don’t want to spoil them.
What conflicts does he have in the show?
Family problems, things not going according to plan. For someone who is used to getting what he wants, this evening wherein the play takes place offers little of things actually going Liam’s way.
In context of the play, what makes a “bad” Jew?
That’s the argument we are tackling. The play could just as well be called “Bad People” because while the heritage of three of the four characters in this play is specifically Jewish, the questions being asked by the play as a whole relate to humanity in the largest sense. Every person in the world has positive and negative qualities.
What can LGBT audiences get from the show?
The LGBT community has an innate potential for empathy as a result of our shared universal experience growing up outsiders, and in many cases continuing to live as outsiders. Every gay man understands what it is to feel they need to keep a part of themselves secret and away from others, and that experience influenced many of our formative years. Part of why I have empathy for everyone I meet is because I have an appreciation for the hard times that come from growing up different and I value the strength that develops from overcoming fears.