Conversations with show people

Heidi Schreck
Kenny Leon

Jeff Daniels
Lila Neugebauer

Heidi Schreck & Kenny Leon

Jeff Daniels & Lila Neugebauer


Gyllenhaal regularly makes room in his schedule to perform live theater. He starred in “Constellations” and “Sunday in the Park with George” on Broadway, and Off-Broadway in “Little Shop of Horrors” and “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.” His upcoming Broadway outing, “Sea Wall / A Life,” arrives on Broadway this summer after a hit run at the Public Theater. In “Sea Wall / A Life,” the actor reunites with playwright Nick Payne, who also wrote “Constellations” and “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.” This summer, Gyllenhaal can also be seen as Mysterio in the feature film “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”


Yazbek is the composer and lyricist of Broadway’s “The Full Monty,” “The Sweet Smell of Success,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” He won a 2018 Tony for his score for “The Band’s Visit.” His latest show, the splashy comedy “Tootsie,” was nominated for 11 Tonys, including a nomination for Yazbek’s score.

Jake Gyllenhaal & David Yazbek

For These Stage Veterans, Broadway Means Belonging


ake Gyllenhaal seems like a golden boy. Son of a film director and screenwriter, a movie star since his teens, he’s been in everything from “Brokeback Mountain” to a Marvel movie.

Yet in “Variety on Broadway,” he tells “Tootsie’s” David Yazbek that he feels like an outsider.

“I’ve never felt like I've ever fit in anywhere,” Gyllenhaal says, “sort of a little bit always on the outskirts of the theater and sort of the same for movies. And that seems like the perfect personality to come on stage, like never really feeling like you fit in fully.” Gyllenhaal’s early memories of Broadway are from seeing shows with his mother, screenwriter Naomi Foner.

“Somehow every time I saw a show, I felt like my heart was just connecting and open in a way that I had never really felt before. And it has come to be even more, because of the community of Broadway and the family that I formed as a result of being in a number of shows.”

“Every time I saw a show, I felt like my heart was just connecting and open in a way that I had never really felt before.”

Jake Gyllenhaal

While Gyllenhaal had New York roots, Yazbek grew up in Gotham. “It was a filthier, and in many ways a much more enjoyable New York City, at the time,” he says of his early trips to Broadway. “There was like a little danger to it also. So going into a theater to see a show also felt like you were coming from one world into another world.

“It was almost moving, even as a kid, to see people, live people, and you knew they were doing this night after night, getting up there to give you something. To give you their energy.”

Gyllenhaal, appearing in the two-monologue show “Sea Wall / A Life” (he performs “A Life”), says he adores naturalism, but also loves musical theater, which leans away from naturalism. “To bring the two together, to me, felt like a science project,” he says to Yazbek. “That’s what I love,” says Gyllenhaal, “and the thrill of the challenge of storytelling, nightly, as an actor, to take what you guys have done and to say, ‘Can we do this?’”

Heidi Schreck

Writer-performer Schreck earned two Tony nominations (best play and lead actress) for her Broadway debut “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a highly personal, genre-bending mashup of memoir and Constitutional scholarship. The play explores how the Constitution has shaped the lives of the women in Heidi’s family and, in turn, the lives of all Americans. It began as a small Off-Broadway production and quickly became a hit, extending its Off-Broadway run and moving to Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. She has previously acted Off-Broadway and written for television (“Billions,” “I Love Dick”).

Kenny Leon

A director and Broadway regular, Leon won a Tony for his 2014 production “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring Denzel Washington. In fall 2018, he directed “American Son,” a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a mother (Kerry Washington) waiting overnight in a police station for word on her biracial son after he’s had an encounter with the police. Leon also directed Kerry Washington in an upcoming film adaptation of the play for Netflix.

Heidi Schreck & Kenny Leon

On Broadway, Political Theater Aims to Reach Beyond Boundaries


eidi Schreck and Kenny Leon hail from distant corners of America. Schreck’s from small-town Washington State, while Leongrew up poor on Florida’s Gulf Coast. For both, it was a long way to Broadway.

“It’s not just miles,” Schreck tells Leon in their “Variety on Broadway” conversation. New York wasn’t even a dream at first. “To me,” she says, “the thought of moving to Seattle was actually overwhelming.” Leon was a poor kid from St. Petersburg on his way to a law career when he found his calling in the theater.

Recently, both have had political works on the Broadway boards. One of the most respected American stage directors, Leon helmed “American Son,” a new play Christopher Demos-Brown, in a production Variety called “gripping.”

Leon wanted to tell a universal story through Demos-Brown’s play about an interracial couple awaiting word from the police about their teenage son, who has gotten into some kind of trouble.

“I want the audience to be as diverse as possible. I want to have impact on the world, on the country.”

Kenny leon

“I wanted everybody in the audience to feel like ‘How would you feel if that was your son?’ So in the last moment of the play, I have an actor turn directly to the audience.” Leon is aware that some directors might choose to confront the audience harshly, and if some leave at intermission, so be it. That’s not his style.

“I want all the audience to stay,” he says, “and I want the audience to be as diverse as possible. I want to have impact on the world, on the country. So when I choose projects, even for Broadway, I'm trying to say something to other people.”

As the writer and lead performer of “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck, too, wants to bring her breakdown of the Constitution’s failings on women’s rights to a more diverse audience than a typical house of Broadway ticket buyers. “I would love to take the show to towns, like the towns where I grew up. I mean, I made it in some ways for the people I grew up with. And, I would love to take it to smaller communities. I would love to take it around the United States. I would love to take it to places where people maybe disagree with me about something.”

Jeff Daniels

Star of TV’s “The Newsroom” and Broadway veteran Daniels has been nominated for three Tonys. His latest nomination is for his current role as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The play reunites him with “Newsroom” creator Aaron Sorkin, who adapted Harper Lee’s novel. Daniels has also starred on Broadway in “Blackbird,” “God of Carnage,” “Redwood Curtain,” “The Golden Age” and “Fifth of July.”

Lila Neugebauer

Neugebauer directed the Broadway revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” which received two Tony nominations, one for lead actress Elaine May and one for best revival. “The Waverly Gallery” was her Broadway debut after establishing herself Off-Broadway, most notably with her hit production of “The Wolves.” She is slated to direct her first feature film, starring Jennifer Lawrence, beginning summer 2019 in New Orleans.

Jeff Daniels & Lila Neugebauer

For ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ star Jeff Daniels and ‘The Waverly Gallery’ director Lila Neugebauer, making great theater starts with serving the play.


ctors and directors have to learn to communicate with each other even if everyone’s speaking English.

In fact, the director of “The Waverly Gallery” says, stage directors have to learn to communicate with each actor in their own way.

“You speak different languages, Jeff,” exclaims Lila Neugebauer in her “Variety on Broadway” conversation with actor Jeff Daniels.

“We do,” concedes Daniels. But Neugebauer isn’t complaining. She calls finding a common language with every actor “one of the great pleasures of my job.”

“I'm interested in how do we find a language together that makes sure that all of your needs get met and the needs of everybody else in this room gets met,” she explains, “and that we're honoring the project of the play as we have collectively come to understand and imagine it together.”

“I did three years of ‘The Newsroom’ with Aaron [Sorkin]. I never changed a word... I have too much respect for Aaron, but that comes from the theater.”

Jeff Daniels

Daniels is in the middle of a year-long run as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In their conversation, he tells Neugebauer about his creative relationship with Sorkin.

“I did three years of ‘The Newsroom’ with Aaron,” says Daniels. “I never changed a word. Never asked to change a word. I have too much respect for Aaron, but that comes from the theater. I started out at Circle Repertory Company in the '70s with Marshall W. Mason and Lanford Wilson, I would never consider going to Lanford Wilson and saying, ‘Why don't you take another shot at this speech?’”

On stage with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Daniels tells Neugebauer, he’s working with “a great company” that is willing to respond to small changes, even if it alters the performance. “If you look at me differently tonight, it’ll come back differently,” says Daniels. “It’s a dangerous way to work. I prefer it.”


Annette Bening

James Corden

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Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight.

"There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away," the Emmy and Tony-winning actor revealed on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety's theater podcast. "It’s just a little dose every single time you perform... I learned from my last experience that eight shows a week for a steady five or six months is a grind that will bring you to your knees."

Cranston's last stint on Broadway, playing LBJ in the play "All the Way," earned him a Tony Award in 2014. This year he's nominated again for his turn as Howard Beale, the mad-as-hell newsman at the center of the stage adaptation of “Network.”

On Stagecraft, Cranston revealed backstage secrets on his performance, from why he insisted on a schedule of seven performances a week, to when the role helped him discover the uses of anger and how he worked with director Ivo vanHove to get that iconic "mad as hell" speech right.

Along the way, the actor also delved into how he goes about crafting a performance, onstage or onscreen. "I just feel like almost through osmosis that the character will come in, and I will be able to feel and think and react and respond according to what that character feels," he said. "But it takes work and imagination and research, and going back to the text every single time."

New episodes of “ Stagecraft ” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “ Stagecraft ” on Apple Podcasts , Stitcher or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts .

Listen: Rosemary Harris' Tony Award Has a Typo

Rosemary Harris is something of a legend in the theater world, and this year the Tony Awards will acknowledge that when they honor her with one of this year's special awards for lifetime achievement in the theater. It'll be her second Tony -- so here's hoping that this time around, her trophy doesn't have any typos on it.

The actress won her first Tony in 1966 for "The Lion in Winter." But on that award, the engraver misspelled an important word. "Underneath 'Rosemary Harris' it said 'Dramatic Star,' but when he got to 'Star,' he couldn’t help himself and he put two R’s," Harris recounted with a laugh on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety's theater podcast. "So I am a dramatic star-ruh. It’s quite unique. I think I shall auction it someday!"

Harris is currently appearing in Lincoln Center Theater's Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady," and it's the latest New York stage credit in a career that stretches all the way back to her Broadway debut in the short-lived 1952 play "The Climate of Eden." She also won an Emmy for the BBC series "Notorious Woman" and was nominated for an Oscar for the 1994 film "Tom and Viv."

On Stagecraft, Harris revealed what was different -- and what's the same -- about Broadway then as compared to Broadway now. She also discussed why she's loving her stint in a musical, recalled an influential acting teacher with a very unusual method, and told the story of the how she got discovered by Moss Hart while she was walking a gay dog.

New episodes of “ Stagecraft ” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “ Stagecraft ” on Apple Podcasts , Stitcher or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts .

Listen: Why Tony Rehearsals Make James Corden Cry

James Corden has spent the last week prepping to host the Tony Awards -- and rehearsals keep threatening to make him cry.
"We had maybe a hundred people arrive in the lobby of Radio City Musical Hall, where we’re working out the end of [a] song, and I would say there were two or three times I could have burst into tears," Corden said on Stagecraft, Variety's theater podcast. "Maybe because I’m tired, but mostly because I’m just bowled over by the enthusiasm and willingness to participate from the companies of these shows, who are already doing eight shows a week. I find it inspiring, their attitude toward the entire thing."

Corden, a Tony winner himself for "One Man, Two Guvnors" in 2012, is back emceeing the ceremony after he first hosted in 2016, the year of "Hamilton" -- and the year of the Pulse shootings in Orlando, which occurred the night before the awards. He shared his memories of that time on the new episode of Stagecraft, and gave a glimpse of what's to come in this year's ceremony.

He also thought aloud about what's next for him after his eventual exit from his current gig as the host of "The Late Late Show" on CBS. (He's four years into a five-year contract, and looks poised to stay longer in the gig.) Whatever lies ahead, he explained, he's certain he wants theater to be a part of it.

"I always will be drawn to: What’s the punk move?" he explained. "Is it going to do a play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse? Is it doing something Off Broadway? Is it trying to direct something? Is it trying to write something? Who knows? But I do know that I will seek that in the theater."

He also revealed why he's a performer who loves nerves, what musical theater song he's always singing in the car, and in which musical he's imagined himself co-starring with Jim Parsons.

New episodes of “ Stagecraft ” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “ Stagecraft ” on Apple Podcasts , Stitcher or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts .

The Interviewer
GORDON COX is a writer, editor and content creator specializing in Broadway and the entertainment industry. As a journalist he's written about the theater business for 20 years, covering everything from Hugh Jackman to "Hamilton," union strikes to the Tony Awards. He's currently the contributing theater editor at Variety and the host of Variety's Stagecraft podcast.

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