Hayden Thomas interviews "Smash" alum Andy Mientus
Andy Mientus, hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made his Broadway debut in 2014 as Marius in Cameron Mackintosh's brand new production of Les Misérables. Perhaps best known for his TV role of Kyle Bishop on the Broadway-centric musical series "Smash" on NBC, Mientus can once again be seen treading the boards as Hanschen in the Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The limited engagement, performed in both English and ASL (American Sign Language), will play its final performance on 24 January 2016.
Our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter!) caught up with Andy backstage at the Brooks Atkinson:
Hayden Thomas: Can you give us a brief summary of your journey with Deaf West's 'Spring Awakening' from humble origins in Los Angeles to the bright lights of Broadway?
Andy Mientus: When we considered reviving 'Spring Awakening' in this way, we had to figure out the most basic concepts of the production - Which characters would be deaf? How would the voices function with their deaf counterparts? Things like that. And at the end of all that, Deaf West Theatre did in fact decide that this was the right project for them, but then I had to step away from the project because I was making my Broadway debut in 'Les Misérables.' So I stepped away and the first production happened at a little theatre in LA called Inner-City Arts and it was a big success and that warranted a transfer to a larger theatre. When that came to pass, the actor who played Hanschen in the first production got a film offer and had to drop out. That was kinda late in the game and there was only two weeks of rehearsal left for that second production because it was a transfer. So Michael (Arden) was scrambling to find someone to do it and I had played the part before and I knew a bit of signing from that workshop experience, so I said that I would do it, if he can't find anyone else. That run was just a couple of weeks, so I thought it was going to be a brief experience, but we ended up coming all the way to Broadway with it, so here I am!
HT: So you had done a little bit of sign language before, would you say that you are fluent now?
AM: I wouldn't say that I'm fluent, but I can definitely have a conversation with anyone by piecing together the bits I do know. I'm better at speaking it myself than I am at understanding it because fluent signers sign so quickly. That's the same with any language really. I have to ask people to slow down a whole lot. But yes, when push comes to shove, I can have a conversation with anyone who signs American Sign Language. It will take a while for full fluency, but that is something that I would like to achieve in my life.
HT: And it seems such an obvious fit having sign language integrated into choreography on stage. The set pieces of movement are truly beautiful. I was at a captioned performance of a West End play recently and saw a group of people to my left constantly reading the captions throughout. I thought to myself how wonderfully inclusive that was, but then thought it is such a shame that there is only one captioned performance for the entire run. Do you feel a certain amount of pride that you are offering this opportunity to those patrons who are hard of hearing not just once, but eight shows a week?
AM: I would hope so, yes. I have seen deaf people coming to this production and enjoying it and it's so great that we have so many opportunities for them to see it. They can pick any night of the week and come and have the same, shared experience. We also do captioned performances too for people who are maybe hard of hearing, but don't know sign language. We really try and be as inclusive as we can. We even do audio-described performances for the blind. That's really fascinating to me to think of blind audience members experiencing our deaf musical - it's an amazing thing and I am very proud of that. Even when other shows do captioned or interpreted performances, the captions or interpreter are off to the side and so the audience members are having to split their focus constantly, whereas in our show the signing is always at the centre of the focus. I imagine that must be a relief.
HT: Yes, I know what you mean. Only ten minutes into the musical, I already stopped looking to see where the voices were coming from and purely focused on the deaf performers who were signing. It was very well directed in that way. Speaking of which, how was it for you to work with your fiancé Michael Arden as a Director?
AM: Oh, it was great and really seamless. Since we began this project together as co-directors about two years ago, it took any friction which may occur with us working as actor and director away, because we were both contributing what we were to a project we both felt so passionate about. There was really no room for ego. We were just trying to make the best thing we could.
HT: As a "Smash" alum, do you keep yourself in the loop with what's going on with the 'Bombshell' musical which is now officially in development? I know your character Kyle Bishop wasn't a character in the actual 'Bombshell' musical, but is it something you would like to be involved in?
AM: I've been a fan of (composers) Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman since I was in high school, ever since I saw 'Hairspray.' I just think they are two of the best musical theatre writers we have living now. And I also thought that those songs from 'Bombshell' were some of their best work, so to hear that it's going to go on a stage live where it belongs, I just think is amazing news and I wish them well with it. I can't wait to see it!
HT: And finally, as a comic book fan, I have to say it was great seeing you as supervillain Pied Piper in "The Flash" on TV! Will he be making a return any time soon?
AM: Ooh I can't say! He's definitely still at large as we learned when we last saw him. Fingers crossed!
HT: Stay tuned, citizens of Central City! Well, thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule. 'Spring Awakening' is truly a wonderful and unique show and I wish you all the very best for the remainder of the run.
AM: Thank you so much.
Spring Awakening is booking at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre through to 24 January 2016.