Interview with Tony nominee Alex Timbers
Two-time Tony-nominated director/writer Alex Timbers is currently represented on Broadway by Oh, Hello on Broadway, starring Nick Kroll (as Gil Faizon) & John Mulaney (as George St. Geegland), at the Lyceum Theatre until January 15th, 2017.
Alex earned Tony nominations for his directorial efforts on Peter and the Starcatcher (2012) and for writing the book to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2011). Other Broadway credits include Rocky, The Pee-wee Herman Show and Jersey Boys. He also picked up a Lucille Lortel Award for directing the acclaimed Public Theater production of Here Lies Love, off-Broadway, and went on to direct the show at London's National Theatre. Other notable off-Broadway credits include the Public's 2013 "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Love's Labour's Lost and the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2016 revival of The Robber Bridegroom.
On screen, Alex is also a co-creator, writer and executive producer of the Amazon TV series Mozart in the Jungle.
Thomas Hayden Millward: Thank you so much for taking the time for us, Alex. I was wondering how familiar you were with Nick Kroll & John Mullaney's alter egos of Gil Faizon & George St. Geegland - and their obsession with tuna - before you took on this project?
Alex Timbers: I was very familiar with Nick and John and what talented comedians and performers they were, but the characters were new to me.
THM: Approximately how much of "Oh, Hello on Broadway" would you say is ad-libbed on any given performance and as a director, what is your opinion on ad-libbing in general?
AT: A large portion of the show is improvised. It depends on the individual night but anywhere between 10-25 percent of the material is new I’d say. Nick and John effortlessly interweave new jokes and plot points into the show, and there’s a looseness to their performances generally, such that most audiences would have a hard time discerning what is scripted and what is off the cuff.
THM: The special guest stars have read like a "who's who" list. Who would your dream guest star be?
AT: Nick and John have had a lot of their dream guests already come during this run or scheduled to attend in the upcoming weeks, but I know someone they’d be particularly excited about is Bernie Sanders.
THM: Now, that would certainly be a very topical and timely guest appearance! Have you guest starred yourself? If not, would you?
AT: I wouldn’t be a particularly riveting guest. The guys really seek out the most amazing performers and personalities because they make for great interview subjects.
THM: I'm not sure if you might be selling yourself a little short there, Alex. It might resemble something quite entertaining like employees turning the table on their boss, grilling their own director under the spotlight. Now, you've also previously directed Paul Reubens, who also already had a well-established alter ego, in "The Pee-wee Herman Show." How do these two Broadway experiences compare for you personally?
AT: I loved working on both shows. I think something that separates the two plays is that “Oh Hello” started out very technically unambitious and has organically evolved into something that is pretty sophisticated in terms of what now surrounds Nick and John, whereas Paul’s vision for “The Pee-wee Herman Show” was always to do something very visual. Something that unites both shows in terms of the directorial approach is that it’s my goal to create a very tight and well-executed vessel, within which chaos can reign. If the audience feels like they’re in good hands from the beginning, it gives more freedom for wildly inventive performers like Nick, John, and Paul to take the audience wherever they want to go.
THM: Finally, what do you think audiences will take away with them from a trip to the Lyceum Theatre to watch "Oh, Hello on Broadway"?
AT: “Oh Hello” is a truly hilarious show that is a glorious hybrid entertainment - a comedy that feels equally from the world of theater as it does from sketch comedy and stand up. Shows that are fresh and uncategorizable are rare on Broadway. What I think is also remarkable about this show is that Nick and John are such smart, gifted performers with incredible improvisation skills testing out new material every night, so any performance an audience member attends is unlike any other that came before it.