NYTG at the Broadway Opening of Junk

New York Theatre Guide attends Opening Night for the Broadway premiere of Ayad Akhtar's new play Junk, starring Steven Pasquale, at Lincoln Center.

Steven Pasquale & Phillipa Soo

After the success of Disgraced (and a Tony nomination to boot), it seems that gifted playwright Ayad Akhtar is continuing his rewarding affiliation with Lincoln Center Theater, as his latest play Junk officially opened at LCT's Vivian Beaumont Theater last night. The New York Theatre Guide was invited to attend the celebration and we were eager to catch up with the play's leading man Steven Pasquale to find out a little more about Akhtar's social thriller.

Attending the After Party at Central Park's iconic Tavern on the Green with his wife (and Tony Award nominee) Phillipa Soo, who is about to begin previews on Broadway next week herself in the Uma Thurman-led The Parisian WomanSteven Pasquale looked to be in high spirits. In a play that primarily explores power, corporate competition, and male status, one could ask the question - which of these battling businessmen has the largest "junk"? However, "Junk refers to 'Junk bonds' – high-yield junk bonds," Pasquale assures me. "It’s how a lot of these deals were made in the ‘80s. Companies were purchased with debt instead of cash. The play is a shockingly thrilling evening of exploring how that all worked."

Indeed, Akhtar's drama is fueled by greed and offers a multi-faceted tale that defies categorization. Is it a crime story? Is it a period issue play that offers a cautionary tale for our modern society thirty years on? One thing it is not, however, according to Pasquale, is a biographical play. Despite the striking similarities to the life of a certain Michael Robert Milken - an infamous figure in the world of 1980s American Finance - Robert Merkin is a fictional character. "What’s important about this play is that it’s loosely based on a real guy named Mike Milken, who was the debt bond king in the 1980s, but it is not a biography," Pasquale explains. "It uses his success and the practices that he put into place in the 1980s and it really examines that. Financial workers come and they say: I knew Mike Milken! But I say that it’s only loosely based on him. It’s similar, but it’s not exactly his story."

Leading a show at Lincoln Center Theater has been a crowning jewel in the career of Steven Pasquale so far. He clearly holds the establishment in the highest regard and tells me: "Being around this calibre of a writer, of a director and of a theatre – which is the closest thing we have to a National Theatre in this country – is a great moment, where I pinch myself. I wish I could talk to my 17-year old actor self, who moved to this town with dreams of being in a Broadway show."

Theatre aficionados may possibly know Pasquale best from his ventures into the world of musical theatre, especially playing another character named Robert. I am, of course, referring to his short-lived, but highly praised turn in The Bridges of Madison County in 2014. He went on to wow critics and audiences alike by resurrecting Jamie Lockhart in the 2016 Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Robber Bridegroom, cementing his status as a musical theatre Heavyweight. Pasquale famously created the role of Fabrizio in the original Seattle cast of the acclaimed musical The Light in the Piazza, but missed out on the Broadway transfer due to his TV commitments on "Rescue Me". (His role as Firefighter Sean Garrity on the FX series made him a household name in 93 episodes from 2004 to 2011.) But does the versatile performer miss the musical element at all, when taking on a straight play? "I think the grass is always greener," he confesses. "The first few months you’re working on a musical, it is the greatest thing in the world. Then, by month 4 or 5, you’d rather be doing a play. It’s the same if the tables are turned. The first few months doing a play are incredible and then you really start to miss the music." Thank goodness for Mr. Pasquale then that he's regularly in demand in both genres!

And for those who are fooled into thinking that Junk is just a sluggish, documentary-style examination of Michael Milken, think again! Robert Merkin is a ruthless and quite chilling customer, who provides high-stakes drama at Lincoln Center Theater. In Pasquale's own words: "I make him a whole lot cooler than he actually is!"

Stay tuned for our review shortly.

Steven Pasquale and his wife Phillipa Soo

Playwright Ayad Akhtar

Cast Member Joey Slotnick & Special Guest David Schwimmer

Cast Member Matthew Rauch

Cast Member Miriam Silverman & Steven Pasquale

Special Guest J.T. Rogers, Tony Award-winning playwright of LCT's Oslo

Steven Pasquale in Junk
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

(Opening Night Photos by Tom Millward)

Junk Tickets are available now for performances through to January 7, 2018.