Danny Burstein on playing a photographer in 'Pictures From Home' on Broadway
The Tony Award-winning actor stars alongside Nathan Lane and Zoë Wanamaker.
Danny Burstein is back on Broadway for the first time since winning a Best Featured Actor Tony Award for Moulin Rouge! The Musical. His latest role, as the influential photographer Larry Sultan in Pictures From Home, marks a triple reunion for the actor.
One reunion is with the playwright Sharr White, who wrote The Snow Geese, a 2013 Chekhov-style story Burstein co-starred in. Pictures From Home is also “emotionally loaded,” said White, “so Danny is a great choice.”
Another is with Bartlett Sher, who’s directed five previous Broadway shows featuring Burstein was in. They include South Pacific, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Golden Boy, Fiddler on the Roof, and My Fair Lady.
The tone and spirit of Pictures From Home switches in a blink “from comedy to heart to anger,” according to Sher. “I thought of Danny right away for Larry. He has that skill.”
The third reunion for Burstein is with cameras. “I grew up using Nikon and Canon cameras,” he said, adding that his uncle ran a photo lab on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “As a kid, I worked in the lab. So I know quite a lot.”
That experience should come in handy for playing Sultan, whose 1992 memoir Pictures From Home includes photos of his parents, Irving and Jean, at their California residence after his dad’s early retirement. Nathan Lane and Zoë Wanamaker play the parents in the show beginning on January 13 at Studio 54.
Like the book, the play explores art and how it’s made, along with the complicated relationship between artists and their subjects. For the Brooklyn-born Sultan, who died in 2009 after his parents had passed, that relationship was particularly loaded because this project was all in the family.
“Sometimes the artistic process is volatile,” said Burstein. “Sometimes it’s quiet and sometimes it's messy and sometimes it's very funny. Ultimately, it’s dealing with this very human process.”
Burstein spoke with New York Theatre Guide about his career, his co-stars, and his own favorite pictures from home.
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Sharr White discovered Pictures From Home photos at an art exhibit in 2015. Were you familiar with it?
I did not know anything about Larry Sultan. This play introduced me to his brilliant photographs and work. I immediately got a copy of Pictures From Home. I just fell in love with the idea of this story.
Which is …?
Anybody who has parents can relate to it. He’s bringing his parents into his artistic project, and that's such an unusual thing. So it’s not just about a relationship with one’s parents. It's also about the creation of art, which is an amazing thing. Imagine a painter saying, “Hey, Mom and Dad, come paint this with me.” It’s a struggle to get them to do it, and he does it.
Larry notes in the book that one reason he did this is because he wanted them to be around forever.
Well, of course. When he goes into the project, he doesn't really know what it’s about… and why it’s meaningful. He just knows he sees his parents growing older and wants to get their history. Really what he’s trying to do is hold on to them.
You’ve played dads, coaches, and cabbies on Broadway, but sons not so much.
I’ve always been a character actor waiting to happen. Nathan gives me shit all the time because he's only eight years older than I am, and he’s playing my dad. But it is a memory play; it’s not chronological.
What’s your take on your Broadway parents?
I saw Zoë Wanamaker in Loot [a farce by Joe Orton] about 35 years ago. I immediately had a huge crush. She’s really smart. I saw Nathan in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Measure for Measure [in 1985]. He had a small part and he was fantastic. I’m just going to continue to try to follow the kind of career Nathan has.
This is your sixth Broadway production with Bartlett Sher. What’s the key to your collaboration?
I love working with him, and I’m proud of our track record. Is it always 100% successful? Who knows? But what's important is that we both spark each other’s creativity in really genuine, intrinsic ways.
While we’re on the subject of Pictures From Home, what’s your favorite picture at home?
I have a picture I took of Rebecca [Luker, Burstein’s late wife]. She just looked so beautiful. When I took it we were early on in our relationship, and I said, “Don’t move,” and I got my camera – a Canon film camera. There was no digital anything then. The picture is on my mantel. I love it.
Get Pictures From Home tickets now.
Photo credit: Danny Burstein. (Photo by Michaelah Reynolds)
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