Get to know the cast of 'Leopoldstadt' on Broadway
The cast of this epic family drama shares their own family histories and why anyone can find themselves in the play's characters.
Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt is a family drama spanning five decades, named for the district of Vienna, Austria that's been known for its Jewish population since the 17th century. Naturally, a show so epic in scope needs a cast to match. It's rare even for a Broadway mega-musical to have a huge cast nowadays, much less a play, but Leopoldstadt is a whopping 38 actors strong.
Children and adults of all ages portray four generations of the extended Merz/Jacobovitz family. Some actors portray one character from childhood to adulthood, or young adulthood to older adulthood. Others play multiple parts, appearing at the end of the play as a grandchild or great-grandchild of a character they played at the beginning. Double-casting is sometimes a sign of a small-scale production, but that's certainly not the case here. In Leopoldstadt, it's a deliberate and hopeful choice, celebrating those that survive as the family gets fractured and whittled down by a brutal wave of history.
The 50-some years this family lives through in Leopoldstadt are 1899-1955, spanning decades of horrors. The Merzes and Jacobovitzes may be fictional, but their experiences reflect those of many targeted in the Holocaust. Each character has a different relationship with their heritage at the start of the show: Some are devout and see themselves as Jewish above all else, and some don't define themselves by their Jewishness at all. World War II forces them all to reckon with their identity. Some become even firmer in their positions, others change their views entirely, and either way, their choices shape how the next generations identify.
Stoppard can attest to that: He began writing Leopoldstadt after discovering his Jewish ancestry in 1993. His mother never shared that his grandparents died in the Holocaust, but a long-lost relative told him when he was well into his 50s. Leopoldstadt became Stoppard's way of publicly affirming his identity as his mother never had.
Now, the play's Broadway cast have found tidbits of their own history in the story, too. The Jewish majority of actors have as wide a range of relationships with their heritage as their characters do. Many had family members in the Merzes' position, though their ancestors came from and fled to many different parts of the world. As cast member Brandon Uranowitz said, "There are questions I've been thinking a lot about — my own family's attempts at assimilation, and what does assimilation mean? And what does it mean to hold on to your pride, the pride of your family and your ancestors, while at the same time trying to survive in a world rife with oppressive systems that have made the Jews wanderers all over the world?"
The non-Jewish cast members still see their families' stories reflected in Leopoldstadt, as fleeing persecution was, and is, not a uniquely Jewish experience. Plus, amid its dark subject matter, Leopoldstadt also has many scenes showing the everyday chats, fights, and jokes shared between family members. Anyone on or off stage can relate to those moments.
That's what makes this show universally captivating (it sold out every performance of its Olivier Award-winning run in London's West End), the cast repeatedly said. Leopoldstadt is really about family. It's about tradition and deciding how much of it to hold on to. It's about survival in a hostile, scary world. It's about people of all ages and worldviews weathering these challenges.
Get to know 12 Leopoldstadt cast members below, who represent a small slice of these ages, worldviews, and backgrounds. They shared with New York Theatre Guide their family histories, what audiences should know about the show, and how their characters fit into the Merz/Jacobovitz family tree. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
David Krumholtz is best known as a screen star: You may know him as Charlie Eppes on CBS's Numb3rs, or from his appearances in The Good Wife, The Newsroom, 10 Things I Hate About You, and the Santa Clause films. Leopoldstadt marks his first return to Broadway in 30 years, since making his debut in Conversations with My Father. He now plays Hermann, Leopoldstadt's "antihero," as Krumholtz's co-star Faye Castelow described him.
Who he plays: Hermann is obsessed with his wife, who validates his conversion from Judaism to Christianity, which is something he struggles with in his family. Hermann is a factory owner. He's a clothing manufacturer who took over the business from his father, and he has high hopes for his son to do the same. He's very positive about the future of his business and of Jewish people in Vienna in 1900, and that positivity gets thrown back into his face. There's nothing more heartbreaking than then a character so positive surrounded by such negativity.
His real-life history: Every Ashkenazi Jew in the United States has relatives that were murdered in the Holocaust. Growing up, you are told never to forget and warned that it could happen again. The persecution complex is hard to avoid. My mother escaped Hungary in 1956 as a 9-year-old from the Russian Revolution; she was born directly after the Holocaust to a family of Holocaust survivors. Not all of them survived. She came to this country to start anew with her family, and so this will certainly be relevant to her experience.
My father's family also suffered greatly in Poland during that time. I think [some] Jewish people react to hearing stories of their own persecution in a way that makes them more fiercely devout. And then there are Jews like myself, who have decided it's best that I focus on my humanity over faith, and that is what Hermann is doing in the play. He and I are of the same perspective to some extent.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It's a deeply heartfelt piece. It's slightly erudite. It's Hamilton without music, I guess. We are desperately trying to communicate a very important and relevant message: Life is precious. It's sadly relevant to our time and hopefully can enlighten people and be relatable to people who are feeling alone or frightened.
Faye Castelow was in the original London cast of Leopoldstadt and reprises her role of Gretl in New York. She has dozens of credits on the London theatre scene, but this production marks her Broadway debut.
Who she plays: I play Gretl, and I am married to Hermann. We meet this family in our home, and our home is the setting for our storytelling. Brothers, sisters, wives, sons, husbands, nephews, nieces are abundant, and we sit at the top of the family tree.
Her real-life history: My character isn't Jewish, and I am also not Jewish. It wasn't like this was new to me, but it has been an extraordinary privilege to share, now with three companies, so many people's stories, meeting their families and learning that, really, no one escaped. You don't have to try very hard or go back very far to find somebody that was touched.
There have been extraordinary personal moments brought to the show by the cast. In the opening scene, a couple characters are writing in a photo album, looking back at family members they can barely remember. [One] actress in London brought in all of her own photos of her family. She was writing [about] a great aunt that was lost, a cousin somewhere. They had come from Odessa and traveled across Central Europe and then eventually got lost along the way, but her immediate family made it to London.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: If you like [the 1999 movie] Liberty Heights, you will love Leopoldstadt.
A stage and screen veteran, Japhet Balaban has appeared in shows including Chicago Med, Chicago P.D., Empire, Fargo, and The Chi. He's now making his Broadway debut.
Who he plays: I am a Viennese banker. I play Otto, who comes into the family in 1924. He has business with Hermann, and that's my introduction into the family. Otherwise, he's just a Christian Austrian.
His real-life history: My dad's side of the family are Ukrainian Russian Jews from the era of Eastern Europe that they talk about refugees coming from in the play. My mom's side of the family are Italian Catholics. I grew up in England, but I live in the States now. The way that I connect with [the play] is, there's a lot about what heritage you keep and what heritage you let go of, what defines you, what parts of your family to keep, and what parts you forget.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: I've seen Tom Stoppard shows before where I have to have done some research beforehand. But the scenes [in Leopoldstadt] resonate differently than some of his other work; it has more accessibility. It's about this one family across multiple generations, managing to find life and managing to keep going.
Eden Epstein is making her Broadway debut with Leopoldstadt, but you might already know her from Apple TV+'s See, where she co-stars opposite Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista, or the movie Blind, where her co-stars were Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin.
Who she plays: Hermine is my main role. She is the niece of Hermann. Her identity is anomalous to the rest of her family members. They're all very sophisticated and erudite and principled, and she really just wants to have security. She really wants to marry rich and be rich, and so she's very fun to play. Me feeling like I wouldn't describe myself as Jewish first, she feels the same way. She doesn't want that to be something that obscures all of the other life she has around her because of course, at this time, being Jewish was something to hide and be ashamed of. I'm very proud to be Jewish, but I am able to imbue my own struggle with my Jewish identity into her expression of self.
Her real-life history: My grandfather on my mom's side is Jewish, and he's a Freudian psychoanalyst. He comes from a family that fled the pogroms in Russia; they fled persecution. I am Jewish, but I'm not religious at all. If I were to describe myself in five words, one of them would not be Jewish. It doesn't feel foundational to me. But this play [shows how] if you had lived at this time period, it wouldn't matter how you viewed yourself. The world viewed you as Jewish and therefore less than. [Now] I feel a different connection to my Judaism and have a sensitivity for what it must have been like for my ancestors, that I have this privilege to self-create. My identity is what I make of it because the world has been kind to people that look like me in the past 29 years that I've been alive, but you can't take it for granted.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: The simplicity of the story of a family and their struggle, through a really challenging time historically, to find ways to be resilient is something that is so unfortunately present in our world right now. This isn't a play that hits you over the head, in that the themes are so heavy that you don't get a breath of fresh air and there's no levity. There's so much joy and love and tradition and humor in this play that anyone will appreciate and fall in love with.
Arty Froushan was in the original London cast of Leopoldstadt and now makes his Broadway debut in the show. His screen credits include the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon and the Amazon series Carnival Row.
Who he plays: I play two characters. I play Fritz, who is a Prussian military officer. He's a lieutenant in the Dragoons. He is very much an antagonist. He meddles with the core family the play is about and is a thorn in the side of the patriarch. He's very naughty. And then Leo, the other character I play, is the the youngest member of the family, who you don't meet for a while. But when you do meet him, the play comes together around his realization of his heritage and his identity and his culture.
His real-life history: My father is from Iran, so I'm not Jewish, but I have a similar experience to my characters in the play. I'm sort of estranged from a culture. I have blood from this part of the world, and I've had trouble in my life connecting with it. I share that sense, of discovering a connection with a culture that you've forgotten, with my character.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It is a sweeping, epic family drama, which despite its epicness, moves very quickly. It's very hard hitting, it's very emotional, and it's a play about family.
Tedra Millan has appeared in the TV series A League of Their Own, Fosse/Verdon, Katy Keene, and Tales of the City. She's also a stage veteran, having starred opposite Kevin Kline on Broadway in Present Laughter and received Drama Desk and Obie Award nominations for performing in the Off-Broadway play The Wolves.
Who she plays: I'm Nellie, [Leo's] mama. My [full] name is Elena Rosenbaum, and I am a baby in the beginning of the play. And then I grow up â€” 1924 is where Nellie is a human being and not an infant â€” and I'm very politically active, I'm a socialist. She's very fierce and focused on the cause, and she's an empath. She loves the workers and she's a very smart lady. And she's experienced a lot of grief in her life, so it makes her not just a hard shell; she's quite soft. Later, in 1938, she's faced with something that challenges what she believes in, where she has to make very individualist decision to choose herself and her child, or not to for the common good.
Her real-life history: My family was presumably killed in the Holocaust. My family's from [the Eastern European region] Galicia, which is mentioned in the play. It was wild, the other day in rehearsal, to actually look at a map at where Galicia was. It really moved me â€” I've never seen where my family was from because it's Ukraine and Poland now.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: You fall in love with these characters, and then you will cry. It also takes us through two different wars, so there's a lot of change told through the living room of this one family, and the three generations that follow the original family.
The last time a Tom Stoppard play was on Broadway â€” the 2018 revival of Travesties â€” Sara Topham was part of it. Stoppard wrote her new lines for that show, and she has them framed in her house. He didn't do the same for Leopoldstadt, but doing the show is a memorable experience for her nonetheless.
Who she plays: When I looked at Sally [on a Leopoldstadt family tree], my character is right in the center of the page. She's connected in all directions. She's connected upwards, sideways, and down. And I interact a lot with the children in play, which feels to me like really a lovely thing.
Her real-life history: There's a beautiful line in the play â€” the grandmother says, "I'm writing the names of the people under the photographs because right now, we recognize those people, but in a couple of generations, nobody will know who that is anymore if I don't label them." My mom has a very sprawling, complex family with lots of unusual stuff in it, and she's been doing some books of that. I realize how many people that were a part of her life that I wouldn't recognize because they died before I was born, unless she writes their names in the albums. We all have that in our families to some extent or other.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It's like a tapestry. It has all these little threads that weave in and out and things that don't reveal themselves until later in the play. If it was on Netflix, you would definitely want to binge it.
You might recognize Corey Brill as Dr. Pete Anderson on The Walking Dead, or from his other screen appearances on Scorpion, CSI: Miami, Chicago P.D., and more. He's also a Broadway veteran, having appeared in The Best Man and the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.
Who he plays: My character is called Civilian, and he's very much outside of the family tree. I have to think he's called Civilian for a reason, because everyone should feel an uncomfortable connection to this character. Everybody in the audience will feel a kind of familiarity with this character, but there's not much I can say about him other than he's very much outside of that family.
His real-life history: There's a universal quality to this writing and to this family. Because it's a complicated family, there's nothing monolithic about the family itself. Anybody is going to relate to this, myself included. The family dynamics in this play are so perfectly written that it's everybody's family, in a way.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: Have you seen those 3D images that you can just keep zooming further and further in and it keeps revealing more and more little nooks and crannies? Anybody should go to any Stoppard play that they can, but this one in particular is extremely fulfilling and they're going to come out feeling very full.
Betsy Aidem was last seen on the New York stage in Prayer for the French Republic, another epic story of a Jewish family that spans multiple generations' worth of history. You'll like Leopoldstadt if you liked that critically acclaimed show, but the two are different, Aidem explained: The family in Prayer "anticipates what's coming toward them and is aware of the thousands-year history of anti-Semitism," but the Leopoldstadt family "make the assumption that they have assimilated and that they are part of a culture that accepts them, when that ends up not being true."
Who she plays: I'm playing Amelia; I am the matriarch of the family. My storyline starts in 1899, and I am walked out of a pogrom in my lifetime and walked 500 miles to become a European woman, and preside over a family that has a certain degree of denial and shame about their ancestry, which I have a pretty strong point of view about. I'm one of the lucky Jews in the play who gets to die in her own bed.
Her real-life history: My grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides were from Russia and Lithuania. My grandfather was run out of Russia by pogroms into Poland and left in the 20s to come to America. Most of all his sisters, and my great-grandmother, did not make it out of Poland. They ended up in Auschwitz. He was a peddler of cloth, which is what my husband in the play is [called]. It's surprisingly similar to my background in an interesting way, although we didn't end up in Austria.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It's a dazzling portrait of a very large blended family, who have a certain sense of belonging to a very European and exciting culture, who do not anticipate the wave of history that is coming for them, and what happens to that entire family as this wave rolls over them â€” who gets to prevail and who does not.
Colleen Litchfield is making her Broadway debut in Leopoldstadt after having performed on Apple TV+'s The Crowded Room and in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. She is one of the play's non-Jewish cast members, but the play called to mind her Irish family's experiences.
Who she plays: I play Hanna who, at the top of the show in 1899, is the youngest adult. She's the kid sister â€” very unlucky in love and very upset about it, and also a pianist. As the play progresses, she gets older, a bit cooler, luckier, certainly â€” and then very much not. I get to have a grandchild in this, which is wild.
Her real-life history: I'm Irish. We had to escape from Northern Ireland around the 1930s and came here. There's a lot I don't know about my family, but there are aspects of this one that I can relate to.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It's really quite funny at a lot of points, which I think has surprised some people, given that it does also deal with a worldwide atrocity. But there are scenes in it that are like a farce and that are really joyful.
Three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz is back on Broadway. Last season, he performed in the sold-out Off-Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins, and he's appeared on screen in shows like Fosse/Verdon, Inside Amy Schumer, and Blue Bloods.
Who he plays: [Ludwig, brother of Hermann and husband of Eva. He and Hermann] are two sides of an argument that's being made at the top of the play: There are two paths that we can take as a Jewish people. We can either assimilate, and the oppressed can become the oppressor, or we can take our pride and run with it and thrive on our own, and form a society and identity that was stolen from us. I also play my great-nephew in 1955, who's the only one of the few survivors of the family who comes back, in an effort to remember.
His real-life history: I had several family members die in the Holocaust, coming from [Eastern Europe]. Some of them came over before the war, and then some of them came over after, the lucky few who survived. As a child, some of my most vivid memories were going to see my great aunt Millie, who had a bungalow in the Catskills. She very openly told us several stories, but it was dark. It was her effort to make sure we don't forget where we come from. This play reminds you to never forget where you come from, to always honor where you come from, because it can always happen again.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It does things that only theatre can do. When the curtain rises, you feel very much like you're in a classic period piece â€” a light, bubbly, period comedy of this Jewish family in Vienna that feels nice and comfortable and cozy. And then it takes you on a journey, and you have the wind knocked out of you very unexpectedly and quickly. There's something about sharing the space and sharing energy and oxygen in one room and going from 1899 to 1955 and experiencing all of this in under two hours. It it's a marathon, but it's brisk.
Theatre veteran Caissie Levy most recently appeared in the Off-Broadway premiere of The Bedwetter, a new musical based on Sarah Silverman's memoir. She's also best known for originating the role of Elsa in the Frozen Broadway musical and performing in other Broadway shows like Wicked, Les Miserables, and last year's Tony-nominated revival of Caroline, or Change.
Who she plays: I am [Eva,] the sister of Hermann. Hermann and Ludwig are the glue at the top of the show. They represent these two families coming together.
Her real-life history: My family came over from Poland and Russia on both sides. Mostly they came in the early 1900s. My grandmother was born in Romania on route to America. They were turned away at Ellis Island because the quota for the Jews was filled. A lot of my family went to Australia, a lot went to Argentina, and the rest went to Canada through Halifax, and that's how my family ended up in Canada.
I didn't lose anybody in the Holocaust, but my grandfather, who my son is named after, he was in the Air Force, and he liberated the camps as a Jew. He brought home a Nazi uniform. Once he came back from the war, he never went back in a synagogue for about 20 years â€” being a Jew liberating the camps must have been a horror I can't even begin to describe. My grandmother burned the uniform because she wanted him so badly to move on, and he never spoke about it.
Being a Jew in 2022 with a family and making art for a living, and my ancestors seeing that this is what their descendants are â€” it's unfathomable. This show's about identity, and it's making me think so much about my identity. Being a Jew is as fundamental to me as being a woman, having green eyes, being Canadian, being American. It's one of the first few things you would ever say about me. To represent that and bring that to these characters, it means a lot.
Why to see Leopoldstadt: It's going to touch people deeper than they think. On paper, the soundbite of what the show is can sound like another Holocaust generational story, but it's it's much more than that. It's much more human than that. You really come to know these characters, and when people come and they let it wash over them, they're going to find themselves really invested in the stories.
Originally published on