Lots of Laughs and Fun in George Street Playhouse's Streaming Production of It's Only a Play
Professionally filmed onstage at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, Tony Award winner Terrence McNally’s hit comedy It's Only a Play comes to life for this new streaming George Street Playhouse production that runs through July 4.
It is opening night on Broadway, and an unforgettable cast of characters, from the self-possessed leading lady to the starry-eyed coat check boy, is eagerly awaiting “rave” reviews. Equal parts uproarious and heartfelt — It’s Only a Play will remind you why there’s no business like show business.
Three of the hilarious cast members, award-winning actress and comedian Julie Halston (Tootsie - The Musical), Tony-nominated actor Andy Groteleuschen (Tootsie - The Musical) and LA-based actor and Columbia University grad Greg Cuellar chat via Zoom with WBGO's Doug Doyle about the play.
Julie Halston says it was very emotional for her to play the aging actress "Virginia Noyes" in this tribute performance to the late Terrence McNally who died last year.
"I was so excited also because Kevin Cahoon and I are friends and he was our director. We also knew Terrance. We all know Tom Kirdahy, Terrance's partner and husband, so this is very moving to be doing this play at this time at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center which is spectacular. It was really a special situation all around."
Halston first achieved recognition as an actress through her co-starring performances in the comedy plays of writer-performer, Charles Busch in the 1980s in New York City. She was a founding member of his theatre company, Theatre-in-Limbo. Halston says she called upon that experience when developing her character for this streaming production of It's Only a Play.
"I loved Virginia Noyes. I loved playing her. I identified with her really. She was glamorous. She's been a little abused by the industry, but she came back. She loves her fellow performers and she's in it for the right reasons. I think I learned a lot of that from the characters I played in Charles Busch's plays because they were highly theatrical and full of drama and pathos. Drama and pathos is quite a combination."
Halson starred on Broadway's Tootsie The Musical, along with Andy Groteleuschen.
"Tootsie was a very very special situation for me, and Andy know this all too well, in 2018 I became a widow and 2019 I got Tootsie. We went to Chicago. We went to Broadway. It saved my life and these people who were in Tootsie are now really part of my DNA. To know that Andy was going to be in the show (It's Only a Play) I had to do this. I didn't care where we going to do it. I didn't care if it was Mrs. Smith's backyard. So I was just delighted when we found that it was part of the George Street Playhouse. I've known David Saint. I've known the great reputation they have, so I knew we were in a really good situation, that we would be treated well and I had confidence in the whole situation."
Andy Groteleuschen, who plays the role of playwright Peter Austin, praised Halston's performance in It's Only a Play and how she uses contrast like it's part of a musical score.
"To watch her performance, physically it's intensely musical, but also if you just listen to it, it's an operetta, it's just all over the place. It's so wonderful to listen to."
Groteleuschen describes his role in It's Only a Play.
"My part in this play is the hopeful and beleaguered playwright who is in love with the theatre but I think he's sort of fallen away from it. He's in his mid career but he's never been on Broadway and he's written this play for his best friend. He's hoping for the very best. He's wearing his father's tuxedo and really feeling full about the potential beauties of the theatre. He's absolutely in a state of romance on his opening night."
Groteleuschen is still actively involved in the Fiasco Theater Company and says much of his work during the coronavirus pandemic was with his group of friends.
"We all went to Brown University, Trinity Rep Conservatory in Providence, Rhode Island and when we graduated everybody moved to New York City and of course you're just cast to the four winds, and everybody is pulled into different things and lives change. But when you're in drama school, we spent three years training together, all speaking the same vocabulary and these different lessons about art and life and you know how to make theatre. And then you don't get to do them with one another. So the artistic director had this idea that we'll all come together and we're going to do a production of Cymbeline (William Shakespeare) in the evenings and after work, but we'll at least get to do what we had been trained for. But it took four years for us to get together. That's a long time to be away from people, so when you come back it's like well what is this going to be like? Do we still believe in those things? It's kind of like coming out of the pandemic and doing a show. Will it still work? It came together and we had so much fun and fortunately that fire was sort of caught at the time and we've been able to continue it. Now Fiasco has been around for ten years."
Groteleuschen would love to see a Fiasco production come to the George Street Playhouse in the future.
After graduating from Columbia University in New York, Greg Cuellar moved to Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic. Cuellar says It's Only a Play is his first big role in the New York/New Jersey area and he was thrilled to work with the stellar cast, despite the restricted circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
"We all came in a little unsure, I think, of what is was going to be like to start rehearsing again, to get on our feet, do we still have it? On top of that, socializing and being with people in a room again and being around individuals without masks, there was a lot of this gentle dance that was going on with people, figuring out when we could put masks on and when we couldn't. We also had our wonderful crew there that was making sure we didn't have our masks off like when we were in the hall or anything. It was a real dipping of our toes back into what the industry is and what the work is. I think for all of us, it was a way to get back to what we're meant to be doing."
Cuellar portrays the young British director "Frankie Finger" in It's Only a Play.
"I was personally looking for how to bring such a large character to life in a way that would still register on camera. I think that was one of my big concerns. I remember Kevin (Cahoon) told me to stop worrying about the camera and to just play the character as large as he is. He's a bit of an egotist, he's a bit of a narcissist. He's this young kid who found success early on, has not been told 'no" quite a lot and so he believes he can sort of run wild with every sort of impulse he has. I think the events of the night in the play, you're starting to see the cracks of that unchecked ego start to break."
Cuellar says he's had a couple of screenings at his place.
"I just want people to enjoy it, to listen to the language and enjoy these incredible performances across the board."
The other cast members include Zach Shaffer, Christine Toy Johnson, Triney Sandoval and Doug Harris. For more information about the show's streaming performances, you can go to www.georgestreetplayhouse.org.
You can see the Doug Doyle's Zoom chat with Cuellar, Groteleuschen and Haltson at https://fb.watch/6iHUxj11tb/.