Friday, May 9, 2014

Danny Burstein on Acting, Balancing Family With Your Art and How Not To Be an A-Hole

Danny Burstein.
By A.B. Lugo.

Danny Burstein is a lot of things– actor-singer-dancer (the veritable "triple threat"), guest lecturer, husband, father. A Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award winner, the star of stage and screen just nabbed his fifth Tony nomination for his fifteenth (!!) Broadway show, Cabaret. He is an excellent performer, a total professional and a down-to-earth guy.

Born in Mt. Kisco, New York, and was raised in New York City, Burstein is the son of a painter and a Greek philosophy professor of Jewish heritage and a Costa Rican mother. He attended the High School of the Performing Arts and Queens College in New York City, and later earned an MFA in Acting from the University of California, San Diego. He won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for his role as Buddy Plummer in Follies, and nominated as principal soloist for the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for the same musical.

Find out a little bit more about "un tico en Broadway"– Danny Burstein.

Burstein as Luther Billis
in South Pacific.
First off, congratulations on your fifth Tony nomination for your role of Herr Schultz in Cabaret. When did you first realize you wanted to be a performer?
It may sound like a cliché, but I've always known I wanted to be an actor. I've always loved the dialogue form. I've always loved storytelling. My father gave me a copy of Peer Gynt when I was 11 and I couldn't put it down. When I got into the High School of Performing Arts, I finally felt as though I could actually make a living as an actor. They really shaped me and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward as a professional actor. I'll be forever grateful to my teachers there.

Burstein as Buddy Plummer
in Follies.
Describe the experience of being in your first Broadway show (A Little Hotel on the Side as a replacement performer). Describe your first Tony nomination (for The Drowsy Chaperone). 
My first experience was not as a replacement. I was in the show playing a small part. Later I was bumped up to a larger role when another actor left. I remember getting to the theater very early, before the stagehands got there. I would lay on the stage floor and thank my lucky stars to be there. Tony Randall had offered me the job. We had worked together several years before and told me he wanted me to be in his Broadway company, The National Actors Theater. I was honored. 
My first Tony nomination was quite unexpected. I hadn't received an Outer Critics or Drama Desk nomination so didn't expect a Tony nomination at all. But I felt like it was a breakout role and was happy it was recognized. The whole experience of The Drowsy Chaperone was a magical one. For everyone involved. Everyone involved in that show feels a special ownership of the show and connection to it. I'm so proud of all the wonderful work that went on every single night. 

Burstein (as Herr Schultz) with
Linda Emond and Alan Cumming
in Cabaret.
Tony Randall and his National Actors Theatre gave you the opportunity to open your first four or five Broadway shows. I hear you had quite a memorable first meeting with the late Mr. Randall. Tell me more.
Yes, the first time I met Tony he called me an "asshole". Which, because I'm me, made me howl with laughter. He didn't mean it. He was making a point. About "listening", the most important part of acting. I was being stubborn and he said that to make me listen and it did. He became a dear friend and a great mentor to me. He gave me my first job on Broadway, for goodness sake. I'd worked with him in 1987, I think, and he asked me to be a part of his company then & there - before there even WAS a company. It was 3 years before he'd finally raised the money to start the National Actors Theater. I loved being a part of that and learned so much from my experiences there. I miss him terribly to this day. But his beautiful wife, Heather, and his children remain great friends to this day.

Burstein as Lolly Steinman in "Boardwalk Empire".
What was it like for you to play Lolly Steinman in “Boardwalk Empire” and work with Martin Scorsese? 
I loved working with Martin Scorsese, who wouldn't, right? He'd seen me in South Pacific and it was shortly after that I was cast in the show. I thought I might be nervous working with him. It was the opposite, he was friendly, incisive and wonderfully creative. Everyone came to work bringing their "A-game", so instead of nerves it was dedication to the craft that I felt. I owe him a lot.

You also can be seen in the films Transamerica and Nor’easter, as well as the “Law & Order” television series, “Louie” and  “Boardwalk Empire”. How do you feel about the differences between performing on stage versus on screen? 
There is no difference. It is all honesty. You just have to be honest with what the role demands. Make choices, challenge yourself and have fun. Don't be afraid to monkey with the material a bit. Make mistakes and learn. I like stretching myself in different genres. But they all boil down to the same technique; honesty. How can you make every single moment as real as possible? That's the mystery, isn't it?

Burstein as Aldolpho in
The Drowsy Chaperone.
Has your Latino heritage ever informed a role and if so, which one(s)? 
Yes, Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone. Basically, I was doing a bad imitation of my uncle Franco. Also, I did a play in La Jolla that was half in Spanish, half in English and that was fun. And I have occasionally used my Spanish for commercials & voiceovers.

Burstein and his wife,
the Broadway star
Rebecca Luker.
You are married to the Broadway star Rebecca Luker. How do you balance the work of being a performer with also being a husband and father
I don't know. You just live your life. I'm happily married. I love my sons. I love my work. I've been able to balance everything by my dedication to them all. But if push came to shove, I'd choose my family every time. I love my work, I've dedicated my life to do it. But my family will always come first.

You have been a guest lecturer at many universities such as Yale, NYU, University of California-San Diego and Queens College. What bit of advice can you give to our blog readers or to any aspiring performers about the business and succeeding in it?
Only become an actor if you are 900% sure it's what you want to do. If you find you HAVE to do it. Otherwise, it's too hard a life. A "success" as an actor is defined in many ways by many different people. To me, it's means surviving in this business. Making a living and doing the work. People who are still here are successful in my book. When I first started out, all I wanted was to do good work and have the respect of my peers. I'm starting to feel like that's all coming together.

Thank you so much and good luck this awards season.

Danny Burstein was nominated for a 2014 Tony AwardDrama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance in the revival of Cabaret on Broadway, now playing performances for a limited run (until Sunday, January 4, 2015, as of this writing) on Broadway at Studio 54. For more information, click here or here

[Broadway production photographs by Joan Marcus.]

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