On Thursday, as The Royale headed into its final weekend, the 2016 Drama Desk nominations were announced. The show received one for outstanding play and another for outstanding director of a play (the ever-amazing Rachel Chavkin). The Royale may or may not take home those categories, but it will, on the awards night, June 5th, have one secure moment in the spotlight: the production is receiving a Special Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble. The citation reads, “The heavyweight cast of McKinley Belcher III, Khris Davis, Montego Glover, John Lavelle, and Clarke Peters gels as a unit in bringing Marco Ramirez’s story, inspired by Jack Johnson, to unforgettable life, offering a trenchant statement on racism in America.”
Again and again throughout the play’s run, those actors have told me just how cohesive their quintet is. Davis said from day one “we all strapped our jet packs on and took off together.” Peters said “we all looked around the rehearsal room and silently said: this is going to work.”
When offered to an outside interviewer, such statements can seem stock. Nobody in a cast, whether large or small, wants to acquire a reputation as “difficult,” and most actors will parrot the party line of collegiality rather than risk tension backstage.
I can assure you that, with The Royale ensemble, the actors’ on-the-record assurances of harmony are sincere. I can’t tell you how many times during the run I have walked past the men’s dressing room (shows in the Newhouse have gender-specific group dressing rooms) and heard laughter spilling forth. Sometimes, the merriment erupted from someone sharing a story about an occurrence during the run of a long-ago show. Sometimes, it was merely a story about what just happened on the subway on the way to the theater.
My favorite such moment came on or around April 7th, which is Peters’ birthday. I can’t be sure, but I think he was being ribbed about his age, although the remarks weren’t very malicious. The younger actors have enormous respect for his counsel, dating, perhaps, from the moment in the rehearsal process when they realized that among his many accomplishments Peters wrote the Tony-nominated book for the musical Five Guys Named Moe.
But the learning process backstage doesn’t just travel from older to younger. As Mrs. Anna sings every night on the Beaumont stage, “It’s a very ancient saying/But a true and honest thought/That if you become a teacher/By your pupils you’ll be taught.” Peters, in other words, has been learning, too.
As part of my final Royale blog entry, let me pay too-long-delayed tribute to the only female member of the ensemble: Montego Glover. She is no stranger to Drama Desk glory, having been the recipient of the 2010 award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, for Memphis. I seem to remember her beautiful voice soaring above the others in that birthday celebration for Peters. It was a treat.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.