It’s not really fair to ask interview time of actors during their first week in a major new role. They are consumed with the desire not only to get through their performances but to get the staging down right. Not all performers, however, are Danny Burstein. Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady marks his fourth time in an LCT production – all four directed by Bartlett Sher.
So I felt emboldened to ask Burstein, who is much loved in the precincts of the Beaumont, for a few fast facts after his first few Doolittles this week. First, I wondered if he had ever used a British accent onstage. He replied: “I was in the chorus of My Fair Lady when I was 16, in community theater. Of course, I didn’t have any lines, but I did sing with the accent. Other than that I’ve never spoken with a Cockney accent before.” Burstein added that he’s long been as much Higgins as Doolittle – a student of dialects. “On my first trip to London, in 1989, I brought a tape recorder and asked random people to speak with their accents and describe where their sound was from. That proved invaluable to me in later years.”
Given his reputation for thoroughness, how did Burstein prepare for Doolittle? “I rehearsed like mad,” he replied. “And studied everything I could. When you replace in a show that is running it’s like jumping on a moving train so you have to be super-prepared.”
As My Fair Lady marks Burstein’s 17th Broadway show, it’s not surprising that many of his fellow train travelers are familiars. He has worked with Becca Ayers in South Pacific, Laura Benanti in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Adam Grupper in Fiddler on the Roof, Brian Shepard in Follies, Clarke Thorell in Titanic, and Matt Wall in both The Drowsy Chaperone and South Pacific.
Last August, Burstein gave a much-lauded performance as the conniving emcee in the musical Moulin Rouge!, to which the actor will return this summer on Broadway after his Doolittle gets himself to the church one last time. But my thoughts backstage at the Beaumont this week with Burstein were much more on the conniver he played here a decade ago in South Pacific. I’m talking about Luther Billis, who never met a cheap trinket he didn’t try to unload.
What, I asked Burstein, would be Billis’s advice to Doolittle? “If someone offers you money, shut up and take it.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com