He’s a Best Featured Actor Tony nominee for playing budding terrorist Younger Brother in Ragtime, but Bobby Steggert moved on with a vengeance after the musical revival closed prematurely in December. He returned to the stage in Yank!, the now-Broadway-bound musical about a gay romance during World War II, then snagged the role of playwright A.R. Gurney’s younger self in Lincoln Center Theater’s summer production of The Grand Manner opposite Kate Burton and Boyd Gaines. The boyish 29-year-old actor chatted about his magical theatrical year during a rehearsal break for his current show.
You’re the only Tony nominee who’s been in three shows in six months—including two that opened after your nominated performance closed. You’ve been busy!
I’m having a lot of “Whose life is this?” moments. But I’m grateful to be having those moments, for sure.
Do you think you’re going to win the Tony?
It’s weird—people keep telling me they think I will. I mean, The New York Times thinks I will, so it’s bizarre, because I didn’t even expect a nomination. But no, I really don’t, and I would be happy for any of the other guys. They’re all good people, and I want good people to be rewarded. I know how young I am; this is only my second Broadway show, for god sakes. I have no expectations because my expectations have already been far exceeded.
What are you wearing?
I’m wearing a Tommy Hilfiger suit that was lent to me and tailored beautifully to my body. I’m really excited to wear something that so specifically fits. It’s not a tux; it’s a double-breasted suit, but it’s incredibly formal.
You’re not giving that suit back, are you?
Maybe they’ll give it to me, if they’re feeling generous.
It’s been tailored for you. Who else will ever wear it?
Someone my exact size who’s a little more famous? I plan on giving it back, but maybe they’ll surprise me.
Who is your date?
My mother. My mom is responsible for all my success because she and my father made me believe I could do this even when I didn’t think I could. She drove me to all my college auditions and listened to me on the phone every time I said I might quit acting because it’s too hard. She’s the one who kept me afloat, so she deserves it.
I hadn’t realized that you appeared in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden when you were young.
My mom moved up from DC to New York with me for three months so I could have that experience. If someone told me that Lynn Ahrens, the woman who wrote the lyrics for Christmas Carol, would write the lyrics for something that would garner me a Tony nomination 15 years later, I wouldn’t have believed it.
You can’t get too caught up in pre-Tony drama because you’re previewing in a new play, A.R. Gurney’s The Grand Manner at Lincoln Center Theater. What’s that like?
It’s been wonderful. I’ve been craving a small, intimate play, and what better place to do it than Lincoln Center? I’m playing a young Pete Gurney in a story based on a true event in his life, when he came to New York to see [Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic in] Antony and Cleopatra. I’m so honored to be working with the finest theater actors. Boyd Gaines [McClintic] is someone I’ve looked up to since I got to New York. He has the career I would love to have; he can just do anything. Kate Burton [Cornell] comes from a tradition of actors, but she is down-to-earth and kind and generous. And Brenda Wehle is such a journeyman as an actress; the three of them together inspire me so much.
Will you be in Broadway transfer of Yank!, the third show you did this season?
I know that they want me to be in it, and I know how close it is to my heart and how committed I am to it. David Cromer [who’s joining the Broadway production] is a thrilling director, and he has expressed his desire for me to be in it but I haven’t signed anything. If it’s coming and I am offered an official contract, I will absolutely accept.
Do you think Yank! belongs on Broadway?
I do, as long as they respect the intimacy of its style and its storytelling. If they can find a way to make it land in a bigger house, I think it more than belongs.
The shows you’ve done this season are really different.
I’m interested in characters who are complex and troubled, who are working through things and realizing strengths they never knew they had. I’m not too interested in musical comedy, to be honest with you, but I know how to play characters who are searching because I am searching.
You did tweet about losing the chance to play one classic musical part: “Harry Potter has ruined one of my life’s dreams.” Was that about Finch [in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying]?
Oh yes, because it was one of the very first Broadway shows I ever saw. My mom took me to the Matthew Broderick How to Succeed, and I was blown away by every aspect of that show. It's a character that’s more complex than most musical theater characters. Who knows if I would be any good at it, but it’s a show I would love to tackle.