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Golden Boy - Broadway

Lincoln Center Theater presents a revival of Clifford Odets' classic

Three-Time Tony Nominee Danny Burstein on the Golden Roles That Made Him One of Broadway’s MVPs

Three-Time Tony Nominee Danny Burstein on the Golden Roles That Made Him One of Broadway’s MVPs
Danny Burstein
Danny Burstein recalls sharing white wine with Sondheim when he was 18!

Sometimes it only takes one great role to turn a respected actor into an in-demand stage star—and in the case of Danny Burstein, that role happened to be an over-the-top Latin lover named Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone. His Tony-nominated performance led to a second acclaimed comic turn (and another Tony nod) as Luther Billis in South Pacific. But Burstein can do a lot more than generate laughs, as he proved by mining the depths of Buddy Plummer in Follies (Tony nomination #3) and now Tokio, the title character’s boxing trainer, in the Broadway revival of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy. The versatile actor recently chatted with about meeting Sondheim as a college student and the roles that shaped his career.

Role Fans Ask Me About Most
The Drowsy Chaperone [2006; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] was an important show for a lot of Broadway veterans—me, Beth Leavel, [director/choreographer] Casey Nicholaw. It brought our careers to another level, and we all realized it: We were living the dream and having a hell of a lot of fun. The guys who created the show were out of Second City in Toronto, so they let us improv and try things, and Casey, who has impeccable taste, was able to pick and choose. We helped create the piece, which made it even more special. I didn’t base [Aldolpho] on anyone specific. I looked at character actors in old black-and-white films, and I borrowed from members of my own family. I’m half Jewish and half Spanish—my mother is from Costa Rica— so Spanish is my first language.”

Role That Was the Most Challenging
“Buddy in Follies [2011; Best Actor Tony nomination] was the most difficult emotionally and also the most satisfying. I had to think not just about the dramatic scenes but the singing and the comedy and the pathos. Mr. Sondheim forces you to use every bit of your talent. It was also a very emotional show for me because I went through a terrible divorce and felt like I was reliving that. [Burstein is now happily married to actress Rebecca Luker.] Holy cow, ‘The Right Girl’ is such a difficult number, and then comes ‘Buddy’s Blues,’ which is never in your bones enough; you have to keep running it in your head every night. I’ve actually known Steve [Sondheim] since I was 18. I did Merrily We Roll Along at Queens College [as Franklin], and I wrote him a letter with questions. Within a week, I got a note back saying, ‘Give me a call and we’ll sit down and talk.’ Two weeks later, I was sitting in his house in Turtle Bay over a carafe of white wine, talking about the show for three hours and taking 100 notes. I was just a college kid! We’ve now worked together on three shows [including Company] and he has been an amazing friend.”

Role That Was Nearest to My Heart
South Pacific [2008, as Luther Billis; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] was a heaven-sent show. I worked on it for two and a half years and was able to save some money for my kids’ college while being surrounded by the most wonderful cast: Kelli [O’Hara] and Paulo [Szot], Loretta [Ables Sayre] and all the Seabees. It was such a beautiful production in every way. I auditioned for that show six times, with a final callback for Mary Rodgers and Alice Hammerstein. I think [director] Bart Sher was more nervous that day than I was because he needed the final casting approval of the daughters. Luther is a scamp, but what I tried to play up was that he also has a big heart. He’s out for himself, but he wants to take care of Nellie Forbush. Martin Scorsese came to see the show and cast me in the pilot of Boardwalk Empire.”

Role With the Most Exciting Ensemble
“Every day at Golden Boy is like a master class. This is one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever gotten to work with; from the very beginning, everyone has been completely prepared and on their 'A' game. I play a boxing trainer named Tokio who is a cross between Rocky Balboa and Yoda. He’s a father figure to Joe [Seth Numrich], and his job is to mold him into the kind of fighter he needs to be. The character is quiet and methodical, and I’m enjoying playing him very, very much. It’s a brilliant script about what it means to be a success, and how people equate financial success with happiness. Nobody was writing like this before 1937, when this play and Waiting for Lefty were produced. Clifford Odets is New York’s Shakespeare—his language is poetic and beautiful, and for me, having grown up in New York City, it’s like mother’s milk.”

Role I Wish More People Had Seen
“I want to mention Mrs. Farnsworth [2004], a wonderful three-hander by A.R. Gurney. I played an English teacher at the New School, and Mrs. Farnsworth, played by Sigourney Weaver, comes in to take my class. She starts talking about how she had an affair with George W. Bush—she doesn’t say his name, but it’s obvious who she is talking about. I’m this ultra-liberal teacher who is trying to pull the details out of her. Then her husband, this WASPy guy from Connecticut, played by John Lithgow, comes in and gently gets her out of the classroom before too much is revealed. We did it downtown [at the Flea Theater] for three months before Bush's second election; it continued to run with others, but I wish more people had seen the original cast.”

Role That Was the Least Like Me
“I’m very, very proud of Nor’easter, an independent film that’s on the festival circuit right now. I am constantly asking my agent to look for roles that are different from anything I’ve done, and I got a call one day saying, ‘I found the perfect part for you: It’s a gay deaf pedophile who works in a pizza shop!’ I read the script, by Andrew Brotzman [who also directed], and thought it was brilliant. It’s a desolate story of a boy who is abducted by my character when he is 11 years old and is away from his family for five years. I crammed for two months to learn sign language, which was unbelievably challenging. The story is super-serious, but that’s the fun of being an actor: to become somebody completely different.”


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