Age & Hometown: 28; New York, New York
Current Role: Starring as the title character, a sensitive art prodigy in the acclaimed stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s classic novel My Name Is Asher Lev.
A Father/Son Story: New York native Ari Brand feels a special bond with Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jew who, because of his work as an artist, can’t win the approval of his devout father. “I connect to [the play] through my father, who passed away when I was six,” Brand says. “He grew up in Jerusalem and had a lot of tension with his father, who was an Orthodox scholar with strict rules for religious observance that my father didn’t want to follow. About a week into previews of the show in New Haven, I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is way more like my father than me.’” The themes in Chaim Potok’s coming-of-age novel have proved universal: “It’s a story about the conflicts we have with our family and community when we do what we love and have to do in order to have a fulfilling life,” Brand explains. “People from everywhere connect to it. It’s a very specific context, but the story is universal.”
Living for Music: The son of a concert pianist and a music education teacher, Brand considers music his first love. “I connect to Asher Lev musically more than in any visual art form,” he says. “Music is sort of a life force inside me; it’s part of my blood. Without it, I don’t think I'd be able to live my life.” Brand began playing piano at age five and by age nine, he had picked up the guitar. Now, he is the lead singer and plays three keyboards in the indie surf band The New Facility. “It’s not the surf rock of the ‘60s; it’s more of the feeling of what it’s like to be on the beach on a balmy day,” he explains. “It’s mellow but at the same time it’s explosive. [Surf] is just a feeling I get when we play it.” So, is Brand interested in a musical theater role? “I would not be opposed if the opportunity arose,” he says coyly. “I would love to be in a play where I got to play a lot of instruments, like Once.”
Broadway Bound? Growing up in Greenwich Village, Brand recalls the impact of seeing The Who’s Tommy on Broadway. “It was eye-opening in what theater could be,” he says. “I was raised in a classic rock household with the Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, and when I saw Tommy, I was like, ‘This is not West Side Story.' I remember being completely mesmerized by the show and the album.” Brand almost made his Main Stem debut in David Cromer’s Broadway Bound, but the revival was cancelled before the first preview. “Nothing in the theater is for certain, and it was a lesson I learned very early on,” he says. No wonder he is keeping a level head about about playing playwright/director Moss Hart in a recent reading of James Lapine's adaptation of Hart's celebrated memoir, Act One. "Just to be on the ground floor of James Lapine script was a blessing. I'm so grateful."