Joy: Was it weird for you [in Spring Awakening] that people didn’t see you? They saw your character signing and you sort of had to hide?
Sean: I think there was a moment of thinking “oh, will this be weird?” And you know, I am not without ego. I am not trying to be a super humble guy, but there was a sense of like, I really felt like I got my moments and I never felt invisible, and I get to run into the crowd and that was cool.
J: You never fell?
Yes, I did not fall. A couple of close times. Not like Kathryn [Gallagher]. Kathryn took a tumble but no, I didn’t feel particularly weird about that, and I actually don’t know why, because on paper I would be like, I want to be seen. You know what I mean? But then I got to be in a fun way, being seen playing music which like, what more can you ask for? There are very few shows where I will ever get to go up and mess around like that.
J: And you were seen as Bobby Maler.
Right, which is a hilarious happy accident. I am very happy that worked out and Michael kept that in the show.
J: It was such a funny part. I liked it.
I know, and it brought this lyric that was kind of like a tiny little joke that super fans of the show might have gotten, and I think that’s what is really cool about Michael [Arden]’s directing.
J: Is that why you were wearing khaki pants though the whole show?
Yes. That is why. That sort of dictated that but Michael was willing to like — I think it livened up the show. To take little moments and make them big for a moment.
J: The Marianna Wheelan, that part was awesome.
I know and Ali [Stroker] is a special person too for all the reasons.
J: Did you watch her in Glee Project?
Yes. She was actually — you know, I didn’t watch that much because I think at that point I was still just getting into theater, but I went back and watched and I was like, Ali. She was a star then and I am excited to watch what she does. I think the sky’s the limit for Ali. She could be president.
J: She made history by being the first girl on Broadway with a wheelchair.
Isn’t it incredible? You know, they had to remodel a dressing room for her because all the dressing rooms were up flights of stairs or down, and it’s incredible. That had never been done and–
J: So cool that they were willing to do that.
Yes, exactly. And Ali was not making demands or anything. It was just like no, this is the right thing to do, and our show literally brought that change about that if there is a wheelchair-bound actress or actor in that theater again, our show is the reason there is already a space for them. It’s incredible.
J: Is Kimiko [Glenn] in the same dressing room that you are in?
No. I was very much ensemble and Kimiko is very much special. What’s funny — she is actually in Alex Wyse and Andy’s room. They had this room on the opposite side of the stage that’s just two people, and she is in there with Keala [Settle]. I visited the theater a few times and one thing I didn’t know, the crew of each theater stays the same. So designers change, but the crew is always there. So I know the doorman, I know the backstage guys.
J: Did you know Andy [Mientus] before Broadway?
I knew him “ish” through Michael, so it was sort of one of those — like I was very much like a fan of his, which I hate admitting now because now I love to tease Andy, but I was very much like oh, “Andy is cool and everyone loves Andy, I want to be friends with Andy”.
Serena: We are going to be starting this new segment called Bright Star where we are featuring fans who are really passionate about Broadway. We received over 40 applications, and all girls. We need a few guys. It’s really funny. We got so many girls.
That’s crazy because I don’t know, I guess I am a guy who was like super into Broadway and going to musical theater school. I knew a bunch of guys but it’s still female-dominated.
J: We are trying to figure it out — we don’t want to feature all girls at the same time because we don’t want it to look silly, but at the same time we literally got all those applications, and more people kept saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t fill it out yet” and they’re also girls. We are like “no rush, take your time”.
“Do you have a brother? Send him over.”
J: So what was it like making it to the Tonys, because you guys were raising money [with Kickstarter]?
Yes. That was a little odd, because we didn’t know about it, and then it came out and we sort of found out with everyone else, and then there was all this noise about it, and at the end of the day I think — and maybe this is an unpopular opinion but I will just say it: I think it should have been clearer. Okay? Deaf West is fronting the money, but this is like their entire annual budget, so we need to make this money back for Deaf West to not go under.
J: Oh, that’s what it was?
People started being like well, how are you doing this if you are performing that, and they were right to bring that up, but I think it literally just could have been a sentence added in there and no one would have been upset. Oh, wow, they fronted this money, we need to help them so they can afford it. So I will go on the record and say that. But getting there, I mean, that didn’t detract from any of us and we were so excited to get to do the performance and that day was so cool. I remember because it’s very fast. You are backstage, you are waiting, and then the cast who was on runs off and you run by and we ran by the Hamilton cast and the Waitress cast. Like, I saw Kimiko in the hallway and it was just like “oh my gosh”. It was one of those moments.
J: You guys were in it together.
Yes. It’s crazy. And Glenn Close was sitting in the waiting room like this and I am like “oh my god.”
J: Did you see Barbra Streisand? She was there.
No, I didn’t. I just missed her. This is what happened: the elevator opened and Glenn Close walked out, and for a second I was like, that was — you know. And then I got in the elevator and it was one of those where the guy was running it, and he was like, “you just missed Barbara Streisand” and I was like, thank God because you know, I don’t want to have a fit but it was such — I felt like it was sort of too much, given the horrible Orlando shooting that that happened on that day.
J: And they made those silver ribbons for everyone to wear.
It was beautiful, and I thought James Corden was the perfect host. He managed to address it and be like, “this is a celebration” and it didn’t get brought down, but it was addressed and he was incredible. I thought he was the perfect guy to do it. I loved the show in general this year, and I guess it was watched by four or five million more people this year than the year before.
J: That is a positive thing, but at the same time I felt like it broadcasted Hamilton a little bit too much, start to end.
Yes, but you know, it’s such a double-edged sword because you need it. When you have a phenomenon like that, that is good for the industry. But it’s also going to — you know, that’s capitalism.
J: And then you guys also do that bumper. That was a really cool idea.
I am glad they did that. That was such a cool — because you saw all the casts or the one where the composers did theirs, with Sara Bareilles and Carole King. That’s legendary, we saw that. Yes, the bumpers were cool.
J: Who chose the song?
I believe the casts were assigned songs. Maybe some of the cast got to choose. They were like, “you are doing Hair, here is the music,” and we learned it. I am so glad we did though. It was perfect. It was fun.
J: It looked like so much fun.
It was, and I got to say the intro for the next show coming up, and I remember my parents were like, “you were right there” and I was like, yay! It’s really cool to do this stuff and your parents are so proud of you. That’s one of my favorite parts, honestly, because they can’t imagine — I don’t know. You bring up a kid and you hope the best. And then when you achieve these things that are so statistically unlikely, it’s cool to like make your parents proud.
J: Did you get that positive reaction from everyone?
So in Spring Awakening, this was the positive side of being sort of in the shadows. I felt very buoyed from criticism personally because it usually wasn’t me, but some people would be critical of the show. This show also was very important to so many people, and as much as the change we did I thought was cool and different, you have to understand some people aren’t going to like it as much. I have — through Twitter, through all sorts of things — it’s not even a thick skin, but you know, 5 to 10 percent of people, even if you are doing the greatest thing ever, aren’t going to like it no matter what and that’s okay. I weirdly don’t take it personally. Like I sometimes go through my Instagram comments and there is plenty of very negative things. I remember how my parents, who really don’t get social media, think that’s a big deal. They are like, “well, this guy says this, why do they say” — or comment on Kimiko’s photo like, “dump that loser.”
J: Seriously? That’s so mean.
I guess that comes with the territory. When she has half a million people on there, someone is going to say something stupid.
S: It’s easy for people to criticize you on social media, but what about coming up to you in person? Did anyone ever make negative remarks after seeing the show?
I seem to remember somebody being “well, I didn’t know about this or that”. There were growing pains for the show, certainly in our first few productions. Like our tech was rough sometimes. It’s tough to get sound to work all the time. But the show was so cool and inclusive, I feel like most people got it even when it was rough around the edges.
J: I wrote a whole post about how it opened up — okay so we don’t get a sex education in school so I wrote a whole post. Like in a lot of religious Jewish schools you don’t get it. So I didn’t know a lot of these things. I mean, I did afterward. I think it’s a very important show for high school kids to see. I wrote that — I wrote a whole post called “My Awakening”.
I may have seen that. I may have not attributed it to you. I think someone might have stolen it and put it on Tumblr or something. Maybe. I think I saw it on Tumblr. I will check for it.
J: It’s a compliment.
I wrote a whole thing about it. We didn’t get a sex education. It’s funny. I feel like some things — like Wendla didn’t realize she was pregnant. That could happen to any of my friends in high school and they wouldn’t have realized.
That’s such a good point. I remember I had a friend in college who had never had a sex education also. She was from sort of the Bible Belt so hers was more of a religious Christian school, but I think it’s the same and I remember like I was — my parents were very open. I went to public school and was exposed to that, even though [in public school] it’s very pro-abstinence only, which is not effective and I remember I think I was — I was like you have never seen even a diagram of like private parts?
J: No, I have, but at the same time —
But she hadn’t and I remember showing her and it was so — and not even trying to — you know, of course, I was giggling about it but it was crazy to think here I am, my freshman year of college, and college is such an awakening time in all sorts of ways, and one of my best friends has never seen this and I am doing it for her. This is a responsibility. I hope I am like —
J: No, so that’s the thing. Spring Awakening opened up that and it took me a few times — what drew me to show besides the sign language I was like wow, when I realized it.
Exactly and I think people need to realize like learning about it does not mean, oh, now you are going to go out and have risky behavior.
J: That’s what they think in the Jewish culture. Like if you learn about it, you are going to go have it. They make it seem —
Some do —
J: They make it seem like boys are the worst thing. I went to the Cats opening party. That was my first time ever dancing with guys and girls on the same dance floor and I was like “that was cool.”
See? It’s 2016 and you realize —
— it’s not bad.
No, it’s not bad. It’s not about even disrespecting what certain religious beliefs are or anything like that. It’s just knowledge and each person can do what they want with that knowledge.
J: Exactly. Like one of my first Shabbos meals with guys at the table, that was also like culture shock and at the same time — because I was thinking the whole time if my high school or seminary knew about this, they would be so disappointed. At the same time, they tell you to go marry a guy but don’t talk to them.
S: We studied in Israel together for a year and —
How was that?
J: Very intense, but fun.
S. We had a class where basically they just talked about how you don’t need to get a job, you don’t need to do this —
J: Just go marry a guy and —
S. And support him for the rest of your life. Actually, they wanted us to get a job so we can support the guy.
J: But we weren’t allowed to talk to guys though. If they saw us talking to guys we would get in trouble, but we were supposed to go and marry one the next year.
S: I don’t think any of the students in our school were the kind of people who shared that philosophy. So it was more like the administration. That was their view point.
It’s incredible that that’s now. That’s happening right now. I don’t know and I am not even saying that is bad and people should be happy. I don’t know. It just should be more this is an option for you and so is this and here is the information and you as an individual make your decision. That’s really interesting.
J: So the first time I had — I felt like I was doing something wrong.
Yes and you shouldn’t have to feel that way.
J: Exactly but that’s anything. Like Spring Awakening I feel like it opened up my eyes. I feel like every high school kid should have seen that.
That’s cool to see that it had like that effect too beyond —
S: If you had seen Spring Awakening in high school, you probably would have gotten in trouble.
J: That’s true though. My younger sister got suspended for two days because she was out for lunch with my cousin. It was a guy.
But it was your cousin!
J: They didn’t believe her it was her cousin and not —
That to me is like — not discriminatory but that is too far in that direction. It needs to be like either way.
J: Exactly, but you know, they were so strict.
I know. That’s amazing to me.
J: Amazing because —
I can’t believe that. I feel like I would watch a documentary about that.
J: All these interesting Jewish — mechitza and dance floor. What is going on here, why would you separate, but I mean everything has its reasons.
S: There are a lot of things about it that make sense. I think the problem is when you have extremists who don’t accept anything. If you are choosing to be part of it, it’s one thing, but when people are saying it’s my way or the highway —
That’s the hard thing with kids that they at a certain age aren’t consciously choosing, and totally you want to as a parent and older family members educate them about what your culture has been and whatnot but I think then like them being aware of alternatives and making that choice, that’s more valuable anyway. I feel like a child who grew up that way and was exposed to the other version and made the choice to live in that culture is more the person you want in that culture then a person who you had to blind to other things.
J: Exactly but that’s — like my brother’s wedding just happened recently and there was a mechitza so I didn’t get to see his side of the dance floor and everything and I was bored at the wedding because it’s like my brother’s wedding and I didn’t get to see his side. I danced on the girl’s side. Yes, I like the girl but at the same time, I didn’t get to enjoy it as much.
Yes, and it’s cool that those exist and I think it keeps things that have been going on for hundred of thousands of years alive and — but it should be modernized to some degree. You know what I mean? Do it and then — I don’t know.
S: In Fiddler they crossed the line to dance together.
J: They do a whole scene like that and I like that idea, but at the same time some of the stuff in Fiddler is a little bit too much. Like they call it a Jewish play, but at the same time they all go in different directions and totally off. That’s what they don’t want though.
J: Like Chava. She goes and marries a non-Jew, but like at the same time, they want you to be able to branch out but they don’t want you to branch out too much that you do that.
It’s so interesting and all these different cultures have versions of all of that. Like there is really no I don’t think universal right or wrong beyond be good to people, respect yourself, and if you — and choose which culture you want to be in and you know.
J: That’s true.
It’s cool. That’s cool though to have been exposed to that because that’s something I have never been exposed to, and I am drawn to your experience that’s different than mine. Wow.
J: When I realized why I liked Spring Awakening, I wrote that first on my blog because it’s like I have to share that experience. It’s one of my top hits. That’s number 3 on my blog.
I am incredibly interested in that. I am like oh, that’s a perspective. Like here we are in the same generation really and our experience was so different.
J: Exactly. I had to go see the show again and again.
J: It was my birthday weekend and BroadwayCon was that week.
Oh, yes. And that blizzard.
Gosh, that blizzard. My parents were in town and we went down there for the Saturday matinee. We were having brunch somewhere in Times Square and it was like well, the shows are cancelled. Thankfully they had tickets to Sunday as well and I had a distant cousin in town just to see it and it was like I hope we can get her a ticket and we found one.
S: Were you at BroadwayCon?
No. I was supposed to go. I wasn’t officially part of the panel because I wasn’t a lead which was fine, but I was supposed to go sign but I didn’t make it. I would love to go. Such a smart idea.
J: I was talking about it with someone. I think it would be cooler if it wasn’t in New York.
Where would you want it to be?
J: Like somewhere else where they can give Broadway more exposer, but at the same time I think it gets people to come to Broadway afterwards.
Yes. I see it both ways too. I think you can do like the one in New York, but they should do one elsewhere where kids in the middle of the country who love it don’t get to see it.
J: A lot of Broadway people had to fly here for BroadwayCon. Why can’t they fly somewhere else and have like more of exposure there?
See, what would annoy me if they do in in L.A. though. They don’t need it.
J: Right. It is — at the same time I feel like it’s kind of silly like that they do it in New York.
S: People come to New York for BroadwayCon and ask “what show should I see?”
Some people don’t have the means.
J: I feel like ’cause I live in New York I didn’t really like so much of it. Like the whole meet and greet and picture thing, I already have pictures with everyone. I actually only have one picture with you from the first time I saw the show. Every other time I stage-doored I guess didn’t take so I only have one really bad picture with you.
Let’s get a photo then.
J: I was looking because I was going to post a picture yesterday with me and you before the interview and I was like no, I am not posting this picture.
Thank you for that.
J: It was a selfie, a blurry one. You were wearing a Bernie’s T-shirt. I think it was raining outside. It was not sunny. That’s the only time I had pretty much pictures with everyone because I don’t take pictures every time I stagedoor. I feel like it’s also annoying for you guys to have to pose.
Sometimes it’s just more like we only have an hour till the next show and I would love to take a picture.
J: Or want to go home.
J: I only did it once or twice.
That’s sweet of you.
J: My younger sister has pictures with every single Newsie from every time she saw the show. I am like, “you don’t need it every time.” We saw Newsies over 30 times. Oh, did you know Corey [Cott] growing up?
I went to high school with his younger brother Casey. So I know of Corey as this guy who is is so talented at Carnegie Mellon and then Casey is now going to be on a TV show on the CW called Riverdale and he is doing —
S: Oh, is that based on the Archie Comics?
Many thanks to Sean for this in-depth interview!
Interview by Joy & Serena / Transcribed by Yaffi / Photographs by James
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