On February 4th, Feinstein’s/54 Below will present a 20th anniversary concert production of Bright Lights, Big City. The rock musical is based on the novel by Jay McInerney. It follows the journey of Jamie, a young outstanding writer who loses himself in the chaos of 1980’s New York City. Written by Paul Scott Goodman, the first solo recipient of the Jonathan Larson Foundation Award, the musical originally premiered Off-Broadway in 1999.
The concert will feature Christy Altomare as Vicky and Matt Doyle as Jamie. We spoke with Christy about why she loves this musical and what it’s like to be playing Anastasia on Broadway.
What made you want to be apart of the Bright Lights, Big City concert?
I’m a huge fan of Paul Scott Goodman’s writing. I was first introduced to him through Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records’ Kurt Deutsch who produced the Bright Lights, Big City concept album. At the time, I was working on a reading that Kurt had produced. I went to record the song for it and he had a bunch of extra Bright Lights, Big City CDs. He gave me one to take home and I listened. Obviously, it’s amazing music. After that, randomly, I got a call asking to be apart of a reading up in Powerhouse Theater. Sometimes readings sort of drag together in a way, but it was a reading performance that was done at a college. It was part of a festival, and it was of this show that Paul had written called Open Road and it took place in Scotland. So I had to have a Scottish accent. I remember meeting Paul and just being enamored with his incredible music. From time to time we’d keep in touch through Facebook Messenger. I’m just a huge fan of his work.
When they asked me to do this concert, my life was so crazy busy with Anastasia. Nobody ever prepares you to be a Broadway star on Broadway, but I’m so thankful and grateful to have had this opportunity for as long as I have. It just really does take a lot out of your body to give the kind of performance you want to give 8 shows a week. When this project came to me and was initially pitched, I heard ‘Paul Scott Goodman’ and was like ‘check!’, and then I heard it’s actually not a huge role. The role of Vicky, was originally played by Sherie Rene Scott on the concept album, who I also admire and love so much. To get to play a role that she played is pretty cool. When they said Paul Scott Goodman and the role isn’t as demanding… they told me months in advance, so I had plenty of time to learn the music, I was all in. And to have the opportunity to sing Paul’s music again is just the biggest gift in the world.
If they revived the show again, would you want to be a part of it?
Yes! Ultimately, we don’t know where our careers are going to take us or where our lives are going to take us, but absolutely if they ask me to do this I would be chomping at the bit to get to sing and be a part of this material. Not only is the music beautiful, but Paul is just a great guy with great vibes and getting to work with him is such a rewarding experience in and of itself. So, yeah, absolutely!
Can you relate to the character of Vicky?
Yes. She sings a song called “Kindness!” which is literally, me. Vicky encapsulate the things I care most about in life– it’s about being kind and being loving. The people who know me best know that I am fascinated by the human mind and the way it works and the way the universe works and what makes humans. That’s why I think art is so interesting, because we humans have this condition, I think it’s why we are so drawn to art in the first place. Vicky is a philosopher, she is very fascinated with modern man and why are people the way they are and that’s a dead ringer for who I am. I’ve often questioned “why can’t we all just be kind to one another?” but unfortunately the sadness of our genes and the way we were created, it’s just a part of life that we sink in and out of states of joy and kindness. At the end of the day, it’s hard work to live in a state of love and kindness, and I think that’s kind of beautiful that she kind of is that for Jaime. She’s that bright, shining light within the darkness, and I love that. And I love that I get to portray that, because I try. I don’t always succeed, but I try to be the light for the people around me.
It’s amazing that you dedicate so much time to meeting people at the Anastasia stage door after every performance.
Thank you so much. I try. I think it matters. If you are gifted the opportunity to do something like that in your life, anything where you can reach out in a big way in that the littlest thing, a smile, a hug, a picture, a talk, a kind word… it’s a ripple, and it not only affects the person you’re talking to but it affects the person they talk to after that, and the person they talk to after that. In a way, it brightens up the world in a way that we can’t even conceive. If I can do that, then that’s all a person could ever ask for, given the opportunity.
In Bright Lights, Big City, you’ll be working with Spring Awakening tour cast member, Matt Doyle again. What is it like to be reunited with him?
It’s going to be so cool! Actually, when I was on tour with Spring Awakening our Melchior booked a TV series. He had to leave for an entire month, during that month in Toronto, they brought in Matt Doyle. I was Wendla and he was Melchior. Which was really great, and I love working with Matt. He’s one of the kindest, most hardworking actors I know. I remember when he told me he was doing this. He texted me right away, “DO NOT! DO NOT CANCEL OUT OF THIS!” and I was like “ABSOLUTELY NOT! Absolutely not!”
What is the best part about being a leading lady on Broadway?
It’s like a two-fold question because the best part about being on Broadway in general is to getting to be an actor and getting to practice the things that you love at the highest echelon with the best of the best surrounding you. So, that is the ultimate. You can’t go any higher than that. So the best thing about being on Broadway is to get to do what you love surrounded by people who are at the top of their game.
I’m in a unique situation by being a leading lady specifically playing the role of Anastasia. That is special because Anastasia is a character that symbolizes so many things for a generation of young girls and continues to still symbolize that for another generation. When I go out to the stage door, I sympathize with a generation of girls that were around my age when the animated film came out. Where there were princesses that were basically searching to find the man. Whereas Anastasia was one of, if not the first, princess stories that came out where the strong willed girl was not searching for the man, but searching to find herself and to unlock the secrets of her past. Which was an incredibly beautiful message for young girls. In the end, she gets the guy, but it’s not the central focus. It’s her trying to find the strength to move forward. To move from Russia to Paris to find out who she is. Lynn and Stephen Flaherty wrote these incredible songs that were universal to generations of young women in a way that said “Face your fears, move forward!” with love and hope and positivity in your heart. Getting to play a role like that on Broadway is incredibly rewarding and at the same time, I also feel a sense of responsibility to not let that vision of who she is fall to the wayside. And, in a way, to try to live by those values in my own life, and to share those values with the rest of the world.
“Journey to the Past” for sure is like the most universal. Now they’ve taken this song out to the touring company, “Crossing a Bridge” also has a lot of beautiful lyrics and imagery about moving forward. The lyric ‘halfway between where I’ve been and where I’m going/in between wondering why and finally knowing’ – in life, sometimes you have to live in that grey space. And that’s okay. There’s an excitement there. I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but I looked back from where I was. And I look to where I am now. I look to where I am going. And I still have this hope in my heart. And that grey space, sometimes, is the best space you can be in because there is no telling what is going to come next if you have that excitement within.
You’re working with your third Dimitri since the show opened. What is it like to perform opposite different actors and getting into character?
Cody [Simpson] is incredibly talented and has come so far in his character. I think the glory of getting to work with an ever changing company is that it keeps the show fresh and keeps me on my toes, and gives me the opportunity to find the role in a way. I try to stay true to who Anastasia is and stay true to the role with each person that comes in. I leave a percentage of myself open when I’m on stage with a new person, to bring in what they offer, and to accept a new reality with each person. I might say a line completely differently, and maybe it gets a laugh now, just based off of what they feed me. It’s invigorating. It’s thrilling. I love working with Cody. You can tell he’s just a kind, humble, beautiful soul, and the way he lives his life is really beautiful. That’s a joyous thing, because I’m not only working with a great actor but I’m also working with a great person. And you need that. Especially when you’re on stage in such an intimate way with an actor.
You are very devoted to your fans and spend so much time interacting with them, is that hard to keep up? What do you do with all the gifts and fan art?
I keep it all. What’s been hard is, as it accumulates, I wish I could stick it all on my walls, but my walls only have so much space. Once the show ends, I’m going to take it all and do something really creative with it. Whether it be a mural or put it in a bunch of books or something. I’ve saved every note and every piece of artwork. I haven’t saved all the candy, unfortunately. I eat all of that pretty much and shared it with the cast. My dad has had to come in from Pennsylvania and taken a couple car loads of artwork to my home. So once the show is over, I’m looking forward to going home, reminiscing, looking through it all, and putting together something really special that I’ll remember for some time.
I know! It’s a lot! But I don’t have the heart to throw it away or to give it away. Everyone keeps telling me “Sell it! Sell it! Have a mass sale.” But, at the same time I feel like these people have given me these as a gift and it’s not mine to sell for charity or anything. It’s a gift for me to commemorate the show. Who knows, maybe an art exhibit one day. Something like that.