Most actors dream of moving to New York and landing a big role on Broadway, but for Isaac Powell that dream is a reality. Just two months after graduating from college, Isaac was cast as Daniel in the revival of Once On This Island. He stars in the show with Hailey Kilgore (also making her Broadway Debut) and they get to perform alongside Broadway royalty, Lea Salonga and Norm Lewis. We asked Isaac where his love of theater began and what his Broadway experience has been like so far.
When did you start acting and know that you wanted to be on Broadway?
When I was in the seventh grade. I tried a lot of different sports and none of them were really sticking. I didn’t really like sports very much, and then I met these two girls who were really active in our community theater and they invited me to come and audition for that year’s production of The Wizard of Oz. I did it and I got in.
Who did you play in The Wizard of Oz?
I was a Munchkin. But it was really fun for me. It was the first time I really felt like I was doing something that I was enjoying in the same way that my family enjoyed playing sports. It felt like I had found my thing. I loved it so much that I just kept doing it, and I started learning more about Broadway musicals and got really interested in that whole culture. I took my first trip to New York and saw my first Broadway show and fell in love with it and that was that.
What was the first Broadway show that you saw?
I saw Legally Blonde. It was wonderful, I just really fell in love with it.
I ended up going to a performing arts high school where I studied more theater, and then transferred from that to a rigorous boarding program at the North Carolina School of the Arts. That’s where I really got serious and started to have more confidence in my abilities and got the courage to really try for it. It was there that I decided that I would go to a conservatory program to study and I auditioned for all of the top programs. I had really fallen in love with North Carolina School of the Arts because I spent a year there and it was close to home and the training was excellent. I decided to audition there and I got into that program.
I spent four years there and at the end of the four years, I auditioned for a bunch of shows and I got some summer work. While I was doing my summer work, I found out that I had gotten Once On This Island.
How does it feel to land on role on Broadway so quickly?
It feels really surreal. I had spent five years studying rigorously, and I told myself I wanted to be on Broadway within five years. I wanted to get out of it what I put into it and so I was really expecting to come here and audition my butt off for several years just to be seen by casting directors and be recognized for doing good work in the audition room, and then eventually I would book something. It was actually my third audition in New York and I ended up getting it. I had never really entertained the thought of actually booking the job, and so to hear from my agent’s mouth that I had booked it, it was a total out‑of‑body experience.
What is it like to be part of Once On This Island and what is your favorite moment on stage?
It’s really wonderful to be part of this extraordinary production because it is really unique. I have never seen anything like this on a Broadway stage or on stage anywhere, and I think that the story is really timely and relevant right now. I think that everybody could use a dose of love and forgiveness and a story like the story of Ti Moune. It’s really uplifting for audiences and it’s really really wonderful and humbling to be part of that experience and to be part of that story.
I really love the moment after the song “Rain” when Daniel’s car crashes. I think that’s an extremely powerful moment in the story, the moment Ti Moune gets what she has been praying for, what she has been longing for, and you can kind of see what happens when your dreams literally come true. I think that moment sets up what’s going to happen for the rest of the show and it’s a really exciting moment.
Is it more challenging to perform in Circle in the Square Theatre with the audience surrounding you on all sides?
You know, it’s never stood out to me as a very different experience. I recognize that it is. It creates more intimacy between audience and performer, which in the theater that’s all you can really wish for. The communion is so important, and I think that is probably the biggest difference. My favorite thing about working in a theater that is as small and intimate as Circle in the Square is the experiences were immediate for the audience. That’s what makes the piece so powerful.
You are working with all star Broadway veterans like Norm Lewis and Lea Salonga. What has that been like, and have they given you any good advice?
Norm regularly gives me great advice, he is really wonderful. Lea has given great advice too and they both lead by example. I learn a lot from them just by watching them work and watching them live and seeing the way that they interact with people. It’s pretty surreal to be working alongside these people that I used to fangirl over and whose careers I had followed and admired. Seeing them backstage, joking around and hanging out– it’s just really cool.
Are there any other Broadway legends that you would want to work with?
I would love to work with Nathan Lane, I look up to and admire him so much. Gavin Creel. So many amazing actors that I would love to work with at some point in my career.
Is there anyone that you really want to come see you in the show?
I want Oprah to come to the show so badly.
Do you feel you have any similarities to your character and if so, what are they?
I think I have a lot of similarities to Daniel. I think that I know what it’s like to be of mixed race and to not feel that you belong to any particular group, to feel sort of other. That’s a very familiar feeling for me and the experience of having to decide between fate and desire. That’s something that I have struggled with. There are some differences too. I didn’t grow up as wealthy as Daniel and with the kind of privilege that Daniel did, but I know what it’s like to be in love and I think that’s really all you need to be able to play that character honestly.
For those who don’t know what the show is about, what do you tell them to get them to come see it?
I tell them that it is an hour and a half fairytale loosely based on The Little Mermaid, about a girl named Ti Moune who discovers what happens when when she has to decide between love and death.
If you could do a show with your boyfriend, Wesley Taylor, what would it be?
The Normal Heart. Because it tackles a lot of themes that I think we both are familiar with as gay men. And it’s a great show to do with somebody that you love.
What is your favorite current Broadway show?
I really love The Band’s Visit.
If you could swap roles with anyone on Broadway right now, who would you want to trade with?
I would swap with Etai Benson (Papi in The Band’s Visit.)
What is your favorite thing about living and working in NYC?
My favorite thing is how accessible everything is. All my friends live within a matter of a half an hour. The sense of community that brings, because we all live on this very small island, but there are so many people here and yet I can see someone that I love every day.