SHOW FOLK: Cocktails with Bienskie, Gattelli and Hanlon
Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. For May, we’ve got a threesome…
From the beginning of this blog, I wanted to try to capture the sense of family that can exist in the theater community. I also wanted it to feel like a late night, fizzy conversation over cocktails with the gang. Well, no one combines booze and brotherhood better than three of the funniest friends in the business–as well as three of my favorite men of the stage–Colin Hanlon (Fiyero in the current Wicked tour), Christopher Gattelli (Tony-nominated choreographer of South Pacific, director of the upcoming Silence! The Musical) and, Christopher’s real-life partner, Stephen Bienskie (co-star of the hit web comedy Submissions Only). I recently popped the cork on a bottle of prosecco and corralled this boisterous trio for The Broadway Blog’s first ever triple play. Over a raucous hour of faux-insults and very real affection, we gabbed about the highs and lows of a life in theater, the challenge of having friends in the business and, of course, peeing your pants at auditions.
Warning: this interview contains some adults-only language. After reading, just imagine the even more horrible things that I had to cut out.
Where did you guys meet? How did this all begin?
Colin Hanlon: George Street.
Christopher Gattelli: At the George Street Playhouse, Tick Tick Boom.
All three of you?
Stephen Bienskie: Well, we [Christopher and Stephen] met doing Cats. The gayest story ever.
Which cats were you?
SB: Rum Tum Tugger and Mistoffelees.
CG: We had a number together.
CH: Messing up the make-up backstage.
CG: Colin! (laughter) OK. It’s all fair game now.
SB: Here we go!
CG: You tell it better than I do.
SB: I’m not proud of my actions. It was just funny because it was all very hush hush. Until one night. My make-up palette was like browns and yellows and oranges and stuff like that and his was black and white. So one night I go on stage with my browns and yellows with a big shmear of black and white across my mouth and nose. And everyone on stage is like, “Really?”
CG: And all of a sudden the black and white cat has stripes.
SB: Then [Colin] and I met at George Street.
CH: I think we met in the rehearsal studio that first day. At the meet and greet. Chris choreographed it and Steve and I played opposite each other. That was it. It’s been magic ever since.
SB: Colin came up to me and said, “Hi, I think we’re supposed to be best friends.” I’ll never forget it. You had your Pippin hairdo.
CH: What happened to those days? It was one of the most fun theatrical experiences I’ve had. Besides Triangle, of course.
No, we don’t need to talk about Triangle [a musical I co-wrote, which was being workshopped at the O’Neill Center]. This isn’t about me.
SB: But that was actually a defining moment for Colin and I.
SB: We seriously bonded during that summer.
CH: We ended up moving into the same dorm room together because it was so freaking hot that summer and they only gave us one fan. So Stephen and I thought, “Why don’t we bunk up.” They had two bunk beds in the room, so we stuck his fan in one window and mine in the other and we oscillated the air in and out. And we were drunk as skunks every single night.
SB: And we were playing lovers.
CH: And we were playing lovers.
SB: And one day Bobby [Longbottom, the director] said, “Let’s try it if you two kiss.”
SB: And we were like, “Really?”
CH: It was bad. And we tried. Were you in that rehearsal?
I don’t think so.
CH: We were at the end of the scene and he and I were, for a second, trying to be professional. And we tried and looked at each other and said, “OK. All right. It makes sense that they would kiss.” Then we just could not get through it. We were literally like lips touching…
SB: Shaking, quivering…
CH: And Bobby’s like, “Forget it! Just forget it!”
SB: It was impossible.
CH: We’re terrible actors.
Which is fascinating because on Submissions Only [a web-based comedy series that goes behind the scenes at a casting agency], Stephen’s character is pining after Colin’s character. You are exes.
SB: Yeah. Yeah.
What is about Colin?
SB: I know, God Dang.
You’ve been getting amazing guest stars on Submissions Only [click here to watch an episode featuring Kristen Chenowith AND Chita Rivera]. It’s sort of out of control.
CH: Honestly. Kate [Wetherhead, star and co-creator of the show] and I were sitting around and saying, “Who do we know that is famous and how can we get them on our show?”
CH: … I think what’s amazing to me is that all these actors are coming in and donating their time to be on the show with us. And people are liking it. None of us are getting paid. Kate and Andrew aren’t getting paid. It’s just, sort of, a labor of love.
And it’s so honest. It hits things that anyone who has been in the business will recognize. What’s your worst audition story?
CH: The worst audition I ever had is I auditioned for Frank Wildhorn’s Civil War on Broadway. They could have given two craps about me when I came in. I was like 22 or whatever and I remember I had had way too much coffee before the audition and I was really jittery. And all of a sudden, I was like, “I have to poop.” So I went into the bathroom…
SB: Oh my god.
CH: And I pull down my pants and I’m sitting on the toilet. And then my pants are around my ankles and you know with boys sometimes you have to pee and…I started peeing and pooping at the same time.
SB: Tom, I will pay you…
SB: PAY YOU, to have this entire story on your site.
CH: I don’t care because it’s true. And it gets better. So I didn’t realize I was peeing and pooping at the same time until they called for me…
CG: No. No.
CH: I cleaned up real quick and pulled up my pants and I felt wet in the whole back of my pants. They were pee wet. So I grabbed the towels and I’m like “what do I do” and I’m all 22. I just went through the door and untucked my shirt… And I put my music on the piano and no one could see because it was all wet back here.
SB: You peed your pants.
CH: I peed my pants. And I sang. And instead of turning around to leave, I just stared at them and backed out of the door.
I can’t even ask you two because I don’t think anything can top that.
CG: There’s one specific example. It was a friend of mine, which is even more embarrassing because before he came into the room I said, “He’s a good guy.” And it was for South Pacific and it was like, “Sing a Rogers and Hammerstein tune.” You know, classy. He comes in and he sang “If I Loved You.” Beautiful. …He sings the first verse, lovely. And then the second verse, “If I loved you…” He starts pulling down his zipper.
CG: And for the rest of the song, he mimed getting [oral sex] to the song “If I Loved You”.
CG: [Orgasm] and everything. “Never, never to knoooooow.”
CH: Why did he do that?!
CG: We all had the faces of the audience in “The Producers” movie when they’re watching the Hitler song.
SB: Actors are f—ing crazy people.
Christopher, when did you become involved with Silence! The Musical [an unauthorized parody of Silence of the Lambs] ?
CG: 1922. Before they had pianos.
It was huge in London?
CG: Yeah. And the Fringe [NYC Fringe Festival] was great. Stephen was in that and he’ll be doing his role again.
I didn’t know that. Who are you playing?
CH: It’s so exciting.
SB: Buffalo Bill.
CH: When I saw that production at the Fringe and this motherf—– did not tell me he’s coming out in full on dance belt with feathers or something. Is that what it was?
CH: I literally lost my mind. Shock and awe. That cast is so brilliant.
CG: ..It’s like a dream come true. It really did well. We sold out and they added shows and we won Best Musical that year and it was exciting. We tried to get a transfer but it was too expensive. So we went to London over a year ago now. Same thing there; it sold out for six weeks. They wanted to extend but they couldn’t and so one of the producers was American and when we got back she said, “I have to do it. We have to make it happen. It was too much fun watching the audience go crazy like that.” We just figured it out, a great way to do it. We’re going to start small and whoever knows…but at least it’s happening.
When is it starting?
CG: End of June… Scott Pask, two time Tony winner is doing our little set. It’s totally crazy. It’s awesome.
CH: People like working with people they like.
CG: It’s the only way.
CH: The older we get the more I’m like, “I want to work with my friends.”
You know their sensibilities. You know what they can do best.
SB: What I’ve always loved about [Chris], since we first met, and he was just choreographing little things here and there, he’s always been so happy to get his friends work. He said, “I have so many friends who don’t get to work a lot. It’s such a hard industry to work in.” And once he was in a position to be able to give his friends work…I mean, how many people really do that from a genuine, kind-hearted place?
CH: He’s the nicest guy in show business. In show business…but off stage, he will cut you.
I thought Brian d’Arcy James was the nicest guy in show business?
CH: God, I love him.
We’ll have a rumble. We’ll throw you two in a ring and see who comes out.
CG: And we just hug the whole time.
CH: Just butterfly kisses everywhere.
CG: We cuddle. We spoon.
What’s up next for you?
CH: [Christopher] has so many things. But he won’t say. He’s tight lipped about those things. That’s what I love about him; he won’t talk about himself that way.
CG: Silence, definitely. Then Newsies, definitely. South Pacific in London.
When is that?
CG: In July. And then [choreographing] the big Funny Girl revival.
Who’s on the team?
CG: It’s the whole South Pacific team. Bart [Sher], all the way down. I don’t know who the Fanny is. I don’t know! …It’s huge. Huge. This has been [Bob] Boyett’s dream to get this up. He’s had the rights forever. He wouldn’t let anyone do it. And I think he wants to do it like South Pacific. He’s going to bring it back with a 40 or 50 person cast and full orchestra. If we’re going to do it, because no one ever does it, we’re going to do it right.
Speaking of million dollar shows…
…Colin, you are out on the road with Wicked.
SB: Nicely done.
What’s that experience like for you?
CH: It’s a lot. The hardest part for me is physically it’s really hard. …I’m like crippled every day when I wake up. I’m like palsied feet.
Now you’re a dancer.
CH: Now I’m a dancer.
CG: He just needed…
CH: A push.
CG: The opportunity.
And the white pants.
SB: They can show movies on his butt.
SB: [Tom,] you can absolutely keep that in.
In Vista Vision.
SB: Watch The Wizard of Oz on Colin’s ass after the show.
CH: The audiences love [Wicked] every night and I think that is the sweetest thing. I’ve never done a show where it’s like a rock concert every single time. And the thing about Wicked is that it is beautiful to watch. I had to watch it for a month before I went on and the lighting and the costumes are out of control. Not a dime, do they waste. The detail is insane.
You guys have all toured at some point in your life as an actor?
SB: My first, I did a non-union tour out of college. Which is ridiculous.
CH: They had non-union tours back then?
CG: They had cars?
CH: How did they get you around? In a horse and buggy?
SB: I hate you.
CH: Their per diem was like $75.
CG: A shilling and some corn.
CH: A ha’penny.
SB: I hate everyone.
CG: They paid him in land.
If you could work with anyone out there now, who would you want to work with?
SB: Colin Hanlon.
CG: The three of us.
CH: We’re going to gang up again.
CG: It will always happen.
SB: We have to.
CH: I feel lucky to have worked with both of these guys. All the joking aside. If we hadn’t done Tick Tick Boom, we wouldn’t be friends. That’s the best part about being an actor; it’s the people you meet.