THE LEADING MEN: Danny Burstein Digs Into a Group Theatre Classic, Golden Boy

By Mervyn Rothstein
05 Dec 2012

Burstein in the recent Broadway revival of Follies.
Photo by Joan Marcus
This isn't your first Odets play on Broadway — you were an understudy for the role of Japheth in his The Flowering Peach for the National Actors Theatre in 1994. Did you ever take over the role?
DB: I never did. I wish I had, but the guy I was covering [David Aaron Baker] didn't miss. Good for him. I mean it. That's really wonderful. But it did give me the opportunity during the whole rehearsal process to watch and get to know and become friends with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson. Just watching them in rehearsal and watching them in performance every day was a gift to me that I can never repay. The only thing I can try and do is pass it on to somebody else someday. Learning about simplicity and honesty. Those kinds of lessons are invaluable to any actor.

I've always been in these productions — this is the way I grew up in the business — where I was the only guy in the room I'd never heard of. There were always these wonderful, brilliant actors that I worked with — Jim Dale and John Cullum and Jon Voigt and Lynn Redgrave. I was very happy doing my small role or understudying and being a fly on the wall and listening and learning as much as I could.

You're more known these days for your musical portrayals. What made you decide to take on a role in a drama?
DB: I've always been an actor who has done straight plays. I sort of got on a roll there with musicals, and it's very easy in the business for people to pigeonhole you, to say, "Well, you're good at this, but you're only good at this." I thought it was time, especially now, to make sure I did something for my heart and soul, and I felt like doing a play again. I felt like I had done several musicals in a row, and that they were a lot of fun, but I had originally started out as a dramatic actor.

Musicals chose me. It was a good way to make a living, and it still is, and I love them very much, but I also love plays — dramatic plays — and I wanted to stretch those muscles again. I hadn't played dramatic roles on the stage in a while. And I think I chose right here.

How is a play different? And is it more difficult?
DB: Every time I talk to actors who only do musicals, or who only do plays, the grass is always greener. Each one wants to do the other. It's so funny. All my friends who do plays are going, "God, I would love to do a musical." All the people who do musicals say, "I'd love to do a play." I find each has its own particular challenge. There's a great release and fun and strength that it takes to do a musical, but there is also great concentration and real chops that it takes to do a play. Each is a slightly different animal, but both are challenging.

I make that choice to go out of my way to play different characters and do different kinds of roles so I don't get stale. I don't want to do roles that I've done before, the types of roles I could get into a rut playing. Literally after Drowsy Chaperone people were calling and saying they had the role of a funny Latin character. And after South Pacific I was getting offers for scampish New York kind of guys who were funny. I felt like I'd done that and so I wanted to try different things. And that's part of the great thing I've been able to do. I've gotten to a certain place in my career where I'm able to do that. It wasn't always the case.