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Rachel McAdams, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne and More

Rachel McAdams, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne and More

Ahead of the 77th Tony Awards, which will be held on June 16 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York City, The Hollywood Reporter gathered six of the 2023-24 Broadway season’s standout performers at PMC’s east coast headquarters for our annual Tonys Roundtable. The nominees for best actress in a play Rachel McAdams (Mary Jane) and Sarah Paulson (Appropriate); best actor in a play Leslie Odom Jr. (Purlie Victorious); best actress in a musical Kelli O’Hara (Days of Wine and Roses); best actor in a musical Eddie Redmayne (Cabaret); and best featured actor in a musical Daniel Radcliffe (Merrily We Roll Along) sat down with THR to talk their paths to Broadway, Tony-nominated roles and pet peeves.

Three of the participants already have a Tony on their mantelpiece: O’Hara, 48, a longtime leading lady of Broadway musicals who has accumulated eight noms and won on her sixth for The King and I in 2015; Redmayne, 42, who was recognized for his work in Red in 2010, when he was last on the Great White Way, prior to becoming an Oscar-winning movie star; and Leslie Odom Jr., also 42, who has been Broadway royalty since originating the role of Aaron Burr in the game-changing musical Hamilton, for which he took home a statuette in 2016.

Paulson, 49, and Radcliffe, 34, have, over the course of their careers, frequently moved between Hollywood and Broadway — she is best known for her many collaborations with Ryan Murphy, he for playing Harry Potter in eight blockbuster films — but neither had ever received a Tony nom prior to this year. Meanwhile, McAdams, 45, a movie star for 20 years is nominated this year for her Broadway debut. (Her best-known films, Mean Girls and The Notebook, have been turned into Broadway musicals.)

The talented sextet discussed their very different paths to Broadway and to the parts for which they are now nominated; how they navigate the physical and emotional toll of performing a show eight times a week for months on end; their frustrations with the business side of showbiz, and with disruptive audience members; plus much more.

You can listen to the entire conversation — or read a transcript of it below.

Before we discuss this season, I’d like to ask each of you to speak about what Broadway represented to you before you got here, and the journey that you took getting here. Daniel, you landed at the age of 11 in a little movie franchise, Harry Potter, and by 17 were here in Equus. You could have done a lot of things at that time. Why Broadway?

DANIEL RADCLIFFE My mom and dad had always taken me to the theater a lot, and so doing stage was always something that I wanted to do. I didn’t know that it would necessarily start that soon, but I was very happy that it did. Doing Equus was incredibly formative for me, because at that point, when I was towards the end of Potter, I didn’t know how the world was going to see me after those films were done. Between Equus and How to Succeed [in Business Without Really Trying, his second Broadway show], this place was giving me a chance to be something else and to find out who I was as an actor.

How to Succeed was your first musical on Broadway. Merrily is your second. What was your experience with singing and dancing before these shows?

RADCLIFFE I took singing lessons for the first time when I was on Equus because in the first scene of Equus, I sing advertising jingles, and I couldn’t do the tune of any of them. My singing teacher was like, “Everybody in the audience is over a certain age, and they know what these should sound like, so you really should hit these notes.” So I started working with him for that. How to Succeed and Merrily have been two of the best experiences of my life — but one every 10 years is a good rate for me because it’s hard!

Daniel Radcliffe

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

Sarah, at the age of 5 you moved with your mother to New York. Where did she work?

SARAH PAULSON Sardi’s was her very first job. She was the only person who worked there who had children. She was a very young mother — she was 27 and had a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. I don’t think the proximity to the theaters made me want to be an actor; I think I came out of the womb wanting to be an actor, that’s just part of my molecular structure. But I certainly know that my mother’s interest in pursuing her own dream as a writer is what led her to leave Tampa, Florida, and the conservative upbringing that she had, and move to Manhattan. We lived in Queens at first and slept on a mattress on the floor, then my mom got a job at Sardi’s, and that’s how I was able to even consider pursuing acting.

And pretty much right out of high school you were working on Broadway, right?

PAULSON My first job ever was understudying Amy Ryan — who’s nominated this year in the same category that I am — when I was 19 years old, at the Barrymore, in The Sisters Rosensweig. It was wild.

Leslie, you also started here pretty young — in Rent, no less! As a teen from Philadelphia, what led you to that opportunity?

LESLIE ODOM JR. Before American Idol, we used to call them “cattle calls.” They did a cattle call in Philadelphia, and 800 people showed up at Shampoo, this little club downtown, for our chance to sing for the casting director and whoever. I didn’t know anything about anything, but I just knew that they were looking for people. The only thing that I was confident about in that line was that nobody was going to be able to say that they loved this thing more than I. I just loved it. And then, a few months later, I got invited to join the Broadway company, and my life was never the same. To make a living living my dream was just crazy.

Kelli, you’re from Oklahoma. I don’t know what they put in the water there, but you and Kristin Chenoweth both had the same instructor at Oklahoma City University. Did you have any exposure to Broadway growing up?

KELLI O’HARA I didn’t have any exposure to Broadway. It’s hard for me to admit that the first year I watched the Tonys was the year that Kristin won [1999]. I was in college; she had left. Mrs. [Florence] Birdwell is the teacher you’re talking about, at Oklahoma City University, and I knew of her when I was 5 years old because there was a woman who sang, from my little town of Elk City, Oklahoma, who had taken voice lessons with, I called her, “The Bird Lady.” And I decided that I wanted to do that when I was about 5. I grew up on movie musicals, black-and-white films and records of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. No live theater. So I got to college, and I literally just I leaped. There was one hand that I got: Kristin was here [on Broadway]. She didn’t know me, but she allowed 12 of Mrs. Birdwell’s students in my senior year of college to come and sing for her small agency at the time, and I just happened to get signed.

Eddie, you grew up in England but made it to New York when you were still very young…

EDDIE REDMAYNE I was a kid of the ’80s in London, which meant the mega-musicals were a massive deal — the [Andrew] Lloyd Webbers and the [Alain] Boubil and [Claude-Michel] Schonbergs. The first theater I saw — I was aged about 7 — was Cats, and I remember the sets, these gigantic tomato ketchup things, and then it would turn in the round, and then suddenly cats appeared at my feet and scared the living daylights out of me. And I was completely seduced.

PAULSON That’ll do it.

REDMAYNE Exactly, some ’80s leotards and some cracking songs — talking of which, Cats: The Jellicle Ball is about to start here!

PAULSON Sign me up — to watch it! [Laughs.]

REDMAYNE But I remember, I instinctively just loved it so much. My parents, for my birthday, would take me to see one of these shows, and — this is slightly embarrassing to admit — I remember I would weep at the interval because I knew I only had half of it left. As far as New York was concerned? We were brought up on American culture, so seeing this city, it was the zenith of aspiration. When I came in my early teens or whatever, I remember coming to Broadway, and to this day, as we walk on the way to work from the subway, you walk past Times Square, and it just has this thing, doesn’t it? It’s electric, and it’s vibrant, and it never loses that “Come on in!” Its pulse is pulling you in. And so yeah, it was always something that I aspired to.

Rachel, you studied theater in college but wound up soon thereafter in the movies. We should alert the kids that are going to Broadway now that before there was Mean Girls the musical and The Notebook the musical, there was Rachel McAdams in the movie versions! But what did this place mean to you growing up in Canada?

RACHEL MCADAMS Actual Broadway was another planet for me. It came my way in traveling shows. We had a parallel life, I think, Eddie. Cats was my first Broadway musical, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and the only reason we went — I was 8 — was because my dad was a mover, and they needed extra help from a local moving company to carry in that big-ass tire that’s in the middle, so they hired his company, and we got free tickets as a thank you. So Cats was my gateway drug as well. I’ll never forget walking out of that theater. I remember looking down at my little white patent leather shoes, my little frilly ankle socks, walking through the parking lot back to the car and thinking, “I will never be the same. My life has changed forever.” Then, it became school trips to see Phantom in Toronto and Miss Saigon, and I cried the entire three-hour bus ride home. Everyone thought there was something very wrong with me, but I was like, “I don’t know why the rest of you aren’t crying!” But Broadway in New York was just another place that I never in a million years imagined I would be a part of. To this day, this moment, I’m still quite shocked to be here.

Rachel McAdams

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

Let’s transition to talking about the specific roles that you all are being celebrated for at the moment. Rachel, in Mary Jane you play Mary Jane, a single mother, juggling the practical and emotional demands of raising an infant with serious health problems, while interacting with eight other women. Why was this the part that finally got you here?

MCADAMS I was, to be perfectly honest, terrified to do theater. I felt like I’d just been off the horse for too long, and I had never done a professional play. I really went straight from theater school to film and television, so I was just very trepidatious. The few things that I had read over the years, I just didn’t have the confidence to grab them, and then Mary Jane just grabbed me. It really was like, “I don’t know why this is coming my way, but I’m not going to give it back.” It’s the same way with film scripts. I couldn’t put it down, and then once I put it down I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I already was playing her in my head while I was making the kids’ breakfast. It just got its hooks in me, and I felt like it would be just such an honor to play this part and to tell this story — it really felt like I was being called to do something greater than myself. Not to overstate it, but it did really feel like the world was presenting me something that I needed to be brave for and jump in with two feet.

The playwright, Amy Herzog, has said it was largely autobiographical for her and her husband, Sam Gold. I imagine that adds to the gravity of what you were signing up for…

MCADAMS I think I tried not to think about that so I could just go to work, and do the work, and make it my own. But once we opened, and rotten tomatoes and pies weren’t coming my way, I realized how much I was holding the responsibility of wanting to tell Amy’s story exactly as she would want it to be told. And she’s incredibly “Make this your own,” and so collaborative, so supportive. It makes me want to cry just talking about it.

Leslie, in Purlie Victorious you play Purlie Victorious Judson, this preacher in “the recent past” — I think you have said the late 1950s, in your mind — who returns to the Georgia plantation where he has a lot of family history, with the hope of getting ahold of an inheritance that would allow him to reclaim and integrate the local church at which his grandfather once preached. Even though this has not been on Broadway since it was originally performed in 1961-1962 by its playwright, Ossie Davis, with his wife, Ruby Dee, you were familiar with it. This goes way back for you, right?

ODOM Yeah, to when I was a teenager. It was just one of those pieces that got put in my hands as a young actor, like, “Hey, if you’re ever looking for scenes, if you’re looking for monologues, check this out.” You said the word “reclaim” and really that’s what it felt like. It felt like a reclamation of all of our shared history — in a time when books are being banned and burned in this country, it’s like, “See Purlie Victorious while you can.” I mean, if ever there was a play that was in line for a burning, it’d be this one. It’s radical and hip, even after 62 years. We were in previews, and we were rehearsing on the stage, and Kara [Young, Odom’s Tony-nominated co-star,] was like, “We’re still not dealing with this whip with the seriousness that we should. This is a torture device that has been handed down from generation to generation. How many people in your family have suffered at the hands of this whip?” It was hard stuff to step into, although Mr. Davis gives us the chance to do it joyfully. That’s the gift of his piece. But yeah, this was a reclamation of American history, of Black American history, of theatrical history, all of it, and I’m just so deeply proud of the production.

You were also a producer, Leslie, so I have to ask: There is a musical version of Purlie Victorious called Purlie, which played on Broadway in the early ’70s. Why, for your first show back on Broadway after Hamilton, did you end up doing the play rather than the musical?

ODOM I had every intention of doing that musical. I was only looking for the musical. But Ossie’s three children run his estate — Nora, Hasna and Guy. Guy wrote all the original music for our production. And they said, “No.” They said, “We love you. We’re a fan of your work. But listen, the musical came about 10 years after the play, and the musical is an adaptation of our dad’s words.” Hasna very famously talked about the fact that her siblings got to interact with the piece because they’re older than her. In ’61, when it was presented, Hasna was like, “I was too young. I was 3 or 4. I don’t remember it. I want to see Daddy’s play.” Like, “Listen, we can talk about the musical later, but I want to see Daddy’s play.” And so I knew that if ever I wanted to do the musical, the play was going to be the door. And by God, I’m so thankful that they held the line in that way. I was worried like everybody, “Listen, I have affection for it, but are these jokes going to work? Is the humor going to be creaky? It’s a little dangerous. We’re saying some words and some things that can we say this now?” And all this stuff. But every reading that we did, this piece — Ossie’s words, Ossie’s heart and his brilliant mind — was demanding to be heard in this time. And then I discovered, in the doing of it, all this music that was there, not unlike Lynn or Shakespeare or Tennessee or August — there was so much music, and lyricism, and rhythm, and rhyme in the poetry of the text. It’s the most musical non-musical you’ll ever see.

Leslie Odom Jr. and Eddie Redmayne

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

Kelli, in Days of Wine and Roses you played Kirsten, a woman who becomes involved with a man who introduces her to alcohol, which then begins to take over their lives. You and Brian d’Arcy James first acted together in 2002 on Broadway in Sweet Smell of Success, the same year that you and composer Adam Guettel began working together on The Light in the Piazza, and then the three of you guys developed Days of Wines and Roses together. But I heard it was your nudge that got the ball rolling. What made you think that a story about alcoholism could be a musical? It’s not at all obvious…

O’HARA Well, I mean, anything musicalized is obvious to me. That’s how I communicate most of the time. I think we closed Sweet Smell of Success in June of 2002. Three weeks later, in July, I went out to do the first workshop of The Light in the Piazza and met Adam Guettel. It was one of the first times I felt understood musically. But I missed Brian d’Arcy James and wanted to work with him again, so Adam Guettel and I started having conversations. As I mentioned, I grew up in black-and-white films. I’m Irish. You can put that together. The movie [1962’s Days of Wine and Roses, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick] meant a lot to me — I saw it as a teenager. Later, I had moved to New York from Oklahoma to go to acting school, and I was desperate to try to find something that wasn’t the generic ingenue role, which is what I’d been playing a lot of up to that point, and this seemed unbelievably challenging to me. Little did I know it would take another 20 years — things get shelved, you go on and you do many other things — but I wouldn’t have been ready until now to play it. It was the perfect time for both Brian and me, I think, and a wonderful way to reunite.

And the fact that you, Brian and Adam were developing this together over so many years enabled Adam to tailor the music to your voices, right?

O’HARA Yeah. And that gets increasingly more important in the pursuit of me working at all. I’ve always struggled with how I wanted to sing versus how people wanted me to sing. I mean, I was that eighth-grade girl trying so desperately to sound like Whitney Houston and just failing miserably. My voice is what it is. It’s not even operatic, necessarily, in my opinion; maybe it’s art songy. Whatever it is, it’s very honest and very true, and sometimes the notes are very vulnerable because the emotion is vulnerable. And that’s the music I want to sing, whatever it sounds like —

PAULSON It sounds like Heaven.

O’HARA Thank you.

Sarah, in Appropriate — your first show on Broadway in 13 years and in New York in 11 — you play Toni, a woman who gathers with her younger siblings, among others, at their late father’s home in Arkansas to dispose of his possessions, and they wind up learning a lot about him and each other. You have previously played Nurse Ratched, Linda Tripp and a plantation slave owner’s wife, so you’re clearly not deterred by characters who are, on the surface, not easy to warm up to — and then you make them multi-dimensional. Is that almost what attracts you, at this point, to a character?

PAULSON There seems like there’s a theme, in terms of me playing these unlikable women, but the truth is they just happen to be the things that come my way. I don’t entirely know what that says about me. [Laughs.] I’m interested in honesty — a rigorous honesty — about human behavior, and the underbelly of some of the ways in which we live our lives, and some of the ways in which we choose to behave in our family and outside of our family dynamic. I certainly think the family dynamic is where things can often be the most heightened. And to be fair to Toni Lafayette, you are meeting her at a really rough moment in her life; I don’t think this is who she is at the grocery store. Originally, Toni had a line where she says, “Can you believe I was actually looking forward to this weekend?” Which is something I carry with me, knowing that she had this expectation of having a family gathering where people would stay up late and drink wine and talk about their father. Instead, the black sheep of the family comes home — I [Toni] haven’t seen him in a decade, he was my favorite brother, he’s done some really horrendous, horrifying things, and where does that love live now? And the breakup of her marriage, the things her son has been through — there’s just a tremendous amount that she’s holding, to echo what Rachel was saying. But it feels to me like worthy work to play people when they are not always at their most heroic, but at the bottom of something.

Sarah Paulson

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

Daniel, in Merrily you play Charley Kringas, who’s part of a trio of best friends within which there’s a duo of songwriters — he’s the lyricist — who grow apart, although we’re seeing it all happen backward. This is a Stephen Sondheim musical that had been done on Broadway only once before, 40-plus years ago, and at that time — as hard as it may be to believe for people who see what a success it’s been with you guys — it lasted just 12 days, and apparently, in a mirror of what was going on in the show, led to a rift between Sondheim and Harold Prince. Not everybody would sign up for a show with that history. Were you aware of it?

RADCLIFFE I became aware of it. My personal history with the production is that I saw it in 2013, Maria Friedman’s production in London, and so, for me, I’ve only ever known it as a show that works. I very, very rarely read something or see something and go, “Oh, I’m really right for this part,” but I did with that, particularly watching Damian Humbley, who’s incredible, do “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” There’s always been a part of my brain when I hear a lyrically intricate fast song that goes, “I have to try and learn that,” for no other reason than to amuse myself. So when the opportunity to do the show here came up, I read the script, and I was again going, “This character sits really well in my voice. I can hear myself saying these lines. It’s sounding authentic to me.” I’m happy to be corrected on this, but I don’t think there’s a ton in Sondheim’s canon that I am as well-matched for as this part. I’d been looking to do another musical for a long time, but the thing I learned from How to Succeed, which I loved so much, is that you need to love it to be doing a musical because it is, I think, the most demanding thing that I’ve ever done.

It’s a shame that Sondheim, who died in November 2021, just missed seeing that Merrily actually can work on Broadway. There’s actually been a whole wave of Sondheim shows doing very well on and off Broadway, of late.

Eddie, in Cabaret you play The Emcee at the Kit Kat Club in Berlin as the Nazis come to power. The show has been around since 1966, and the film version came out in 1972, but your version is, from what I’ve gathered, very deliberately different than prior incarnations with Joel Grey, Alan Cumming and others. And you have your own long history with it…

REDMAYNE I played The Emcee when I was about 15 years old at school — which feels a bit inappropriate now, I think. I didn’t know Cabaret when I first did it, so I watched the film and listened to all the recordings and was just stunned by it. It seduced me. It moved me. It made me laugh, and it made me think, “That’s what I dream of when I go to the theater.” And even though I didn’t necessarily understand all those things when I was a kid, it really stuck with me. Then, I did it again at the Edinburgh Festival when I was about 19 in a production in this grimy venue; we were out flyering every day trying to persuade people to come to the festival dressed in latex and PVC, and then at night we would do the show at 8:00 in the evening, and it would finish at 11:00, and then we’d have half an hour and do another show. And then the people who created that venue at the Edinburgh Festival — they’re called The Underbelly, and it became their business, these site-specific comedy shows — became really successful in London.

About nine years ago, they asked me, “Would you ever consider doing this again?” And since then I’d seen every production of Cabaret that I could touch. I saw the Sam Mendes production in Barcelona, in Spanish; I’d seen Alan do it with Emma Stone so stunningly here; I’ve seen the Rufus Norris production; and I just love it. So, when they approached me about doing it, I thought, “I would love to, but only if we’re going to do something that hasn’t been seen or a new take on it.” And I’d just seen this production of Summer and Smoke in London, directed by Rebecca Frecknall, that had blown my mind — it was so poised, and it was stunningly designed by a guy called Tom Scott — so I went and spoke to Frecks and she said, “I’d love to do it.” But at this point, we didn’t have the rights.

It’s impossible to get the rights to Cabaret — everyone dreams of doing it! So it became one of those pipe dreams that was never going to happen. But, even at that stage, we wanted to do it site-specific, so we’d found this old music hall in London underneath a train station in Angel, which basically now looked like a concrete car park in the shape of the Globe Theatre, and we thought, “If we could take people down fire escapes, and then the show could turn into Bergheim afterward and into a club, could that be interesting?” Then COVID happened. Afterward, the producers, ATG, who had jumped on board, said, “Look, we’ve got all these theaters that have been sitting empty. Could we ever take the experiential idea of taking an audience to an evening where, once they step over the threshold, they pass dancers and musicians and get discombobulated into a world where, by the time they reach the show proper, they’ve left all their troubles behind?” And I’ve always loved the backstage of theaters and seeing the grime and the grot behind the presentation. So that’s what we dug into.

And on Broadway, you guys basically invite people to arrive at 6:45 p.m. for what you call a prologue, and for over an hour before you ever show up onstage, bars are open and dancers are dancing and a whole vibe is created — it’s really its own show.

REDMAYNE The dancers are extraordinary. Our choreographer, Julia Cheng, comes from a clubbing background, so one of the things we’re trying to do with the show is, although it’s very specifically set in its period, the echoes are so tangible now, and so the dance vocabulary is from waacking, from voguing, from contemporary club culture in the same way as the costumes. We’re not going, “This happened then; it can never happen again.” The costumes refer to contemporary fashions. There aren’t lots of Nazis in Nazi uniforms. It’s all trying to go, “Wait. There are regressions, things that we’ve talked about now, powers and rights being taken away and pulled back, and the loss of individuality.” Hopefully, the evening makes you think.

It seems to me like all of your characters have nothing in common except for the fact that playing them must be a physical and emotional rollercoaster of an experience — and you did or do it eight times a week! Can you share how you prep and recover so that you can still function when you’re not onstage?

O’HARA I mean, sure, it’s a slog sometimes. With this particular show, people kept saying, “Are you OK? Are you going to be all right? Are you leaving your family?” But —

Can I just interrupt to note why they were saying that? It’s because in your show there were 18 numbers, you were part of 14 of them, and seven of them were solos…


O’HARA But it was the most extraordinary time of my life. It fed me like nothing has ever fed me. And so I can take a bit of fatigue in order to do it. It was short-lived [the show closed early due to disappointing ticket sales], and I’ll miss it forever.

RADCLIFFE Similarly, I don’t feel like I’m as tired as I should be. I find the show incredibly energizing. People come back afterward and say, “Are you knackered?” I’m like, “No, I’m not. I’m really not.” That may have something to do with the structure of Merrily because it starts at their worst point, but we get happier, and happier, and happier, and we end with this beautiful, light, lovely scene. So hopefully the audience is getting some catharsis, as well as just being quietly devastated.

Daniel, I have to follow up about the song you mentioned earlier, “Franklin Shepard, Inc.,” the number in the show in which your character nukes his friendship with his songwriting partner, although you could argue that he’s reacting to it having already been nuked by the partner. People say that there’s something about Sondheim songs, especially patter songs like this one, that are uniquely vocally challenging. Have you found that to be the case?

RADCLIFFE I don’t think it is the hardest song of the show. I think the hardest song of the show is “Growing Up,” which Jonathan has to sing, and is a very, very slow, active number. I find those songs far harder. I would rather be doing something that is frenetic and fast and goes at a pace like that, where there’s a lot of stuff to think about and do. So I actually think it’s just a complete gift of a thing to get to do as an actor. It’s so much fun every night. I feel like I’m on drugs when I’m doing it. Yeah, I live in mild fear of that song every day, but it’s also really exciting.

ODOM I think that is undeniable that this thing that we do is going to require a level of sacrifice. None of us come to the theater to make any money, really; we just hope we can make enough to survive, to live. But there’s a sacrifice. Oftentimes, I’ve wondered why I do it. And I think one other thing that we have in common at this table is that we were all brought here by incredible writing. Ossie took five years to write a play that ran about 88 minutes. He took five years to consider, and edit, and show people. Words, they make worlds. And the theater really is a monument to words.

Leslie Odom Jr.

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

PAULSON I mean, I don’t want to have a dissenting opinion, but what I will say is I have never been more tired in my life. I love the feeling of being this tired because it feels like it is for a greater good, which is to deliver the play to as many people as possible. That is the responsibility, and I do take it very seriously. And I have never been, as Kelli said, more fortified by what I’m getting to do. But I sometimes wish there was an educational component for audiences. I’m standing on the stairs at the end of the play doing this beautiful speech that Branden [Jacobs-Jenkins, the playwright,] has written, and I can see people’s legs moving; I hear somebody searching for something in their bag; the coughing starts that then makes the person over there think, “Oh, we can cough,” and then everybody starts coughing. And I feel like, “Oh, I wonder if they think that this is just a hobby for me,” that I’m up here doing something I just love to do so much that it matters not to me how it is being held by the people in the room, or not understanding that it costs me something to do this. Sometimes I do walk off and go, “Oh, God, I have been incapable of turning off that part of me that gets so full of rage at the person in row seven whose phone they forgot to turn off at intermission, even though they were told 32 times to do it.” This is church to me, and I would like everybody to show up with the same level of dedication. You’ve paid your good, hard-earned money to be here. I know sometimes people are like, “My husband dragged me to this fricking play.” But, hopefully, we can transport you to someplace you want to be.

REDMAYNE I certainly agree with you about the physical costs. What I find interesting about doing Cabaret in the musical theater world is it demands a different set of skills that I’ve not necessarily harbored all my life and trained all my life. And whilst I look forward to serving this extraordinary piece every night, I’m filled with fear of whether technically I’m going to be capable to serve that. My wife, as I was having a complete meltdown in the lead-up to doing this, was back in London and reading Andre Agassi’s memoir [Open] —

O’HARA Oh, it’s the best memoir!

REDMAYNE And there’s a passage in it in which he talks about going to a musical on Broadway and how he relates to musical theater people because it’s that monastic, athletic living of having to eat, sleep and breathe something. My wife was sending it to me basically going, “Come on, you’re like Agassi!” But I’ve found that nothing upsets me more than when I have to go onstage to serve this stunning score in this extraordinary part in a beautiful — or I hope it’s a beautiful — production, and you are worried that you don’t have the facility to serve it to its full potential.

O’HARA Every day, I think about — and I tell students, too — that it’s like we’re professional athletes with no offseason or weekends or holidays. And I, for one, have been doing it — aside from right after both of my children were born — eight shows a week for the better part of 25 years. It’s something you get used to, but there is a conversation to be had in this business about how we can time-share and how we can role-share. I didn’t ask for six shows [a week], but some people do. They’ve done four on four [meaning, four shows on, then four shows off] — in London, as an example, a woman got pregnant, so they did a four-on-four split. It was the first time I’d ever heard it. On Jagged Little Pill, Elizabeth Stanley and Heidi Blickenstaff did a four-on-four after Heidi had her baby. And I thought, “Maybe we’re going somewhere.”

Kelli O’Hara

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

We’ve been talking a lot about how eight shows a week will physically wear anyone down. But when you’re dealing with really heavy stuff subject matter — as, for example, you are, Rachel — how do you keep yourself from getting emotionally knocked out?

MCADAMS That was my biggest fear going into this as a rookie, not knowing what this was really going to feel like: “Can I keep my vessel full? Will I just literally hit some wall, and there’s nothing I can do to push past that?” And I’ve realized that’s not a thing. Or, with four weeks left, hopefully, it’s not a thing. [Laughs.] But you get close sometimes. I think having two unmedicated home births with two very large babies prepared me well for this.

O’HARA We can do hard things.

MCADAMS We can do hard things, we really can. This play has made me a stronger person. Not every day — and on those days [when it’s tough], I really have leaned on my beautiful cast — but I take this play home with me. There’s so much about caretaking and community and women taking really good care of other women — and then the places where we are not cared for in the world, in this case, healthcare. The only real villain in the play is the healthcare system, and who do you get mad at for that? So I lean on my castmates. We have a beautiful thing going where we pass turmeric shots around and have lots of hugs at the ends of shows, and cry into each other’s shoulders. But this play is about being present. It’s about digging deep and finding your strongest self, your most positive self, without being delusional. It’s about how much can you soar in the face of adversity and how strong the human spirit is. It doesn’t just belong to this really special person named Mary Jane. We all have it in us somewhere. And it’s so much about, in its simplicity, getting joy from your children. I come home every day after doing that play, and I get a lot of joy and fulfillment from my children. They remind me that this is just a play. But yes, some days, I come off, and I have a big old cry in my dressing room because the character doesn’t quite get that release.

Does your ability to handle the demands of these parts vary depending on specific days of the week?

PAULSON Can I ask a question? Does anybody else loathe when people come on a Tuesday?


PAULSON I hate the Tuesday show! When you come to see me on a Tuesday, I am so upset. People are like, “Lady, this was the time I could come…”

I would have assumed that on Tuesday, having had Monday off, you’re at your freshest…

O’HARA No. You’re not warm.

PAULSON A Tuesday, to me, I just feel like I’m finding my sea legs for the first 20 minutes of the play.

MCADAMS Yeah, you only had one day off, but it feels like a month.

O’HARA Tuesday’s not a good day. Don’t come on Tuesday.

REDMAYNE Guys! We need people to come on Tuesdays! [laughs and then jokingly continues] It’s my favorite night of the week!

RADCLIFFE It could go either way. It either feels like, “Oh, I’m back and I feel fresh,” or “I feel like I’ve never done the show before.”

Sarah Paulson and Scott Feinberg

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

We’ve talked about all the things that you’re juggling and worrying about and thinking about, as far as just preparing and remembering your lines and what you have to do. But then there’s the added layer of, “How’s the show doing? Are people coming? Are people liking it?” To what degree do you let that even seep into your consciousness? I mean, I first crossed paths with Kelli in 2013, the year of Bridges of Madison County, which —

PAULSON Which is one of the most beautiful, extraordinary, not possible things. I saw it more than once. I listen to it in my car all the time and, for me, it was one of the great, great, great musicals in American theater, and it should still be running, in my opinion.

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Right. When I saw that, and ever since, I have said, “This is the greatest voice I’ve ever heard.” It was a great show. But it didn’t last very long. You never know what goes into these things — I read something where Leslie said that if Hamilton had come along five years earlier, who knows if even it would’ve clicked. It may be about just catching the zeitgeist. So I just wonder the degree to which you guys think about these things…

ODOM I’d love to hear you [O’Hara] talk about it because I —

O’HARA Why? Because this one closed too? [Laughs]

ODOM When I came to see you guys, man, did I love it so much.

O’HARA Listen, this musical was about alcoholism. Deep, dark alcoholism. And a love story, but riddled with this third player, right? So it wasn’t for everybody. I knew that it wasn’t the most commercial thing. It was an art piece, and I was so proud of that, actually. And we’re lucky that it had a space on Broadway for even a minute. But what killed me is that I felt like the population that needed it — us all being the daughter or having had that mother or knowing that father or whatever it was — I was worried that we hadn’t reached them. I sometimes worry that the business can be very formulaic, especially in how we sell things. And I was concerned that we weren’t reaching the audience, the whole new generation of sober-curious people, and people that don’t usually come to theater, or whole organizations that thrive and survive on sobriety or that need to have the conversation constantly or to see themselves in a story.

We were being told to sell it as a love story. We were deceiving people as they walked in the door, and I’m saying this out loud because it was one of the most painful parts of the process for me — to be doing that much, to be giving that much of my heart, and being so satisfied by the performance, and then I would literally have someone every single night come and see it and say, “Oh, I had no idea it was about alcoholism.” I jumped back on social media when we got the closing notice and started trying to promote the show, sweating, just to get more people in front of this beautiful piece of work. And I felt sad and angry because there was a time when that wasn’t your job as much; your job was to do eight shows a week with all your heart. But it felt like, “Gosh, I should have been more of an influencer. I should have been having things on the sidewalk [like Hamilton did].” And I started to get desperate because when you work on something for 20 years, and you know how special it is… But then you have to check yourself and say, “It’s special to me, and that doesn’t always translate to special to the larger community.” But it’s painful. When you’re in something that means the world to you, and it’s closing, it’s heartbreaking because it feels like a death.

REDMAYNE There’s something interesting that I’ve noticed, and that’s the extraordinary difference between doing a commercial play in the West End and on Broadway. The idea of grosses being announced and your makeup artist knowing them every Tuesday and telling you? In London, I had no idea. But here, as a producer on Cabaret as well, I had to say, in the producer meetings, “I’ll sit on all the calls, but I don’t want to know.”

With our remaining time, I’m going to give a few prompts and ask you to say the first thing that comes to your mind. To begin with: Excluding family, whose attendance at one of the performances of your show has meant the most to you?

PAULSON Laurie Metcalf.

RADCLIFFE Martin Short.


MCADAMS Linda Maskell, my high school drama teacher — the reason I’m here.

ODOM Kathleen Battle came to our last performance, and I fell on the floor.

What’s the most unusual thing in your dressing room?

RADCLIFFE A small plastic basketball hoop that was left by Alex Edelman, who was in the show before ours. He said, “Do you want to keep it?” I was like, “Yeah, obviously!”

PAULSON I had a fan send me what looks like a taxidermy dog that is an identical replica of my dog. Everyone walks in the room, and they’re like, “Your dog is so calm!” I was like, “This is not a real dog.”

REDMAYNE Mine is something that looks like a loaf of really soft white bread, but it’s a stress ball. It was given to me by Jamie, who does my wigs. One day I was so in tears that she was like, “Eddie, you need some anger bread.”

What’s the most annoying thing that audiences, or at least some members thereof, are doing these days?

ODOM The cell phone thing. We had one crazy show where we had three or four cell phones going off. When you hear the first one, you should think, “Oh, shoot, let me actually turn mine off.” But there was a second one. And a third one. And it was in the first 20 minutes of the show. And so I did have to stop the show and say, “There’s grace in this moment. There’s amnesty. Let’s really do it [turn off all phones].”

PAULSON Good for you. God, I love that you did that. There is this thing of, “Let’s just be here together, all of us. You do your part. I’ll do mine.” I do feel like there is an alchemy every night, depending on what the audience is bringing and what we’re bringing.

O’HARA Oh, sure. They’re the final collaborator.

PAULSON Yes, they are the final collaborator.

MCADAMS I think people don’t realize that. I think they think you can’t even see them. I thought I wouldn’t be able to see them, but I can see everything. I can see when you’re sleeping. I can see you when you open your phone to see what time it is.

PAULSON I think the most annoying new thing that’s happening is everyone seems to have their cell phone in their lap, and so there’s all the phones dropping on the floor. And at the Helen Hayes, where we started, there’s no carpet, and so it would just be like [makes clanking noise]. Now, at the Belasco, you just hear this dull thud onto a carpet.

Eddie, there’s a lot of people that are getting smashed at your show, right? Is that an issue?

REDMAYNE “Come to Cabaret and get smashed!”

O’HARA “Especially on Tuesdays!”

REDMAYNE We do have a few vocal people. There was a moment last night when Gayle [Rankin, Redmayne’s Tony-nominated co-star], who is extraordinary in the show, was singing “Mein Herr,” and she got to that bit, “And I do, what I do, and I’m through, toodle-oo” — and literally there was a woman like, “Oh, my gosh, I love the ‘toodle-oo’!” [Laughs.] So occasionally, you get a good vocal Cabaret support.

MCADAMS Just a question. I remember someone — was it Jack White? — was asking people at concerts to put their phones in lockers or something. Has that happened on Broadway?

PAULSON They did it during Take Me Out because of the nudity. They did that. So, I know it can be done, and I would love to know why we don’t just do it. Just put your phone in a cubbyhole —

MCADAMS We’ll charge it for you.

PAULSON Would that be some cost-prohibitive thing to implement?

RADCLIFFE At Merrily, it’s been OK. I think being in a musical covers a lot — I’m sure stuff’s happening during those songs, but I can’t hear it. But since we’re here, my two favorites: On Equus, there was seating onstage, and I was onstage the whole time, and if I wasn’t in the scene I would just go back to sit on one of these four blocks — it was supposed to be my room at the hospital. And there was one night when I got to my block in the first scene that I wasn’t in, and two girls in the seats just started talking to me, just full voice, while Richard Griffiths and Kate Mulgrew were doing a scene behind me, just going, “Dan! Dan! Look up here!” It carried on through the whole first act. And then I was like, “I don’t need them to leave. But can they just go into the main auditorium so that they’re not just trying to speak to me through the show?” And then my other favorite audience member? I was doing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in London, and this dude came in, sat down, and, through Josh McGuire’s first monologue as Guildenstern, which is incredibly complicated, took out a footlong sandwich, wrapped in tin foil, unwrapped the whole thing, ate it in its entirety and fell asleep for the rest of the first act. But then in the second act, he was the most attentive audience member — jumped up at the end and clapped. I wanted to be like, “Wait, did you have a good time?” “Yeah. I had a dinner, had a sleep and saw half of a great show.”

Daniel Radcliffe, Sarah Paulson and Kelli O’Hara

Jesse Ilan Kornbluth

If you could snap your fingers and make it so, what would be the ideal number of performances your show would offer per week?

RADCLIFFE I don’t want to make myself unpopular, but I like the grind.

ODOM I mean, listen, the ideal would be six, right? Six or seven.

PAULSON I think the Wednesday matinee is the one I would chuck. Because when you start the Tuesday week, and then you’ve got that matinee right away? I would like to do seven with no Wednesday mat.

O’HARA I would do anything to have two days in a row off.

REDMAYNE When you get two days off, your voice can really recover.

MCADAMS Oh, fuck that Tuesday show. [Laughs.] To get the Sunday or the Sunday night-Monday-Tuesday stretch off — I mean, I might actually leave the city and go somewhere where there’s nature.

Last one. If you could play any role on the stage that you have not played before — somebody’s listening — what would it be?

PAULSON I would like to do The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

REDMAYNE Oh! Which I would love to see you in. That was the first play I ever did in London, and you would be magnificent in that part.

RADCLIFFE I’ll know it when I see it.

REDMAYNE I’m exactly the same. I’m much better when people tell me which part I should play.

ODOM Someday — and it ain’t soon — I want to do Lear.

And the Purlie musical maybe still?

ODOM It could happen.

Rachel? Are you going to come back for more after this?

MCADAMS Not next year! [Laughs.] I would love to star in any musical, but that will never happen. So this is just all pipe dreams. But yeah, anywhere I could sing. I started out doing Disney musicals at theater camp, and I was so bad that the teacher said to me, “You know, you might be really good in the Shakespeare camp,” and sent me on my way, and it was devastating. But it was the right thing in the end.

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