Alex Brightman’s first Broadway show closed after one performance—and he never even took the stage.
The actor made his debut (he did get to participate in opening night curtain call) as an understudy in the short-lived, cult-favorite Glory Days. Since that 2008 bow, Brightman has spent two years in Wicked as Boq, played Michael Wormwood in Matilda, and been in the original ensemble of Big Fish. So it was a little surprising when his casting as Dewey Finn in School of Rock—The Musical was announced, the headlines called him “Newcomer Alex Brightman.”
“I thought it was hilarious—I get it, but it was funny,” Brightman says. “My manager was like, ‘Go with it! Go with it! Everyone loves a newcomer! Everyone wants to discover you!’”
And Brightman is going with it, as fits his easygoing personality. He’s game for anything—even meeting this reporter for a 10 a.m. breakfast before a full day of tech rehearsal at the Winter Garden Theatre, where the show opens on December 6. Although the musical marks his fifth Broadway credit, playing the lead is a much larger commitment than an ensemble or supporting track.
Though, he wasn’t originally cast as Dewey. Brightman was involved in a workshop of the show—as Lawrence the keyboardist. Based on the 2003 Richard Linklater film starring Jack Black, the show, with music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Julian Fellowes, centers on an out-of-work musician who masquerades as a substitute teacher and transforms his students into a rock band. For the purposes of the workshop, adults played the kids, and at the end of the week, Lloyd Weber announced a Broadway run and dates for that year. Brightman immediately e-mailed his agents saying he just wanted to be in the room.
Fortunately, the casting director Tara Rubin has cast Brightman in Glory Days and Big Fish—“I owe my career to her”—and asked him to come to an invited audition for the child roles. She pulled him aside and told him that he was the “talk of the room” after the workshop and he’d likely have a job in the fall.
“I’ll do anything. I’m not above an ensemble,” he replied. “I’ll sell merch! I don’t care!”
Rubin said the team didn’t know where he fit in the show yet, but the easiest way to get him in the room was to audition for Dewey, with zero promise of actually landing the role or even the understudy. “The way I took it was, ‘You’re not playing the lead so we’ll figure it out,’” Brightman remembers.
And he just kept coming back, assuming because they didn’t have material for any other male adult characters, but after the fourth or fifth callback, he looked around the waiting room and realized he was the only repeat auditioner. At his final call back, the team told him they were going to put it on tape so Lloyd Weber could watch it and that’s when he realized he was actually in contention for the part.
After what he calls one of his best auditions, Brightman left New York with one of his best friends and writing partner Drew Gasparini to go see a show they wrote together, Make Me Bad, premiere in Indiana. It was Brightman’s week off from Matilda, and they rented a car—Gasparini notes that Brightman has an intense fear of flying—and drove halfway across the country. While he was there, Brightman got a call from his agents saying he needed to come back to New York. The conversation went something like this.
Agents: You need to come back to New York.
Brightman: No, I’m not going to do that.
Agents: Well, you have to.
Brightman: I’m not going to because this is my vacation from Matilda and I’m watching the show I wrote open.
Agents: Andrew Lloyd Webber rented a private room at Pearl Studios and wants you to sing for him.
Brightman: I’ll be right there.
Conquering his fear of flying and dodging a major winter storm—“He didn’t care if his friend died in the storm!” Gasparini jokes—Brightman landed, went straight to the rehearsal studio and performed 40 minutes of script material.
Two days later, he finds out he got the part for the workshop at the Gramercy Theatre, where many industry members got a preview of the show over the summer. “It was stressed so hard that it was just for the workshop,” Brightmas says. “They were stressing it to the point where I was like, ‘I got it. I’m not playing the role on Broadway.’”
However, working with Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) and Lloyd Weber was just like working with the young writers Brightman collaborates with so often in cabaret concerts. “They remind me of Ryan [Scott Oliver] and Drew,” he says. “They’re just guys that want their show to go well. Like they’re not billionaires, you know what I mean?”
Before the presentations at the Gramercy, the team did a run-through for several industry members and celebrities, and on his walk home from the performance, Brightman got a call from his agents: He was going to play the role on Broadway.
“I’m choking up even thinking about it,” Brightman says. “I was at 7th Avenue and 23rd Street. I’ll never forget exactly where I was because I’ve try to soak in moments like this but they go by so fast…From the very moment that I got cast in that table read and I so wasn’t the guy…All of a sudden I was like, ‘I’m the guy now.’”
“I call myself Nostradamus now because I’ve been saying it about Alex since forever,” says Gasparini. “Watch him get the Tony nod. Watch all the TV offers come his way. Watch him explode in the next 11 months. Alex Brightman is going to be a household name.”
And Gasparini would know. The two met after both participating in a cabaret concert, and Brightman e-mailed Gasparini to compliment his work. They met up for drinks and got “silly drunk” and the rest is history. Along with their friends and fellow actors F. Michael Haynie and Andrew Kober, the four affectionately call themselves “The Morons.” (At breakfast, Brightman reads a message from Gasparini in their group text, to which Gasparini later responds, “If you read our texts, you would think we were all having sex.”)
They’ve been together in good times and not so good times. About a year ago—when things were not going as well—Gasparini and Brightman decided to eat a jabanero pepper and perform “Who’s on First?” They even filmed it, just to stay creative. (Let’s see how long the result is on YouTube after this mention.)
Now with a more high-profile role comes not only a larger time commitment, but more attention. “There have been tiny moments of paparazzi which is hilarious because I’m their worst nightmare,” Brightman says. “All they want is a shot of me walking. That’s all they want. The minute I see a paparazzi camera, I start doing really ridiculous things…You can’t get in trouble for being silly. Silly is a renewable resource.”
There were a lot of paparazzi at School of Rock’s Today Show appearance, where Brightman got to test his silliness, and he also got recognized for the first time. After he performed, he went to Duane Reade to buy a seltzer—“I drink a lot of seltzer now, I’ve cut out beer”—and the clerk goes, “You look just like the guy that was playing the Jack Black part on the Today Show with School of Rock.”
“I was like, I am him,” Brightman remembers. ”I pull out my phone and I show her pictures from the Today Show. And she starts freaking out.”
However there is more scrutiny too—particularly on social media. Brightman sang the National Anthem at a Yankees game, and the next morning, he went on Twitter. “All of a sudden, I see, ‘How could you let that slob sing at this game?’” Brightman recalls of one of the tweets. “And then I got fascinated. I was like, ‘How many people think this?’…So what I decided to do—and I’ve done this now ever since and I will continue to do this—is I respond to them in kind.”
And his kindness and sense of humor makes him a big star among the kids in the show. When Brightman is mentioned at a separate photoshoot with one of his young castmates, Bobbi MacKenzie, she gets so excited, saying “He’s so funny!” When I ask her later about one of the funniest things he’s done, she recalls walking by him at rehearsal and he “farted”—or at least made the sound.
“He’s an intelligent guy but he will never ever be above a poo joke,” adds Gasparini.
He’s also not so into fashion. (On the morning of our photoshoot, he tweets, “Spending the morning with @Broadway_Style. They have their work cut out for them. But I trust them…implicitly. I mostly wear sweatpants.”) He does add that he’s a very impatient shopper, though, and if the first thing doesn’t fit, he’s out.
It seems like many people around him are also impatient to know what’s happening next for him. With such a high profile creative team attached to School of Rock, many people are asking Brightman what his next career move will be. Gasparini and Brightman are writing a musical adaptation of the Universal movie It’s a Kind of Funny Story and Brightman just finished his first full-length play about a suicide pact gone wrong. His agents also want him to develop TV pitches for shows that center around him.
“It’s so funny hearing about people saying about when this is all over—when the Tonys are over, when your contract is up,” Brightman says. “I’m like, “When it’s all over?” It hasn’t even started.”
And with previews underway and two weeks left until opening, Brightman is working on more than just the show. He was originally asked to gain weight for the role—he put on 35 pounds—the creative team has asked him to lose a lot of it so he doesn’t hurt himself with all the jumping around and picking up the kids. He has three covers in case anything happens, but “all of them don’t want me to call out,” he says.
Thanks to an Equinox (and a gratis membership to it) across the street from the Winter Garden, Brightman is trying to take off 20 pounds before opening. (He orders an egg white omelet at our breakfast.) The show’s director, Laurence Connor, sat him down just before previews began and talked him through it.
“It was a bit emotional; it was a weird thing,” he says. “He was like, ‘I don’t know how to put this to you but like it’s more for your safety.’ And I was like, ‘I would happily. None of that makes me feel like a piece of shit.’ But he was like, ‘I just don’t want you to get hurt. You’re my guy.’”
We asked some of Alex Brightman’s young castmates: What is the funniest thing Alex has ever done?
“When we were recording the instrumentals for the cast album, I had to go do my sound check. While I was gone, Alex found my phone and went into my Instagram account and posted a crazy picture of himself crosseyed! He wrote, ‘We stole Evie’s phone. We rock.’” —Evie Dolan, “Katie”
“Alex is hilarious and so much fun all the time so it’s hard to choose. When I insult him in ‘Stick it to the Man,’ he would put his hands on his hips and make funny faces that would always crack me up!” — Luca Padovan, “Billy”
“Alex Brightman had me on the floor laughing when he imitated Peter Griffin from Family Guy. He does it so well and funny.” —Brandon Niederauer, “Zack”
Clothing by Reiss, Theory, and The Kooples
Shoes by Pikolinos
Styling by James Brown III
Hair by Aubrey Mae Davis
Makeup by Steve Schepis
Additional styling by Jake Sokoloff