How did Brandon Uranowitz get to be so damn versatile? The secret is out.
A two-time Tony nominee for his work in An American in Paris and last season’s revival of Falsettos, Uranowitz is back on Broadway in Prince of Broadway, a starry new musical retrospective celebrating the storied career of legendary director-producer Harold “Hal” Prince, who brought to life hit shows like Evita, Sweeney Todd, and The Phantom of the Opera.
Among Uranowitz’s many diverse roles in the revue, he tackles two beloved queer characters, Molina from Kiss of the Spider Woman and the Emcee from Cabaret. But as long as the out actor keeps living his truth, he could probably play anything.
As a lover of musicals, I totally queened out at Prince of Broadway. I can only imagine what it’s like to actually perform all those iconic songs.
It truly is a musical theater fan’s wet dream. It’s certainly a dream for me.
When did you fall in love with musicals?
Really early. My parents took me to see Peter Pan on Broadway when I was about 3, and my mother says she’d never seen my face look like that before. I was so bad at sports, but I needed an activity, so my parents put me into theater. I fell madly in love with it, even though I was shy and didn’t really like attention.
You grew up in New Jersey. Did your parents take you to see a lot of Broadway shows?
Yeah, so what started as a mild interest turned into a heavy obsession. It also woke up a deep passion for theater in my dad. He took me to see Crazy for You six times and Tommy seven times.
There are so many showstoppers in Prince of Broadway. Which number do you most enjoy performing?
I love doing Molina’s “Dressing Them Up” from Kiss of the Spider Woman, which is such an underrated show. Kander and Ebb wrote a brilliant song about this gay man’s descent into desperation. He used to be a window dresser, which was his passion, and now he’s in a prison cell with nothing to do. I just jump on the train of that song and ride it until the end.
What’s it like to only inhabit these characters for one or two numbers?
I’ve never experienced anything like it. It feels a lot like a film or TV experience, where you might shoot scenes out of order. This show could also be called Quick Change the Musical, because most of our time backstage is spent changing costumes, so it’s a fun challenge to get into the headspace of these characters as deeply and as quickly as possible.
The Emcee requires one of the show’s biggest physical transformations.
Oh, yeah. Right before the Fiddler on the Roof number, we cross the stage as denizens of Anatevka. If you look closely, you’ll see that I’ve already done all my Emcee eye makeup, including the fake lashes. I look like Anatevka’s resident drag queen.
Hal Prince’s original Broadway staging of Cabaret starred the great Joel Grey as the Emcee. How do you step into those shoes?
It’s weird to navigate. I definitely don’t want to do a second-rate carbon copy of Joel Grey’s performance, but we’re in a show about Hal Prince’s career. We’re showing the audience snippets of Hal’s original concepts, but because he’s also directing us, it’s our interpretations of these characters within that original context. I hope people are open to that. Yes, I’m in Joel Grey’s original costumes, but I’m not Joel Grey. His performance is untouchable.
Which Prince of Broadway character would you most like to flesh out in a full production?
Well, we just had a Cabaret revival, so I’d love to do a really dark, gritty Kiss of the Spider Woman. Revues are odd, because it does sometimes feel like I’m maybe auditioning for potential revivals of these musicals.
Your last Broadway musical, Falsettos, obviously means a great deal to the LGBT community. Did you have memorable interactions with fans at the stage door?
I still do. Falsettos fans come to the Prince of Broadway stage door every day, and I still get letters from people who were moved by that show. Doing a revival of a show created at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, I knew it was going to reopen wounds and touch people who lived through that. But what really surprised me was how many young queer people came out and became fans of the show. It’s been the most satisfying and life-affirming experience, just knowing that a whole new generation has been inspired by that story. It’s overwhelming.
You played Mendel, a straight character, in Falsettos, and both straight and gay actors played the gay characters. Did you see the beauty in that diverse casting?
I don’t know that we ever acknowledged that, but I certainly appreciated it. We had a story to tell, and the show was cast with the actors who were best suited to tell it. It kind of pissed me off, though, when people would tell me, “You played straight so well!” I don’t know if I take that as a compliment, because I was just playing a man attracted to a woman—it’s not like I was trying to be butch. I’m an actor. Some people can’t separate actors from their identities.
At what point in your career did you decide to be out professionally?
I came out while in the drama department at NYU. I was struggling with my acting and being emotionally connected during freshman year, but as soon as I came out, I was able to go there. When I became honest, truthful, and real, my work became honest, truthful, and real. Not only did I feel happy and free, I was also a better actor. So I had no intention of going back in the closet. I knew that if I lived my truth personally and professionally, my work would speak for itself.
You went on to star in Rent on tour and in a regional production of Torch Song Trilogy, which may have been challenging gigs for an actor who was uncomfortable with his sexuality.
Absolutely, and I don’t think I could’ve truthfully played a straight man in Falsettos if I’d still had that secret. The weird paradox of acting is that we’re playing pretend, but we have to be as honest and authentic as possible. Audiences can smell bullshit a mile away.
What do you hope audiences get out of Prince of Broadway?
It’s an entertaining reminder of why art is so important. Sometimes we just need a moment to step away and escape into a fantasy world where we don’t have to think about everything that’s going on in the world right now.
Prince of Broadway is now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in New York.