A Latte Conversation with Alex Boniello of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening
By Amy Sapp
How do you take your coffee?
It ranges pretty frequently. Recently, I've been doing a lot of decaf just because I have anxiety. And so, when it flairs up, the first thing that goes is caffeine. But I really like coffee, so I'll go to decaf. If it's iced, I'll do a tiny bit of half and half with that simple syrup. If it's hot, I'll do the crystallized sugar and then half and half. If I am specifically at my parents’ house, then I will do the Coffee-Mate hazelnut creamer because it's sugary and disgusting.
You talked about you're parents and their coffee preferences. Tell us where you are from originally.
I'm from New Jersey. Geographically, I'm from a town that's very close. If there was no traffic whatsoever, it would take twenty-two minutes door-to-door.
How long have you been in New York City?
I've been in the city in the same apartment for just over two years; I live uptown.
Your last project in the city was Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening, a Tony-nominated show about which everyone is still talking. How did you land that role?
I was actually asked to do it. Do you not know the whole story? Oh, you're going to get a kick out of it. So, I was doing the national tour of American Idiot, starting three years ago around this time. The music supervisor was a guy named Jared Stein, and he had worked on the original tour of Spring Awakening. He was working with [director] Michael Arden and everybody to do the Deaf West version. He had mentioned it to me when I was doing American idiot. He said, “I think you should make a tape for [Spring Awakening]; I think you'd be right for it.” I still have the emails which are really funny. I was interested in the voice of Moritz and its guitar role, but I had to ask what it was going to pay. A 99 seat theatre in L.A. was only about $100 a week, and I knew I just couldn't do it. I wished him the best of luck with the show and looked forward to hearing about it, but I couldn't move. I would've gone into negative money. I couldn't do it.
What happened next?
The reviews started coming in, and I was like, shoot, the reviews are really good! Everyone was really liking it! Then, I heard that they were transferring to the bigger theatre, to the Wallace in L.A. I was sitting on my couch in April of 2015, and I got followed on Twitter by Andy [Mientus]. I thought, well that's not weird. We have a ton of mutual friends. But then he messaged me. I'll read them to you; I still have them! He messaged me and said, “Hey dude. A) Matt Doyle said we should be buds. B) Looking for actor/musicians for a project in L.A. starting very soon. Like next week. Checking your availability. Are you available?”
Yeah! I had just worked with Matt Doyle on Brooklynite. I randomly did the last week of that because someone got married. Michael Mayer called me and asked, “Can you do this?” It's like, who is going to learn a show for five performances? But when Michael Mayer asks, I say yes.
Matt and I got along, and he must have mentioned it to Andy that we are all into video games and this and that – we all would get along. So, I responded and said, “Matt mentioned it to me, too! But I'm in New York, not L.A. Not sure if you know that, but sure, I don't have anything.” He said, “Great. It will be next week through the last week of June to replace the voice of Moritz in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening.”
The same role you wanted from the start.
Yes! He pitched it to me and then said, “Great. Send me all of your information.” I get a message from Jared fifteen minutes later asking if I can go on Skype. We go on Skype, and it's him, one of the producers, and Michael Arden. They were like, “Can you sing? Just really quick?” I said, “Uh, yeah dude! What do you want me to sing?” I don't think I was wearing pants because I was about to go change for a catering shift. I said, “I know how to play and sing ‘Don't Do Sadness.’ Do you want me to just do that?” I do it and they say, “Great, thank you. We’ll be in touch” and hang up.
Five seconds later, I get a text from Michael Arden that says, “Look. We want you to do it.” I was on a plane two days later. [During the first few weeks], it very quickly became, “Oh, man. There are more people here this week than were here last week watching rehearsals.” A lot of the kids didn't know because it was their first experience. I had been around long enough [in New York] to know when people are looking at things. The theatre was big but small enough so that if a fancy-schmancy producer came from New York, I knew who they were. Not a lot of the kids from L.A. knew who they were.
Everything happened, and it happened quicker than we thought it was going to. [The Broadway transfer] happened about a month later. So, that's how I didn't audition for my Broadway debut. It was the right person for the job.
And right timing?
It was timing – but I also firmly belief that I was the dude for the job.
What was the scariest part of the move from New York to L.A.? How did your anxiety play into that move?
I was okay with that because, weirdly enough, something about that whole experience was one of the best spots I've been with [my anxiety] in a while. I was so busy. I think busyness helps a lot of people with it. Sometimes, you may think, “I can't leave my house today.” But if you have to? When you make it part of your routine, it makes it seem less scary. When I was there, I was structured for so much of the time. And frankly, it felt like a summer camp in some ways because I went out there, was put up in a really nice home. [The producers] knew, “We have to get this guy out here.” I was three houses down from Andy and Michael’s house. I was in a place I didn't know, but I would walk down the block every morning, we had a coffee, we'd walk together to the theatre, do the show, come home to eat dinner, go to bed, and then do it all again! Of course, after L.A. when we were entering the New York run, I was having terrible anxiety, but that's always how it goes! [laughs]
But it was your Broadway debut!
Everyone was like, “It's this major life change! Of course you're in a weird spot.” And I said, “Yeah, but I'm not nervous about that. I'm scared I'm dying of some undiagnosed illness!” Everyone kept saying, “Yes, but you literally just said that you are about to make your Broadway debut. Don't you think that has something to do with it?” NO. NO. I obviously have this 0.000001% illness that nobody has found. Obviously.
What is your go-to while you're performing to combat your anxiety?
Man, while I was doing Spring Awakening, I just let it out! With that character, that's all it is. I spent a lot of time explaining [my anxiety] to Daniel [Durant], the deaf Moritz. I would tell him where I was at each day, and we would talk about it and that would be helpful. But to get to literally yell, “Ahh! All these things are happening to me!” It just felt good to do it. But now, it's forcing myself to do things. If it seems like something I can't do or something I'm worried about, it's just so much easier if you do it. I used to casually mention this, but the kids who were fans of the show were like, “Wait, really?” So it hit me that this is something I should start to talk about.
You have a platform to speak about anxiety now.
The kids ask questions, and I say this just as much for me as I say to them: do stuff. It's so much easier. Now, I go to the gym all the time.
I hate the gym. It's the worst thing in the world, a necessary evil of this business. There has to be a correlation with going to the gym and the levels of your anxiety. There has to be.
I think it's fascinating how you mention that the fans look up to you for speaking out about anxiety. Is this platform something you were prepared for, coming from American Idiot?
I would say I was prepared to deal with a lot of young people because I was a fan of the original Spring Awakening and how there was something about the show the kids latched onto. They find their things to grab onto, especially given the character [Moritz], a lot of people see themselves there. I was prepared for it, and yet I wasn't.
The first time I talked about anxiety, it was funny. Daniel and I were doing a Huffington Post interview. The guy asked me a question about anxiety, and I thought, Oh. I guess I just said that. That's online now. Sure, let’s talk about it!
Mentioning fans, can you share one of the most memorable fan moments since Spring Awakening?
There's something interesting in that it never goes away with things like Twitter. Even though the show has been closed for a while, [the social media aspect] never goes away. It's the in-person stuff.
My girlfriend and I were in England, and somebody came up to me. In England. It's a great story, and if she reads this interview, it will be so funny. We were literally in line to go into Buckingham Palace. There are metal detectors. You've got to put your phones away. But this girl comes up to us and asks for a picture. I say, “Absolutely!” Then, some officials of Buckingham Palace say, “No. You may not take any pictures.” And the girl’s mom goes, “They're family. It's okay, they're family.” The guards didn't know how to take that, so they let us take the picture!
What an incredible moment - and mother!
Yes! But actually, the wildest thing was BroadwayCon. We were all linked arms trying to get to the panel as a cast! It was awesome, especially since I come from a nerdy background and go to all of these video game conventions. It was so damn cool to be on the other end of it. I'm so glad it exists. I'm friends with Anthony [Rapp], and I'm glad he put it together.
Switching gears to wrap up, you're about to leave this interview to go rehearse for Broadway Sings. What can you tell us about that?
It's Broadway Sings: Beyoncé. Corey Mach has been doing these concerts for a while, and I've never done one. They arrange an artists’ songs in fun ways. I'm singing, “Best Thing I’ve Never Had,” which is funny because I didn’t know that song before now!
If you could pick one person to perform a duet with in a Green Day or Beatles edition of Broadway Sings, who would it be?
I would love to sing with John Gallagher, Jr. if it was one of those two artists. Both of those two specifically work.
Rapid fire. Coffee or tea?
If I'm doing the show or I'm sick, it's got to be tea. Basically any other time, I prefer coffee.
Sugar or Splenda?
Regular milk or skim milk?
Wild card. Half and half.