It's late enough in the year to start thinking about new year's resolutions, but Andrew Samonsky may have a hard time coming up with plans to top this year. He's currently costarring off-Broadway in the musical Queen of the Mist, his third world premiere of 2011. All three have been heavily hyped projects involving well-known and well-loved names. And they follow the year in which Samonsky closed out his first run on Broadway, the highly acclaimed revival of South Pacific.
In the world premiere of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco this summer, Samonsky portrayed Beauchamp Day, the bisexual philanderer played in the 1990s TV adaptation by Thomas Gibson. Tales of the City, which originated as a series of stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and was turned into a musical by librettist Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and songwriters Jake Shears and John Garden of the rock group Scissor Sisters, broke box office records at A.C.T. and was extended three times. Samonsky did Tales of the City right after performing in the new Little Miss Sunshine musical at southern California's La Jolla Playhouse in the company of a multitude of Tony winners and nominees—stars Hunter Foster, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Dick Latessa and Malcolm Gets, composer/lyricist William Finn and bookwriter and director James Lapine. Originally in the ensemble, Samonsky ended up with a starring role in Little Miss Sunshine when Gets had to drop out of the production shortly after opening night due to a throat ailment. Samonsky, his understudy, took over as Frank, the role that Steve Carell had in the Oscar-winning 2006 film.
Now back in New York, Samonsky is part of the Transport Group production of Queen of the Mist, Michael John LaChiusa's new musical about Anna "Annie" Edson Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel (which she did in 1901 at age 63). Mary Testa stars as Annie, with Samonsky as her manager Frank Russell. Julia Murney, Theresa McCarthy, Stanley Bahorek, Tally Sessions and D.C. Anderson complete the cast of Queen, which is playing at Judson Church in Greenwich Village.
Samonsky made his Broadway debut in South Pacific, performing an ensemble role before succeeding Matthew Morrison in the part of Lt. Joseph Cable. He appeared as Cable in the 2010 PBS broadcast of South Pacific. Earlier stage credits include lead roles on the national tour of Disney's On the Record and in White Christmas at the Denver Center. Samonsky spoke with BWW backstage during Queen of the Mist's previews last week.
Have you learned anything about Frank Russell beyond what's in the script?
There isn't a lot to know, actually. There's a couple of pictures of him, and they're of different people. So they're not even sure which person Frank is! I think Michael John really used his imagination about what that relationship was. Some of the historical data is true—that he stole her barrel afterward and went on the road and made money off of her—but beyond that, not too much is known about him. You use the material that's there. He says [in the play] he has a wife back home, and in this story he has a bit of an alcohol problem. You just start filling in the blanks yourself and in the end just bring yourself to it, just keep deepening it and find out who this guy is to you.
He's a wonderful character that Michael John's written, and especially the relationship he has with Anna Edson Taylor: this personal and professional relationship he has with her, and this time of crisis that brings them together, and that strong bond that is created when someone is about to do something like this. It's not a common relationship that's explored in musical theater—man and woman, but it's not a romance.