On Broadway, Conservatory Alums Take Center Stage
Boston Conservatory’s musical theater alums are no strangers to Broadway. Year after year, the school consistently makes Playbill’s Big 10 list of the colleges most represented in Broadway productions. That said, the spring 2023 season has been a particularly exciting one for Conservatory grads. Three alums currently have roles in brand new productions—and all three of the shows in which they’re featured recently received Tony Award nominations.
In her Broadway debut, Sonya Venugopal (M.F.A. '17, musical theater) plays Rani in Life of Pi, which received five Tony nominations. Andrew Durand (B.F.A. '08, musical theater) is starring as Beau in Shucked, an original comedy that earned nine nominations, including Best Musical and Best Book. And, Marchánt Davis (B.F.A. '13, musical theater) portrays Alvin Finney in the play Goodnight, Oscar, which scored three nominations. Davis also appeared in last year’s critically acclaimed comedy Ain’t No Mo’, which just received a Tony nomination for Best Play.
Variety magazine has called Shucked “the surprise delight of the Broadway season,” and the New Yorker has praised its “funky, rootsy score” with “memorable melodies and clever lyrics” by Nashville hit-makers Brandi Clark and Shane McAnally. Beyond these obvious strengths, Durand attributes the show’s early success, in part, to its unique story.
“There have not been many musicals in the last decade that aren’t based on this movie or this interesting catalog of music or have this movie star in it so they can sell tickets,” he says. “People are really excited about something truly original.”
It also helps that the book (by Robert Horn) has audience members constantly laughing. “The show could be three hours long if we held for all the laughs,” Durand says. “We just have to keep going.”
After 12 years of development and pandemic-related delays, Shucked is poised for a long Broadway run, bolstered by its Tony recognitions. “Those are sort of badges of honor, I guess,” Durand says, “but I think the real magic seems to be already happening—which is, the people who come to see it leave the theater and they tell their friends, ‘You have to go see this show.’”
Fresh on the heels of his performance in Ain’t No Mo’ last December, Marchánt Davis returned to the Belasco Theater this April, for the Broadway debut of Goodnight, Oscar, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) and directed by Lisa Peterson. Davis plays a medical orderly, Alvin Finney, who’s been assigned to look after the pianist Oscar Levant during a four-hour furlough from a mental institution. Unbeknownst to his doctors, Levant (played by Sean Hayes) intends to make a live appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Parr.
Goodnight, Oscar examines the interplay of entertainment and exploitation in ways that are both funny and heartbreaking. “Alvin’s character is the accountability partner to Oscar Levant’s recklessness,” Davis says. “In layman’s terms we can say he is the straight man, but I think when you see the show, you’ll see he throws out quips just as much as Oscar does.”
Davis has made a home for himself on Broadway this past year, but also has found success in a range of other projects. His children’s book, A Boy and His Mirror, was published by Penguin Random House in January. Later this month, his new film Reality (about the FBI investigation of whistleblower Reality Winner) will premiere on HBO Max. Davis also is participating in a directing fellowship at the Mercury Store in Brooklyn, and plans to pursue more directing opportunities when Goodnight, Oscar completes its run.
New creative challenges keep Davis thriving. “Once you get to the top of one mountain, you realize it’s like the beginning of the next,” he says. “It doesn’t stop, you know?”
Making her Broadway debut in Life of Pi, Sonya Venugopal is enjoying the view from her own mountaintop. After a wildly successful run in London’s West End (and five Olivier Awards), the play made its North American premiere last December at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts—with Venugopal joining the cast as Rani. The production transitioned to Broadway just a few months later.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better production and group of people,” she says. “We also have quite a majority of South Asian actors, so the representation aspect has been just beyond anything I could have asked for.”
Venugopal says it’s been a welcome surprise to make her Broadway debut in a role that feels relevant to her both personally and culturally. “It’s been such a blessing to be able to tell stories authentically that actually resonate with me. I don’t think that happens very often.”
If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Advice for Conservatory Students
Davis, Durand, and Venugopal share their advice with current Conservatory students.
Things that are meant for you won’t pass you by. You get wrapped up in school and you feel stressed out and you think, “Is any of this even going to help?” and all of that. But I think, wrapped up in that, is you learning that you’re a human being—a holistic person who’ll contribute to the world in the way that you’re meant to. If I could have said, “Leave all that stress behind and just, like, do your thing, and it will happen when it’s supposed to,” that really would have saved some headaches.
— Sonya Venugopal
There’s a saying that I’ve adopted and begun to live by, that you’ve got to be louder than your fear, faster than your worry, moving at the speed of fun. Follow your fun. The things that excite you about the industry—follow that. If that’s acting, then great. It could shift. There’s nothing wrong with that shift. In fact, that shift sometimes informs your acting in such a beautiful way. Just allowing for your curiosity and your fun to lead you with reckless abandon, I think, is really important.
— Marchánt Davis
I would say to keep a light heart. The journey of being an actor and an artist is not linear. It’s full of ups and downs. It’s full of triumphs and failures and hardships. But you also only get to live once, and life is sweet. To have a lighter heart—to live lightly and not take it all too seriously—is important because you are going to have down times, inevitably, in the journey of being an artist. Treat yourself nicely and savor those times in a way, knowing that it’s always going to come back around for you.
— Andrew Durand