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Broadway Q&A: Michael Urie of ‘Grand Horizons’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Urie on Bess Wohl’s new play: “It’s such a true, human story.”

Michael Urie stars in the new Broadway play Grand Horizons. The play begins as Nancy (Jane Alexander) and Bill (James Cromwell) are divorcing after being married for 50 years. Urie and Ben McKenzie are their adult sons trying to deal with this new reality. Ashley Park, Maulik Pancholy and Priscilla Lopez also bring depth to the play. Presented by Second Stage Theater, Grand Horizons is playing at the Helen Hayes Theater. The hilarious and deeply moving play about family and the complexity of relationships was written by Bess Wohl and directed by Leigh Silverman. Urie's theater credits include the Tony-nominated revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song, Buyer & Cellar, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, High Button Shoes, The Government Inspector, Shows For Days, Homos, Or Everyone In America, The Cherry Orchard and Angels in America. On TV, he has starred on Modern Family, Younger, The Good Fight, The Good Wife and Hot in Cleveland. He also played Marc St. James on Ugly Betty.

Michael Urie as Brian in ‘Grand Horizons’ at the Helen Hayes Theatre (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Michael Urie as Brian in ‘Grand Horizons’ at the Helen Hayes Theatre (Photo: Joan Marcus)

What do you love about being in Grand Horizons?
Michael Urie:
It’s such a true, human story. I have to say, it's sometimes really sad to be in it. One of the things that Bess and Leigh said on the first day was “find the agony.” So often you want to make things right, connect with the characters and find the joy. But it's more interesting, more human and truthful to find the agony, especially in a situation like this.

What would you say Grand Horizons is really about?
This is a play about a family who are all very different from one another. They have spent many years miscommunicating with each other. When the parents decide to get a divorce after being married for 50 years, it shines a light on all of these issues.

Can you talk about your Broadway debut?
MU: It was How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I replaced someone. Nick Jonas and I went into the show together during the run. I remember the moment I walked on stage. My first entrance was in a musical number. What I had to do was very simple. I had to walk out, get in a line and look out at the audience. I remember taking a photo in my brain. I thought, “Don't forget what this looks like. This is the moment. Your Broadway debut.” It was really exciting. I had loved the musical so much from the time I was a kid.

When did you know you had to perform?
MU: When I got my first laugh. In high school I competed on the Forensics team, which is sort of like oral interpretation, and basically acting. We would do monologues and scenes. Sometimes I would do The Odd Couple and play Oscar and Felix by myself. It was really fun and extremely imaginative. Many great talents have come out of it.  

I was in this big state competition, reading poetry selections, and doing what I thought was a very dramatic poem. For some reason, due to my inflections, I got a laugh. I thought, “Wow, that’s odd.” I didn’t think this was funny at all, but everyone laughed. Then I got another laugh. In my head as I performed, I started to think, “Maybe I could make this funny.” I didn’t change the words. I just changed the intentions and inflections. By the end it seemed like the funniest thing these people had ever seen. I turned what I thought was a dramatic poem into a funny one, and won the competition. Up until that point I really enjoyed performing, but didn’t think I had what it takes. After that I thought, “Maybe I could do this?”

What was the first Broadway show you saw?
MU: I saw the Ragtime with the original company: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Peter Friedman and Marin Mazzie. It was amazing. I had come to New York with a community college in Texas. It was the first of 13 shows I saw in 10 days. We saw Titanic, A New Brain Off-Broadway with Malcolm Gets, Twelfth Night At Lincoln Center Theater. It was amazing.

Where were you in your life?
MU: At that point, a community college had offered me a scholarship, and had a really good theater program (and still does.) I thought, “Why don’t I just go there? I’ll do awesome plays with them and then I’ll figure out how to be an actor.”  

So that summer, the community college had a New York field studies trip, which I took. I had never been to New York, and hadn’t started college yet. I was basically just a high school graduate. We toured Juilliard and at the end of the tour our teacher, Brad Baker, turned to me and said, “Are you going to audition for Juilliard?” And I said, “I’m thinking about it. Maybe.” And he said, “No. Are you going to audition for Juilliard?” And I said, “Yes. Yes, I will.” And he said, “This place has your name written all over it.” So, I auditioned. And I got in. 

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the 15 Most Highly Anticipated Broadway Shows of 2020

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