NEW YORK (AP) — Onstage, Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham, stars of Broadway’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” are in a death struggle. Literally. Pinkham’s character, ambitious social climber Monty Navarro, kills Mays’ character – make that multiple characters – repeatedly.
Offstage, well, they still could be in a death struggle, because they’re pitted against each other at Sunday’s Tonys, for best actor in a musical.
But any murderous intention is well hidden. In fact, it seems the only physical danger these gents might be in comes from laughing too hard – they rather enjoy cracking each other up.
In a recent pre-show chat, Mays was munching on a salad, and Pinkham was literally bouncing off his seat with adrenaline. Both marveled at the show’s renewed buzz, due to its haul of 10 Tony nods (many predict the show will win best musical.) They revealed how they peek out the curtain at faces in the audience – and discussed the level of, um, expectoration – i.e., spit – in the show.
(The conversation has been edited and condensed – these guys are talkers!)
AP: How does the Tony buzz feel?
Pinkham: Like a renewed stamp of approval. I mean, we’re `the little show that could.’ We’re not a revival, not a star vehicle. It’s a hard sell. My character’s a serial killer! And the show has a title that’s not a single word.
Mays: You know, often, out-of-town shows bloom and flourish like little mountain flowers behind a boulder, seen by some solitary hikers, and then wither and die. But here we’re on Broadway, with this glorious future! Extraordinary.
AP: It looks exhausting. How do you do eight shows a week?
Mays: That’s something we’re still discovering!
Pinkham: One of the reasons Tony season has been so great for us is that the resurgence of energy in the house really sort of feeds you. And we’re thinking, gosh, this audience is seeing this joke for the first time! That’s really exciting, because we KNOW it’s funny!
Mays: I’m a curtain peeker too, which isn’t professional at all, but before the lights go down I look out at faces and think, who are you? And I sort of do it for them.
AP: Yikes, you can see us that closely?
Mays: Well, my eyesight isn’t that good, to be honest.
AP: Can you tell how people are reacting?
Pinkham: About 15 minutes into the show I have a chance to look into the front row, and then I check in again at the end of the first act. By then, they’re smiling ear to ear. My favorite reaction is when there’s pain associated with laughter. Tears are streaming down faces.
AP: Wow. So you’re getting different energy from audience now?
Mays: Well, there’s more of them! In the winter you could sort of hunt deer in the mezzanine. Now, it’s packed.
Pinkham: And I love how people really thank us at the end. There’s no better feeling.
Mays: They’ve had a really good laugh. That’s just the sweetest thing to hear.
AP: There’s a lot of, shall we say, expectoration in this show.
Mays: It’s an occupational hazard. It’s the language. The songs go so fast and they require such hyper-articulation that you’re bound to spit.
(Around this point, comparing the language to Gilbert and Sullivan, the actors break into “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”)
Mays: This is our audition tape! Bryce, you could be the pirate king! And I could be the general.
AP: Back to the spitting: does it happen naturally?
Mays: Yes. It’s nothing we’re doing to deliberately gross out the audience (well, except for one scene.) There’s nothing worse than doing a student matinee of a serious play, and you expectorate, and everyone goes, “Ehttp://wwww!”
Pinkham, laughing: Yeah, “EWWWWW! “
AP: Do you have pre-show routines?
Pinkham: Jefferson goes around and says hello to our entire company. It’s team-building.
Mays: It’s just nice to touch base with everybody. My part is kind of lonely actually. I’m always onstage or running to change.
AP: Are you nervous?
Pinkham: We look out there, and there’s a moment of fear, translated back into excitement. That’s how we get energy – it’s the rush, the adrenaline.
Mays: And you suck it vampirically from the audience.
AP: Vampirically! Bryce, have you ever had a co-star with such a great vocabulary?
Pinkham: Never, and I never will again.
Mays: Aw, shucks.
AP: What’s Tony night going to be like?
Mays: We’re going to be so busy. We have a matinee that day, too.
Pinkham: You know, it’s Jefferson’s birthday.
AP: You should get the Tony for that reason.
Mays: Yes, it’s the least they can do. Otherwise, it’s just bad manners.