Danny Burstein: From Broadway to the Met Opera

Saturday, December 28, 2013 - 12:00 PM

Danny Burstein as Frosch in Act 3 of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s 'Die Fledermaus' Danny Burstein as Frosch in Johann Strauss, Jr.'s 'Die Fledermaus' (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

NEW YORK (AP) -- For longtime Broadway actor Danny Burstein, the big challenge in preparing for his Metropolitan Opera debut has been "trying to find the funny."

Burstein will play the non-singing role of the drunken jailer Frosch in the Met's new production of Johann Strauss's operetta "Die Fledermaus," which opens on New Year's Eve and runs through Feb. 22.

Some might consider it an unenviable assignment. Frosch doesn't appear until Act 3 and then has to hold the stage alone while delivering a monologue. After the outpouring of effervescent melodies that filled Acts 1 and 2, the scene can quickly make the audience grow restless for the next tune.

"Obviously, they just came back from intermission, so here we go guys, the story continues and it's got to be really funny," Burstein said during a recent interview in his dressing room.

At the Met, there's a tradition of assigning the role to comedians and clowns, from Jack Gilford to Bill Irwin. In the most recent production, Frosch was often played by director/actor Otto Schenk, who included pantomime in the scene.

"People keep telling me there's all this pantomime that goes on forever with Frosch," Burstein said, "and it's funny at first, but then it starts to . ."

He said director Jeremy Sams and playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who crafted the new English-language libretto, "decided from the beginning to get rid of all that and just have me start talking to the audience and explain what the situation is."

Burstein said they even considered having Frosch not be drunk at all, but thought better of it. He recalled advice given to him several years ago by comic actress Georgia Engel when they played together in the Broadway musical `The Drowsy Chaperone."

"She told me, `You gotta find the funny,'" he said, "and without Frosch being drunk we just couldn't find the funny."

Burstein said coming to the Met from Broadway is "a little like being on the moon."

"It's very different from the theater world, where you work intensely for five weeks and then you have many, many previews and then you open," he said. "Here you rehearse every few days, you might even have a week off, you come back, and all a sudden you're on stage in a costume!

"You have to make very quick decisions and really go for it."

Burstein, who is married to singer-actress Rebecca Luker, said he always wanted to be an actor. He went to New York City's High School of Performing Arts, got his Actors' Equity card at 19 and has been working steadily ever since.

In fact, he's fitting in other jobs around his Met schedule. He just finished a run of "The Snow Geese" with Mary Louise Parker and will begin rehearsals for a revival of "Cabaret" while "Fledermaus" is still running. He'll also workshop a new musical in January.

Though Burstein has done some film and television - he plays casino owner Lolly Steinman on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" - for him there's nothing like live theater.

"I love the immediate connection with the audience," he said. "They let you know, right away, whether you're good or bad."

 

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Comments [4]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

To view my critique expressed earlier regarding the January 11th, 2014 broadcast of DIE FLEDERMAUS properly it may be wise to mention my background. I am an opera composer ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] and the director at the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute of Boonton, NJ. where I teach voice and train artists in all the Wagner and Shakespeare roles. One may hear my singing LIVE from the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium of CARNEGIE HALL, four solo concerts by downloading, FREE, 37 out of the nearly 100 selections that I have sung there by going to RECORDED SELECTIONS on my websites www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com

Jan. 13 2014 06:50 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

DIE FLEDERMAUS and ZAUBERFLOTE, operas that over many many years have been used to celebrate festive occasions with translations into the language of the country where the vernacular would be understood, especially so to enjoy the comedy values. The radio broadcast offers sufficient audio representation to make judicious critiques. In their own roles each sang well and the conducting improved as the performance continued. For the jaded opera fan, there were, perhaps, from their own experience, nostalgically remembered better sung performances. In a more serious vein, there are composers whose contribution to music is equally solid and deserving of hearings. ARNOLD SCHOENBERG was born in Vienna on September 13, 1874. Surely he deserves mention, even if this occasion, this year, marks ONLY his 140th birthday year. I will be singing the tenor music from his "DAS LIED VON DER ERDE." I am a Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. I will sing the four song cycles that are most often performed in their orchestral garb: Wagner's "Wesendonck Lieder," Mahler's "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and Schoenberg's "Gurre-Lieder" at the New Life Expo at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC on Saturday March 22nd at 6 PM. I have sung four three-hour-long solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall including programming the Wagner and the first named Mahler song cycle.

Jan. 13 2014 06:38 PM
Seema Tepper

Sorry, Mr. Burstein. In my opinion, you didn't find the funny.

Jan. 03 2014 01:06 PM
concetta nardone

I am just testing to see if my comments page is working. Having trouble with qxr site

Dec. 29 2013 11:02 AM

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