This week Playbill catches up with Alex Boniello, who was most recently on Broadway as Connor Murphy in the Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen. His other Broadway credits include playing the Voice of Moritz in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening and co-producing the Tony-winning Hadestown; he has also been seen onstage in 21 Chump Street, Stilyagi, Cruel Intentions, Brooklynite, I Am Harvey Milk, and the national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot. Boniello's screen work includes The Other Two, The Bite, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Happyish, SNL, Love & Gelato, Alt Space, Contest, and Detachment.
The actor, musician, writer, and Tony-winning producer can currently be seen in Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow's new musical Whisper House, conceived with Keith Powell, directed by Steve Cosson, and choreographed by Billy Bustamante. Presented by The Civilians, Whisper House will officially open January 20 at Theater A for a limited engagement through February 6. Get a sneak peek of the new musical here.
What is your typical day like now?
As I write this, we’re currently in tech for Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow's Whisper House, so the days are pretty long! I wake up, spend some time with my fiancé and my cat, take my daily COVID test (still negative!), and head down to the theatre.
Once we’re here, we spend the day working through the show, and making sure everything looks and sounds great. I play a lot of guitar in the show, so figuring out where they live backstage for me to be able to grab them when I need them for my next entrance is currently my big challenge.
My last major theatre gig was Dear Evan Hansen, which was already running when I joined, so it has been a long time since I’ve been a part of a tech process from the ground up. My attention span has gotten a lot worse over the pandemic, so I’m really re-learning how to maintain a long day that requires my full attention and my stamina. It’s going pretty well! Tech constantly has lots of changes being thrown at you, and I'd be lying if I said I'm remembering everything on my first pass. Thank goodness for our wonderful choreographer, Billy Bustamante, for being willing to teach and re-teach me all of my movement in the show.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the Whisper House cast assembled?
It was totally wild. I’ve been lucky to work a decent amount during the pandemic, and have found myself in some rehearsal spaces, but this was different. Knowing that it was an actual, whole musical, that had a month-long run in sight was super-exciting. Also, this show was actually about to start previews in March of 2020, so the entire cast already knew the material and each other. I came in to replace the wonderful Van Hughes (who had to depart to mount his and Nick Blaemire’s show Space Dogs at MCC—go see it!), so everything was pretty heavily focused on getting me up to speed. I sing something like 12 songs in the show, and play more than half of them on guitar, so it was a daunting task.
There really is a process of remembering how to be an actor again as we jump back into these spaces. How do I learn? What are my tricks? What is my way into this character? All of that kind of stuff is still coming back to me.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months?
The show touches on World War II-era racial bias, wrapped up in a ghost story. Unfortunately, our society is still grappling with its incessant need to “other” people, so… yes. The show is sadly still relevant. That, and connection. There are a few characters in the show who are failing to connect with one another, mostly through not saying what they actually feel. I think, after the last two years, the time for that is gone. Say what you feel. Express your love for the people you love.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
I get it. Truly. But as far as calculated risks are concerned, at least you’ll know everyone has a mask on and is vaccinated! I’ve seen many shows since theatre’s return and have always felt safe. Our COVID officers, along with the theatres themselves, are doing incredible work. I’m also happy to report that every audience member I’ve seen has been very serious about keeping their mask on securely, and everyone is collectively looking out for one another.
Do you have any other stage/screen projects in the works?
I am very thankful to report that I do! But… I actually don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about, so I have to abstain so that I don't get in trouble!
Something I'm very excited about, while not acting-related, is that my fiancé, April Lavalle, and I wrote a children’s picture book! It’ll be releasing in the fall of 2022 on Abrams Kids, and we are very excited about it. It is about a very cute robot named Pi and exists to start healthy conversations between parents and their young kids about mental health. The art is by an awesome artist named James Kwan, and it looks so amazing.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
It is not hard to listen. It is not hard to stop making excuses for your own biases. It is actively the time to uplift people who have not historically received the same opportunities as you. It is not hard to ensure that your productions are adequately staffed by a team that is beautifully diverse. It just isn't. Having a wide array of voices in the room only makes the work better, makes everyone feel safer and more heard, and is simply the right thing to do. Listen to the organizations leading the way, like The Broadway Advocacy Coalition and Broadway for Racial Justice.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
As far as the isolation is concerned? This is advice I should take myself, but be sure to give yourself a schedule. Without structure, we start to crumble, and the simplest things slowly become insurmountable. It doesn't have to be a day jam-packed with things, but be sure to schedule something, and honor the schedule. And, as far as the unrest is concerned? I think give yourself permission to unplug from it temporarily when you need to be unplugged. We are only of service to other people when we are rested and taking care of ourselves.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
My priorities. I still have so many career goals that I want to accomplish, but I am learning that life is both very long and very short at the same time, and show business has no interest in taking it easy on you. I am reprioritizing the people I love, and spending time with them, and trying to grow as a person. Life is not all about performing and this industry... because it simply cannot be. I cannot control if someone wants to give me a job, but I can control who I am as a person and how I respond to the rejection. We are worth more than our jobs, and we can prove it by being there for one another.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Broadway for Racial Justice. They do endlessly good work in creating and fostering equitable working environments within our industry.