Daniel Breaker has played everything from a struggling artist in the avant-musical Passing Strange to Donkey in Shrek on Broadway, but this is his first time tackling New York's summer institution, the Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park. He's currently starring in Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's hilarious, snark-filled musical adaptation of the Bard's Love's Labour's Lost, which opened last night at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. Breaker plays the King, who persuades his friends (Colin Donnell, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Bryce Pinkham) to take a post-college vow of celibacy (in this version that means no women, porn, bongs or video games...) to study the classics and lead a more virtuous life. But of course, when the Princess comes by with her court on some unfinished business, the boys are tempted to put down the books and pick up the girls. Yes, the lines can be outrageously long to get a free ticket, but Friedman's original music, Timbers' clever script that mixes Shakespeare's original language with modern-day quips and the adorable and multifaceted cast that includes SNL-star Rachel Dratch as a goofball academic, make it well worth the wait. Here we chat with Breaker about performing in the wilds of Central Park and singing in the rain -- literally.
The night I attended Love's Labour's Lost it was raining on and off and they had to call the show. What's going through your mind when you start to feel the rain?
First off, I was so surprised that the audience came even when it was raining. It was really beautiful. When we first started I was thinking, "I don't know how they're going to respond to this. I don't know how we're going to get through this. I'm going to fall and break my face." When the rain was really starting to come down on the stage it was a real thrill and by the time they cancelled the show we were really disappointed.
Have there been any other extreme weather situations?
We were tech-ing the show during the heat wave and we were literally in swimsuits because it was just that hot. [Composer] Michael Friedman even bought us a slushy machine. So there we were, drinking slushies, downing gallons of water, trying not to collapse. It was wild. But by the time previews started it was like a cold spell.
Had you done Shakespeare in the Park before?
Everyone in the cast are newcomers to Shakespeare in the Park with the exception of Lucas [Near-Verbrugghe] who had a part in one many years ago. It takes a certain kind of muscle to get through these shows. It's so large-scale in terms of space. I think it fits almost 1800 seats; that's a really interesting challenge having to perform live for that many people [with that constant energy]. The audience is so excited to be there. When I'm coming up to the theatre and I see the long line of people on standby trying to get a ticket, it puts a pep in my step. It's better than coffee.
Have you ever waited in that long line to see Shakespeare in the Park?
When I was in college I waited 17 hours with about eight friends of mine to see The Seagull with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. We had snacks, we would do a Word of the Hour, we played cards, we ate pizza -- we were utterly exhausted. I think my girlfriend at the time got sick off of eating some really bad tuna, but she was determined to stay there in the audience. It's such an honor to be a part of an event that feels like a true New York City staple -- whether you're in the audience exhausted from waiting in line or on stage putting on the show -- it's all a thrill.
Are you a big Shakespeare fan?
I am a die-hard Shakespeare fan. I fell in love with Shakespeare while at Julliard and then I spent time at the Shakespeare theatre in DC where I learned how to do a long-running show. But I've always been a fan of the Bard. But this particular revival of Love's Labour's Lost with the modern text is quite seamless. Half the people in the audience aren't necessarily Shakespeare aficionados and it's probably quite thrilling to hear the [original] Shakespeare text and then have us go into a modern joke here and there.
What would be your dream Shakespeare role to play?
I had a lot of fun with [As You Like It's] Touchstone back in the day. Henry V is a fun one. I'm drawn more to Iago than Othello. I guess I'm supposed to say Hamlet.? So I'll say Hamlet.
What is the biggest challenge of performing in the park?
It's like National Geographic backstage. There's so much going on back there. Mosquitos, cobwebs, frogs -- it's the outback. And I guess every once and a while you get some elements from the audience itself. Yesterday we had a baby in the front row that was going buck wild. That one-year-old was a real connoisseur of Shakespeare. What we really have to watch out for are the helicopters that go directly over the Delacorte.
Do the noises ever throw you off?
It depends on the moment. There was a great moment where Lucas [Near-Verbrugghe] is writing his sonnet and he's in -- what we call -- his "big pumpkin pants," and he did everything he could to acknowledge the helicopter and I think the audience really loved it. That's what's so great about the show being outdoors and the show being free. The audience thoroughly enjoys anything that feels improvised or new or original for the night.
You just never know what can happen. I feel more in tune with the actors at Shakespeare in the Park than at a normal Broadway show. It's like you're going through it together.
A couple nights ago, near the end of the play, there's a sad moment -- I don't want to give it away -- but near the sad section it started raining. But it was raining so lightly that the audience didn't necessarily realize that it was also raining on them. A few friends of mine were in the show that night and thought it was a light cue. It was such a magical moment. The wind was blowing and it happened to be a full moon. It was absolutely gorgeous. I can't imagine that we will have many more events like that during the show.
Love's Labour's Lost is open now through August 18th.