Greg Hildreth is back on the New York stage as Goat, the comically misguided henchman, in the off-Broadway revival of The Robber Bridegroom. The buzz-worthy musical comedy has its opening night scheduled for March 13 and will play a limited run through May 29 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Hildreth will be delivering even more laughs when his Feinstein’s/54 Below concert Second Fiddle makes a one-night-only return on April 4. Stage Door Dish caught up with the Cinderella and Peter and the Starcatcher alum to discuss his “verbal shorthand” with director Alex Timbers, finding heart within humor, and playing “second fiddle” to some of Broadway’s biggest stars.
I want to talk about The Robber Bridegroom first. I know you guys just started doing your previews for it. How is that going?
It’s going really, really well – like, surprisingly well. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s such an amazing group of people. It’s this really strong, funny, silly ensemble, and under the helm of Alex, you can’t really go wrong, you know? There’s really great bluegrass music and it’s just a fun, silly evening.
I think you’re such a smart comedian. What do you find funny, and how do you approach these roles where you’re expected to bring a lot of laughs and humor and heart to it?
Gosh, where to begin? I always try to bring some sort of character-based truth to the comedy. The characters I find most exciting and most funny are characters that take themselves very seriously but are completely inept. They’re experts in their mind, but they’re really not great at the execution of what they’re meant to be doing. I think that’s a really funny kind of clown.
Which role would you say still resonates the most with you that you’ve played?
I think Alf definitely still sticks with me. That was just such a special experience to be working with my best friends on Broadway in that show. On my last night there before I left the show, Rick Ellis gave this speech that I still actually keep in my inbox of my email and every time I’m having a bad day, I check it and it makes me feel better. In the speech, he said each person in the show represents a part of the human body, and that Alf was the heart. That really has stuck with me.
Is this your seventh or eighth project with Alex Timbers?
We actually did the math the other day, and this might be the seventh or eighth project, but with the many iterations of Peter and the Starcatcher, and the many iterations of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this is our tenth production together.
Wow. Talk about him for a second. He’s an incredible mind; what’s it like to work with him and how’s your friendship with him?
Oh my gosh, I feel so lucky to have found somebody who shares a similar taste in theatre and similar priorities in theatre for storytelling. At this point, working with Alex – the cast was remarking the other day that we have this verbal shorthand. The way we communicate is almost non-verbal. He’ll be like ‘I think it’s more like…’ and I’m like ‘totally, yeah yeah yeah’ before he’s even said anything. He gave me my very first job when I moved to New York ten years ago. I was living in Boston at the time, and we met up at Williamstown. We didn’t even work together up there, we were just kind of buds up there. And he was like, ‘I have this show that I’d like you to come and do, and if you want to move to New York, that would be awesome. If you really like it, you can stay, and if you don’t, you can leave and go back to Boston.’ And it turns out that I really liked it, really worked with him, and I’ve been so lucky that he’s been so loyal over the years. A friend and collaborator like him is really a blessing.
I want to talk about the concept of communal storytelling, which obviously Alex is really involved with. What appeals to you about that?
Gosh, I feel like so many people that have moved to New York are people who, in their childhood, felt like the kid from Mars. The thing that made me not feel like the kid from Mars was the theatre. When I was growing up, it was like this oasis in the desert of people who I felt did not get me. And to find a community in my younger years, it wasn’t even about the show, it was about going to a place where everyone had the same thoughts and priorities and standards for living. It made me feel at home. So to work at this level with a person like Alex, who has such a priority for communal storytelling, it’s the reason why I like to do this in the first place. To get this many opportunities to work with him on projects like this, where it’s all about exposed mechanics and producing this thing with your body and your hands, and you’re a wall, and you’re a mountain, and you’re a silly character. You get to be all these things and kind of manipulate the storytelling. It’s so gratifying.
I want to kind of switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about your upcoming Feinstein’s/54 Below show. How was that conceived? I know this is the second year you’re doing it.
Yes. Last year, in the fall, 54 Below approached me and asked if I was interested in doing a solo show, and I said ‘Absolutely not.’ It sounds super stressful and scary. And then I talked to my therapist about it, and he was like ‘This sounds like exactly the right kind of scary thing for you.’ So I decided to do it. It was stressful. I almost left last year, right before it. I was like ‘Oh, forget it, I’m terrified, this is so scary.’ Then once I was up there and doing it, it was just such a blast. And to have my friends guest starring, it just felt like a party. We sold the place out, and it was really fun, and they approached me again this year and asked if I would like to do it, and I was like Absolutely, that sounds like a lot of fun.’
Stepping back a little bit, I want to ask about the communal storytelling within Second Fiddle. You guys are all really big, fun personalities. What can the audience expect to see that night?
You can expect to see a lot of self-deprecating humor. I worked really closely with Teddy Bergman, my pal from Peter and the Starcatcher, to make the evening as non-precious as possible, to poke fun at myself, and to have my friends come up and kind of roast me as well. It’s ideally going to be like a big party. I’m putting together a five piece band again, and Charlie Rosen has made these incredible arrangements. The music will be really fun and silly and irreverent.
What’s something you’ve learned from one of the guests at the show?
Every day working with Christian Borle is like a master class in comedy. I feel like all my best jokes are his, and he could probably say the same thing maybe about me, I hope so. I feel like I learned a lot from him about keeping things light and airy and really fun, but also being an incredible leader in a cast, making sure everyone is taken care of and treated as an equal in the room. It was really a master class.
How did you come together with the group that’s going to be doing this show with you?
The conceit of the show is Second Fiddle, so it’s all about people who I’ve supported in the past on stage. So it’s basically all the people who I’ve stood behind and held ropes for in the past.
What do you hope the audience learns either about you or about your friends or theatre through Second Fiddle?
I hope, ideally, people learn that if you approach what we do with lightheartedness and generosity, that the people you collaborate with eventually become your family, not just your friends.
Describe these people in five words or less: let’s start with Celia Keenan-Bolger.
Generous earth mother.
Hard candy shell, soft on the inside.
Brother from another mother.
What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
That I make my own terrariums. This business is so lovely, but when it’s a fallow period, it’s so hard to stay creative and motivated. Cooking and things like that are what I turn to in those fallow periods to remain creative and feel like I’ve completed a task in a day and done something creative and gotten my hands a little dirty. And then you have a beautiful product to put in your house or give to a friend. I feel like a lot of my friends have the terrariums around their houses.
Complete this statement: ‘If I wasn’t an actor, I would be…’
A landscape designer.
Would you stay in New York or go back to Boston?
I’d probably stay in New York.
What’s the best show you’ve seen recently?
The best show I’ve seen recently was A View From the Bridge. I had kind of gone in blindly, I knew nothing about the show. Somehow I’d never read it, never seen it, and just saw this production that kind of ripped it wide open. I really really was moved.
If you could choose any song in the world and rename it as ‘The Greg Hildreth Theme Song’, what one would it be?
I would say maybe Kate Nash’s ‘Merry Happy.’