Columbia is home to a fascinating cast of characters, and gap year students are no exception. In Give Me a Break, we’ll give you the skinny on what some of your peers have done during their time off. In this edition, Bwog’s resident Taker of Roads Less Traveled, Sam Schipani, talked with Noah Robbins and Remy Zaken about their time in the business we call “show”—Broadway.
Mere days after Noah Robbins, CC ’14, got his Columbia acceptance letter in the mail, he was cast as Eugene, the wisecracking narrator and alter ego of playwright Neil Simon, in a Broadway production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. “It was a good couple of days,” he admits. To fully commit to the production, Noah chose to take a gap year, deferring his entry to the freshman class. He starred opposite Laurie Metcalf (Jackie Harris from Roseanne) and Jessica Hecht (Susan Bunch from Friends) as his mother and his aunt. “I, on the other hand, had just finished starring as Max Bialystock in my high school’s production of The Producers, so I felt like things were about even experience-wise,” Noah joked.
Despite rave reviews, poor ticket sales and and bad marketing forced Brighton Beach Memoirs to close shortly after it opened. Noah still relishes the experience, particularly when it comes to meeting his theater idols. While he was waiting for the elevator one day, his personal hero, Nathan Lane, stood beside him, preparing for his first rehearsal for The Addams Family. Noah stood there, sweating profusely and wrestling with the decision of whether or not to attempt and make eye contact with his Broadway idol, until the star exited the elevator. Noah found out shortly afterwards that Laurie Metcalf was a friend of Nathan Lane’s and she offered to introduce this new Broadway star to his inspiration. “Later that week, outside of the building, he waved to me on the street while I was in mid-conversation with someone else. I waved back and continued my conversation. No big deal.”
Nathan Lane isn’t the only celebrity Noah encountered during his gap year. One night, the playwright of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon, visited the cast. “No one knew why. We were all a little on edge about it, and we all hoped it wasn’t because he was unhappy with our performances.” It turns out Neil Simon had just rediscovered the brainstorming, stream-of-consciousness narratives written 30 years earlier that inspired Brighton Beach Memoirs, and he wanted to read them to the cast. “It was absolutely incredible, and really moving. I still can’t believe any of it happened.”
Spring Awakening, a racy story revolving around teenage sexuality and the winner of eight Tony awards, has touched the hearts and streamed through the speakers of musical theater and alternative music aficionados alike. But while most of us were rocking out to “My Junk” and “The Bitch of Living” in our dorms, Remy was performing them live on Broadway. Remy played Thea, one of the German schoolgirls struggling with the woes of growing pains, alongside Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz, Jonathan Groff (all of recent Glee fame), and many other talented actors.
Remy became involved with the show during her junior year in high school while it was still an Off-Broadway production. When the show transferred to Broadway the following fall, it became wildly successful. Faced with her love for singing and acting and the ever-increasing popularity of the production, Remy decided to defer a year of school.
Given her newfound musical theater fame, Remy had the opportunity to meet an impressive assortment of celebrities, including Tina Fey, Danny DeVito, and Stephen Spielberg. While working on the show, Remy learned the correct way to interact with a celebrity, and today, she generously shares some of her wisdom. “Genuinely tell them that you like/love their work, if you do. They’re very appreciative,” she advises. “Then, if you want, you can politely ask for a picture with them. They most likely will say yes. This doesn’t work if you’re interrupting them from something important, like eating, talking to their friends, or using the restroom.”
But behind the glitz and glamour of Broadway, there are always bloopers! “One time during the hayloft scene, the hayloft ropes could not pull the bottom off of the stage, so Jon and Lea had to do ‘I Believe’ right in front of us,” Remy explains. “We had rehearsed the scene like this before, and we knew what to expect, but still, it was quite a shock to have them simulating sex literally inches away from us.”
Even Remy admits to flubbing her lines onstage. “It is the scariest feeling in the world because time seems to slow down, and you feel like everyone knows that you’re forgetting your lines, when in reality, it’s a minor hiccup,” she confesses. “I remember looking at Phoebe with huge deer-in-headlights eyes and thinking, ‘What’s my next line?!,’ and then it came back, just as quickly as I had forgotten. The brain is so weird.”