Alex Brightman: The Artistic Nomad

Alan Ash  

Twitter: @broadwaycritic1

“If I just move on not knowing what’s ahead of me”, 2016 Tony nominee Alex Brightman told me, “I knew I would always find great things to do.” Call him the artistic nomad.

Brightman left (or moved on) from Broadway in November 2016 after receiving a Tony nomination for his performance as Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “School of Rock Musical.”  He wanted to to stay “artistically nomadic.”  A curious decision for someone who had become one of Broadway’s most recognizable faces (when SoR posters featuring him leaping with guitar in hand were plastered on walls and buses throughout the city.)  “I don’t mind leaving something when most people would say ‘Wow, that’s a great job.’”

But to understand Brightman’s decision to leave SoR, is to understand the artistic nomad in him.

So I sat down with Brightman and his collaborator composer (and “damned good friend”) Drew Gasaparini, on Day 2 of BroadwayCon to discuss Brightman’s “artistically nomadic” philosophy and to learn about his many current projects.   

During the past 5 years, Brightman and Gasparini have developed several new stage musicals, including “Make Me Bad” (“our huge passion project”), “Whipping Boy”, and “It’s a Kind of Funny Story.” Mention “Funny Story” and Brightman’s face, well, instantly brightens.   “It’s the favorite thing we worked on thus far.”

Drew Gasaparini and Alex Brightman

Drew Gasaparini and Alex Brightman

In theater circles, there’s talk that “Funny Story” may become the next “Dear Evan Hansen.” With the book by Brightman and music/lyrics by Gasaparini, “Funny Story” is the musical adaptation of the 2010 film about a NYC teenager who battles depression and spends a week in a psychiatric hospital.  However macabre that may seem, Brightman assures me that the musical is “as the back of the novel says: ‘The least depressing story about depression that you will ever hear.’”

Brightman reports that interest in the musical has “reached a fever pitch.” “Funny Story” (starring Colton Ryan, the former Evan Hansen standby) was presented in concert form last March at Feinstein’s/54 Below to rave reviews. Almost immediately thereafter, fans took to social media to spread the word. Since then, “Funny Story” has generated a cult like following: “We are walking around at BroadwayCon and Drew and I are mobbed by fans” who want to know when “Funny Story” will be produced.

This month, “Funny Story” was showcased at the Broadway Across America conference in Miami. Attendees (theater owners from across the country) were equally impressed.

But Brightman’s writing projects are not limited to musical theater. NBC Universal recently signed an agreement with Brightman to develop a TV comedy. On this project, he is teaming up with “Hamilton” Producer, Jeffrey Seller, to tell another classic New York story.

A struggling twentysomething moves back to NYC to live in his parent’s huge (12 bedroom) rent control luxury apartment; and soon realizes that he can make some nice money by renting out the spare bedrooms to a rotating roster of tenants. “It’s the story of (Showtime’s) “Shameless” implanted into one of the most ‘hoity toity’ neighborhoods.” Sounds outlandish?

Brightman’s inspiration is actually based on the legendary Apthorp building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s where some of the most famous show biz personalities (Al PacinoCyndi LauperRosie O'Donnell) once lived and where apartment rents now go as high as $50,000-60,000 per month. Yet due to NYC’s byzantine rent control regulations, “there are some families that have been living there since the 1970s”, notes Brightman, “and still pay the same rent they were paying in the 1970s.”

Might this NYC-centric comedy be this generation’s “Friends?”  NBC certainly hopes so.

In between writing, Brightman stays busy finding other “great things to do” as an actor. Last July, for example, he performed in Encores! Off-Center’s production of “Assassins” and earned raves for his portrayal of FDR’s would-be assassin (Giuseppe Zangara.) You may have even seen Brightman on TV.  He has guest starred on Showtime’s hit comedy “SMILF.” (Good news: “SMILF” was picked up for a second season, so we may see more of Brightman next season.)

Since leaving SoR, Brightman has stayed artistically nomadic. He is busy, happy, and proud of his writing. From musical theater to TV to performing in a rock band (“The Morons”), Brightman is the embodiment of an artistic nomad.

“Years ago,” he confessed, “when someone asked me what I did, I would say: ‘I am an actor and I do some writing.” “But now,” Brightman adds: “I am very comfortable saying: I am an actor and writer.”