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Broadway Actors Who Are Bracing for Final Curtain

By ERIK PIEPENBURG

In the theater every closing night stirs up a bevy of feelings: sadness, elation, relief, anxiety. Those and many other emotions will be running high across Broadway soon, as 15 productions — almost half the shows currently playing — are scheduled to go dark by the end of January. (Reasons for the mass exodus vary; some shows are closing because of sagging ticket sales, others are finishing limited engagements.)

For actors who have been with their shows for several years, from workshops to Broadway, closing-night tears often sting more sharply. Playing the same character eight shows a week will do that to a person. Five actors spoke about saying goodbye to their characters and what will happen after the curtains come down.
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Benjamin Walker

‘Bloody ‘Bloody Andrew Jackson’

Opened on Broadway

Oct. 13, 2010

Closes Jan. 2, 2011

In Show Since 2007

The political has become personal for Benjamin Walker, who has played America’s seventh president since a 2007 workshop of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” in New York. “Doing and learning about Andrew Jackson has forced me to look at politics a different way,” he said. “I have a sharper, if not more attentive civic ear.”

A positive byproduct of Mr. Walker’s physically demanding rock star role is that it’s given him a rock star body (although he said his voice has taken a beating). One thing he won’t miss is having to strut across what he called a “treacherous” set filled with flea-market furniture and a band.

“Everybody’s getting hurt on the set,” he said with a laugh. “It keeps it exciting.”

Mr. Walker turned down a substantial role in a forthcoming “X-Men” movie to appear on Broadway, a decision he said he would have regretted not making. He said he would like to return to the theater but had no specific projects in the works.

His predictions for closing night were sanguine. “I hope the sadness doesn’t color the satisfaction,” he said. “I actually anticipate a long celebration.”

Jill Vallery

‘Fela!’

Opened on Broadway

Nov. 23, 2009

Closes Jan. 2, 2011

In Show Since 2007

The first thing Jill Vallery is going to do when the curtain comes down on “Fela!” is sleep. “I told my boyfriend, ‘Don’t get mad if don’t leave the house,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘No problem.’ ”

Ms. Vallery auditioned for the show in 2006 and has been with the production, first as a dancer and now as the dance captain, since a workshop in 2007. Performing Bill T. Jones’s African-inspired choreography every night is physically taxing. But built into the moves is room for improvisation, which Ms. Vallery said keeps each performance fresh.

“There are areas where the dancer is able to express their own personal vibe, their own essence,” she explained. “It’s new to me every time.”

The farewell to “Fela!” won’t last long. Ms. Vallery is scheduled to join the show’s national tour when it begins next year.

Adam Chanler-Berat

‘Next to Normal’

Opened on Broadway

April 15, 2009

Closes Jan. 16, 2011

In Show Since 2007

Like the dysfunctional family in the musical “Next to Normal,” Adam Chanler-Berat is going through a grieving process.

“It’s like losing a friend, like breaking up with someone,” he said during an interview at the Booth Theater, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical will close in a few weeks, after a lengthy run that surprised many Broadway watchers, given the show’s difficult subject matter, mental illness.

Mr. Chanler-Berat first played Henry, the understanding stoner boyfriend of the show’s troubled teenage girl, Natalie, in a 2007 workshop Off Broadway at the Second Stage Theater; he reprised the role when the show opened there in 2008. He moved with it to Arena Stage in Washington later that year, and again to the Booth when it transferred to Broadway in 2009. He’s the only cast member in the Broadway production to have been with the show since the start.

He’s already considering how to ease the pain of closing night.

“I think about how drunk am I going to be,” he said. There won’t be much time for Mr. Chanler-Berat to rest, though. He begins rehearsals next month for the new show “Peter and the Starcatcher” at New York Theater Workshop.

George Akram

Click to hear audio excerpts from the interviews

‘West Side Story’

Opened on Broadway

March 19, 2009

Closes Jan. 2, 2011

In Show Since 2008

“My body’s really happy it’s over,” said George Akram, who plays Bernardo, Maria’s protective brother, in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story.” “It’s such a physical show — the dancing, the fights. You risk getting hurt, but I was willing to do it because I love the show so much.”

Mr. Akram has been with the show since it opened at the National Theater in Washington in 2008. For closing night at the Palace Theater, where he made his Broadway debut, Mr. Akram has called in tissue-wielding reinforcements.

“My family is going to be here,” said Mr. Akram, who was born and raised in Venezuela. “They’re going to keep me so busy, I might not have time to be sad. If they weren’t here, I would be destroyed.”

Mr. Akram said he had “nothing concrete,” but projects pending. “I’m excited but anxious,” he said.

His relationship with Bernardo has a history that long predates this revival. “It’s an iconic show, but it’s also an iconic role for me,” he said. “When I saw the movie for the first time, I was 7, and I knew I wanted to play the role. I got to do it at my mom’s dance academy and then again in high school. To play it on Broadway in the big leagues means so much to me.”


Olga Merediz

‘In the Heights’

Opened on Broadway

March 9, 2008

Closes Jan. 9, 2011

In Show Since 2005

Olga Merediz, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Abuela Claudia in “In the Heights,” chokes up as she talks about closing night.

“I’m going to be a wreck,” she said during a tear-filled interview in her dressing room at the Richard Rodgers Theater. “It’s going to be very hard to get through it because we’re like a family here.”

Ms. Merediz has been with the show’s several incarnations, from a 2005 workshop to the 2007 Off Broadway run and the 2008 Broadway transfer. She said being with a production for so long has become a spiritual experience that will be hard to replace.

“I’m a typical New Yorker,” she said. “I’m doing a million projects. When I come to the theater, I have to slow down and become this elderly lady, and I can’t worry about the five million things I have going. I’m going to really have to go to a yoga class.”

Ms. Merediz’s next projects include an episode of the CBS show “Blue Bloods,” a Time Warner commercial and two new films: one starring Jim Carrey and another with John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/theater/30longrun.html?_r=1&ref=arts

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