Hi, I'm Morgan! I'm a twenty-something theater critic and writer (which really just means I've been a Theater Kid my whole life but now I'm an adult) based somewhere between Baltimore and Washington DC. 

Hopefully, I can help you discover a new show or the next song that will be stuck in your head for weeks on end.

I've been a theater writer since 2016, and I'm so excited to share my passion for the arts with you! Happy reading!

Welcome to Intermission!

Me in front of the harbor that houses the Statue of Liberty in New York City

#OnlyIntermission: Interview with Broadway Actor Sam Gravitte

Sam Gravitte had just taken over the role of Fiyero in "Wicked" on Broadway when the pandemic struck, forcing all Broadway theaters to shut down. Born into a family of performers, Gravitte is the son of Debbie and Beau Gravitte, a Tony award winner and an accomplished stage actor respectively, and is proud to continue his family's legacy. After learning Broadway would be shut down indefinitely, Gravitte decided to use his newfound time to pursue other creative endeavors.

*Note: Interview contains language that may be inappropriate for young children

How are you?

What a loaded question these days. I’m well. We start rehearsals on Monday and I couldn’t be more excited to be getting back to work, so all in all, I’m well.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I was born into a family of actors. Both my parents are actors. I was born in Los Angeles and was raised about an hour north of New York City in Connecticut. In a town where most kids’ parents would be heading off to the city to do corporate jobs or finance jobs, my parents were driving into New York to do Broadway shows, or flying off to Moscow to sing with different symphony orchestras. As long as I can remember, that was the sexiest thing possible to me, and I was like “How do I go into this family business?” But my parents encouraged my siblings and I to do as much of life as possible, so I played a lot of sports growing up and got involved in my schools in all sorts of different ways. I ended up playing lacrosse at Princeton where I was recruited, so not necessarily a school that is known for its theater department, though I was really lucky to run into some amazing theater artists while I was at Princeton. I loved my time at Princeton and finished playing lacrosse there, did a lot of theater. I majored in Anthropology while I was there and loved that, and met a really cool tight knit community of Princeton theater makers in the city. When I graduated, I moved to New York, and the first job I ever did was a small production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with an amazing cast, with Christine Dwyer as the narrator and truly a handful of really amazing performers in the ensemble and people that had been all over Broadway. I think it was then like two weeks later or something that I got tapped to do the national tour of “Wicked” as a Fiyero understudy. Things started to happen fast and I went out on the road for a year. Being on the road was such a great place to incubate as a performer, as a young performer out of school, around so much talent and kindness.

Photo courtesy of Sam Gravitte

I did that for a year, I got off the road, I came to New York, and was able to do “Wicked” for seven weeks on Broadway in the ensemble. So I covered Fiyero in the ensemble for seven weeks in the summer of 2019. I got to go on a handful of times, which was really, really cool, and then I went out to San Diego to do the premiere of “Almost Famous” with just a ridiculously talented cast. That was my first ground-up rehearsal process, with Tom Kitt, Cameron Crowe, and Lorin Latarro. I learned so much in that space, just watching people like Drew Gehling, Solea Pfeiffer, Anika Larsen, and Colin Donnell rehearse, and just being around those people and the most talented ensemble of humans as well.

Then I moved to New York and a couple months later, went in to audition for “Wicked” again — it must have been my eighth time auditioning for “Wicked” — and got asked to be Fiyero on Broadway. Obviously, that was a dream come true, kind of like completing the circle that I had begun to draw when I joined the "Wicked" tour as a twenty-two-year-old. I began that contract alongside Lindsay Heather Pearce as Elphaba on February 25, 2020. Did two and a half weeks and the pandemic struck.

So that’s the very SparkNotes version of my experience so far up to the pan.

I know you mentioned your parents were performers, but was there a particular show or performance that made you realize this is what you wanted to do with your life, or was it more your upbringing in general?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I was always around it, so I couldn’t tell you what my first Broadway show was because I was really fortunate enough to be immersed in it from an early age. It wasn’t seeing a show or anything that flipped the switch, but I do remember doing my first musical in fifth grade. I did “Oklahoma!” and played Curly, and I was like “Oh this is it. This is the rest of my life, for sure.” My parents did their best to widen my lens of interest in as many ways as possible, which I think they were successful in doing, but when it came to a vocation, I think there was only ever one thing that spoke to me.

How did you get involved in the national tour of “Wicked?”

I was lucky enough to get some representation out of school through some folks that had seen me in a production of “Once” during my senior year of college. The “Wicked” audition came around and I went in a number of times before finally getting to a callback and then getting to a dance call, and then not getting it, and doing it all over again and getting it that time. I feel like most humans in “Wicked” have similar audition stories, although some, like Lindsay, just book it off of a tape or something. It’s such an institutional show that they see people again and again, and sometimes you get lucky and your name gets called.

What was the casting and rehearsal process like?

It’s different from person to person, because some tracks are more dance heavy, there’s understudies, and then principles, obviously. So the process varies, but the way that I went through it was having an initial call where I read the Fiyero material and sang the Fiyero material, and then having a callback with the musical director and the assistant director, and then maybe getting through a dance call with the assistant choreographer and the dance captains. After that, you usually receive either no news or some good news.

Going into a show like “Wicked” that’s been ongoing is a totally different experience from rehearsing a new show because you learn the show, usually by yourself, with the stage managers and the dance captains. You learn based on different landmarks that are on the stage; the stage has been laid out with a number line and you learn the geography of the stage and you learn your track that way. So when you hear a certain piece of music, you know that you’re going to go to the second track on stage right 8 and do this piece of choreography. You basically learn your entire track that way, and then you have a rehearsal where the ensemble will come back and do the show with you. You run the show, usually with a piano and maybe a drummer, and you’re the only one in costume, but you basically do your whole track, and then the next time you do it is usually under the lights in front of an audience. So that kind of process is obviously very different from building a show and rehearsing with a whole company. That’s why it’s really, really exciting, I think, for us to be going back into a full rehearsal process for “Wicked.” We have three weeks of rehearsal as a full company, and I don’t think that’s something that’s happened since the show opened in 2003. So for us to all be back on stage at the Gershwin in a real rehearsal process, I think is going to be really cool in terms of community building and being on the same page, not to mention all the excitement and eagerness we all feel in getting back to work in general. Hopefully, it will help to build some shared values and we’ll have time to hold space for a lot of the things we’ve learned and worked on for the past year and a half in the rehearsal process as an entire company.

I heard that you had an opportunity to sing for Stephen Schwartz. Can you talk about that experience?

Oh yeah! So my mom and Stephen have a rich history together. She was actually the first person to ever sing “Defying Gravity” in concert, so they sing together all the time. My mom had a small concert with Stephen and Scott Coulter and Liz Callaway out on Long Island and I kind of tagged along. I watched their sound check and after their soundcheck, Stephen kind of pulled my mother aside and was like, “Does Sam want to sing for me?” She kind of mediated, and came back to me, and I was like “F***** ay, I should have warmed up!” I was like “Of course I want to sing for Stephen Schwartz!” I went over and I think I sang “Corner of the Sky,” and I think we sang through “As Long As You’re Mine” together. It was just an unbelievable experience. To be singing canonical musical theater songs with the composer is something that I think not many people get to do, and as elated as I was in that moment, I tried to take it in as best I could. But yeah, I think that was probably useful in getting in the door!

What would you say are the biggest differences between the “Wicked” tour and the Broadway production?

The show, I would say, is probably 95 percent the same. The Broadway stage is bigger and has a little more action going on in the proscenium. There are different types of intimacy that form because when you’re on tour with a company, in most cases, you’re traveling with the set of people you’re going to know in any given city. So after a show, you’re all going back to the same hotel or area, or maybe you’re living in an Airbnb together, stuff like that. So I think it’s a wonderful way to develop friendships and all sorts of stuff. And that’s not to say that doesn’t happen in the Broadway community, but the difference and the wonderful thing about doing a show in New York is that you get to go home and put your head on your own pillow, and that can be really restorative. But yes, there are different types of intimacy that form between companies, and one is not better or worse than the other, so it’s been interesting to see that.

Photo courtesy of Sam Gravitte

Can you talk about how you felt the night you made your Broadway debut?

Yes! So I made my Broadway debut as a Fiyero understudy, and my whole family came up. My brother surprised me from South Carolina, and he and my twin sister and both my parents were in the audience for my Broadway debut. I just remember being so excited and happy that I was taking this big step in rooting myself in my family’s legacy in a way that I was really proud of. I’ll never forget, and I forget who said it to me and I wish I could give them credit, but someone said to me something so simple but that rang really true, which was “You only make your Broadway debut once, so just soak it in as best you can,” and I really did. I tried to be so present and everyone in the company was so welcoming and excited for me, and “shoved with love,” as we say, and kind of nudged me to my right positions and everything. But it was a very, very cool night and I’m so grateful my family got to be there. It’s something I will never forget, for sure.

Do you have a favorite part/number of the show to perform?

I love doing “As Long as You’re Mine” with Elphaba. I think it’s a unique moment in the show of stillness and intimacy where we get to peel back the mask these characters wear for so much of the show and see them in a really honest way together. It’s a really fun song to sing, and Lindsay sings it so beautifully, so I really love doing that. I also love “Dancing Through Life” because who doesn’t love climbing on a statue and pointing at all your friends? Like, come on.

Wicked is full of special effects and magic. Care to comment?

All I would say to that effect is that I’m really grateful to our crew. They work really hard and I think “Wicked” has been successful for so many years because people work hard to keep it in really good shape, and that includes the cast, crew, and everyone involved. It feels like magic every night because there’s really beautiful things going on onstage and backstage.

Is there anything you can’t live without backstage?

My dresser, Michael! I’ll just give him a shout out because he’s the perfect energy for me. I’ll come off stage and be like “Oh Michael, did you hear that? I was totally flat.” And he’ll be like “No, I wasn’t listening.” So he balances me out in a really beautiful way. But I would say, in terms of objects, I can’t really think of something I need. My space is definitely personalized in different ways, but I guess one ritual I have is something that my dad taught me, which is just to look in the mirror before going on stage and look myself in the eyes and say “You’re enough,” just letting go of as much tension or fear as I can before getting out on stage.

Favorite “Wicked” fun fact?

Ooh favorite “Wicked” fun fact. I used to have so many because when I was on tour, I read the fact sheet and I used to give the most comprehensive backstage tours to everyone I knew that would come to show. Until finally, my sister was like “You know that people just want to come backstage? They don’t need to know how much the bubble dress weighs.” Like come on, that’s fun! But hmm fun facts. The costumes are so amazing, and Susan Hilferty did such a great job. I think my favorite piece in the show is Elphaba’s Act II dress. I guess the fun fact there is that it’s made of like 40 yards of fabric layered on top of each other in a really gorgeous way. So there’s my fact that has nothing to do with me but that’s ok.

Well now I have to ask. How much does the bubble dress weigh?

You know, Ginna Claire will tell you it weighs 45 pounds, but I believe, if I’m remembering this correctly, and I totally could be flubbing it, but I think it’s either 18 or more 20 pounds, something like that. But it’s a lot of dress, that is for sure!

What would you say is the best part and the most challenging part of your job?

The best part of my job is when I’m able to remind myself what ten-year-old Sam would think about what I do every night, and the fact that it really is a dream come true. The fact that I am so lucky to be able to do what I do and surrounded by the people that I do it with is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember. Every time I can kind of step back and give myself a little perspective, it is a good thing to do.

The most challenging part of what I do is that it’s a lifestyle that doesn’t necessarily align with some of my best friends. So a lot of my best friends from Princeton and college and other communities work 9-5 and then are off on nights and they hang out on weekends. I go to the theater at 6 and you work on the weekends, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s what I’ve dreamed about forever. Every time I walk into that theater, it feels like coming home.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

What would you tell ten-year-old Sam, if you could give him advice now?

I would give him the advice that’s been given to me in so many ways by so many people, which is just to be kind. Just be kind to everyone on the way and most especially, to yourself. Because if you can’t be kind to yourself, how are you going to be kind to anyone else?

How and when did you find out theaters were shutting down because of the pandemic?

We learned the day that everyone learned, which I think was March 12. We got an email from our management a few hours before there was a press release that Broadway would be shut down. We had a company meeting that night, and at that point, everyone thought it was going to be a month. It was odd, but things had begun to feel odd in New York earlier than that. For a few weeks, it had felt like things were destabilizing, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it definitely knocked the wind out of us pretty quickly.

Why just a month?

That’s the timeline that the League announced that Broadway would be shut for, so obviously that was updated along the way. And then it got pushed and then it got pushed and then it got pushed, so things evolved in thinking as we learned more about the virus.

How much warning did they give you before you had to get out of the theater? What was that process like?

We didn’t have a ton of warning, but that’s no one’s fault. We were given opportunities later to come back and grab things that we needed from dressing rooms if we had such things, so I took advantage of that for sure.

How have you been spending your time since Broadway shut down?

When it became clear that it was going to be a while until Broadway came back, I had an honest conversation with myself, and said I don’t want to sit on my hands for however long this is going to take. I did what I could to flex different creative limbs in all the ways that I could think. I spent a lot of time studying music and writing, and those two disciplines became a huge part of what I do now every day. I spend a lot of time reading, and I went to Los Angeles from January to July, and that was a really introspective and important experience, I think. I spent a lot of time alone, and that was really good for me, and I think I left LA with just a much clearer intentionality of how I want to move forward with what I want and how I want it. I’ve been in acting class — one of the best things that this past year and a half has afforded me is the time to study. Being able to work pretty early out of school and consistently and very luckily so, I hadn’t been in a ton of class. So this past year and a half, I’ve actually been in more acting classes more consistently than any other point in my life, so I’m so excited to go back into a rehearsal room and start to put what I’ve learned to work in a real way. But it’s been so inspiring along the lines of what folks have been doing over the past 18 months and to see how everyone in all sorts of different capacities has pivoted and been so entrepreneurial and inventive. Every company or video or piece of content that was created over the past 18 months came from both a place of necessity and the need to survive, but also out of sheer creativity and the desire to make and to do anything close to what it is we all do. So I’m very inspired by how folks across the industry responded, and not only in purely job-related ways, but also in terms of activism and everything that has come out of the Black Lives Matter movement and demanding more transparency from Broadway and how its processes work. I think it’s some really exciting work, and I hope that we can put a lot of what we talked about into practice in these next few months.

Can you elaborate on how you got more into music and the creative opportunities you’ve had?

Yeah! I’ve been studying guitar in a real way. I’ve been studying jazz guitar with a few teachers — one of them is this guy named Mark Whitfield, who’s this really amazing jazz guitarist — and jazz music has become something that’s really interesting to me. I’ve written a bunch of songs, and I hope to be recording some of them pretty soon. I wrote a senior thesis at Princeton for the Anthropology department, and my thesis advisor, who’s a brilliant man named Serguei Oushakine, brilliant Russian-American anthropologist, with whom I’m still in close contact with, actually — he’s become a really important mentor of mine — I wrote my thesis and he was my advisor and he read it, and he said “You know, you should think about continuing to do this writing thing because you’re pretty good with words, and it would be a shame if you let these muscles atrophy in any sort of way.” I’d always been attracted to writing and really idealized it from an intellectual point of view, but never took the time to sit down with pad and pencil or computer and get words on a page, so I started doing that in the pandemic. I’ve written a few plays, and I was talking to a different mentor of mine named John McPhee, who’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor at Princeton, about my writing and he said something kind of brilliant to me that was pretty liberating. He said “Sam, even if you never publish a word or get a play produced, your writing is going to be contributive to your creativity as a whole.” And I think that’s really what music and writing have been about for me in the last year. I hope that they can come into practice in real and tangible ways in what I do, but if they never show up on stage, I know that those practices are actively contributing to myself as an artist as a whole.

Do you think you’ll ever step away from performing and instead transition more toward the writing aspect of theater?

I don’t think that transition is the right word because I don’t think that being a performer would exclude taking on writing in a more serious capacity. But I do hope that I can start to actualize writing as a vocation in the same way that I do as a performer. But I do love performing and I hope to do that for as long as I can.

Photo courtesy of Sam Gravitte

What opportunities, if any, have you had to perform since the shutdown?

I’ve done a few things here and there — I’ve done a couple of readings of plays and scripts, stuff like that. I’ve had a few concerts here and there where I got to sing and actually play the guitar a couple times, but nothing major. Just kind of benefits here and there, and things that were always fun to be able to get involved with.

Do you have a favorite song or type of genre to perform?

Well I am sucker for showtunes, but I’m really drawn to standards these days. My mom has performed big-band numbers for a long time — she’s got a big-band album and I was raised on Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman, all those people, Frank Sinatra, those kinds of vocalists. So standards have kind of been in my musical vocabulary for my whole life. I started running with some pretty amazing jazz musicians while I was out in Los Angeles that brought me to some jams and stuff like that, and I got to sing at some of those, so I do love me some jazz.

Can you explain what you mean by standards?

So like anything that you might hear Frank Sinatra sing. The Great American Songbook is another way people often refer to it. Most standards came out of musical theater, actually, by composers like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. But it didn’t end there because Duke Ellington and all sorts of other amazing musicians composed songs that we now consider standards.

I am a deep well of fun facts, but how useful they are is another matter!

As you prepare to go back to rehearsals, have they given you any insight into what this process looks like moving forward?

I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to look like, but I think we’re all just really excited to be back in the theater, and that’s really as much as I can say, just because I don’t really know. But I’m really, really excited.

What’s next? How do you, and the show, move forward?

Hopefully getting back to some semblance of normalcy, but that depends on the state of things outside the theater as much as inside. I’m grateful that the League and our producers are doing all that they can and I think taking all the steps that they can in order to ensure everyone’s safety in terms of the virus. Audiences are required to be vaccinated and masked and the entire company is required to be vaccinated, so I’m grateful that they’re taking those steps to protect us in the ways that they can. I think at the end of the day, we hope, in the next few months, as we get into performances, we can return to a performance schedule that looks the same. You know, hopefully, that will come along with a shift in some other key elements of how things operate on Broadway. But in terms of performance, we hope to get back to before.

Do you think theater will change because of all this? How so?

Oh yeah. I think it has to. I think that theater is a reflective tool that we have in culture and if it doesn’t respond to the last year and a half, then something would be missing. But again, I think there are so many brilliant theater artists in this city and in the world that are going to take some of the knowledge we gleaned from the last year and a half and apply it directly to what we do. I think one of the things that Zoom theater taught us were the things that were missing from live theater. I think there’s no replacing the form of exchange that you get between an audience and performers in a Broadway theater, or in a theater in general, because there’s something ineffable about that relationship. It really requires you to be in the room where it happened.

I was thinking the other day about Glinda’s line at the start of the show when she asks “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” I can’t imagine the applause she is going to get.

Oh yeah, it’s going to bring the house down. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Feature Photo: Courtesy of Sam Gravitte