After a stint on tour with Kinky Boots, Zach Adkins now stars as Dmitry in the award-winning Broadway musical Anastasia at the Broadhurst Theatre. Here he tells Mandy News about the challenges of understudying, playing the lead, what rehearsing for a Broadway show feels like and what actors can do to get noticed.
Zach, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the theatre?
I started theatre later on in life performing in high school and ended up being a part of my community theatre in Ashtabula, Ohio. From there, I went to Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music to do music theatre. I spent four years there, moved to the city and found a great agent. I spent nine months touring on the road with a show called Kinky Boots. I left the road and auditioned for Anastasia and the rest is history. I’ve been with Anastasia for a year now understudying Dmitry and in this past week and half I’ve started to take over the role full-time.
Congratulations! How did you first hear about the theatre production and how did you get involved as the understudy?
Anastasia was actually one of the fastest audition processes I’ve ever done professionally. They were looking for someone specifically to understudy Dmitry or understudy Derek Klena, the original Dmitry. I had just got back to the city and the casting director for Kinky Boots reached out to me and told me there was this great part that was perfect for me and I had to come in that day. They sent me a new song that no-one had ever heard before and three scenes that no-one had ever read before and gave me two hours to work on it.
I showed up and met the music director and he told me to come back in an hour. I was a bit surprised and he told me I was gonna meet the whole team. I came back in an hour, met the whole team and we did My Petersburg which is now the anthem of Dmitry and two other scenes. They then asked to see the last scene and I was very frank with them and told them I was only given two scenes to start with. We then went back out into the hall and I was given 30 minutes to learn the scene before doing it. This was 8 o’clock on a Friday night and I got a call the following Monday that they wanted me to sign on as Dmitry’s understudy and join the ensemble.
That was it! It was all in one day, back-to-back. It was quite a whirlwind. I don’t think I ate the whole day. Just coffee!
Describe a typical day in the life of an understudy?
An understudy has an interesting lifestyle because you don’t know when you’re going to be called on. It’s different from a swing position as they are typically not on stage and I was always on stage in the ensemble. So I always knew I needed to perform that night. Dmitry is such a massive role in the show that the preparation, if I knew I needed to be on, needed to start much earlier in the day. Luckily most of the time I was called on, they gave me plenty of warning and told me if and when the original Dmitry had vacation days.
The closest call I had happened in Kinky Boots. I went on at intermission which was very cool. I was understudying Charlie Price and our Charlie had lost his voice in the middle of the first act. I walked off stage and they told me to go and put my Charlie clothes on as I’d be on for Act 2. It was kind of a golden egg for me. Those are the kinds of stories you swap at the bar with all the other understudies.
I’ve gone on about 20 times in the past year as Dmitry from the understudy position, so when I re-auditioned for the show to be Dmitry, it was very comfortable and fun. It was like preparing for an audition for a year and having all your best friends watch you do it. It was probably the best audition I’ve ever given.
Now you’ve stepped up to be Dmitry every night, what’s the difference in terms of your day?
It’s more about saving yourself now. You spend your days in the gym to keep in shape. You also need a strict diet as some foods can really affect your performance such as dairy and acidic foods. It’s all about not speaking too much and exerting too much energy so you can give 110% every night. It’s almost a double whammy in a way where you have an expectation of the standard of a Broadway show but a lot of the people who see the show are fans of the movie and now I’m playing a character that everyone is familiar with.
So you have to live up to the standard of a movie that’s so iconic too. It’s all about preservation at this point, trying to stay as healthy as possible and still enjoying a normal life.
Tell us a little bit more about Dmitry as a character and what you bring to the role that maybe previous actors didn’t do?
My interpretation of Dmitry is a little younger and I’m a very energetic guy so I try to bring that energy into the role. When we first meet Dmitry in the show, he is a conman. Just a boy trying to get out of Russia and the city he’s lived in his whole life by stealing the best way he can and trading up to something more – all without parents, so the city raised him. He’s this amazing Russian street rat who’s clever and quick and, as the show goes on, we watch him turn into a man before our eyes in a very deep way.
In the beginning, he’s all about himself but by the time we get to the second act, we find him finally putting someone before himself and she turns out to be Anastasia. He realises that he loves her so much that he’s willing to give up all the riches in the world just so she can be happy. It’s this great journey and I get to portray it every night. Learning that life is more than about being driven for your own purposes but it’s about helping other people too without wanting anything in return. That was the big thing we were trying to push for the show.
How’s it been going in your first week so far?
Oh, its been great. I get to work with some of the nicest and most talented actors on Broadway, I promise you that. Me, Christy Altomare and John Bolton are the trio and they couldn’t be more lovely on and off the stage. The true test of a lovely actor is an actor who sees that you are what wasn’t there for the last year, really listens to you, reacts to the way you’re doing your material today, responding appropriately and not going into auto-pilot. They’ve done 400 shows, they’ve done a whole out-of-town tryout before and making it fresh and new is not only exciting for me but also for them. So we’re all having a great time and I’m just grateful they want to play onstage with me every night.
How long are you working on the show for and what are your plans for the future?
I’ll be with the show for another year at least. Within that year, they’re gonna launch three other companies nationally and internationally. So we get to see our family grow pretty drastically in the next few months. Watching the Broadway show turn into a flagship production will be quite exciting.
For me, we’re looking to start originating more roles. This was my Broadway debut but also my first original Broadway cast. When you’re in a long run, you try to get into these readings that are happening in the city during the day so you can stay attached to projects when they’re just starting off. That’s really how you become part of a company and become an original character where you can mould the character to how you are and how it serves the story.
So that’s the plan for the next year; to really create some new theatre for the years to come.
For all the up-and-coming actors and professionals out there, how did you go about getting your agent and what makes a good agent in your eyes?
I’m really grateful for coming into contact with a lot of young actors and what I always tell them is you need to showcase your talents. Trying to book an agent specifically or a manager without being in a show is virtually impossible.
My conservatory had a great setup where, in our senior year, we put together a showcase. It’s a well-attended showcase in the city with great high-reaching agents. These people come and they sign you. There are ones that happen in the city via classes you can take with an agent showcase at the end. I tell people to do them all the time because if you don’t have your card or agent in the city then it’s almost impossible to get seen for projects of a Broadway or national tour calibre. You’ll be sitting in a long line of other actors.
An agent completely takes that burden off the actor. When I was working three jobs in the city, trying to make ends meet, knowing that I just had a 10 minute audition on a Wednesday, it made the whole week easily planned. I didn’t have to give up my whole day and I didn't have to fear that I wasn’t being seen.
So, I always preach: go get an agent or representation, give the 10% as it’s super useful, in the end, and have someone fight for you behind the table and get you those auditions. It’s so hard hard on your own and any way to make it simpler for yourself will make you last that much longer. Being an actor in the city is all about perseverance and outlasting.
What advice would you give to young actors wanting to get work either in Broadway, the West End or in general?
There is so much great talent and learned talent and being in the right place, whether it’s London or New York, is a great first step for any actor who wants to work at that level. Just being surrounded by it is a great thing. It’s 1% of actors who are working on the West End and Broadway but it’s the 0.001% playing the lead. There are 50 Broadway shows and only one lead per show and those people work at that level because they are the nicest, giving, caring, attentive, hard-working people you’ll ever meet. The cream really rises to the top. When they walk into a room, you know, and you want to trust them and work with them again. That’s how they keep getting jobs.
You can be the most talented person in the room but if you’re not the kindest and not there to contribute to an ensemble trying to make a piece of theatre that matters then you’re not going to be kept there for very long. From what I’ve seen, so far, a lot of people who do make it to that level and can’t carry that standard don’t seem to stick around for long.
Kindness is a big thing in our business and people forget it.
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