Danny Burstein on the Broadway Revival of ‘Follies’ and Getting Advice from Sondheim

Danny Burstein plays the part of Buddy Plummer, in the revival of Follies, a James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim musical which first opened in 1971. Burstein never saw the original before he received the part, but of course, there were a lot of opinions about how the part should be played.

NPR recently talked with the actor about his role: “Everyone thought it should be this way, or everybody thought it should be that way, and it was good, because I had my own opportunity to form my own opinion about it without knowing anything about it beforehand.”

Burstein made a conscious effort to make Buddy as active as possible, or as he puts it, “I don’t like whiners — characters who whine on stage — and in reading the script, that’s what it seemed like to me, like the character was one sad sack whiner. And I thought, ‘No, he really wants something. He wants the love of his wife, and so he’s fighting for that.’ So lines that could be read in a very sad way instead could be read in a very positive way.”

One of the numbers, “Buddy’s Blues,” requires a lot of endurance by Burstein: “The song just goes on and on and on. I’ll be perfectly honest with you: You know that feeling you get when you run out of breath and you feel the dark curtains coming? Sometimes that happens to me during that number. Because you’re just putting everything you have into that. … It’s an exhilarating feeling when you finish it.” 

According to Burstein, Stephen Sondheim offered him advice about the number, “Basically just to make it as clear and specific as possible, line by line. The line seems like it’s going straight ahead, and then it seems like it’s going to take a right and it takes a left instead.”

Burstein was also appreciative about Sondheim giving him advice about his lines: “He was responsible for adding little lines here and there … that he’d always wanted, that were in the original script. About a month ago I got some new lines, and happily. It’s really an honor for Stephen to come in and say, ‘You know what would work great here?’ … He changed one line from ‘It’s great to see you’ to ‘You look sensational.’ That’s one of my first lines to Bernadette, and I thought, ‘Fantastic, of course he would tell her she looks sensational.’ There were little things like that, that in the grand scheme of your character make a huge difference.”

Regarding how he keeps up his performance for every show, Burstein says, “I know Stephen is one of those writers that writes things for a reason — there is intelligence behind it. And I tried to get it right for him. I really believe, so strongly, in the fact that he’s a genius and that his writing takes care of the actor. So basically every single night, you just try to live up to the brilliant writing.”

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