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by Michael Portantiere

The Keenan-Bolgers, Back on Broadway

  • Celia & Andrew-sized.jpg

    Fred and Adele Astaire set the gold standard for brother-sister showbiz teams -- but she retired very early, leaving him to become a star on his own. Today, we have two super-talented pairs of male/female theatrical siblings in our midst, although neither works as a team. Incredibly enough, both pairs hail from Detroit, Michigan. (Really, what are the chances?) They are Sutton and Hunter Foster, and Celia and Andrew Keenan-Bolger.

    The somewhat older Fosters have more shows to their credit, but the Keenan-Bolgers have also done very well for themselves. In addition to their work outside of NYC, Celia played Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Eponine/Whore (!) in the revival of Les Miserables. She's now rehearsing for the City Center Encores! presentation of Merrily We Roll Along, in which she'll appear as Mary Flynn. Her younger brother Andrew made his Broadway debut at a tender age in Beauty and the Beast, as a replacement in the role of Chip (the teacup), then went on to Seussical and Mary Poppins. He's also the co-creator of the increasingly popular web series Submissions Only, a behind-the-scenes look at the lives and careers of New York theater people. (Please note that the show predates Smash.)

    Both of the Keenan-Bolgers are due back on Broadway soon -- Celia in Peter and the Starcatcher, first seen in La Jolla and then Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop, and Andrew in Disney's Newsies, fresh from its hit run at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Somehow, these two found the time to meet me for an interview on a recent Friday afternoon.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Have you ever done a joint interview before?

    ANDREW KEENAN-BOLGER: I don't think so. Not when we were in the same room, at least.

    STARS: How many years are there between you?

    CELIA KEENAN-BOLGER: Seven. Andrew's older. [They both laugh raucously.]

    ANDREW: Celia's birthday was yesterday, January 26.

    STARS: Oh, yes, I saw that on Facebook. Happy Birthday! So, you guys grew up in Detroit?

    ANDREW: Yes, in Detroit proper, where not too many people are from anymore.

    CELIA: Our dad was an urban planner and our mom was a public school teacher. We're pretty hard-core Detroit.

    STARS: I assume your name is a combination of theirs?

    CELIA: Yes. They were hippies.

    STARS: Is the Bolger part of the family any relation to Ray Bolger?

    ANDREW: No. Our dad is huge into geneaology and has seriously tried to trace some kind of connection to him, but if there is one, it must have been way back.

    STARS: Do you have any other siblings?

    ANDREW: We have a sister between us, Maggie, and she's also in theater. She's a playwright, a director, and an educator. Right now, she's in grad school, getting her second masters degree. This one is in applied theater, which is theater as a tool for social change. She's a huge activist. She got the brains in the family.

    CELIA: Andrew and I have followed the more commercial theater path, but I feel like Maggie has been able to integrate our parents' progressiveness into theater and is making a career of helping people.

    ANDREW: I think Maggie and I got into theater because, when you grow up with a sibling who's doing shows all the time, you think, "That's cool. I want to do what she's doing!" So if Celia had been a fencer, perhaps we might be doing that.

    STARS: How did you get started, Celia?

    CELIA: I did community theater in the suburbs of Detroit. Then our mom went to some workshop on "Keeping Your Kids Healthy in Show Business," given by a woman from New York who also happened to be an agent. She was, like, "This is how to keep your kids healthy -- and if they want to be on Broadway, sign them up with me."

    ANDREW: It certainly wasn't in our parents' DNA to be stage parents, but they knew it was what we really, really wanted to do.

    CELIA: When I was in high school, I was an understudy in a play called Kindertransport at Manhattan Theatre Club, with Dana Ivey and Jane Kaczmarek. So I lived here for about six months. Then Andrew got Beauty and the Beast about a year later, and Maggie was in The Wizard of Oz with Roseanne Barr.

    STARS: Have you two ever been in a show together?

    CELIA: As kids, we definitely were.

    ANDREW: Our last show together was The Secret Garden. I played Colin, Maggie played Mary. And Celia did not play the role of Martha, which she was up for. She played Betsy, the scullery maid...

    CELIA: ...who has about two lines. It was not my finest hour. The three of us were also in Really Rosie together, and The Music Man. That one was a better representation of the family, because I was Zaneeta, Maggie was Amaryllis, and Andrew was Winthrop.

    STARS: Did you know the Fosters in Detroit?

    CELIA: We did! I was in The Peanut Butter Players with Sutton. Hunter was older, so he had already graduated high school, but we were very much in each others' lives. Maggie and Andrew were obsessed with Sutton.

    ANDREW: She would carry us around backstage, like she was our babysitter.

    CELIA: I hope Andrew and I get to work together for real sometime, but I feel like that project will reveal itself when the time is right.

    STARS: Andrew, did you audition for Peter and the Starcatcher?

    ANDREW: I didn't. That's an incredible show, but the part I'd want to play...

    CELIA: ...that would be weird, because we'd have to kiss each other.

    STARS: Celia, I'm really looking forward to Merrily We Roll Along. You got a lot of attention the other day when you posted a photo of you made up as Mary at the beginning/end of the show, with that crazy hair and those glasses.

    ANDREW: Hoo-Weee!!!

    CELIA: I can't talk about that too much, because we all got in trouble for posting those pictures. But the photo shoot was quite an experience, because we had to make the physical transformation in such a short amount of time.

    ANDREW: [To Celia:] I think you might want to consider a hot oil treatment later in your life. Your hair was a LITTLE bit of a mess.

    CELIA: I do feel strongly that, when Mary comes on at the beginning of the show, she should look like someone who has really let herself go. So when you see her as a 20-year-old at the end, you really feel the loss of what she was.

    STARS: Andrew, what are you dream Sondheim roles?

    ANDREW: There are two. I'd love to be Jack in Into the Woods and Toby in Sweeney Todd.

    STARS: Well, they're going to be doing Into the Woods in Central Park this summer. But I don't suppose you'll be available, as there's a very good chance that Newsies will still be running.

    ANDREW: Right. Otherwise, I'm sure they would have asked me!

    STARS: Between Newsies and Peter and the Starcatcher, I guess there are going to be a lot of actor boys running around on Broadway this spring.

    ANDREW: Yes. Male heavy Disney theater!

    STARS: That's right, I keep forgetting that Disney has a hand in Peter as well.

    CELIA: Less so than Newsies. They're not lead producers for Peter, but they were crucial in making the show happen.

    ANDREW: I'm just so excited that there's going to be a show like Newsies on Broadway, a show that so features boys doing musical theater. That's something I would have died for as a kid, to see all these guys make singing and dancing look really cool.

    CELIA: When I saw Newsies, I just couldn't believe the amount of male talent on that stage. It is a little bit of an anomaly that there are so few shows that are male-heavy.

    ANDREW: With the success of Glee, and Smash, which I think is going to be a huge hit, I think musical theater is definitely being brought back into the forefront of entertainment for the masses.

    STARS: Andrew, I've seen several episodes of Submissions Only. You have some great guest stars coming up.

    ANDREW: Yes. It's gotten to the point where now, when we call someone's agent and ask, "Do you think so-and-so might possibly be interested in doing us a huge favor?", some of them have actually heard of the show.

    STARS: Celia, have you made an appearance?

    CELIA: I haven't.

    STARS: Do you aspire? What sort of part would you like to play?

    CELIA: I'll play anything.

    ANDREW: We've saving her for the right role and the right moment. We had something earlier in the season where I thought, "We can have Celia do that," but I want it to be something special. We like to take people out of their comfort zone. [To Celia:] We'll fit you in yet!

    Published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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