Benjamin Eakely has carved out quite a life for himself. He’s currently playing Clifford Bradshaw, the only American character in Cabaret the Musical. I had a chance to sit down and have a candid conversation about his role and his journey in theater.
AC: I must shamefully admit that I’ve never seen CABARET. So tell me about your role as Clifford.
Benjamin: Well, Clifford Bradshaw is an American writer who arrives in Berlin in the 1930’s in search of a story. He stumbles upon The Kit Kat Club, which is a seedy nightclub and falls in love with everything about it. But later he’s confronted with the dark side of what’s going on in Berlin during that time.
AC: What do you like about this role?
Benjamin: So the character is based on Christopher Isherwood who wrote The Berlin Stories which Cabaret is based on. I actually get to walk on stage and keep my eyes and ears and heart open. I get to experience what the audience is feeling, very intimately.
AC: And how did you come to play this character?
Benjamin: So I did the show on Broadway as an understudy for the role I have now in 2014 and 2015 with Alan Cumming. And it’s actually easier to play the role because as an understudy you’re generally going to go on and don’t have a ton of notice. I get to relax into it and breathe. And in being an understudy I got a chance to perform the role opposite the three leading ladies – Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, and Sienna Miller. And each experience was a thrill of a lifetime.
AC: So how closely related are you to Clifford, though this took place in the 1930s.
Benjamin: I actually can relate to his character. He has a darkness which is maybe a little darker than what I have. But the circumstances that unravel in the show are so traumatic that it’s not that difficult to identify with him. And it’s impossible to not be moved by what you see on stage. Nazi’s are involved, the Swastika makes an appearance, and the idea of Hitler is also there.
AC: It’s a crazy comparison but it reminds me of Sounds of Music and Chicago put together.
Benjamin: That’s a great example. Sound of Music was probably about 10 years before this one but the same time in history. You think you’re along for this great ride, but then it turns dark. And if you saw Chicago, it’s director was the choreographer and co-director of Cabaret, Rob Marshall. And the dancing is stylistically the same beautiful specificity and hotness that you see in that movie. The codirector, Sam Mendes also became very famous directing this.
AC: Tell me about the supporting cast and how is it working with the others.
Benjamin: It is a great family of the most wonderful and talented people I’ve ever encountered. The members are all the orchestra as well as being actors, singers, and dancers. So they are all insanely talented. It’s a rare group of personalities. I think we’re all united because we were all kind of band geeks. We may not have been the most popular people in school but we are good people on Broadway and the same here. So if you have to travel with anybody, this is about the best group to be with.
AC: So how has it been touring and traveling so much?
Benjamin: It’s been great outside of being away from our families. But strangers across the country have been great about reaching out and inviting us into their world. This great hotel that we stayed in, for example, hosted our opening night party for us. In another city, our company manager got us a tour of the BMW test plant and we all got to test drive these amazing race cars. And got invited to the San Diego Zoo while we were there!
AC: Let’s switch gears now. Tell me how you started acting and then how did you decide you wanted to pursue Broadway.
Benjamin: In college I majored in music and American Studies. And I actually had an offer to go work on Hillary’s first senate campaign in New York. And I was very excited. But I decided against it to pursue acting, which was my passion. And while there I was just in the right place at the right time. I started working pretty consistently. I also worked as a paralegal while taking acting classes and auditioning for five years. After landing a role on Broadway, I never looked back. And one thing about acting is that you must always reinvent yourself.
AC: For someone who wants to get into the business, what is the best advice you can offer.
Benjamin: If you haven’t been to college, I encourage anyone to go to a good Liberal Arts school that has a good musical theater program. A number of my friends went to conservatory but waited tables after graduation because they thought that was their only option. After graduating from school, I landed a job as a paralegal. And I was getting paid quite well doing intellectually stimulating work. Had I been on my feet for five years, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. As a result, I didn’t have to suffer as much. So I think education is very important. And I still take undergrad classes just to stay stimulated.
AC: So is there anything else that you want people to know about you or the show?
Benjamin: I’ve never been to Charlotte and I think it’s going to be a special place to be on Election Day.
‘Cabaret’ will play through Sunday, November 13 at Belk Theater. For more information visit www.blumenthalarts.org.
Image courtesy of Joan Marcus