Metro Weekly

Wolf Whistle: An Interview with Broadway Sensation Gavin Creel

From 'Hello, Dolly!' to 'Into the Woods,' Broadway star Gavin Creel is building a theatrical legacy, one hit show at a time.

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

I’ve been lucky enough to be in eight Broadway shows, all of which have been pretty varied. I’ve done four shows on London’s West End. I’ve had a really amazing career that, if it stopped…”

Gavin Creel was roughly 20 minutes into an hour-long interview when he abruptly stopped mid-sentence, catching himself being reflective, forgetting his recent reality.

If it stopped

In fact, his career did stop, along with the careers of every other stage performer, nearly three years ago. The global pandemic forced performers like Creel to take an indefinite hiatus from work, without pay and benefits, for what turned out to be a full year and a half for most, longer for others.

Prior to the pandemic, Creel had been working steadily, and registering a major career peak or accolade roughly every couple of years over the past decade. In 2017, he snagged his third Tony Award nomination and first win as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for his work as Cornelius Hackl opposite Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! (His two previous Tony Award nominations were both as Best Actor, the first time in 2002 when he made his Broadway debut opposite Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and again in 2009 with the acclaimed revival of Hair.)

In 2014, Creel won the Olivier Award as Best Actor when he originated the role of Elder Price in the West End debut of The Book of Mormon. And in 2021, he made a surprise foray on screen, appearing as Matt Bomer’s partner in a couple of episodes of American Horror Stories, Ryan Murphy’s spinoff iteration of his horror anthology franchise on FX.

Reflecting back to the period when that all stopped, the 46-year-old says it was “painful, in a way that I never have experienced in life.” Ultimately, he adds, “I’m so grateful for what the pandemic has taught and continues to teach me.”

One of the most fundamental things he learned was the importance of distinguishing between who he is as a person and who is as a performer — and appreciating that he’s more — so much more — than his work and career.

“I was sourcing too much of my worth externally, on sources outside of myself, and I was not working enough internally,” Creel says. “I’m really trying to rebalance that. And it’s hard work” — especially for performers like Creel, whose typical work day culminates in standing ovations from random strangers.

“They stand up and they scream and applaud. It’s really hard for me to look and go, ‘You’ve been taking this for granted your whole career, that this is just what human beings do. They stand up, and they cheer for you, they tell you how wonderful you are. You’re getting all this positive feedback.’ And when it goes away, it’s like having your bottle taken away from you: ‘I think I’m going to starve, I’m going to die.'”

Creel knows that sounds dramatic. It is dramatic. It’s also incredibly special, and Creel knows that, too, and conveys a genuine sense of truly reckoning with the unbelievable, humbling reality of it all. Another core lesson he’s learned all over again and then some over the past few years: “You’ve got to appreciate when it’s happening because it can all go away. It can fucking go away in a blink of an eye! And it did. And I was not prepared. I had not done the work for that.”

During the pandemic, Creel occupied his time by creating a new theatrical project that over the past year he’s slowly started to share with the world — and he’s practically chomping at the bit for more people to see the work.

Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice is a 100-minute work-in-progress that Creel alternately calls a theatrical concert, a “concercal,” and an “exploratory song cycle.” The project took root a year before the pandemic, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned Creel to create an original work inspired by or in response to any number of works in the fine art mecca’s vast collection.

Last summer, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center selected Walk on Through for a development production presented at its annual National Music Theater Conference, following in the developmental path of such recent celebrated titles as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, Avenue Q, and Jeanine Tesori’s Violet.

In mid-March, Creel plans to give Washingtonians a sneak peek of Walk on Through with “an unplugged version” on March 13 in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. The one-night-only performance is expected to fall toward the end of a month-long run of Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical Into The Woods, direct from its recent Broadway run. Creel does double duty as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince.

“I love getting to play two energetically different and physically different characters,” says Creel. “It’s fun to stretch in two different directions. They’re both voracious in their ambition and their need.

“The neat thing about this show,” he continues, “is, since we have the orchestra on stage with us, it really showcases the music front and center, it really showcases the lyrics front and center. So you’re listening to the story in a way that a lot of people find really refreshing.”

So many people found this Into The Woods refreshing last year, it remained a largely sold-out sensation even after multiple extensions of its original run on Broadway. The show closed just a month ago. After preview performances in Buffalo, the production kicks off a series of “limited engagements” across the country, starting with the Kennedy Center.

“What we’re doing with Into the Woods is kind of not to be believed,” Creel says. For starters, most of the closing night cast on Broadway signed on to continue with the show, making it feel as much like an extension as a new tour. Several, including Creel, can be heard on the production’s cast recording, which earlier this month won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

Joining Creel to lead the cast is Montego Glover as The Witch, real husband-and-wife duo Sebastian Arcelus and Stephanie Block as the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, and Diane Phelan as Cinderella. The cast also includes several performers regularly seen on D.C.stages, including Helen Hayes Award Winners Rayanne Gonzales as Jack’s Mother, and Felicia Curry as The Giant’s Wife, plus “the legendary” Nancy Opel as Cinderella’s Stepmother.

“I’m so proud to be in this show,” Creel says. “And to get to come back to the Kennedy Center. I love D.C., and I’m so excited to be back there.”

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

METRO WEEKLY: Let’s journey deeper Into The Woods and this national tour. It materialized seemingly overnight, without the typical fanfare and publicity starting months in advance.

GAVIN CREEL: This whole production has been a surprise and a gift. Originally, I was called by Lear deBessonet, our director, to see if I wanted to play the Prince and the Wolf in a two-week concert last May at the City Center in New York. I was like, “Oh, sure.”

Our lives had been decimated by the pandemic, and no one had health insurance in our industry because you have to work to get weeks. And no matter how lucky or successful my career has been, we were all just leveled. It was a terrible, terrible time. And I said yes to doing a two-week concert because, I thought, well, it’ll be a couple weeks of rehearsal and a couple weeks of shows, that’ll be four weeks. I just need 16 more and then I can have health insurance.

Then, while we were doing the show, it just felt really special. We could tell it was something like lightning in a bottle. I’ll never forget, I was backstage in my dressing room next to Rob Berman, our music director, and I said, “Rob, they’d be fools not to try to run this thing on Broadway somewhere.” And he said, “Put a pin in that, because I think there may be a conversation coming.”

First, it was a transfer to Broadway for two months starting in late June of 2022. And then we extended even more into the fall. Then I said to him, “It should run till Christmas.” And then that happened, and we got new cast members and new people to join. Somewhere along the line, I said to my agent, “You watch, they’re going to try to take this on tour.”

It’s not really a tour as much as it is a Broadway transfer to some major cities around the country. I don’t know that this has really been done since the ’30s or ’40s, where a Broadway company would pick up stakes and just go. Almost 95 percent of the touring cast was on Broadway when we closed. So, it’s just thrilling.

MW: Does this mean you have health insurance now?

CREEL: Yes, thank God. Thank you, Into the Woods.

It’s something I don’t think people realize. Whenever I teach, I always go, “This person you think you know named Gavin Creel, I have no idea who he is.” Inside my body, I know who that guy is — and he’s not the person that people may see and think, “Oh, he’s won an award or he’s had a successful career, now in his forties, and has been on Broadway a bunch of times. He must be set.”

And I am one of the most fortunate people I know — I have such privilege and good fortune. But as actors, it’s feast or famine. Even the most successful movie star still has to get somebody to cast them — unless you’re producing stuff on your own, and even then it’s trying to get people to invest. But with health insurance — just the right to live, just the right to breathe and stay healthy — it’s crazy that we haven’t figured out how to make that something that nobody who lives in this country should have to ever worry about. And yet, we can’t agree on that.

I’m so grateful for what the pandemic has taught and continues to teach me. And frankly humbled that I got over myself, of being like, “I don’t know if I want to do a two-week concert, da, da, da.” Thank God I said, “Yes.” Thank God Lear called me.

Into the Woods: Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Into the Woods: Gavin Creel as the Wolf.

MW: I think the general assumption is something like, “He was offered a role in Into the Woods — of course he’s going to take it.” Yet the reality is, as you noted, it was only originally scheduled for a limited two-week run — and it also came during a time that you had purposefully set aside to work on your own developing theater project.

CREEL: Yes, exactly. I’ve been saying “No” to a lot of projects so that I can make space for the show I’m writing. And that’s hard to do, also because you don’t want to look ungrateful. But I’ve worked in the business for 25 years, I want to pick projects that I’m stimulated by now. It’s sort of a luxury that I’m trying to afford for myself.

The one that I’m most stimulated by right now, and the one story that I want to tell, is the one I’m writing, Walk on Through. We’re working really hard on it. I’ve got an incredible creative team and producers, and did a big industry presentation in December after we were lucky enough to get into the [O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference] this past summer and do a presentation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

MW: How did it come about?

CREEL: I walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a guest of the MetLiveArt series. And they said, “When you come up with an idea, tell us and we’ll help you produce a show, like a one-night-only concert of whatever you find.” I was supposed to do it before the pandemic. Obviously the pandemic happened, and I was without a job, without an industry, not sure honestly, if we were ever going to get back in theaters again. Because at the height of it, we were like, “Will people ever want to sit in a room together?” It was horrible, and extremely isolating and painful in a way that I never have experienced in life.

The whole project took a different turn because it was an examination of art, loss, loneliness, life, and love. And it’s just this piece that I’m so proud of. We’re in talks with some theaters to see if we can get a production going and just keep working, hustling, and making something. That’s what the piece is about — wanting to create something, to leave something with people, people’s minds and hearts.

It’s a theatrical concert. Or a concercal, that’s what I’ve been calling it. You could call it a musical, but it lives in the concert realm. It has an arc. Basically it starts with me standing on stage, sort of staring at the front of the museum going, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, but something’s off.” It’s like a midlife crisis. I was going through a really, really bad time in my life, and then the pandemic hit and made me examine who I am in this world without the thing that I love the most, performing. And not feeling like I belonged in the place where this piece is set, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, having never been there before. Yet I’m an artist. “I feel like I should know more about fine art. I’m an actor, I’ve been in the business for 20 years. How have I never been to this building?” And feeling like a dummy about that.

The more I thought about it, the more I just realized, that’s how I feel in the world at this point in my life. Like I said earlier, I had this identity, and this wonderful career that’s given me so much, and this life, but I’m sort of standing and looking at it all from the outside, going, “Who am I? And what do I want? And what do I want to leave [as a legacy]? And why am I pained?” And I just sat in my house and explored all this different art. I was going to the museum for a year before the pandemic, just visiting, taking notes, looking at things, taking pictures, going home, thinking about them, reading about them on the Met website, studying different artists and pieces, and talking to brilliant curators at the museum, learning.

And then everything shut down. And thank God for this piece because everything else left — like everything. I was just alone in my house for a year. And I had this project to sit at my piano. A lot of the time I couldn’t write, I was just in grief and felt like I was going insane. I just kept sitting down and kept trying to look at the paintings. How were they healing me? How were they speaking to me? How were they capturing my rage and my sadness, and my joy at times, my loss? And what was amazing is I sort of refound myself through this project in a new way.

Into the Woods: Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Into the Woods: Gavin Creel as Cinderella’s Prince

MW: Is this anything like the edgy and wry art criticism lectures disguised as stand-up comedy that Hannah Gadsby, the lesbian Australian comedian and cultural commentator, has become famous for?

CREEL: She’s a brilliant comedian, and I like to think that I’m pretty funny at times, but it’s less standup. It is sort of a reclamation of self in front of an audience in that same way. I would just say mine has a lot more singing than hers does.

And we’ve got a killer six-piece band plus me and two amazing singers. And an amazing projection design [by] David Bengali. We just have an incredible team. And we’ve been talking to theaters to try to find a path forward.

MW: Are these all new and original compositions we’re talking about? And what style of music would you say it is — more show tunes and Broadway?

CREEL: They’re all original and all new to the world.

I wouldn’t say show tunes in the classic sense, but it’s definitely musical theater, because each song tells a story, whether it’s a story of a moment in my life, or it’s a story of a person in a painting, or a story of an artist. They’re like little mini-musicals all lined up in an hour and 40 minutes.

But also, I’m a pop head. I love pop music. I still listen to pop radio and the top pop hits on Apple Music. I love listening to what people are making and what sounds are showing up. So I write in the pop idiom, using the pop form, as I try to write theater songs, because that’s what excites me. And I would say, we’ve got some bangers in there. We’ve got some real bops.

And I try to make sure it lives and speaks in a musical vernacular that is honest and authentic to me. And the truth is, I was the Top 40 radio kid. I loved listening to the Top 40 [countdowns] every Sunday, and I was obsessed with Whitney Houston, and George Michael, and Madonna, and Prince, and Michael Jackson growing up. That was my first love. And then I found theater in high school and college. [But even now] I don’t listen to a lot of musicals. I listen to pop music.

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

MW: You touch on that in a succinct yet specific way with your 2012 single “Whitney Houston,” included on your fantastic second album Get Out. Which, I’d like to point out, I gave 4.5 out of 5 stars in my published review, back when I was Metro Weekly‘s music critic.

CREEL: Oh my God, thank you so much! And I love that song, I’m so proud of it. There are nine song titles buried as Easter Eggs in that song. I always ask people, “Can you find them all?” And no one’s been able to find all nine yet.

MW: What’s interesting is that Spotify has the lyrics.

CREEL: It does?

MW: Yeah, it’s through the service MusicMatch, so I don’t know how accurate they are.

CREEL: Hmm, that’s cool. But I wonder. It’s probably not right.

MW: I do love the way you weave those song titles into your lyrics, often singing them by hitting the same notes as she does in the original, or close enough to conjure her originals.

CREEL: Yeah, there are, I think, three that I tried to stick pretty close to the melody, but I didn’t want to get arrested or sued. [Sings.] “I get so emotional baby, but I….” That one and, “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody.” “How will I know.”

Something else about “Whitney Houston.” I wrote that song at the time when Tyler Clementi had died by suicide after being bullied, as part of the It Gets Better campaign that Dan Savage and Terry Miller started. To me, It Gets Better had reached this peak, a saturation point, with a lot of morose music being written. I was like, “I know this is helping a lot of people who are feeling a lot of feelings, but I want to write a bop” — that was my response to It Gets Better.

I felt this need to respond with a song that wasn’t going to be, “Chin up, kid.” I wanted it to be like, “Hey you little queer in your room, like me when I was growing up, Come on, let’s fucking dance. Get in front of that mirror with a hairbrush, and make your own kind of music.” [Sings.] “I got my own kind of music, the right kind of music, and it’s getting me through. I got the right kind of music with you.”

I wanted to go back into my past, to the little kid who was called a freak for liking Whitney Houston, who was called all kinds of different names. I wanted to reach back and dance with him. I had a whole video I wanted to make. I still want to make the video, where there’ll be a young kid, and I’m wearing the same exact outfit as him, but I sort of sit on his dresser while he’s getting made fun of, and I dance with him every chorus. And then we end up in Times Square, and we’re in a flash mob of people who are all dancing with him. I just wanted to rescue myself from my own pain of what happened with a song that was a bop rather than a cry on your pillow.

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

MW: Let’s talk about your upbringing and the struggles you faced as a young Whitney Houston-loving budding queer.

CREEL: I grew up in Ohio. I was raised with two older sisters and my two loving parents — very white, Republican, religious, trying to be a very good American family, but extremely sheltered — that’s the understatement of the world. It’s like the poison of normality. Now as an adult, I’m still trying to pull apart the parts of that that were really painful and really beautiful, both things. I had what I thought was a pretty good upbringing, and then I found solace and expression in theater, first starting in high school, and then deciding I was going to major in musical theater, which felt like the biggest crapshoot in the world.

For the longest time, and maybe a little still, I had huge imposter syndrome, and a “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of feel [about myself]. But I guess maybe I only really combat that thinking by just living longer, and just doing it. Just keep going.

I have a meditation practice that I found and started three years ago. I could not exist without it. A writing practice and an exercise practice, just little tiny things that make me feel like I’m doing work on myself, for myself, by myself. But also just getting rid of toxicity, trying to get rid of bad relationships, jobs, and performing a life that isn’t authentically me.

I’m now reading Alan Downs’s The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. I tried to read that ten years ago, and it made me angry — because I was not emotionally ready for it. I’m reading it now, and it’s challenging stuff, but it feels like an autobiography in a lot of ways. How I underestimated the cost of growing up gay when you’re born in 1976, the pain of that, and thinking you lived a pretty normal, privileged life — which I have. The gay community has grown so much, so fast, and I’m so happy for the progress, but I still hold the scars of being born in 1976 — and also the privilege of being born in 1976.

If I’d been born earlier, would I still be alive? I don’t know. The tragedy of the generations before us that I could never fully understand, I got a glimpse of it with COVID, thinking, “My God, if this was AIDS, how did people…?” I mean, I can see it now. It still devastates people now and they have to live in a world where people ask, “Are we still collecting money for AIDS? Are we really still talking about AIDS?” How fucking naive, and insulting, too.

I’m proud of the work that I’ve been a part of with Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS, I sit on the board of trustees. We just had a meeting this morning. I’m so proud of the millions of dollars they continue to give to AIDS-related causes. They’ve expanded to help all different comorbidities, and people dealing with food insecurity, and just loneliness, and lack of socialization and illnesses. I’m proud of that work. I stand by that organization almost more than I stand by what I do for a living.

I’m proud of the work we did for marriage equality with Broadway Impact, my friends Jenny Kanelos and Rory O’Malley and I. We tried to mobilize the musical theater community around doing work that could help bring awareness and reduce stigma and demand action. I don’t lead all these things, I’m just a part of them. But it helps me sleep a little better at night. Even if, the older I get, the more I have to pee during the night. It’s so annoying! [Laughs.] I don’t even drink that much water before bed.

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

MW: You’ve definitely made your mark on Broadway, and as a passionate and vocal LGBTQ performer and progressive activist. Especially considering the increasingly conservative drift of your home state over the past decade or two, does it feel like a different place now than it did growing up?

CREEL: I like my hometown, but it’s not me. That’s just where I grew up. I also just think we’re better when we’re surrounded by people who don’t all look like us. I’m a better, more empathetic, more thoughtful person when I have to consider different ages, different races, different gender identities, different orientations, different religions, different beliefs — all this stuff.

And that’s why it’s no coincidence all the major cities are blue, because you realize, “Oh, you can’t just think about yourself because we’re all on top of each other.” We all have to consider the fact that when I get on the subway, there’s every demographic known to man, and we’re all going somewhere. So to say, “You can’t get on this subway car,” no one would ever say that. You wouldn’t.

And anybody who lives in a deep red area, they don’t live near as many people, so they don’t have to ask these questions. I don’t begrudge them, but when you’re not faced with those kinds of differences, I can understand how you harbor some fear or some ignorance. And I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. I mean, I didn’t know any gay people growing up in Findlay, Ohio, let alone did I know that I was gay. I knew one Jewish family and I wasn’t even friends with them. That’s not okay! I had a Black friend in second grade. I had Asian friends and Latino friends, but I’m like, there needed to be more diversity. And I need to test myself. I need to look at my friend group now, and the people I’m meeting, and learning from.

I just think we’re better if we’re not just talking to Methodists. That’s my biggest frustration with organized religion, and especially Christianity, where there’s only one true way. I just think that’s so myopic and frankly, unworldly. And just the hubris of that. There are people on this planet who don’t dig or don’t follow Jesus Christ.

Find the religion that works for you, that makes you as open, as loving, as empathetic, as accepting as possible. That should be the goal. It’s not, “You should be a Christian.” It’s like, “Which one of these will make you the best possible global citizen? The person who’s thinking about people of all walks of life?”

MW: Do you identify these days with any particular religion or religious point of view?

CREEL: Nothing organized. I’m spiritual, yes. I’m really looking into understanding and practicing more meditation. Thanks to my pal Sarah Bareilles, she exposed me to Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier app.

I’m just entertaining different belief systems — Tibetan monks and Hinduism. I love the idea of “What are the common themes of all religions?” In college, when I took a religion class — and I studied Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — the Jewish prayer of the Shema was the shared theme. It’s the golden rule, and believe in something greater than yourself. And do unto others as you would have done unto you.

What’s beautiful about theater, and especially musical theater, because music is so emotional — being in a room with two-thousand-plus people in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center, we don’t know who all is there. We don’t know how they identify. We don’t know what they worship, or even know their belief system, or race, or ethnicity, whatever.

But we all agree in story, community, communion. We all sit together and take in someone’s tales. And in this case, what’s so effective about Into the Woods is this thing that is part of all of our DNA: fairytales. These things we tell of the Big Bad Wolf and Cinderella. We all know these stories, so much so that we teach life lessons based on their foibles. We entertain young kids by telling them to beware of vanity, and beware of hubris, and beware of greed, all these things. Or be compassionate and don’t be a wicked stepsister, and treat somebody who has less than you with respect, because otherwise it’ll come around in the end and your toe or your heel will get cut off.

So with Into The Woods, we get to bypass all of these deep conversations that we’re having in this beautiful interview and we get to go, “Let’s just talk about the princes. Let’s just talk about the Baker and the Baker’s Wife and what they want. They want a kid, they want a family. What do they need to get it? They talk to the Witch next door, and she tells them this insane potion. And the reason she wants the potion is she wants justice for herself.

But then ol’ Jackie boy with his beanstalk, all he wants is to get out of poverty, so he goes and steals, but look at the consequences of stealing. Now we’ve got this demon in the world. But it’s not actually a demon, it’s just looking for justice because Jack killed her husband. And it’s just this beautiful twisting, complicated story that we all know deeply.

MW: Another question for you relates to something I read noting that you had back surgery a few years ago. What happened that required surgery, and how’s your back and physical health these days?

CREEL: I had a bad herniated disc that I tried to work through while I was doing Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. I think I aggravated it by opening a steel trap. I came out of the floor and there was a steel door, and I opened it every night over and over, eight times a week, multiple times during the show. I think I just injured it over the course of my career. And I had such crazy pain that by the end of the show’s run, I had to go in and have a microdiscectomy, where they took out a little bit that was pressing against my sciatic nerve. And thank God for Dr. Cammisa and the team at the Hospital of Special Surgery.

I still have to be careful, and engage my core in different ways, and there’s just certain things I can’t do anymore. But also, I’m heading towards 50, so there’s certain things I should probably just cross off the list and not bemoan. It’s like, yeah, you get older. The machine’s not supposed to work like it did when you were 20. So I’m trying to be kind to myself and say nice things and go, “Hey body, you’ve been doing a great job, and I’m going to try to listen to you and be nice to you.” But I mean, I’m still jumping around the stage. I’m a total idiot in Into the Woods. It’s pretty funny.

MW: Well, but back to the topic of health insurance, what’s the status of that for you?

CREEL: Well, health insurance, for me, yeah. I do, thank God. Health insurance, when you’re an equity member, you have to work, I think, 16 to 20 weeks a year to get six months of health insurance.

Gavin Creel -- Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Gavin Creel — Photo: Matthew Murphy

MW: I guess that means you can’t take a sabbatical, or you can’t take a year off.

CREEL: I mean, if you work [twice] that many weeks, then you get a full year. So there are times when you can wait for gigs that you really want to do, but the truth is, you have to keep working.

And that’s, again, opportunity and privilege and a blessing. There are a lot of people in our industry who do not have health insurance because they don’t work enough weeks a year. The work is sporadic, it’s hard to get. It took forever to come back from the pandemic, and in a lot of ways, it’s still not fully back. Shows aren’t succeeding the way that they used to pre-pandemic.

And the risk is so big. We have to rethink the model, in my opinion, of how much things cost, of what we think audiences expect and need from a Broadway show, as opposed to what it costs to make. That’s another conversation for another day. But I’m very grateful for Into the Woods because I don’t fear for, God forbid, another back surgery. Or a time where I have to be out because I have an injury. I feel very, very fortunate, knock wood.

MW: What do you hope for your future? What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

CREEL: I’m excited about other new work as well. I’d like to be a part of projects that push the boundaries of what we expect from a musical and what we expect from going to the theater. I don’t mean necessarily provocatively, just, what does it mean for an audience to sit for an hour and a half, two hours — and does it have to follow the same template that it’s always followed? If it doesn’t have to, then we’re going to be able to welcome in really cool new, interesting projects, and we can grow an audience that doesn’t wait for a crashing chandelier, or a flying witch, or a helicopter on stage — just big, crazy $20 million productions, with LED screens and a cast of 1,000. I just think there are a lot more interesting stories, that if they’re done in a more producible way, we can get more people to come see stuff. We can grow an audience that doesn’t need sameness over and over again.

To answer your question simply, I want to do more teaching. And in that teaching, I want to do more writing. I want to be able to work with college students who want to be in musical theater and show them a path that they will hopefully grow, 20 years from now, when they’re 46.

They can say, “We’re doing a lot more explorative song cycles” — like I’m doing. Or, “We’re doing a lot more performance art.” I just think there’s so much more interesting things out there. If we just hang out with the same people, doing the same things, we just aren’t that interesting. And I want an interesting life. I want to be surrounded by people who are beautiful, and different, and interesting.

Into The Woods runs Thursday, Feb. 23, to Sunday, March 19 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $45 to $179. Visit or call 202-467-4600.

To learn more about on Walk on Through, visit

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