By Shari Lifland (@shariontheaisle)
Many people know and admire Will Nunziata as half of the popular singing duo “Will and Anthony”. The twin brothers, who have performed together since they were 12, continue to win over audiences around the country with their distinct take on classic songs—in venues ranging from theatres to symphonic concert halls.
While continuing to perform with Anthony, Will has turned to directing in recent years too, working with a wide variety of Tony-, Emmy-, and Grammy-winning composers and performers. Now, wih a break from a manic tour with Anthony, the New York native returns home as the creator and director of a new show, “Our Guy Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman,” starring three TONY Award-winning actresses: Randy Graff (TONY Award, “City of Angels”), Cady Huffman (TONY Award, “The Producers”), and Lillias White (TONY Award, “The Life”). Each of these talented leading ladies originated a role on Broadway in a Cy Coleman show. “Our Guy Cy” begins a 3-night engagement at the Broadway supper club 54 Below on May 15.
#COTA guest editor Shari Lifland spoke to Will Nunziata while he was in rehearsals for “Our Guy Cy” to learn more about the show.
Shari: What inspired you to create this show?
Will: When I was asked to put together a concert of Cy Coleman’s music, it just so happened that I had already worked with three Tony winners who had a Cy Coleman connection. I had met Lillias White during intermission at the opening night of a musical. I said to myself, “Will, this is the type of talent you want to work with to build a theatre or concert piece around.” We met the next day and it was a collaboration made in heaven. I created and directed her concert “The Lillias White Effect,” which received a rave review from The New York Times. I directed Randy Graff and Cady Huffman in a re-conception of Kander and Ebb’s “The Act.” When the opportunity to do this project came up, I remember wondering, “How did someone not do this yet? These are three TONY winners who have all worked with Cy Coleman, who have each originated a role in a Cy Coleman show on Broadway. It was a moment when I felt, “OK, universe, I get it. Thank you!”
Shari: How did you make the creative leap from performing to directing?
Will: I love my career as an entertainer with my brother and I’ll be doing it till the day I die. But ever since I was eight or nine years old, every time I would go to the theatre I’d be curious about the staging—why is that actor moving downstage right to sing a solo? Or, how does that set piece work with the music? I was always thinking about it. Then when I got to college I realized, “Oh, I guess that’s how a director views things.” So I directed a few shows while at school. Then once Anthony and my performing career got off and running and we’d built our brand (in the past year and a half), I decided to actively pursue directing opportunities.
Shari: Let’s talk about your performers in “Our Guy Cy.” It’s a pretty impressive group. Each of your ladies is a knock-out, TONY award-winning actress. Each has worked with Cy Coleman. And you’ve worked with each of them before.
Will: I’m a firm believer that 85-90% of a director’s job is the casting. These 3 women individually are fireworks, but together, they’re like the Macy’s fireworks spectacular on the 4th of July. Randy, Cady, and Lillias bring such gravitas to the table. Think about this: all three of them sat on a piano bench next to legendary composer Cy Coleman. These are women that Cy loved. He built his songs around their skill sets. I’m just so happy that they all said “yes!”
How did you choose the songs? Did you welcome input from the ladies?
Will: I’m a performer as well as a director, so I see things from both sides. Obviously, as the director of the show, I make the final decision. But as a performer, I understand the importance of collaboration. I really listen to what the performers tell me with an open mind. The best idea wins. These ladies are consummate actors and it’s important that each of them has an opportunity to showcase her talents. My job as director is to make sure they shine individually, as duos, and as a trio. In addition to my director and performer hats, I also have to put on my audience hat to make sure people hear the songs they want to hear from them. I think they’ll be blown away by some of the fresh new arrangements that our musical director Eugene Gwozdz has put together for the show. I’m also gratified that the show has received the blessing of Cy Coleman’s widow Shelby.
Shari: You’re no stranger to 54 Below: you and Anthony have performed there six times, most recently in January of this year. What’s so special about this venue?
Will: 54 Below is such an amazing venue. It was obviously built by theatre people. It was designed by a TONY Award-winning set designer; it has a TONY Award-winning light and sound designer. And TONY Award-winning producers run the place. It’s been a wonderful environment in which to work out my ideas. I’m very grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me.
Because we’ve performed there so often, for my brother and me, it’s kind of like our home base. Although we love being able to share our talents with symphony orchestras and in big venues all around the country, when we come home to New York, performing at 54 Below is like coming home to our own living room. All of our friends and family come out and we all just get together and celebrate. To be able to hone my skills as a director in this space has been really fantastic. (And yes, Anthony will be coming to the show!).
Shari: I won’t ask you to divulge any surprises that you have in store in the show, but are there any songs that you’re particularly excited about? Perhaps something we haven’t heard in a while that you’re bringing back?
Will: It’s funny that you ask that, because after every rehearsal I find myself leaving with a new favorite song. Listen, Coleman was a man who would not be limited. He was writing pop hits for Sinatra and was also comfortable jamming incognito in a bar with a trio. And he also wrote these classic standards and Broadway show tunes. I’m pretty excited about each song in the show.
What’s next on the horizon for Will Nunziata?
“Our Guy Cy” is set to tour the country and world in symphony halls and performing arts centers. I’ll also be directing a big New York City concert event with Lillias next year (but I can’t share the details yet!). And performing-wise, Anthony and I have lots of exciting concerts booked through 2016. You can keep up with the latest on our website www.willandanthony.com and my directing website, www.willnunziata.com
Shari: So, besides the songs and talent, any other critical elements you’re focused on to make this show special?
Will: Because I view this show as an event, in addition to sounding great, it’s also my job as director to make sure Randy, Cady, and Lillias feel and look terrific. So I want to give a big shout out to my friend, the very talented fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo. Thanks to him, the ladies aren’t just going to sound amazing—they’re going to look like a million bucks.
“Our Guy Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman” will play 54 Below on May 15, 16, and 20. For more information: www.54Below.com.