Andy Mientus on Starring in London's The View UpStairs, Talking about Smash Every Day and Projects with Michael Arden

Andy Mientus on Starring in London's The View UpStairs, Talking about Smash Every Day and Projects with Michael Arden
Andy Mientus
(Photo: Darren Bell)

Andy Mientus has credits ranging from Spring Awakening and Les Miz to such TV series as Smash and Gone. But the Pittsburgh native can be found this summer within the intimate confines of London’s Soho Theatre, making his British stage debut in the local premiere of The View UpStairs, the Max Vernon musical seen off-Broadway at the Culture Project early in 2017. Mientus took time early one recent evening to chat to about finding himself among the singularly starry cast of an off-West End production that looks set to push this multi-hyphenate’s career ever forward.

How much did you know about The View UpStairs when the offer first came through?
I searched the title and saw that I had received emails about the New York and L.A. productions when they were happening, but I must not have been in town or something. I was aware of it and had friends in it as well and knew that it was announcing Max [Vernon, its creator] as a writer. But the timing had never worked out for me to see it, much less be a part of it.

Are you amazed at this point to be part of an unusually starry off-West End cast that includes such notable British names as Declan Bennett, Tyrone Huntley, John Partridge and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt?
I think our creative team just made a wish list and reached out and people said yes based on the piece, the timing, the place. Declan is a good friend of mine and Tyrone and I had met socially, but I didn’t find out the rest of the cast until everyone else did. I said yes, knowing that it was going to be in Soho in the summer and that I’d wanted to work [in London] my entire career: this felt like the absolute confluence of subject and writer and all of it.

What is your take on your character, Patrick, who was described in The New York Times review of the off-Broadway show as a “sensitive hustler”?
He’s a hustler by necessity. He’s sort of a drifter who has really set out on his own, and what he has to offer, really, is his youth and some level of being desirable, and so he hustles to get by. But what I love about him is that what I’ve just said doesn’t define him: there’s no song where he’s bemoaning his fate as a sex worker.

How does he view his life?
He just takes [hustling] as what he has to do and thinks of his life as being about adventure and seeing the world: he is a very sensitive soul but he’s also very funny and, yeah, I’m really kind of in love with him.

Are you moved by the historical amplitude to this story, as well? [The musical is based on an arson attack on a New Orleans gay bar in 1973 that killed 32.]
I was shocked at how few people knew about this incident, even among the community—it’s not a piece of history that is widely talked about. But as I get older and more secure in my politics and my identity, I’m interested in participating in queer theater and queer history. When queer stories are written by queer people, how exciting is that!

Max Vernon & Andy Mientus
(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kuser)

What are your thoughts on the show’s composer, Max Vernon?
Max knows how to write so as to advance the plot but also has a real talent for pop earworms in a way that I appreciate as a listener. The vibe of the show feels like a throwback to the queer theater-makers of the ‘90s—to the John Cameron Mitchells of the world. This is the kind of show I would like to see!

Is it nice on this occasion not to have to battle the legacy of what has gone before, as must inevitably have been the case with Les Miz?
You know, it does feel really good not to have the burden of other people’s expectations. That is a big difference! People come to Les Miz expecting something whether I give it to them or not, whereas on this show, they will have no preconception of what a character should look like or sound like or if I landed a joke the way their favorite whoever did, or not [laughs]. I love new work and have been involved in the development of lots of new pieces.

Where does this score sit on your vocal register?
This is much more suited to my natural instrument than Les Miz, more in terms of genre than range. I didn’t start training until my senior year in high school, and my voice has always been more suited to a folksier, “rockier” sound: the Spring Awakenings of the world are way more my wheelhouse. Folk is what I grew up with—the sort of laid-back Jeff Buckley vibe—so this is really well suited to what I can offer.

Are you surprised by the volume of familiar Broadway titles on offer in London, from Come From Away and Waitress through to The Bridges of Madison County and 9 to 5, to name but a few?
I mean, it’s funny: there’s nothing in the West End really right now that I haven’t seen at home, though I do want to see Six at some point. But this feels great when you think about how Rent flopped here and Spring Awakening had a very short run. There was a time when American theatrical properties were looked at with reluctance and skepticism.

Do you feel as if there has been a sea change?
I think there was a loyalty to British writers that has passed: British audiences are interested in quality, and wherever that comes from they are down for it.

Shifting from stage to TV, how do you look back on your career-advancing role as Kyle in Smash?
People talk to me about Smash every single day, and I’m aware that everyone wants the kind of security that a [TV show] like that provides. But at the same time I feel grateful that it didn’t go on and on and on and that spoiler alert!— my character wouldn’t have. I’ve gotten to do plays at the Mark Taper Forum and Les Miz on Broadway and create the Deaf West Spring Awakening and be in it, and now I’m here! [Smash] afforded me what I need to move to the next phase of things.

Are you continuing to write books?
My third one is coming out in October and I’m hoping to write a Young Adult novel that is more adult, more ambitious. My previous books have been for middle grades, so 10-14 year-olds: the October one will be the third in my Backstagers series.

Michael Arden & Andy Mientus
(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kuser)

As a multi-hyphenate yourself, how does it feel to be married to another multi-hyphenate, the actor-director Michael Arden, who just finished a Broadway acting gig in the Glenda Jackson King Lear?
I find myself attracted to people who are interested in all forms of expression. Before Michael and I started dating, I had never before seen an opera, or classical dance: he consumes so much art in so many different media so that as he gets older he can do a lot of different things that in turn excite and inspire me. He’s an example of how possible it is to be successful doing lots of different things, and who knows what else he is going to do?

Do you find yourselves dreaming of projects together?
All the time, and now sometimes we can make those things real. It’s like, “what if there were a production of this show done like this,” and Michael can send those emails and make it happen. It’s really an amazing time to be able to walk the walk and take ideas and make them into opportunities for other people. It feels like some big gate has opened and we’re able to walk through it.

As regards making things happen, might this current amalgam of talent at the Soho Theatre lead The View UpStairs back to New York?
Who can say? I’ve been very surprised by shows having further lives like our Spring Awakening revival: no one saw that coming! I try to just stay focused on the task at hand. What's so clear is that we all believe in what we're doing. It feels with this show as if we’re all moving in this beautiful bell curve upward to something that is going to be very special.