In Conversation with the Stars of Drowsy: Andi Denny — Curtain Down
If you’ve ever seen a GMT show, chances are you’ve seen Andi Denny among the faces onstage. Appearing in 15 of our 18 main shows—not to mention concerts, festival sets, flashmobs and the Pride Main Stage—Andi has gone from supporting player and ensemble member, to romantic lead and back again. With the company he loves coming to an end, we check in with him for a special extended look at his final role, playing the goofy Robert Martin in The Drowsy Chaperone, and why it's the perfect end.
So give us some stats:
Andi: I'm John Andrew "Andi" Joseph Confirmation-name-doesn't-really-count Denny, I'm 22 years old, and I'm from Chicago. I'm also a compulsive liar who sucks at Geography.
And what do you do when you're not lying or performing?
Andi: My mum has spent the better part of 30 years telling me those are the same thing, so she'll really enjoy that question. These days I'm basically a project manager for a graphic design agency and loving it. I'm also single, boys, so if this interview doesn't put you off, I like gaming, comics, dancing, Drag Race, pizza, my inappropriately hilarious family, and watching the West Wing another dozen times in my life.
You've had quite a thorough history with GMT...
Andi: Jeez, yeah. Drowsy will be GMT show number 15 for me, and 18 if you include the concerts, I think. Since it's all ending, I get to take away the completely shameful record for shows as a performer, which says a lot about my lack of a life but also how much this company has meant to me over the last 8 years. I don't think anyone expected me to hang about this long. Or wanted me to.
But here you are at the end.
Andi: Where else would I be, really? (Laughs.) I mean, in terms of general involvement, Nicky Coffield walks away with it, but if you've only ever seen one GMT show there's a 5/6 chance I was on that stage looking out at you, and that's a pretty ridiculous honour I can take away with me. You were all awesome audiences, by the way.
So coming back to do The Drowsy Chaperone was a no-brainer?
Andi: Yeah, I guess. I've loved the show for a few years now (but in that YouTube/Spotify, never-actually-seen-it kind of way), so I was super keen off the bat. But yeah, once we got the sense a few months ago that Drowsy would be the final GMT show, it didn't feel like there was much of a choice anymore.
It's funny, because a lot of people have said over the years that they first auditioned for us because they saw a GMT show and loved it. The first GMT show I ever saw from the audience was Sweeney Todd in January just gone, and if I wasn't already sold on coming back, that would've done it. It was tremendous. The jealousy was real.
So tell us a bit about your character in the show?
Andi: I'm playing 1920s matinee idol Percy Hyman, playing 1920s romantic lead and oil magnate, Robert Martin. Robert's a big, goofy, gullible, loveable, All-American dumbass with a stupid voice and no balance. He's giving you a bit of Troy McClure, a bit of Zapp Brannigan, a bit of Kim Catrall. Very superhero-in-an-old-radio-play. Utter buffoon.
Percy, on the other hand, is described as dashing and a 'wonderful performer', so they obviously didn't have enough other men at the auditions (pause for sympathy). One of the only things I had to go on was that Percy used to be the face of a cocaine-laced toothpaste brand, so I've been hitting the Crest strips like crazy. I eventually decided not to go method on the cocaine.
What’s your favourite GMT memory?
Andi: I honestly can’t answer that, and that’s the biggest compliment I could give the last eight years. Right now is my favourite time. I love who we all are right this second, as performers and friends. That sounds really sappy.
Is it true?
Andi: It is. You know when you’re sitting in a room thinking ‘I wonder what really nice things that bitch will say at my funeral in 40 years when I die having a strop about having to dance up the back’? Very that.
And what about shows? Do you have favourites?
Andi: There are a few shows I still can’t watch other people perform because I loved doing them so much. A Chorus Line is definitely up there as one of the best things we’ve ever done, so it’s lucky no one really touches it. Not so lucky with Into the Woods and Sunshine on Leith, but that’s because everyone loves performing them so much. My proudest moment was definitely in On the Town, though. It was an entirely different vocal style than people were used to from me, and when dad told me afterwards that it made him cry, that was it.
Andi: Sell your Playstation.
Will performing this show match up to that?
Andi: You know, it might. There's a long list of things to love about getting in front of an audience six times, wearing silly outfits and showing off. I'm really, really looking forward to people who know zero about the show watching it, loving it, and getting that it's not just been marketing spin when I've said over and over "this is hands-down the funniest shit we've ever done". The source material really deserves to be better-known, so I hope we've done it justice. It feels like we have. But if dad cries this time, it's more likely that I've fallen and died during the blindfolded rollerskating scene.
Obviously this company has been a big part of your life for the last few years. What does it all ending mean to you?
Andi: I want to say I feel really sad about it, in that sweet way I'm probably supposed to.
But you don't?
Andi: It's a tough one. I don't think 'sweet' or 'sad' have ever been things GMT's made me feel. I've had what can generously be called a complicated relationship with it over the years. 'Unhealthy' at points, probably. A lot of us have loved it and been dedicated to it, and like any intense relationship, we've taken cues on who we are and what our personal value is from it. We all had to do a lot of growing up with GMT, as people as well as in a performance sense, and that process can be super rewarding, but it's also long and painful. You know the way you probably wouldn't want to go back and do high school all over again?
So you were prepared for the end?
Andi: The writing was on the wall for a while for me, yeah. The truth is that when theatres and organisations start to sell out community art for the sake of making more and more money, not everyone is going to have the wherewithal to fight it or work within that landscape. There's hardly anywhere in the city now that companies like GMT can go to perform, unless they've got generations of supporters, £70 membership fees and 50 people onstage at a time. We haven't evolved in that direction. It's not a diss, it was just never us. Fighting that tide isn't for everyone, and those of us who are up for the fight will take what we learned here and build again.
So will there be another chapter?
Andi: There always is, isn't there? Just because JK Rowling says she's done doesn't mean we're not getting three more books, a play, and an iOS game. And in the meantime, it still happened. There's no getting away from it. GMT will always have happened, and the really important stuff — the people, the talent and the passion — all come with us to the next stage. So what is there to be sad about?
Then why is The Drowsy Chaperone the best note to end on, do you think?
Andi: Well this is like an All Stars season. There's no way you don't recognise at least half the faces in this, but whether you recognise the level we're at now is something else. A lot of the cast came back either with something to prove or some final limelight to steal, some personal landmarks to see out, and I've never seen a show that really begs its cast to chew this much scenery.
Who comes out on top of all that?
Andi: Everyone is at the top of their game. For example, a part like Janet has to be an unquestionable triple-threat, and that's always been in Ciadhra's sights. She's taking the skill level she's built up as a self-started professional, worked harder than anyone over the years to become an absolutely stunning performer, and now she's translating that confidence and skill back over to GMT. Even on a smaller scale, there are some real personal achievements here. Like, I've personally put a high priority on dance over the years but steered totally clear of tap (my nemesis), but here Ewan and I are, wings, balls, heels, the whole lot.
And what about the show itself? What is it about Drowsy that makes it the perfect last show?
Andi: Well, it's really love letter to musical theatre, but it's also a corrective one. That doesn't sound all that fun for a farce, but I promise, it gives the show so much depth. For example, it's not quiet about the rampant racism in old-school musicals, or the casual ignorance in how we approach performing musical theatre now. GMT's not immune to that - we've not always gotten it right and have, more than once, gotten it crazy wrong. Musical theatre seems to be one of the last places where we let ourselves off with that stuff, but Drowsy doesn't, and it doesn't just talk about it.
It shows it to you.
Andi: It really does. It gives you the uncomfortable laugh, and really leans into it. There are parts of the show that many of us felt awkward performing, and I feel like that really hammers it home. Addressing these things right now, in this cultural and social moment, is tiny on the grand scale, but it's something. It's not just race, either. It's not easy to find an LGBTQ lead character (or supporting character) in quality musical theatre either, let alone one who's respectfully written or performed - but there he is, the star of the final GMT show. As a queer performer, it's nice to see that visibility, even if it's by no means inclusive of the rest of the community. There's a lot to do.
Is that what comes next?
Andi: I hope so. So the show's really doing what a lot of us are as GMT ends: looking back, to figure out what 'forward' should look like and how we get there properly. Rather than just... stumbling along...
Glasgow Music Theatre’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE runs from 8th-12th May 2018, at the Brian Cox Studio Theatre @ SYT, Glasgow. Tickets £15, available from http://www.glasgowmusictheatre.co.uk/box-office-information.