For Alex Brightman and Colin Donnell, two of the three stars of the new play The Shark Is Broken, acting on Broadway is nothing new. Brightman made his Broadway debut in 2008 in the musical Glory Days and has since appeared in five more Main Stem productions, earning Tony Award nominations for School of Rock and Beetlejuice. Donnell made his debut in 2007 as a replacement in the role of Nick Massi in Jersey Boys and has also starred in Anything Goes and Violet. However, all of their previous roles have been in musicals, making The Shark Is Broken their Main Stem straight play debuts.
In the upcoming episode of The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal, Paul Wontorek chats with Brightman and Donnell about the personal and professional significance of The Shark Is Broken.
“We don’t get the crutch of being able to sing and dance this time,” said Brightman. “We have to do the trapeze with no net. This is just scenes and us talking and connecting.”
Although transitioning from musicals to a play has brought some challenges, it has also created a sense of fulfillment for the duo. “It feels like we’re being let into a new club after 20 years in the business,” Donnell described.
The Shark Is Broken tells the story of the chaotic, maddening production process behind the iconic film Jaws. The play is written by Ian Shaw, son of Robert Shaw, who played Quint in the movie. Ian Shaw also stars onstage as his father, rendering an inside look into the psyches of the film’s lead actors. Although the story is somewhat fictionalized, this personal dynamic makes the narrative feel realistic for Brightman (who plays actor Richard Dreyfuss), Donnell (Roy Scheider) and the rest of the company.
“Our version is so special because Ian Shaw is writing about and playing his father,” said Donnell, “which adds this whole other layer to the piece that I think was so evident and clear. From the first read of it you just knew it was something special.”
The play is loosely based on a book called The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb, which similarly tells the behind-the-scenes story of the filming of Jaws. The script also draws from Robert Shaw’s “drinking diary,” which describes his struggles with alcohol during the Jaws shoot.
“I think it’s just very truthful to what it was, including Robert Shaw, which is an incredible feat to do that — to write candidly and gritty about your dad,” said Brightman.
In The Shark Is Broken, the problem facing Dreyfuss, Shaw and Scheider is that the mechanical shark, Bruce, is constantly, well, broken. Brightman and Donnell consider this a metaphor for everything else that was breaking down during filming. “What you’ll see is this spiral into madness, truly, that is represented by all of the things that were breaking down,” said Brightman. “So it’s not just a physical breaking down, it is a mental, emotional, spiritual breakdown of these three egos.”
Stepping into the shoes of these actors has proved to be a rewarding experience for Brightman and Donnell. It has helped them learn about themselves as artists and gain a deeper appreciation for their craft. “I never take things casually as an actor. I believe in hard work. I believe in dedication. I believe in obsessively doing extracurricular work in anything that I’ve ever done. And to see it reflected in these guys is very validating,” said Brightman. “I, in this play, feel more like an actor than I have ever felt in anything that I’ve ever done.”
Also in this episode of The Broadway Show, audiences hear from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child star Steve Haggard and Aladdin star Michael Maliakel. The episode also features interviews with Paloma Young, the Tony-nominated costume designer behind & Juliet, and the physical therapist for MJ.