You don’t have to wait until September to watch some of Broadway’s biggest stars perform. This summer, Calissa in Water Mill will host Broadway Out East – featuring an all-star lineup that includes Tituss Burgess, Clay Aiken, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry and more.
Produced by Justin Smith, Concertmaster of Dear Evan Hansen, the series will launch on Thursday, July 8 and run through Thursday, September 2.
We caught up with Smith about the series’ stars, return of Broadway and Dear Evan Hansen and much more.
How did Broadway Out East come to be?
JS: Like all performing artists, my career was thrust into an instant ice age with the closure of Broadway and every other performance venue in the world due to COVID-19. But the fire to perform never goes out, and James Mallios stepped into the breach to offer me a lifeline.
James is managing partner of Civetta Hospitality, the wonderful owners of Calissa in Water Mill. But more, he has become a close friend. We met though our daughters, who are classmates in the city. Next year, our sons will go to kindergarten together and our wives are as thick as thieves. So it has become a family affair between us, a bond far beyond business alone. It is in this context that James invited me to form a band of my Broadway friends to start performing weekly at Calissa last summer.
From the first note we played, I saw the potential for more than mere dinner music in the outdoor space at Calissa. Elegantly designed and amply spaced under the East End stars, I could see that we could build something better than great, and strike a blow against the isolation and sadness of the pandemic using the power of songs sung by the brightest stars on Broadway.
James and his enterprising partners came to share this vision, and they have shown the courage and gumption to make it a reality. Imagine the headwinds that even the finest restaurants have faced over the course of the pandemic. Now imagine having the wherewithal to take on an endeavor of the complexity of Broadway Out East and build it up from scratch, from nothing but an idea. I commend them for their bravery and sheer force of will. I believe in my heart that their reward will come in the form of ecstatic full houses and beautiful memories made every Thursday night at Calissa this summer.
What can audiences expect from the series?
JS: Broadway Out East will bring some of the brightest stars in the American theater scene to Calissa. All of our artists have won or been nominated for major awards in theater, television and music. All of our artists have tread the boards on Broadway to critical acclaim and public renown. They have labored their whole lives to reach the artistic heights that make this so, and as they emerge from the pandemic pause, they will bring performances to the Calissa stage that are packed with sheer power, startling beauty and yes, true love. We cannot wait for our patrons to experience this for themselves this summer!
Tell us about the featured performers.
JS: We open our series on July 8th with Joshua Henry, a 3X Tony nominee who will be starring in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, Tick, Tick…Boom! produced by Netflix/Imagine Entertainment this fall.
Clay Aiken, recording artist and legendary star of American Idol, takes the Calissa stage on July 15th. Anyone who has been to one of Clay’s solo shows knows the special power he exudes. He will lift your spirits with his songs and stories, and it is rare to experience a concert of his in such an intimate setting.
Elizabeth Stanley, star of Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill, is our star on July 22nd. She has already collected a Grammy Award for her performance on the cast album, and she is currently Tony nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her songbook is as diverse as her first class Broadway credits… we expect her performance to run the gamut!
July 29th brings Jessica Vosk to the Broadway Out East stage. A fast-rising star in the concert world, she just announced her Carnegie Hall debut concert. She will also play a solo show at Cadogan Hall in London next spring. Besides being a powerhouse vocalist known, especially for her star turn in Wicked, Jessica is hilarious. She brings the house down with infectious energy and a super true voice everywhere she goes.
We welcome Lilli Cooper on August 5th. Broadway fans remember her debut as the original Martha in Spring Awakening, which led to a famous stint in Wicked, which led to a starring role in Spongebob Squarepants… I can tell you this: my 7-year-old daughter is counting the minutes until Lilli takes our stage! Most recently, she received her first Tony nomination for her starring role in Tootsie.
2X Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon joins us on August 12th. Broadway fans no doubt remember his visceral performance as Judas in NBC’s live Jesus Christ Superstar – where he famously starred opposite John Legend. On Broadway, he has been the star of Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Motown: The Musical and The Color Purple, just to name a few…
August 19th brings Broadway’s super couple, Orfeh and Andy Karl, to Calissa. They are known for their incredible and award-winning individual roles, but their work as a couple really sets them apart. They met as cast mates of Saturday Night Fever, where they fell in love. They went on to star in Legally Blonde and most recently, Pretty Woman. Their rapport on the stage is very special and not to be missed.
Stay tuned for August 26th… we will be making a very exciting announcement on that date in the coming days!
We close our series on September 2nd with none other than 5X Emmy nominee Tituss Burgess, who delighted TV fans worldwide in his famous roles on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock. Tituss has a voice that can shake mountains… I know this from personal experience on the stage with him. He will bring the house down and ring in the end of summer in style!
How did you decide which stars to welcome?
JS: Part of this lineup is autobiographical for me. I had the tremendous fortune of being violinist for Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys back in 2010. Brandon was our star Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre just before his star turn in Motown, and Joshua took over when we transferred to Broadway, which marked his first Tony nomination. Joshua was also Tony nominated in 2014 for Violet, and I was lucky enough to be in that Broadway band too!
My favorite story is about Tituss. Years ago, before either of us had made our Broadway debuts, he was starring as a professional soloist in a gospel choir at a major midtown church. I had a part time job there as an administrative assistant, and the choir director knew I was an aspiring violinist. He invited me to play a duet with Tituss in his concert, but neither of us could make the same rehearsal. So he rolled the dice and let our first time through the tune be in the concert itself, and we brought the house down! Well…. Tituss did. Perhaps I helped! In the midst of the rapturous applause, Tituss turned to me and said I better not dare leave before giving him my number. We’ve worked together at various points ever since. Having Tituss close our series is a deep thing for me, a source of tremendous happiness!
I also reached out to my many Broadway music director friends, who have working relationships with some of our artists – including Clay, Lilli, Jessica and the Karls. They helped pave the way for us to successfully sign these amazing artists.
You serve as the Concertmaster of Dear Evan Hansen. What does that entail and why do you think that the production resonates so deeply with theater-goers?
JS: Concertmaster is a musical title derived from the symphony orchestra world, and is reserved for the lead first violinist of the orchestra. My title at Dear Evan Hansen is honorific – as I’m the only violinist, and means something more akin to team captain.
Dear Evan Hansen is a masterpiece of the art form. It starts with the book of the show, which features a character for every person and a complex and moving story that holds the attention of the audience from start to finish. The score is both modern and timeless, with lyrics that expand the story and teach us something new about the characters in every instance. And then there is Evan himself, a boy striving to find acceptance, meaning and his own place in his lonely teenage world. Evan’s visceral moments on stage and soaring moments in song dramatically express much of what we each feel inside ourselves. It is a beautiful tangle of family drama, and there is a way in to the deep core of the show for every person. I am so lucky to be a small part of telling this profound story!
Dear Evan Hansen is back on December 11th. What are you most looking forward to about the return to Broadway?
JS: I cannot wait for the everyday excitement of sold out performances and the buzz of the crowd on the block. I cannot wait to help tell the Dear Evan Hansen story, which has legitimately changed lives worldwide. I cannot wait to hear the glorious sounds of our world class cast and band, and to once again experience the thunderous applause of our wonderful audiences wash over me. As artists, we accept the uncertainty of our careers in pursuit of these elusive moments. It is worth every ounce of anxiety and more!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
JS: We cannot wait to unveil Broadway Out East for theater fans out east and beyond! What a thrill it will be to share this unbeatable lineup with our friends and patrons!
Tickets begin at $75.
Calissa is located at 1020 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For tickets, visit www.calissahamptons.com.