NEW YORK (AP) — For longtime Broadway actor Danny Burstein, the big challenge in preparing for his Metropolitan Opera debut has been "trying to find the funny."
Burstein will play the non-singing role of the drunken jailer Frosch in the Met's new production of Johann Strauss's operetta "Die Fledermaus," which opens on New Year's Eve and runs through Feb. 22.
Some might consider it an unenviable assignment. Frosch doesn't appear until Act 3 and then has to hold the stage alone while delivering a monologue. After the outpouring of effervescent melodies that filled Acts 1 and 2, the scene can quickly make the audience grow restless for the next tune.
"Obviously, they just came back from intermission, so here we go guys, the story continues and it's got to be really funny," Burstein said during a recent interview in his dressing room.
At the Met, there's a tradition of assigning the role to comedians and clowns, from Jack Gilford to Bill Irwin. In the most recent production, Frosch was often played by director/actor Otto Schenk, who included pantomime in the scene.
"People keep telling me there's all this pantomime that goes on forever with Frosch," Burstein said, "and it's funny at first, but then it starts to . ."
He said director Jeremy Sams and playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who crafted the new English-language libretto, "decided from the beginning to get rid of all that and just have me start talking to the audience and explain what the situation is."
Burstein said they even considered having Frosch not be drunk at all, but thought better of it. He recalled advice given to him several years ago by comic actress Georgia Engel when they played together in the Broadway musical 'The Drowsy Chaperone."
"She told me, 'You gotta find the funny,'" he said, "and without Frosch being drunk we just couldn't find the funny."
Burstein said coming to the Met from Broadway is "a little like being on the moon."
"It's very different from the theater world, where you work intensely for five weeks and then you have many, many previews and then you open," he said. "Here you rehearse every few days, you might even have a week off, you come back, and all a sudden you're on stage in a costume!
"You have to make very quick decisions and really go for it."
Burstein, who is married to singer-actress Rebecca Luker, said he always wanted to be an actor. He went to New York City's High School of Performing Arts, got his Actors' Equity card at 19 and has been working steadily ever since.
In fact, he's fitting in other jobs around his Met schedule. He just finished a run of "The Snow Geese" with Mary Louise Parker and will begin rehearsals for a revival of "Cabaret" while "Fledermaus" is still running. He'll also workshop a new musical in January.
Though Burstein has done some film and television — he plays casino owner Lolly Steinman on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" — for him there's nothing like live theater.
"I love the immediate connection with the audience," he said. "They let you know, right away, whether you're good or bad."