Friend of the podcast Nathan Keen shares his experience returning to Broadway in Hello, Dolly!, after making his debut twenty years earlier as a child actor in Les Miserables.
I made my Broadway debut in 1997 on the stage of the Imperial Theatre performing the role of Gavroche, when the Les Miserables 3rd National Tour made history sitting for a limited run on Broadway while a 10th Anniversary Company was prepared.
I was eight years old and had been touring with Broadway shows since early 1996. At that age, I knew Broadway was special. It was, as it is now, something people work all their lives to achieve. I knew this, but didn't understand how incredibly awesome my job was. Looking back, I remember that it was just normal life: I had a job to do and I did it, four times a week for six weeks before heading back out on the road.
I have fleeting memories of what my time at the Imperial was like, mostly from photos and stories from my parents who I know fully understood the awesomeness of what their son was a part of. One thing I do remember though is knowing that I had found my home and I knew that I wanted to return to Broadway.
Fast forward 20 years... Yeah, two decades! I left the business at age 11 to went back to school. I tried (and failed) to find a career path I wanted more than performing. Since then, I have done some amazing National Tours and spent time as an unemployed actor in NYC tending bar and serving to pay my bills - all the while trying to break back into the Broadway family. It was rough; I kept getting so close but never getting "the call."
I definitely dreamed of what it would be like, getting that phone call and performing on a Broadway stage again. Those dreams, along with the unwavering support of my family and close friends, definitely helped keep me going, even when I started to second guess if I was in the right business.
Then on June 29, it happened! I was grocery shopping when I got the call, and besides dropping the contents of my grocery basket all over the floor, all I remember feeling was EVERYTHING! All of it, every minute of work, every frustrated lesson, every doubt, every "not this time", all of it was 100% worth it.
I joined the company of Hello, Dolly! that night, and made my return to Broadway (my "adult re-debut" as I have come to think of it) 12 days later on July 11.
It was completely surreal. I don't know if I have ever been so freaked out, so nervous, so excited, and yet so calm in my ENTIRE life. Unlike my eight year old self, this time around I fully understood just how special this was. I knew that all the years of training, all the sacrifices, had led me to this moment, and because of this, I appreciated what it meant to be on Broadway. There were moments that felt unreal; total and complete out-of-body experiences. More than once I had to take deep breaths to keep from tearing up on stage.
At the final bow, I was finally able to let go and allow myself to feel... And it all hit me like a ton of bricks. All my self doubt, all the love from friends and family both near and far, every feeling in every fiber of my being swept through my body. It was amazing: I felt like I was on fire, floating and flying! I wish I could go back in time to my darkest, most doubtful times and whisper to myself that it will be okay. I would probably also go back and tell precocious 8 year old Nathan to not take his Broadway debut for granted.
As I lay in bed that night going over every second of that day, I reveled in the amazingness of my journey back to Broadway. I realized that I had come home in a sense. I remember every moment of that day, and will remember it for the rest of my life.