Northwestern alum talks role in Broadway’s ‘Cabaret’

Annie Bruce, Reporter

When Will Carlyon (Communication ’13) got the call that he had been cast in “Cabaret” on Broadway, he was visiting Northwestern’s campus for the first time since moving back to New York after graduating. It was fitting, given that Carlyon credits NU in helping him learn efficiently and prepare for auditions.

“Particularly the audition experience we get doing an audition class our senior year (was helpful). I have felt very well informed and prepared for all my auditions in New York,” Carlyon said.

Now, he performs eight shows a week as a swing and cellist in the Broadway show, which officially opened on April 24 after about a month of preview shows.

Carlyon said the entire experience has been surreal.

“It never really felt real, in a way,” he said. “Even after I started rehearsals, it was just kind of like, ‘Is this really happening?’ It is, but I don’t even know what to think about it, because it was just so crazy and amazing, and it has continued to be amazing.”

Carlyon’s journey to “Cabaret” began in September, when he first auditioned by performing a piece on the cello and singing for the casting director. He then went through six additional callbacks, including two dance calls. Once he found out he got the part, Carlyon continued to practice on his own, until rehearsals officially started in February.

The role of a swing is typically used as an understudy for ensemble members, but in “Cabaret,” the swings get to perform in every show and play their instruments on stage. The male swings in the show also serve as understudies for the Kit Kat Klub boys. When Carlyon does have to go on for one of the Kit Kat boys, he continues to play cello where he can, while covering the additional part.

A Wall Street Journal article from November details casting director Jim Carnahan’s search for “quadruple threats,” to cast in “Cabaret,” meaning he looked for people who could sing, dance, act and play an instrument.

Carlyon said the idea of being a “quadruple threat” was not something he thought much about when trying to find a job after graduating.

“The fact that I played cello is always kind of on my radar, and seeing lots of shows now include actors who play instruments,” Carlyon said. “So I had a feeling that an audition like that might come up, but I was not in any world thinking that it would be ‘Cabaret.’”

Carlyon started playing the cello in the fourth grade, after his elementary school said students needed to sign up to play a band or orchestra instrument. When he got to NU, Carlyon initially planned to join the non-majors orchestra, but because of theater shows and performing with the Freshman Fifteen a cappella group, he didn’t have time.

Theater in general isn’t something Carlyon thought he would be doing. Until his junior year of high school, Carlyon planned to go to college to play baseball.

He first started performing in shows in the seventh grade, when his guidance counselor made him do the school musical, and performed occasionally after that. When Carlyon quit soccer during his sophomore year of high school, his mom made him audition for a theater company that his brother was involved in.

“The next year, I was in another one of (the theater company’s) shows, and I realized it was something that I liked to do a lot and I was really good at it, if not better than I was at baseball,” he said.

Carlyon then decided to start looking for colleges with good theater programs.

Carlyon grew up in Larchmont, New York and planned to move back to New York after spending the summer in Evanston after graduating. Now, he’s still going out for some auditions, but not as many as before “Cabaret.”

Carlyon said getting to spend time with Alan Cumming, who plays the title role in the show,  and the rest of the cast has been one of the standout moments of the experience so far. He also enjoys interacting with the audience during preshow activities.

“We’re just hanging out on stage, looking at the audience and sometimes interacting with them, and it’s such a cool thing to get to do,” he said. “Especially being a swing and normally swings wouldn’t be on stage at all, and I get to do shows eight days a week on Broadway. That in itself is just amazing, and I’m very fortunate.”

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