Broadway is about to receive an infusion of star power as Grant Gustin, best known for his roles as Barry Allen in “The Flash” and the villainous Warbler Sebastian in “Glee,” is set to make his Broadway debut this spring. In an exclusive announcement, Entertainment Weekly (EW) has revealed that Gustin will take center stage in a new musical adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel, “Water for Elephants.”
Gustin will step into the shoes of Jacob, the lead character, while Isabelle McCalla, known for her roles in “The Prom” and “Shucked,” will play Marlena. The ensemble cast also includes Gregg Edelman as Mr. Jankowski, Paul Alexander Nolan as August, Stan Brown as Camel, Joe De Paul as Walter, Sara Gettelfinger as Barbara, and Wade McCollum as Wade.
For Gustin, this opportunity represents a realization of a childhood dream. He shares, “This was my original dream as a kid. I started tap dancing first as an 8-year-old and then theater at 10, and this is where I always wanted to be. It’s very surreal and exciting and terrifying and all the appropriate emotions. I’m beyond thrilled to join the company. I can’t wait to start rehearsals and meet everybody and get on stage again.”
The musical adaptation of “Water for Elephants” boasts a book by Rick Elice, known for his work on “Jersey Boys,” and a score crafted by the PigPen Theater Company. The narrative follows the journey of Jacob Jankowski (portrayed by Gustin), an aspiring veterinarian who hops on a circus train, embarking on an unexpected adventure. He befriends Camel (Brown), secures a job with the circus, and finds himself entangled in a world beyond his wildest dreams, thanks to the enigmatic animal trainer August and his captivating wife and circus performer, Marlena (McCalla).
Isabelle McCalla describes her experience with the production, saying, “Ever since my first table read, I knew this adaptation of ‘Water for Elephants’ was beyond special. The circus artistry is astounding, and the score by PigPen Theatre Co. is electric. More than that, I was deeply moved by the rich characters who struggle to define their place in a world that has abandoned them.
And ever since that first day, I had this gut instinct that I needed to do everything I possibly could to bring Marlena to life on Broadway. She’s intuitive, loving, resilient, and manages to break free from her abusive husband and take her life back. It’s the role of a lifetime!”
Previews for “Water for Elephants” are set to begin on February 24, with the official opening night scheduled for March 21 at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre.
Gustin’s return to singing and theater after his television career has presented him with a learning curve, but he embraces the challenge. He notes, “Honestly, a bit of a learning curve. I’m back into voice lessons now, but I haven’t had a voice lesson since I left Elon University in 2011 or 2010 or something. It had been 13 years, basically.
Even when I was doing musical television and other things where I’ve sung for private events, it’s not something I’ve been doing for a long time. And I was always a dancer that sang. So I’m trying to build some of that confidence back up and dive back into it, which has been exciting and terrifying. But I thrive a little bit when I’m scared to do something, which is one of the things that drew me to this.”
The score of “Water for Elephants” is vocally challenging, but Gustin appreciates the support he receives from the production team and describes it as unlike any other show currently on Broadway. He feels fortunate to sing music composed by PigPen.
As for his familiarity with the source material, Gustin mentions, “I’m finishing re-reading [the book] now. I love the book. I read a lot, so it had been a minute, but I love the book, and it’s been really fun to compare it to what we’re doing. They’ve really tried to stay true to the book here.”
Gustin underscores the theme of resilience when discussing his character, Jacob. He articulates, “Jacob is someone who possesses an unwavering determination to persevere, and his most trying moments arise when you lose everything dear and significant to you; that’s when you discover your true character. That’s exactly where we encounter Jacob at the outset of this narrative.”
What truly captivates Gustin about the character is its romantic essence. He openly acknowledges that it’s his most profoundly romantic role thus far and admires the book’s portrayal of the love story as heartwarming and exquisitely written.
When asked about a superpower that would be most beneficial during the show’s run, Gustin humorously remarks, “Perhaps a superpower of endless vocal stamina.” He recognizes the challenges of performing on Broadway and underscores the importance of self-care and discipline. Nevertheless, he’s brimming with enthusiasm for this journey and the opportunity to showcase his talents on the Broadway stage.
Grant Gustin’s upcoming Broadway debut in “Water for Elephants” appears to be a remarkable milestone in his already illustrious career. Given his remarkable versatility, audiences can anticipate a captivating performance as he takes on the challenging and vocally demanding role in this romantic production.