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June 24, 2012

CASTING OFFER: Terre Haute native lands spot in Off Broadway production

TERRE HAUTE — The slugline on the email froze Andrew Brewer — “Casting Offer.”

He’d finished a day’s work earlier this spring at the high-end Ralph Lauren clothing store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and checked his email queue one more time before leaving. An aspiring actor, Brewer had auditioned for a part in an Off Broadway production of Cole Porter’s “Nymph Errant.” But he was a mere 24 years old, and had just moved from Indiana to New York City in the summer of 2011. Brewer didn’t expect good news this soon, or this big.

His boss noticed Brewer sitting motionless in front of the computer.

“I stopped talking to her for about 3 minutes and just stared at the screen,” he recalled. “And she said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘I got an acting job.’”

Producers had selected Brewer to play two roles in the musical, which opens July 12 in Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row.

“I think there was a week that I didn’t stop smiling,” Brewer said.

Soon, rehearsals began, but the euphoria still hasn’t faded. “I’m still walking on air a little bit,” he said Monday by cellphone from Central Park, which sits right outside his apartment.

He’s part of an experienced 10-member cast, topped by Tony Award winner Cady Huffman. Brewer admitted, it’s pretty hard not to get “shell-shocked.”

“We’re working with all these people who’ve been around the block,” Brewer said. “It’s awesome to look back and see their processes and how they get into their characters. I’m a kid from Terre Haute, getting to act in an Off Broadway play. If this is the one memory I have, I am completely content.”

Andrew Brewer grew up in Terre Haute, the middle son of Mike and Lisa Brewer’s three boys. He graduated from Terre Haute Christian High School in 2006, attended Indiana State University and transferred after his sophomore year to Indiana University, where he was accepted into IU’s then-new music theater program. His comfort on stage emerged early, as Andrew and his brothers sang in church and sat alongside Mike and Lisa to watch theater performances at Beef & Boards in Indianapolis, Community Theater in Terre Haute, and other venues. Eventually, Andrew earned parts in “The Music Man” at the Vigo County School Corp.’s summer Performing Arts Workshop at Fairbanks Park, and Community Theater productions of “Diary of Anne Frank,” “West Side Story” and “Hello Dolly.”

Among his initial influences was Michelle Azar, choral director at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. “The first time I worked with Andrew, I immediately saw natural talent and knew he had potential to do great things,” Azar said.

Mike Brewer noticed that, too. “The kid seems to be more at home on stage than out in public,” Andrew’s father said. “He seems like a natural.”

And resilient.

While studying theater at ISU and IU, Brewer occasionally got turned down for roles in various local and regional productions. “He’d laugh and say, ‘Oh, it wasn’t meant to be,’” Lisa Brewer said.

Yet his determination is intense, his parents explained. “He works at it. He’s not lazy,” Mike said. As a high school and college student in Terre Haute, Andrew worked at MAB Paints and Richard Booe & Sons Hardwood sawmill in Clay County.

“He’s got a strong work ethic, especially for this kind of thing,” said Mark Carlisle, a professor of music and voice at ISU. “He’s very passionate to succeed.”

Trains, Times Square, Talent

He left in August for New York, where his girlfriend works as a singer and dancer on a cruise ship, and his roommate earned a spot on a touring acting troupe. Andrew secured a day job as a guest services coordinator at a store selling “runway Ralph Lauren” clothes. Among the recent customers was actress Candice Bergen. “I called Mom and said, ‘Mom, Murphy Brown came in today,’” Brewer said.

Since landing the part in “Nymph Errant,” the shop has been flexible with Brewer’s hours to accommodate rehearsals.

“I take the train to Times Square and walk to the theater,” Brewer said.

The production is scheduled to run through July 29, with nightly performances Tuesday through Saturday, and a matinee on Sunday.

The 1920s-based story follows a young English girl, Evangeline Edwards, who has finished school in London and must decide whether to “go home and marry a gardener or go off to explore life,” Brewer said. She chooses the latter, a quest to lose her virginity that takes Evangeline to a Swiss boarding school, an Austrian nudist colony, and a Turkish harem. “Until she finally realizes the difference between true love and lust,” Brewer concluded.

With a small cast and only three male actors, Brewer plays two roles — Oliver (Evangeline’s lover from London who offers to marry her), and Ben (an American plumber who rescues her from the harem in Turkey). Though Cole Porter considered the music and lyrics in “Nymph Errant” his best score, the musical comedy has only been attempted once (in 1982) since its inception in 1933. The performance features no nudity, but censors in 1930s Europe cut the nudist colony scene, limiting its adaptability.

The 2012 production captures the story intact. Romney Brent’s original libretto was based on James Laver’s 1933 novel, which has been revised by Rob Urbinati.

Thrilled, yet grounded

Delivering “Nymph Errant” to an audience requires Brewer to use acting, singing and dancing skills. “You have to be a tripartite performer,” said Carlisle, who’s served on the ISU faculty for 26 years. “[Andrew] is charismatic. He’s got an excellent natural voice, especially for musicals. He’s a very strong actor. He’s very versatile.”

The label “Off Broadway” has no reflection on the caliber of performance, but refers to smaller Broadway theaters holding between 100 and 499 seats. The actors in the “Nymph Errant” cast impress Brewer with “the depth that these people will go for one line.” The opportunity to work inside such a gifted circle came more quickly than he dreamed.

“For the most part, the only thing I was expecting out here the first year was auditioning,” Brewer said, with the sounds of Big Apple traffic and bustle apparent in the background. And the audition process, he added, “is rough. It’s one of those things where ‘no’ is the everyday answer, and it’s never personal. And any form of ‘yes’ is valuable.”

As excited as he is to have heard “yes” already, Brewer intends to stay grounded.

“There’s 3 million actors in this city, and I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t think any one of them could do what I’m doing,” he said.

He said his edge in keeping such a thrilling moment in perspective is his upbringing. “A large part of who I am, and the things I believe, and the way I handle myself is from my parents and them taking us to church and doing the things we did,” Brewer said. “My hero is my dad,” he added, “and if I could meet somebody as good as my mom, it’s a done deal.”

For now, he’s savoring the rehearsals, the countdown to opening night, the hustle from the theater to his day job, New York and life.

“From now on,” Brewer said, “whatever I do, in the bio of Andrew Brewer, I can say, ‘Off Broadway.’”

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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