Bonnie Milligan on How Her Alice Beane in Titanic Is 'a Fun Little Homage' to Victoria Clark | Playbill

Special Features Bonnie Milligan on How Her Alice Beane in Titanic Is 'a Fun Little Homage' to Victoria Clark

The Tony winner is playing the role that her Kimberly Akimbo costar originated on Broadway.

Bonnie Milligan and Drew Gehling at the Titanic press preview Heather Gershonowitz

On April 28, Bonnie Milligan said farewell to the Tony-winning Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo, which ended its critically acclaimed run at the Booth Theatre after playing 32 previews and 612 regular performances and winning five Tony Awards.

Milligan earned one of those five Tonys for her scene-stealing performance as formerly incarcerated Debra in David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's deeply profound musicalThe Illinois native had been attached to Kimberly Akimbo for several years, including the musical's acclaimed Off-Broadway engagement that saw the actor receive a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical.

The theatre favorite—also known for her exuberant cabaret performances and her stand-out work in the short-lived Broadway musical Head Over Heels and Off-Broadway's The Harvest and Gigantic—exudes a palpable zest for life on stage, as if she's enjoying performing as much as the audience is enjoying the performance. And, her many fans are eagerly awaiting her latest project, the City Center Encores! production of the Tony-winning musical Titanic, directed by Anne Kauffman with choreography by Danny Mefford.

The final production of the 30th anniversary Encores! series, Titanic will be presented June 11–23 at the famed New York venue featuring the 30-piece Encores! Orchestra playing Maury Yeston's Tony-winning, sweeping score. Milligan has been cast as second-class passenger Alice Beane, who dreams of a world that may be beyond her reach. And in a delightful twist, the part of Alice was created in the original 1997 production by fellow Kimberly Akimbo Tony winner Victoria Clark.

Milligan, who is set to film another guest appearance for the upcoming new season of And Just Like That…, plays Alice opposite Drew Gehling's Edgar Beane—he's a longtime friend who she says has a "Jimmy Stewart quality" in his latest role.

Video: See Ramin Karimloo, Alex Joseph Grayson, Lilli Cooper, More Perform the Songs of Titanic

On her third day of Titanic rehearsals, Milligan spoke with Playbill about saying goodbye to Debra and hello to Alice. Read the interview below.

Company of Titanic at the press preview Heather Gershonowitz

How are rehearsals going?
Bonnie Milligan: Good! You know, the Encores! process is always fast and furious. We started day three with a read-through, sing-through, so we learned it in two days! So now, we're just working on staging the big numbers and getting everything underway.

The last time I spoke with you was the morning that Tony nominations were announced last year. Looking back at Tony night, what stands out for you going back almost a year now?
Oh, my gosh! I was so happy to have my mom and my brother both in town to be with me as my date. It felt very special to have them there. You know, it's kind of funny…I've been thinking a lot about my mom during this [Titanic rehearsal] process because my character is this Midwest, sort of middle-class gal. I likened it to my mom at the Tony Awards, actually, being so close to all these celebrities and wanting to get a closer look. [Laughs] So that's honestly been on my mind recently, Tony night with my mom… [And], it was great. I mean, you get all dolled up and fancy in a dress. It's just an incredible evening for the whole community together to celebrate what we all did that year.

Do you feel any impact, either personally or professionally, from winning the Tony?
It’s very nice to have every article come out and say, Tony winner Bonnie Milligan! That's not a bad moniker to have. [Laughs] Also, you know, I still did Kimberly up until we closed that a month ago, so I was kind of locked down. And there was a strike for both actors and writers in the other media world, so I had meetings.

There is a certain fun, sort of [realization of] "Wow, that was a lifelong dream.” And you see people that maybe you haven't seen in a while, and they're like, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you since you won a Tony! How does it feel?” And you're just sort of like, “I don't know—crazy? Cool?"I feel like the world reminds me of it more than I do. [Laughs]

And, where do you keep your Tony?
I have it on a shelf at home near a Dolly Parton book.

Tell me about your final week in Kimberly. You were with that show for several years. What was it like saying goodbye to the show and the character?
I mean, we had become such a close family. Like you said, we spent years together doing a show, and [it was] some of the best material I've ever gotten to do. So it was a million emotions. My body was tired, but I loved doing what I did so much. It was also [thinking], “When am I going to get something that really demands all of me in the way that Kimberly did?” And so, you kind of mourn that idea that this is a closing of an incredibly special chapter.

A week after we closed, I went home to the Midwest, and I spent some time with family, and I've been seeing a lot of shows, [since] you can't see shows when you’re in one. So that’s been nice to get to take in art in a different way and see what’s out there. And seeing friends—I was sort of on personal lockdown [during Kimberly] because it required so much of me vocally and physically. I kind of lived like a nun. I didn't hang out with people. I think when I came back [from the Midwest], I saw a different friend every day, and when I see a show, I go see the friend in the show [afterwards], and I'm like, “Do you want to get a drink? Do you want to get a bite?” Like, I can actually go out, I can be a human again! [Laughs] So I have enjoyed that side. I still miss, of course, the show and the people, but it's been nice to feel the other side of me as a human get a little nurtured.

How did the role in Titanic come about? Were you familiar with the show before this?
I wasn't somebody that fully knew the show front to back. I honestly had a friend that [asked], “So, are you going to play Alice Beane in this? It would be so funny, because you and Vicki [Clark]...” And I thought, “I don't know, that would be kind of fun.” And, of course, I've heard the patter song [that Alice performs] in the opening, and I loved "The Proposal" song—those are the things that have stuck with me over the years of the things I’ve seen of it.

I got my City Center mailer at home in the mail, because I often go to Encores! and City Center. And I opened it up, and it said, "Titanic, directed by Annie Kauffman." And I know Annie, I've done several readings with her before. I thought, “Huh, what if I just throw it out there as an idea?” So, honestly, I just texted her. I said, “What if I was your Alice Beane? I just saw that you're directing this.” She said, "Are you serious?” And I said, “I mean, yeah, why not?” She’s like, "Let me get back to you.”

Before I knew it, a day later, I got the official offer from City Center to my team. It was funny, because I was like, “Why not? What's the worst that could happen? She could say no.” She joked to me, day one [of rehearsal], she said, “Bonnie, what if I said I don't think you're right for it?” Then I would have said OK. She just laughed. She's like, “Because you're so right for it." It's so perfect and especially the connection to Vicki—it's like a fun little homage to my friend.

Kimberly Akimbo co-stars Bonnie Milligan, Justin Cooley, and Victoria Clark Molly Higgins

Did you get the chance to talk to Vicki at all about the show?
Yeah, because I'm also somebody [who loves] the history of it all. I love to hear the stories of how things were built and what the processes were like. And so Vicki and I had a lovely conversation, where she's like, “I’ll tell you this,” and, “This was here because of this,” or, “I had to hold a page for two weeks in my pocket because of the new change.” Just finding out the different stories—she kind of gave me a few before we started, which was just a fun little peek into what I was in for.

I remember going to one of the last Titanic previews, and as soon as that orchestra started and I heard that music, I loved it. I think Alice probably has the most interesting arc of any of the characters.
Yeah. I started to look into the Beanes on my own before we started rehearsal, and I realized, "Oh, wait, this is very different than what I had gathered from the [Broadway cast] recording." Because in real life, [Alice] was 23, and [Edgar] was 27. They were newlyweds. They were from England. She actually gave birth to a stillborn child, shortly, nine months after. So, they assume she was pregnant on the Titanic. Both of them survived.… I didn't think they were newlyweds [from listening to the recording]. They definitely weren't British. So then Vicki told me, it was [Titanic librettist] Peter Stone who just thought the name Beane was funny. [Laughs] There were real passengers with the last name Beane so it was like, “Oh, that's a great name, we should use that.”

Anyway, her character is a way for the audience to have some sort of a connection—to this woman who wasn't first class, wasn’t third class. Especially in that opening number, she really serves as [a narrator explaining] who [each] person is, in that whole patter song, as she paints it out to the audience. And yeah, I think [the writers] playing with how she is thinking about what they could be—like we could mingle with these [first-class passengers]—I think there's something very American in that. We can get out of our station, we can work for something else, and have her dreaming. It's a really beautiful dynamic between her and her husband and what they explore in the show.

Bonnie Milligan takes a bow on opening night of Kimberly Akimbo Heather Gershonowitz

It's also such an amazing cast that's been assembled. What have rehearsals been like so far?
I mean, it's very, pardon the pun, all-hands-on-deck, sink-or-swim over here! [Laughs] Everybody is working where they can. The first two days were all about music, and we had a few moments where we could break out and talk about character and do a little table work with Annie in a different room [if] we weren’t in a number.

I've known Drew Gehling for years, and we've never gotten to work together. So it is amazing to get to work with him as my Edgar. He is a lot like me, wanting to really flesh out our own personal backstories, and where we can take these characters and decide what this marriage dynamic is. And he's just such a beautifully tuned-in actor; he’s so sensitive. I told him today his Edgar has a certain Jimmy Stewart quality, this heartbreaking, beautiful performance. And so it's been fun to find our dynamic as the Beanes. I mean, neither of us saw the original. So it's what we can come together on (what we think between the script, what we're actually doing on the page), versus how we can make them come alive. It's been a sort of fun puzzle. 

Yesterday was day three, and we started with a read-through, sing-through. It was nice to hear how everything goes together and the score. It was just a piano, but I was weeping. When you have Chip Zien and Judy Kuhn singing, it’s just like, “Oh, my God!” It's so gorgeous, and I can't wait to have a 30-piece orchestra behind it all. It’s wild. It’s good.

I'm really looking forward to hearing that huge orchestra play the score. Is Maury Yeston involved at all?
He was there on our meet-and-greet day. I got to meet him—he was so sweet. He hasn't been a part of staying in rehearsals, but he was definitely there. I'll be curious if he comes around more. When it turned into, "We gotta learn this,” he wasn't necessarily right there, which is great, because that could be probably very intimidating. But he was so excited, and he's so kind. It was awesome.

Do you have any projects lined up after this, or just focusing on doing Titanic at the moment?
I’m just doing this at the moment. I got to guest star on And Just Like That… on HBO Max last season, and they’re having me back this season. So that’s the only thing on the pike. 

Since you mentioned you've been seeing shows, anything you really love that you've seen so far?
I think I'm just so excited to be back in the theatre. I've seen everything—from Patriots (which was an incredible play), I saw The Notebook (I was so moved by it last night), I even saw The Hours at the Met. I'd seen Kelli O'Hara in Days of Wine and Roses back when I was still in Kimberl—. To be in that era of getting to watch her on stage, she’s got a Tony-nominated performance this season, she’s performing at the Metropolitan Opera, and she's on The Gilded Age. I was like, “OK girl, work!” [Laughs] It's been fun to just be there, to be in the space and take in art. It’s been awesome.

Photos: New York City Center Encores! Cast of Titanic Meets the Press

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting with your ad blocker.
Thank you!