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Ushering in a New Golden Age

Breakout Stars Ushering in a New Golden Age on Broadway: The Band's Visit Stars Ari'el Stachel & Etai Benson

May 15th, 2018 by

curtisbrownphotography JoshuaFerri Share
Breakout Stars Ushering in a New Golden Age on Broadway: ...

BroadwayBox teams up with photographer Curtis Brown to present "Ushering in a New Golden Age", an exclusive photo and interview series in which we spotlight the breakout stars from the 2018 Broadway season and style each like Broadway's original age. This illustrious crew of Tony nominees, Drama Desk nominees, and fan favorites was photographed at the beautiful Hudson Theatre (home to next season's new musical Head Over Heels). This week, it's all about Tony Award nominee Ari'el Stachel and Etai Benson, the pair of young stars who have become fan favorites in the Tony-nominated Best Musical The Band's Visit. Ari'el makes his debut as the smooth Egyptian ladies man and Chet Baker aficionado Haled, and Etai brings laughs as the lovable, insecure Israeli Papi. Together, their big songs at the roller rink ("Papi Hears the Ocean" and "Haled's Song About Love") are a highlight of the intimate new musical. Get to know the #BroadwayBromance boys below.

Ari'el Stachel- Etai Benson-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Ari'el Stachel- Etai Benson-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Ari'el Stachel (Haled)

1. Was there a big role in high school or college that gave you the confidence to pursue this?
Ironically, I played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in my senior year of high school. I was so intense, I didn’t go to school the Thursday or Friday before the opening. At 17, I didn’t go to school because I wanted to get ready for the show. I remember drinking tea in my bed, and my mom is like, “Why aren’t you at school?” I said, “I can’t. I need to prepare.” But playing that role, I had so much fun and so opposite of type. It made me feel like there might be a future.

2. What has changed most in your life since taking on this role? 
There’s the obvious stuff—you have to base your life around an eight-show schedule. But for me, it’s changed more so on an emotional level and my sense of self as a Middle Eastern person. One of the things I was facing in college and high school was this realization that I might not be able to proudly be a Middle Eastern man and have a career in this. I always remember feeling on the outside of that. And for me, [The Band’s Visit] has changed my psyche and my sense of internal pride. So even though there’s something really exciting for me professionally—making my Broadway debut—it’s more exciting that culturally there’s this new outlook I have on what it means to be a Middle Eastern person through this role and this show.

Ari'el Stachel-Haled-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Ari'el Stachel-Haled-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


3. This series is all about this Broadway season’s breakout performers. If you could time machine back and see any big Broadway icon’s breakout stage performance, whose would you want to go back and see?
It’s not his breakout but I’d want to see Ben Vereen in Pippin. I saw little clips of that and he’s the ultimate showman. Also, I’d like to see James Earl Jones in Fences.

4. What’s the most sentimental thing in your dressing room?
I have a series of pictures that a close friend surprised me with. She had gone through my Instagram and had printed out the seminal moments leading up to The Band’s Visit on Broadway, and probably the most substantial was a picture of my parents and I at the opening of The Band’s Visit at the Atlantic Theater. I like looking at that—it grounds me a little bit.

Ari'el Stachel-Haled-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


5. What’s been your biggest obstacle in reaching this point?
The emotional obstacle of being able to stay confident amidst a lot of rejection. I auditioned for The Band’s Visit seven times over nine months. So, for me, the biggest obstacle was staying positive—I describe it like being a punching bag, you have to get up and bring your spirit and your soul every time knowing 99% of the time it’s not going to work out. It was really hard for me. Emotionally, you are carrying tension in your body for as long as that audition process is.

6. As the originator of the role, what piece of advice would you give to future young men who will play Haled—on Broadway, on the road, or at their school?
To each his own. I would say I hope it will pave the way for other Middle Eastern actors to play roles like this. I think a lot of us when we are playing races outside ourselves tend to lean on accents and stereotypes, and I found for myself the way to make it most truthful is to find stuff really deep within me and share that through the character. Let the externalities just be a layer on top; ultimately, it has to come from your soul.

Ari'el Stachel-Haled-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Ari'el Stachel- Etai Benson-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Etai Benson (Papi)

1. Was there a big role in high school or college that gave you the confidence to pursue this?
Well, the first role I ever played was the Tin Man in eighth grade—that’s how I caught the bug—then I made my Broadway debut doing Wicked playing Boq, so that’s a nice full circle moment. But the first time I realized I was going to do this? In the summers during high school, I went to Stagedoor Manor, and the first role I played there was Jack in Into the Woods. It was Sondheim, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It was very intense but something clicked there. I discovered how serious an art form this is. This is more than just a fun hobby, this is something I feel I have to do.

2. What has changed most in your life since taking on this role? 
I’m not used to speaking my language—Hebrew, the language I grew up speaking—every single day. Now every day at the theatre, not only do I speak it onstage but I speak it backstage with my other Israeli friends in the show. I feel so much more connected now to my roots and my culture.

Etai Benson- Papi-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Etai Benson- Papi-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


3. This series is all about this Broadway season’s breakout performers. If you could time machine back and see any big Broadway icon’s breakout stage performance, whose would you want to go back and see?
My favorite musical is Sweeney Todd. I’m such a sucker for horror, so when I discovered Sweeney Todd and it was a musical and horror put together, it was my dream come true. So, I would love to see Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury do that. I’ve seen the video with George Hearn and her, but to be there in person.

4. What’s the most sentimental thing in your dressing room?
My mentor Michael Larson taught me everything and really helped me achieve this dream. In South Florida, he would coach me—he taught me singing, how to act, how to act a song, he brought me to Stagedoor Manor. He encouraged me and made me into the artist I am today. He passed away very suddenly two days before he was supposed to see The Band’s Visit on Broadway, and one of his close friends had a Squigs made of him after he passed away. She sent me this incredible caricature of Michael at his piano, which I hang in my dressing room so he’s with me, watching and smiling. I get to look at him every day before I get onstage.

Etai Benson- Papi-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Etai Benson- Papi-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


5. What’s been your biggest obstacle in reaching this point?
In this particular show, it was the roller skating. I got a call saying, “Do you know how to roller skate?” And I didn’t but of course I said yes. Then they asked me within 24 hours to send a videotape of me roller skating while singing “Papi Hears the Ocean”. I was on tour with An American In Paris at the time, so I had to conjure up roller skates, learn how to skate (and they asked for very specific moves), learn how to sing while skating, and find a place to do it all within a very, very whirlwind 24 hours.

That was a huge obstacle but the overall obstacle is that you struggle with the faith that you will get another job. There’s always this deep-seated fear that this is the last job I’m going to have and no one’s going to hire me again. Especially with long runs, you start to inhabit your character so much you start to think, “Is this the only character I can play?” So, it’s about keeping your creativity and your craft honed so you’re prepared to take on new things after this job.

6. As the originator of the role, what piece of advice would you give to future young men who will play Papi—on Broadway, on the road, or at their school?
I knew this song was comic gold, so the first thing I thought was, “How can I make this funny?” I started adding little things and physical quirks I thought would be funny and would enhance the song. This is advice I got from the composer, David Yazbek, in the audition room. He said, “Try not doing anything. Just deliver the words.” And only then did it become funny. When you’re dealing with material this rich and this detailed, you don’t need to add anything. The comedy is in the truth, and the truth is in the lyrics and the melody.

Ari'el Stachel- Etai Benson-Hudson Theatre- The Band's Visit- Broadwaybox-Curtis Brown Photography

Photo by Curtis Brown


Photographed by Curtis Brown at The Hudson Theatre. Makeup by Claudia Eltabie & Liv Swenson from Rouge Makeup Salons, Hair by Austin Thornton, Styling by Kinsland Howell Alice in Kinsland Styling. Clothing courtesy of Alberto pants, Our showroom, & Hyela Makoujy.

Curtis Brown Photography- Broadwaybox- 2018 Broadway Breakout Stars

Photo by Curtis Brown

Click here to see the entire "Ushering in a New Golden Age" series, and see Ari'el & Etai live in The Band's Visit at Broadway's Barrymore Theatre.