Duncan Stewart started his career as an actor, touring his native British Columbia and dreaming of making it in New York City. But it wasn’t getting cast in a show that ultimately brought him to Broadway—it was his uncanny ability to cast others. In 2011, after several years as the casting director of the National Artists Management Company, Stewart started his own theatrical casting agency, Duncan Stewart and Company. Their work can currently be seen on Broadway in the Tony-winning revival of Pippin and the long-running revival of Chicago, and off-Broadway in the cabaret-style hit Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
You’ve cast a lot of stars in Chicago throughout the years, most recently Wendy Williams as Matron “Mama” Morton. How is casting a celebrity different from a theater actor? Duncan Stewart: It’s an entirely different type of casting called “star casting,” and it’s a large part of what we do. We read all the publications, see all the TV shows and pay attention to Billboard for all the musical artists. Several times a year we refresh a list of about 80 stars to send out to producers and they pick the top 20 they want to pursue. Then we bring a few people in to do “work sessions”—with stars, we don’t call them auditions. By the time we’ve done that we may have two or three viable options. Great consideration is given when putting a star into a show. For every star that we say yes to we probably say no to about eight or 10 others, just because they really can’t do it.
I bet there’s a lot of wining and dining involved as well. Where do you go to eat and drink in the City? DS: That’s a huge part of the business, whether it be with actors, directors or producers who have new shows that we want to cast. That’s the glamorous part of it. I love the idea that after I finish a hard day of auditions, I run home, throw on a jacket, meet somebody somewhere great for cocktails or an early dinner and then run off to see a Broadway show. I’m a big cocktail fan, so I love Little Branch in the West Village, which has a vintage speakeasy feel. The bartenders are dressed up and the cocktails are fantastic. In terms of restaurants, I love Perry Street and I’m a huge fan of Cafe Gitane in the Jane Street Hotel—it’s a great place to go for brunch. And one of my favorite haunts in all of New York is Delmonico’s Kitchen on 36th Street. It’s a more modern take on Delmonico’s in the Financial District, which I think was the first [fine-dining] restaurant ever built in America. It’s even mentioned in Hello Dolly.
What is one of your biggest casting success stories? DS: I cast Sofia Vergara as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago before she hit it big in Modern Family. I did a little interview with her onstage of the Ambassador Theater and after that I said, “Sofia, you’re going to have a hit, it’s going to be soon and you’re going to be massive.”