Michael Urie Hosts the Drama Desk Awards

Brian Sloan

Broadway and TV star Michael Urie returns for the second year in a row to host the Drama Desk Awards, which celebrates the best of New York theater. The two-time Drama Desk winner for Buyer & Cellar and The Temperamentals met up with us for a night on the Great White Way to see last year’s Drama Desk winner for Outstanding Lyrics, Dear Evan Hansen (which, after transferring to Broadway, was nominated for nine Tonys this year).

Before the show, we stopped at Glass House Tavern, a restaurant popular with the theater crowd. But on the busy final week of the 2016–2017 season, the place was packed. So we opted for a more casual option across the street: Buffalo Wild Wings. Urie, originally from Texas, happily ordered a big plate of super-spicy wings. We talked about some of this year’s productions, what makes the Drama Desk Awards unique and the perks of hosting.

You’ve been a Drama Desk winner twice and a host once—which is easier?
Being the host is work—it’s, like, a lot of work. You’re involved in the whole production, not just the night of the show. But I want to be involved in the show, so it’s a lot of fun too. We’ve already started talking about who will present and perform, and how I’ll make my entrance.

How did you go from being a Drama Desk winner to being the host?
Billy Rosenfield was the writer for the Drama Desk Awards; I think it was his idea. He’d seen Buyer & Cellar three times, and I sort of play a host in that show. He liked it a lot, so I think that was part of the reason why they thought I could do it.

So when you hosted last year it went well enough that they asked you back?
I guess! [Laughs] Actually, I just insisted. They didn’t ask. [Laughs]

You must have a two-awards-show minimum.
Yes. [Laughs] I’m not going to do it just once. Only if I do it twice! When Laura Benanti hosted the second time, her opening line was “Once again I’m the only person willing to do the Drama Desks again.”

But it sounds like you’re excited to come back again.
Oh, yeah—it’s a great challenge, putting on a show for people who put on shows. It’s a tough audience. You have to really surprise them. They’ve been to awards shows, and they’re all going to the Tonys the next week. So we have to have a really good show for them.

It’s a great challenge, putting on a show for people who put on shows. It’s a tough audience. You have to really surprise them.

What is it that makes these awards different from the Tonys or Obies?
What I love about the Drama Desks is that it’s the full theater community; it’s not just Broadway, it’s Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. It’s all of it. And it’s the only awards show that’s like that—the only one that really is all of New York theater.

Does that mean the big Broadway shows always win?
No. Off-Broadway shows win a lot. And if a show is Off-Broadway before it’s on Broadway, like Hamilton—it won everything the previous year—it wasn’t eligible once it got to Broadway. So the Drama Desks last year wasn’t at all about Hamilton, ’cause it had won the year before when it was downtown at The Public /venues/the-public-theater.

So these awards can be like a glimpse of coming attractions for Broadway?
Kind of, yeah. Like the show we’re seeing tonight, Dear Evan Hansen. That won last year’s Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. This year’s nominees for Outstanding Musical The Lightning Thief or The Band’s Visit might be on Broadway next year.

These awards are different from the Tonys too in terms of who votes, right?
People voting for Tonys include actors and producers, but for the Drama Desks it’s critics and media people. This is sort of like a neutral award.

It’s nonpartisan.
Yeah, I guess you’re right!

As a New Yorker and someone who lives in Midtown, you must see a lot of theater.
I get to see a lot of shows—I love going to theater. And I wanna know what everything’s about…especially when I host the awards. I wanna know not only the stuff I have to do as host but about the shows that are being represented as well. So last year I saw most of the nominated shows.

What do you love about the theater scene here?
I feel I’ve been inspired by all the amazing shows out there this season, and it’s really given me a drive. It makes me want to be awesome in my play [The Government Inspector at The Duke on 42nd Street] because I’m seeing such awesome stuff.

This year you’re going to be doing a show while hosting the awards show; you’re starting performances soon for The Government Inspector. Will you be as involved in the production this year as you were last year?
It’s going to be hard. I think I’ll be as involved. I’ll just have to be clever about it, about when I can be there and what I can do. We’ll be rehearsing Inspector just around the corner from the production office and doing the awards show [at The Town Hall on 43rd Street] a block away from the theater, so it’ll all be nearby, so that’s good.

Did you have a favorite moment from last year’s show?
We did a bit where Danny Burstein and his wife, Rebecca Luker, presented an award and had no idea. I just went out into the audience and pulled them onstage. [The producers] just said we have to make sure that they say the names right. So we picked a category where the names were pretty simple and wrote them out.

It must be exciting to meet all these actors while being the host.
Oh, yeah. I’m way more excited about being close to Frank Langella and Jessica Lange than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I’m more starstruck by theater stars.

Because you’ve seen them onstage and admired them?
Yeah, absolutely. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole and David Hyde Pierce. Oh, and Kevin Kline—oh, my God! Amazing people. It’s been a crazy year.

Did you get to meet any of your favorite actors last year for the first time?
Jessica Lange. She ended up winning and she came up onstage! I also met Frank Langella. I was backstage with Joe Mantello. I just think he’s so brilliant as a director, and he’s so good in The Glass Menagerie this season.

So what are your top theater picks this season?
Come From Away is really great. I cried a lot. I loved Miss Saigon. The guy who plays The Engineer [Jon Jon Briones]—amazing! And The Little Foxes, of course—[director] Dan Sullivan is a master.

The Drama Desk Awards are at The Town Hall on June 4. For tickets, go to dramadeskawards.com. The Government Inspector starts previews May 16 at The Duke on 42nd Street. For tickets, go to redbulltheater.com.