Theatre Professor Paula McGlasson can recall Andrew Burnap’s freshman year when he auditioned for the University of Rhode Island Theatre Department’s production of the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” From this first meeting, she could see something special.
“He brought a uniqueness and his own personality to each role. He was just an individual. His take on each part was authentic and original,” said McGlasson, who directed him in musicals each of his four years at URI. “I remember thinking that in each play that Andrew did at URI – and he did so many musicals and non-musicals – he brought a lot of himself to the role. You were seeing a uniqueness in that portrayal.”
Sunday night, McGlasson and rest of the Theatre Department were thrilled as Burnap captured the Tony Award for best actor in a leading role for his Broadway debut in the role of Toby Darling in “The Inheritance.” The Matthew Lopez play also won for best play, director and best supporting actress at the awards show, which was delayed because of the pandemic and celebrated plays from the 2019-2020 season.
“The University of Rhode Island Theatre Department was fortunate enough to have Andrew as an instructor last year, teaching first- and second-year acting students,” said David Howard, chair of the department. “We couldn’t be more excited for him and those lucky students who now can say that their professor is a Tony winner.”
Burnap, who earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from URI in 2013 and his master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama in 2016, beat out Blair Underwood (“A Soldier’s Play”), Ian Barford (“Linda Vista”), Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge (“Sea Wall/A Life”), and Tom Hiddleston (“Betrayal”).
In a funny and moving acceptance speech Sunday night in the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City, Burnap thanked his fellow actors, director, producers, writers on “The Inheritance.” He also thanked his family, the URI Theatre Department, Yale and his hometown of South Kingstown (“where I was born and raised by a community of incredible people”).
“If you are out there and you’re wondering if you want to go into the theater or the arts and you feel a little odd like I did and you don’t know if your perspective of the world will be ever valued, Google the letter that Martha Graham wrote to Agnes De Mille,” he added. “Do not rob the world of your specialness, of your beauty, because we need it now more than ever.”
Burnap is believed to be the first URI-trained actor to win a Tony Award, although alumnus Peter Frechette was nominated twice and former student Mary Testa has been nominated three times, said Bonnie Bosworth, the department’s publicity director.
At URI, Burnap was always incredibly busy, appearing in 11 mainstage plays over his four years, including roles in “COMPANY,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and perhaps his best remembered performance, as Frank N. Furter in URI’s wildly successful “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” (Read a profile of Andrew Burnap, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”)
After graduating from Yale, Burnap made his New York professional debut as Troilus in “Troilus and Cressida” in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre in 2016. Two years later, he appeared in Lopez’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride” in Los Angeles, impressing the playwright and eventually earning him the role in “The Inheritance.”
Burnap debuted the role of Toby when “The Inheritance” opened March 2018 in London’s Young Vic Theatre and moved to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End. With Burnap reprising his role, the play opened on Broadway in November 2019, closing after 46 previews and 134 regular performances.
“This play was one of the greatest gifts of my life,” he said Sunday night in his acceptance speech.
About three days before the play closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic, McGlasson had a chance to catch Burnap in the first half of the seven-hour, two-part drama, which earned 11 Tony nominations.
“It was thrilling. To see him up on that stage and so relaxed and holding his own, it was great,” she said.
Monday morning as the emails of congratulations flooded department inboxes, McGlasson, who joined URI in 1985 and has directed the annual musical every year since, talked about what the award means to URI Theatre.
“People have said how proud I must be,” she said. “But Andrew did so many plays while he was at URI. What we’re seeing on stage in New York City is the end result of so many people who taught Andrew at URI – I’m not even talking about Yale. Every single experience inside the classroom, outside the classroom, in a rehearsal involved so many people. They are all to be credited for what he’s working toward.”
“Andrew is just beginning his career,” she added. “I think it’ll be interesting to see what comes next for him.”
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