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Grant Gustin to make Broadway debut leading ‘Water for Elephants’

Written by Rory on November 03 2023

Grant will play Jacob opposite Shucked’s Isabelle McCalla as Marlena.

Entertainment Weekly: Broadway is about to get a little flashier.

EW can exclusively announce that Grant Gustin, best known to audiences as Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash and villainous Warbler Sebastian on Glee, will make his Broadway debut this spring in a new musical adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel Water for Elephants.

Gustin will star as Jacob opposite Isabelle McCalla (The Prom, Shucked) as Marlena. The cast will also feature Gregg Edelman as Mr. Jankowski, Paul Alexander Nolan as August, Stan Brown as Camel, Joe De Paul as Walter, Sara Gettelfinger as Barbara, and Wade McCollum as Wade.

“This was my original dream as a kid,” Gustin tells EW of making his Broadway debut. “I started tap dancing first as an 8-year-old and then theater at 10, and this is where I always wanted to be. It’s very surreal and exciting and terrifying and all the appropriate emotions. I’m beyond thrilled to join the company. I can’t wait to start rehearsals and meet everybody and get on stage again.”

With a book from Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and a score from PigPen Theater Company, Water for Elephants follows the story of Jacob Jankoswki (Gustin), as he remembers his life from a nursing home in old age. As a young man, Jacob, an aspiring veterinarian hops a train, which turns out to be a circus train. There, he befriends Camel (Brown), who gets him a job with the circus, and finds a life beyond his wildest dreams with the cruel animal trainer August and his beautiful wife and circus performer, Marlena (McCalla), whom Jacob falls for.

“Ever since my first table read, I knew this adaptation of Water for Elephants was beyond special,” McCalla says. “The circus artistry is astounding and the score by Pig Pen Theatre Co. is electric. More than that, I was deeply moved by the rich characters who struggle to define their place in a world that has abandoned them. And ever since that first day, I had this gut instinct that I needed to do everything I possibly could to bring Marlena to life on Broadway. She’s intuitive, loving, resilient, and manages to break free from her abusive husband and take her life back. It’s the role of a lifetime!”

Previews for Water for Elephants begin Feb. 24 before opening night on March 21 at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre.

Watch the music video of “Wild” from the show above and read more from Gustin below.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re making your Broadway debut. Is there something about this role that made it worth the wait?

GRANT GUSTIN: While doing my TV show, there was never a lot of time between seasons, but there were some opportunities that presented themselves — to come into something as a replacement. There were opportunities that were really tempting. And this is something I feel like I never could have dreamed of. The music is incredible and unique, and the role is a role that I’m really excited about as an actor. It really is a pinch me moment, and it doesn’t really feel real to me yet. I haven’t even jumped into rehearsals.

Many of your fans first were introduced to you as a singer. Has it been second nature getting back into it, or has there been a learning curve?

Honestly, a bit of a learning curve. I’m back into voice lessons now, but I hadn’t had a voice lesson since I left Elon University in 2011 or 2010 or something. It had been 13 years, basically. Even when I was doing musical television and other things where I’ve sang for private events, it’s not something I’ve been doing for a long time. And I was always a dancer that sang. So I’m trying to build some of that confidence back up and dive back into it, which has been exciting and terrifying. But I thrive a little bit when I’m scared to do something, which is one of the things that drew me to this.

Is the score vocally challenging?

It is. Everyone is really putting a lot of trust into me and making me feel really supported so far. It’s unlike other shows that are on Broadway right now or that I’ve ever seen on Broadway. I feel really lucky to be able to sing this music by PigPen.

Coming into the project, had you read the Sara Gruen novel or seen the 2011 film? How familiar were you with it?

I’m finishing re-reading it now. I love the book. I read a lot, so it had been a minute, but I love the book and it’s been really fun to compare it to what we’re doing. They’ve really tried to stay true to the book here.

How much do you think Jacob is alike or different from some of your more famous characters?

He’s someone that has a fight to keep going and his darkest moment is when you lose everything you love and everything that’s important to you, who are you? What do you have left? That’s when your real character shows, and that’s where we’re finding Jacob at the beginning of this story. He has lost everything that was important to him and his whole foundation in life. He’s deciding, “Do I pick everything up and continue? Or do I let this consume me?” He decides to live his life and fight and move forward and go on this journey. That’s hand in hand with how [my superhero character] decided to live his life after tragedy as well. There’s some similarity there between the characters for sure.

You’ve had romances in your work before, but this seems your most deeply romantic role. Would you agree, and is that part of what makes this an exciting new thing to tackle?

It isn’t necessarily one of the things that drew me to it, but it is [my most romantic role]. Especially reading the book, in the way that the older version of Jacob’s character is woven into the narrative and the fact that he’s telling this story and you don’t know where that journey ends as far as the love story. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

If you could choose a superpower to have for the run of the show, what would be most useful to you?

Probably super vocal powers of never getting tired. That’s going to be, as it is for every Broadway performer, challenging. You have to be disciplined. I know about that after doing nine years of a show, but that discipline was different where I did nothing other than that show until I then had a kid and it was also coming home and being dad. But it was coming home and memorizing nine pages every night to go back to work. I know myself, and I know how disciplined I am and will be when it comes to something like this, but this is what your life is when you do something like this. You have to take care of yourself, take care of your body. So it’s going to be doing the show, coming home and drinking some throat coat and getting some sleep and steaming in the morning and taking it seriously. But I want some super human vocal healing and recovery abilities during this run for sure.

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