Meet Brandon Uranowitz, Star of Broadway’s Must-See Hit, ‘Leopoldstadt’ newsusface

The Broadway play Leopoldstadt begins with joy. It is 1899, and a wealthy Jewish family living in Vienna is gathering for Christmas. They are drinking, teasing each other, and chasing after kids. The men are debating Zionism, Jewish identity, and culture. One daughter gossips with her aunt about a crush. A son starts talking about his dreams for the future.

Sir Tom Stoppard’s newest work is a personal opus, inspired by his own family’s experience during the Holocaust and the years leading to it. It charts 50 years of that family’s existence as they come of age and grow old, navigating love, sex, business, and their faith against the rise of Bolshevism and a palpable antisemitic mood.

That culminates with a sequence set in 1938, when the Nazis have arrived and, along with them, Kristallnacht. The act unfolds, appropriately, like a tense horror scene, with crashes, screams, and explosions in the distance as the family gathers and attempts to prepare their affairs. The Nazis requisition their home, and they are transported to camps the following day.

It’s an unsettling, searingly urgent climax, given the disturbing, rising tide of antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world today. But Leopoldstadt wouldn’t be such a critically hailed piece of theater—the rare production that demands to be seen—if it didn’t feature a full orchestra of human emotion, a swell of laughter and hope in harmony with the fear. It’s the crucial reminder of the gravity of the loss that the audience knows is coming.

“A lot of times the audience will come in and be like, ‘Well, this is the Holocaust play, It’s gonna be really heavy,’” actor Brandon Uranowitz, who plays two pivotal roles in the production, tells The Daily Beast. “And then we show up in 1899 and everyone’s really prosperous. It’s really light-hearted and fun and funny. Sometimes the audience will give themselves permission to loosen into it. Or they’ll still be like, ‘Mmm, I don’t know. This feels like a red herring on some level. This is still about the Holocaust.’”

There’s a coda to Leopoldstadt that happens before the curtain call, and it centers heavily around the second character Uranowitz plays: Nathan, one of only three family members to survive, and the only one who survived the camps. The three gather in the family’s home in Vienna again, haunted by memories, their own identities, what they lived through, and what their loved ones didn’t. They talk through what it means to remember this past and what it’s like to wear it as a permanent scar, one that never stops pulsing with pain.

It’s in this sequence that Uranowitz has a release—as Nathan but also as himself, as we learn while talking with him over coffee in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, blocks away from the Longacre Theater, where Leopolstadt plays eight times a week. During this monologue, his mop of curly hair seems to tangle and rise from his head, as if it’s fleeing the tumult Nathan is weathering. As his emotion builds, you see him start to break in a cascade: first his voice cracks, then his tired eyes well up, and eventually his body gives out. He practically melts into a chair as he wails. He’s letting out his trauma. He’s also announcing it.

Uranowitz has been letting out this cry for seven months now. In doing so, he’s repeatedly articulating the memory of the family the play represents—but also his own. It’s the kind of work accolades like the Tony Awards are designed for, and Uranowitz, like many people involved with the stunning production of Leopolstadt, is tipped for those mentions. Finally, he says, it’s the kind of work that is starting to get a little easier.

During rehearsals and previews, “I had a really tough time not taking residue from the show home with me,” he says. “And that was really exhausting. It was hard to exist outside the world of the play, which is a really dark, heavy place to be.”

But your body does a strange thing: It starts to remember things. He brings up the book The Body Keeps the Score, which is about how your body can remember trauma and store it in your cells. “Now that I’ve been doing it this long, my body does this weird thing where it remembers where it needs to be, which is really helpful, because I don’t have to spend as much time with the heavy stuff.”

Uranowitz’s career is not without its heavy stuff. It’s also not without its lighter fare. In fact, it’s rare for a Broadway résumé to be this varied—or this flawless.

In 2019, he starred opposite Keri Russell and Adam Driver in the play Burn This, earning a Tony nomination. That was his third Tony nod. The first two came for the 2017 musical revival Falsettos, set at the dawn of the AIDS crisis, and 2015’s mounting of An American in Paris. His Broadway debut was in the 2011 jukebox musical Baby, It’s You!, and he’s also starred in 2017’s Hal Prince revue, The Prince of Broadway, as well as the 2017 Tony-winning musical The Band’s Visit.

Brandon Uranowitz and Stephanie J. Block perform with the cast of “Falsettos” onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

There’s the kind of Broadway that razzle-dazzles you: maybe a classic, maybe a carousel of show-stoppers, maybe something that makes you swoon nostalgia. There’s the kind that challenges you: that’s difficult, that drives the stake into the cultural conversation so that the seismic web of cracks force their tendrils into issues that matter, that change us. Some are period pieces that resonate in surprising ways. Some bring A-list actors right before your eyes in real life—star wattage as thrilling and blinding as the floodlights. Uranowitz, it seems, has done all of them.

But Leopolstadt is different. It’s a singular show, bringing with it, for Uranowitz, a singular experience: purpose.

It’s something that most adults don’t get to enjoy professionally and, certainly, is something that’s rare for an actor to find. “I honestly can’t think of anything else I should or could be doing,” he says. “Especially right now.”

“I think this play is so much bigger than any one of us”

When word circulates that there’s a new Sir Tom Stoppard play coming and you’re a Broadway actor, you take notice. (Again, this is Stoppard, considered one of the greatest living playwrights. Word circled Times Square faster than a chorus boy from Newsies doing triple pirouettes.)

Uranowitz emailed his agents that he had to be seen to audition for it. He was sent a script, which “knocked the wind” out of him.

“I was like, if I don’t book this, if I don’t get this role, then what am I doing?” He couldn’t imagine not being a part of this production. “And I don’t mean that to sound like there’s nobody else out there who could do what I do, or who could bring something to these roles. I just felt such a personal draw to the show, more than just like, “Oh, God, I want this part.’”

“It was so much bigger than that,” he says. “I think this play is just so much bigger than any one of us.”

Uranowitz grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, part of a Jewish family that he recognized in the characters from Leopoldstadt. The play has specific tethers to his own history, which he feels and processes every night on stage—especially during that final act, in that moment of extreme release.

His father’s aunt—his mother’s sister—survived the camps. She lived in a bungalow in the Catskills, and Uranowitz remembers going to visit her when he was young. She was always forthcoming about her stories from that time, echoing what is said in the play, that it’s a duty to speak about what happened.

“I grew up with that sentiment that, yes, this is old information. This is stuff that we know but you have to constantly say it out loud and remind ourselves so that it doesn’t fade away,” he says. “Because my own DNA, my own family has such a connection to the story of this play, the way that I access the emotional requirements is to put my family in that situation. That’s a tough, dark place to go to every night. There’s also a sense of responsibility. I think that we all feel that obligation. So that also helps to mitigate some of the pain that we have to put ourselves through.”

I ask if he’s ever spoken with his family, specifically his father, about this.

“The funny thing is, my family exists right at that intersection of Jewish identity that we talk about in the play a lot, which is the push and pull of Jewish pride while also feeling the need to assimilate for survival,” he says. “My family is very much right smack in the middle of that push-pull. And because of the assimilation piece, despite my aunt’s efforts, my family doesn’t like to talk about that stuff.”

Not in any sort of dire way, his parents’ priorities right now, he expects, are to make sure he’s OK. They’re concerned about his heart and his mental health, doing this play each night, and likely want him to just be able to, for the time being, do his job. Historically, his father, being a Jewish man of a certain generation, has struggled to talk about emotional things. But Uranowitz has seen him after seeing the play looking red-eyed and dewy-cheeked. “I have a feeling those heavier discussions will happen after the show’s done,” he says.

I bring to the play my own Jewish identity and my own identity, even my identity as a queer person.

Brandon Uranowitz

Not that those discussions aren’t happening every day.

The stage door experience with people who have just seen the play can be awkward. The final moments are so visceral and stirring, they embed in you. The result of that is a theater’s worth of patrons emerging from the Longacre deeply moved, yes, but also a bit shell-shocked. It’s hard to lasso those feelings into coherent thoughts so immediately, which I discovered myself after seeing the production and then saying hi to Uranowitz after. “I like your coat,” was the sheepish comment I could bleat out, amid the in-real-time realization that anything I would speak out loud involuntarily came out as a sob.

More intelligent conversations happen days later, with his partner, with his friends, with the people who direct message Uranowitz on social media, and, when they’ve had some time to compose themselves, over coffee with journalists.

“My position here is always to get people to come see the thing,” he says. “So all roads lead to the play. I also bring to that my own personal experience. I bring to the play my own Jewish identity and my own identity, even my identity as a queer person. Anytime I can shed any sort of light on the way that oppressive systems affect groups of people I will seize that opportunity.”

Brandon Uranowitz, Robert Fairchild, Max von Essen and the cast of “An American in Paris” perform onstage at the 2015 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015 in New York City.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

In some respects, being a part of the Falsettos revival prepared him for this. Leopoldstadt is a period piece with themes that resonate loudly today, particularly given the antisemitism that is increasingly prevalent. Falsettos takes place in the early ’80s, but its content about the LGBT community, acceptance, and family was certainly prescient when the revival mounted in 2017, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

“I think [Falsettos] did help guide me to be able to at least talk in a clear and succinct way about how what we’re doing relates to what’s happening now,” he says. “And how that threshold between the house of the lawmaker and 48th Street [where these Broadway houses are] is a lot blurrier than you might think.”

Trump was elected the night before a Wednesday matinee of Falsettos. “I’ll never forget it,” Uranowitz says. “There was something—I don’t want to say ‘electric’ because that’s a little glib—but it was one of those instances where the show went deeper. That experience has prepared me for a lot. Leopoldstadt dropped in deeper when all the Kanye West stuff was happening. It dropped deeper for me on Holocaust Remembrance Day, of the liberation of Auschwitz. That was one of those shows where everyone could tell ‘Brandon’s really going through it.’”

“I feel both really lucky and grateful to have done two shows that were so prescient in their historical messaging,” he adds. “I also hate it. I hate that this is so urgent. I hate that Falsettos felt urgent on that day. I don’t like that this feels vital to be telling. If I see an empty seat, I feel like we’re failing to reach as many people as possible. Because I want this play to proliferate in ways that make some sort of change.”

“I was like, ‘Work? This is a dream’”

Uranowitz and his Leopolstadt co-star Jenna Augen, who is a key member of that 1955-set coda with him, joke that, after this production, the only thing they could possibly do next is Guys and Dolls. “Just a light-hearted musical.”

It comes up after I mention the difference in tenor of our conversation and the ones many actors have about their projects. They get to talk about their big tap-dance number, the pranks the cast plays on each other, and dish about which Real Housewives they’re watching at the moment. This is significantly… weightier.

“Now that you’re asking me that question, I realize that I actually get to do both,” he says, in a bit of an epiphany. Each night, he goes to that dark place in Leopoldstadt and has that release. Then he goes home to the house in New Jersey he shares with his partner, Zachary Prince, and they watch—you guessed it—Real Housewives. (The New Jersey franchise, for obvious reasons, is their favorite, though the news of a Mary Cosby comeback has them stoked for the new season of Salt Lake City.)

They met during auditions for Baby, It’s You! in 2011. Uranowitz won the role, and Prince was cast as a standby, leading to what, years later, would be the most adorable article you’ve ever read: Playbill’s “What Happens When You Have a Crush on Your Standby?” (Spoiler: More than a decade later, they are still pretty damn happy.)

“We’re both Cancers, so we are home bodies who like our comfy clothes and our comfortable house and our two dogs,” he says. “Just a lot of snuggling and watching Real Housewives and stupid horror movies.”

They have two dogs. Bessie, who is 15, is “hanging in there.” Winnie is a spritely 7.

Bessie is named after a drag queen character Prince created for a project when he was studying at Carnegie Mellon. He and the friend with whom he worked on the project made a pact to name their future pets after their drag characters. “I don’t think his friend made good on that…” Uranowitz says. Winnie is named partly after Winifred Sanderson from Hocus Pocus, partly after Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, and partly because it sounds like a horse’s name, which they liked. “Then we realized that everybody had a dog named Winnie and got really upset.”

There’s an awareness that Uranowitz, his partner-and-dogs family, and his career are at a place that just feels…different. It’s something that happens when you’re in a show like Leopolstadt. And it’s what happens when you reach a certain point in your thirties. There’s a time in people’s careers, especially in a profession like acting, where the work is fun. Life is a party. And there’s a time when all of it starts to feel, not to be reductive—I, at least, can attest it’s true—more grown up.

I’m one of those actors—and I don’t think this will ever change—where every job feels like the last one.

Brandon Uranowitz

Uranowitz’s first job out of college, when he was 23, was on the final Rent national tour with Anthony Pascal and Anthony Rapp. He remembers being at the company housing the first day of tour with his roommates, and getting a knock from someone saying, “It’s time to go to work.”

“I was like, ‘Work? This is a dream. I’m on the Rent tour. Work is a party,’” he says. “At that time, my entire future was ahead of me. I didn’t have a mortgage and I didn’t have dogs to take care of. I was single. Now that I have actual adult responsibilities, there is that feeling that, if I want to keep doing this, if I want to be a productive member of society while also making a living and keeping my head above water, I have to approach some of this like work. And sometimes going to work feels like going to work.”

This work, in particular, is going to end. Leopoldstadt is scheduled to finish its run at the beginning of July. It’s the conclusion of what has, again, been a remarkable string of Broadway credits—and one that has been personally meaningful, on top of that.

“It’s a funny thing: I look back on my career and like on paper, like, wow, it’s been really great,” he says. “But, day to day, hour to hour, when you’re not working feels like forever. I’m one of those actors—and I don’t think this will ever change—where every job feels like the last one. So I have no idea what’s after this. And that freaks me out. I also can’t imagine anything better.”

He gives a huge smile. That’s a scary thought. But it’s also, in a profound way, a quite wonderful one to have the privilege of having.

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