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The Other Danny Burstein

As many of my friends know, my father had five sons. The first two, David and Daniel, were with his first wife. Then he married my mom and had three more sons, Jonathan, Michael, and Joshua. David and Danny were somewhat older than the rest of us, so at the same time I grew up as a middle child but with the sometimes presence of my two older half-brothers.


Danny Burstein Danny Burstein
My half-brother Danny Burstein. Photo copyright ©2008 by Michael A. Burstein.



I have a lot of stories I like to tell about Danny. He spent many years as a paramedic working the midnight shift out of Harlem Hospital, so he has plenty of stories to share. He once came to my school to give a talk on drugs, in which he made it absolutely clear what a paramedic could and couldn't do for someone who had overdosed. He was a union treasurer and a rabble rouser who pushed for better emergency medical care for all New Yorkers. And he was once arrested under suspicion of being Son of Sam. (I'll tell that story later.)

Like me, Danny has sometimes run into other people with the same name. When he was in college, the members of the Columbia University Science Fiction Society found a wedding announcement for some other Danny Burstein, and they posted it on the wall of their office, with a note asking, "Why weren't we invited?" (The announcement and note stayed on the wall well into the 1990s.) Danny has occasionally also been mixed up with Dan Burstein, a writer who focused on economic current events for a while but more recently has become known for his books on blogging and on the questions raised by The Da Vinci Code.

And then there's Danny Burstein, the actor, and the new story I have to tell.


* * *

Danny Burstein the Actor, Michael A. Burstein the Writer Danny Burstein the Actor, Michael A. Burstein the Writer
Photo copyright ©2008 by Nomi S. Burstein.



I first encountered the name of the actor Danny Burstein in the July 19, 1992 New York Times, in this review: Theater; Parodies and the 'Muddah' of Revues. The show being reviewed was a revue of Allen Sherman songs. Although the reviewer didn't seem to feel that the conceit worked, he did seem to feel that the actors were doing a good job, and the one actor he singled out was Danny Burstein: "In one of his 11 roles, Danny Burstein, for example, switches on the spot from a nasty boss to a proud father who sings about his astronaut son: 'Shine on, Harvey Bloom.'"

If I recall correctly, I mentioned it to my Danny Burstein, and we probably shrugged and moved on with our lives. It's always an interesting coincidence, but nothing more. However, I do recall wanting to try to see that musical revue if possible, simply to meet my half-brother's namesake. I had actually made a point of seeing Mike Burstyn perform and I've met him three times, so it wasn't too far out of my experience that one might be interested in a person's career simply because of their name.

The actor Danny Burstein did show up every now and then in a review, but I don't recall how often I ran across his name. Of course, that was before the Internet was so prevalent.

In 2006, the musical The Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway. I knew nothing about it except that Danny Burstein was taking the role of Aldolpho. That made me mildly interested in the show, but as I was in Boston and the show was on Broadway, it seemed unlikely that I would get to see the show or see him perform.

Then two things happened, and I honestly can't recall the order in which they happened. First of all, Danny Burstein received a nomination for the 2006 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. My brothers and I rooted for him, of course, and we were disappointed when he didn't win.

The second thing was that our friends Heather & Andrew Greene went to see The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway, and they loved it. When the touring company brought it to Boston, Andrew wanted to see it again, and they invited us to join them. So Nomi and I also got to fall in love with The Drowsy Chaperone, even though the expansive part of Aldolpho was being played by an actor other than Danny Burstein.

(By the way, if you want to see how good Danny Burstein is, here's a YouTube link of Danny Burstein and Beth Leavel performing "I Am Aldolpho" in Bryant Park.)

Nomi and I got the cast album and spent a lot of time listening to the songs and enjoying Danny Burstein's performance. And that might have been the end of it, had Danny not been nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for playing Luther Billis in South Pacific.

***

When the actor Danny Burstein got nominated for the Tony for a second time, I made a point of publicly congratulating him on my blog. But I also emailed the folks who run his webpage to offer my congratulations, all the while making it clear that I wasn't a relative, just a fan.

Still, I didn't think there was anything odd in doing so. A brief digression: I've been going to Broadway shows since I was 8 years old, thanks to Mom, who wanted to make sure that her children all got to see revivals of the shows she saw when she was young. And each time, we would hang out at the stage door afterward to get autographs. From the very beginning, I knew that the actors were just people too. At the second Broadway show I ever saw, Peter Pan, Mom befriended an acting teacher and his class who were attending the performance, and as a result we got to join them after the show when Sandy Duncan came out to answer questions.

The Tonys were broadcast on June 15, and my brothers and I were all rooting for Danny Burstein to win. When he didn't, I emailed the folks running his website a second time, offering the condolences of all five of us. And I was delighted when Danny himself emailed me back to thank me. I sent him one further email, letting him know that friends of ours had loved him in Drowsy Chaperone, and I figured that would be the end of it. After all, despite the fact that we shared the same last name, we were strangers, and I didn't want to intrude on him.

Except that Danny was interested in my being a writer, asked me if I knew another science fiction writer that he had worked with once, and apparently wanted to meet me. He made me an offer that we couldn't refuse. Performers in shows often get one or two tickets per show that they can reserve for friends to purchase, and Danny offered these seats to Nomi and me if we happened to find ourselves down in New York City. I was gobsmacked by his generous offer, but, sadly, it looked as if we would be unable to take advantage of it.

Until Nomi suggested that we try to work in South Pacific when we headed down to New York City to tape the Hour of the Wolf interview. It took a little bit of juggling with our schedule and Jim Freund's schedule, but in the end we managed to see South Pacific on the night of Thursday, September 18.

Nomi and I decided to make a night of it by first having dinner at Levana. Then we headed over to the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, which is undergoing renovations, so it was difficult to find the theater. But we found it and we saw the show.

If I had the space, I'd present a full review here. Suffice it to say that the show was incredible, and the seats were wonderful. (And just before the show began, I spotted the actor Michael McKean in attendance. This becomes relevant later on.)

After the performance ended, Nomi and I went to the stage door to meet up with Danny, as we had arranged beforehand. Danny was incredibly generous with his time. He was genuinely as excited to meet us as we were to meet him, and he autographed a whole bunch of programs and CD booklets for me. (He signed a CD booklet for my friends Andrew and Heather, and of course I had him sign a program for my brother Danny.)

While Danny and I talked, Nomi talked with his wife, Rebecca Luker, who was also very generous with her time. Rebecca is playing Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins, and I guess their show ended earlier, because she came over to Lincoln Center to meet up with Danny.

An interesting side note: I didn't think I had ever seen Rebecca Luker perform, but a quick Internet search turned up the fact that she played Christine in The Phantom of the Opera when I saw it on Broadway. So I had seen her perform! (And I remember her performance as powerful and moving; I just didn't realize until now that it was her.)


Danny Burstein, Rebecca Luker Danny Burstein, Rebecca Luker
Photo copyright ©2008 by Michael A. Burstein.



Danny and I were interrupted twice as we spoke. The first time was by a friend of Danny's, and he asked me politely if he could just take a moment to talk with his friend. My reply was, "Of course!" which gave me a chance to talk more with Rebecca.

The second time we were interrupted was by Michael McKean, who wanted to compliment Danny on his performance. Danny introduced me as his cousin, and when I commented that I merely had the same last name, McKean noted that I also had the right first name. (Another aside: I took a moment to compliment McKean on his performances as Perry White on Smallville and as Mr. Green in Clue; the second compliment prompted him to joke that now he knew how old I was. And I'm embarrassed to note that I completely failed to recognize his wife, Annette O'Toole, who was standing next to him. Here I was complimenting McKean on his one episode of Smallville, and there's O'Toole, who played Martha Kent for most of the series, listening to me compliment her husband. But, to be fair, she wasn't introduced to me.)

After McKean left, Nomi and I talked with Danny and Rebecca for a few more minutes, and I got to thinking about Danny's brilliant performance and McKean's compliment. What I've come to realize is that Danny is an actor's actor. Perhaps that's a concept I ought to explain, and I can do it by drawing an analogy to my own field. When Science Fiction Grand Master Hal Clement died, the Boston Globe interviewed me for Hal's obituary, and I said that Hal was a "writer's writer," meaning that other writers read his work to figure out how he did it and how to improve their own.

In the same way, Danny Burstein is an actor's actor. I can see lots of actors attending his performances not just for the sake of enjoyment, but also to see what they can learn from his technique. And I strongly suspect that was one of the many reasons that Michael McKean was in the audience for South Pacific that night. (Not that I'm suggesting that McKean, a fine actor in his own right, needs to learn anything new about acting, but it's always instructive to see how others work.)

I've already thanked Danny and Rebecca for their warmth and generosity that night, but this gives me a chance to thank them again. And Danny? When you're up for a Tony Award the third time, remember that once again that David, Danny (my Danny!), Jonathan, Michael, and Joshua will be rooting for you.
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Comments

"And he was once arrested under suspicion of being Son of Sam. (I'll tell that story later.)"

That's something I definitely want to hear about.
It's a good story.
What a great way to connect to people - persistence and kindness and politeness.

Thanks for telling it.

Joyce
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