Rachel Chavkin & Josh Groban: Better Together
written by Suzy Evans
photography by Nathan Johnson
Rachel Chavkin was a bit surprised when she met Josh Groban for the first time.
“I just couldn’t believe how generous Josh was!” she says. I guess I wasn’t totally surprised since he seemed so kind in interviews.”
And Groban knew from the moment he met her, that it was kismet.
“We immediately clicked,” he said. “I knew we would work brilliantly together.”
The Tony-nominated director and star of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 chatted with us about what makes their collaboration work.
How did the two of you first get connected, and what was your first impressions of each other?
Rachel: Our first proper meeting was having cocktails and him saying to Dave [Malloy] and I that he didn’t want us to feel in any way like he was being forced on us. What had happened is he and his team reached out just as we were beginning to look towards a Broadway transfer—it was kismet. And then we started work together, and it was clearly just a beautiful meld of character and human.
Josh: I first met Rachel after the show when I saw it downtown in the tent five years ago. I briefly chatted with her and told her it was one of the best pieces of theater I had ever seen. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have the chance to work with her on that very piece many years later.
Rachel, you have made your career in the theater, and Josh this was your first time jumping back into the theater after a while. What were some things you worked on together to get ready for your Broadway debut?
Rachel: I made Josh speak and then sing the lines looking straight at me and Karyn [Meek] our stage manager. I think one time even while we were eating lunch. I knew if he could get comfortable with being honest and transparent at that proximity and own the language in a cinematic as well as operatic way, then he’d be golden. We also just ran and ran and ran the numbers with scene partners on the couches in the Ars Nova loft, again to find the basic humanity at core, before layering on the necessary size for Broadway.
Josh: One of the many things I am so grateful for in working with Rachel is that she was so understanding of the work I wanted to put into melding with a cast that had been a family for many years. She arranged private preliminary rehearsals at Ars Nova for me and other leads like Lucas Steele, Denée Benton and Amber Gray. They all were kind and patient and it was very helpful to get those early jitters out of the way before the main rehearsals began. Rachel is also an incredible acting coach. I hadn’t done theater since high school really, and I had come from a very controlled environment in the music business. So she really took the energy and time to shake me out of my comfort zone. To find Pierre’s weak spots, to let walls crumble. Everything from studying ways of walking, daring to let my voice break and sound imperfect, building layers of intent and emotion behind each lyric—the work the work the work. She taught me that there would be no shortcuts to a great performance. It had to all be there, internally, for the outer performance to come across. I’m so grateful for her masterclass.
Josh, what is something that you admire about about Rachel, and Rachel, what is something that you admire about Josh?
Rachel: It all sounds corny in my brain and it’s completely true—Josh is one of the most grounded humans I’ve ever met. He knows what he’s capable of, but doesn’t take any shred of work for granted. He works his ass off, he’s generous with his collaborators. So yeah, in addition to his simply spectacular talent, I admire what a wonderful human he is.
Josh: What I admire most about Rachel, besides the fact that she has the most technically brilliant way of multitasking as a director in the most complicated settings, is her positive influence on artists. Whether Broadway, Off-Broadway, or WAY off, she is a champion for risk taking and artistic truth. She tackles problems with positive reinforcement and always keeps things where the light is. To know her is to love her.