Get your first look at the star-studded cast of Broadway's new comedy POTUS
These last few years the presidency has hardly been a laughing matter, but Broadway is ready to change all of that.
POTUS, a new play from Selina Fillinger, a young playwright making her Broadway debut, follows the women behind the president after the commander-in-chief sparks a PR crisis of epic proportions. The seven brilliant and beleaguered women who keep him afloat scramble to avoid the faux pas exploding into a global crisis.
Opening Sunday May 1, the comedy, directed by Broadway veteran Susan Stroman, boasts a star-studded ensemble cast, including Lilli Cooper (Tootsie), Lea Delaria (Orange is the New Black), Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), Julianne Hough (Dancing With the Stars), Suzy Nakamura (Modern Family), Tony winner Julie White, and the legendary Vanessa Williams.
EW has your first look at the farce, and we caught up with actors Julie White and Suzy Nakamura, who are also close friends in real life, to get a sneak peek at Broadway's biggest, most ambitious spring comedy.
Could both start by giving us a little primer to what POTUS is and and if it's fair to call it a satire?
JULIE WHITE: Hmm, I don't know if it's a satire, it's definitely a farce.
SUZY NAKAMURA: It's a farce
WHITE: But I guess you would need to go to drama school to define what's the difference between a farce and a satire. But farces are ones where people come in and out of doors and mistaken identities and everything is heightened and exaggerated and funny, and it's all about the funny and improbable behavior. It is not at all a kitchen sink drama. That's for damn sure. It's set in the world of politics, specifically the White House, the Office of the President. I am the Chief of Staff.
NAKAMURA: And I am the press secretary.
WHITE: And we are best friends and really talk in a salty manner to each other.
I'm really getting strong The Women vibes with this ensemble cast where the action revolves around this man in their life, but we never get to see him. Would you say that's accurate?
WHITE: It has some of that fun. The Women is so great and heightened and they're just so evil. There's such great characters in there. There is in this too. Vanessa is a great first lady, very drama Wueenie. We have the gamut of humans all interacting. We noticed that when we started to play we were real separated from each other, and as the play coalesces, we end up almost a unit. Whereas in The Women, the goal was to actually get the man and get rid of all the women, our play is different, the goal is to get rid of that man.
NAKAMURA: To get rid of the man and for us to come together.
WHITE: We kind of get there but mainly it's a wild ride. It's very funny. And we're just not sure at this point how exactly we're going to get through the whole thing without laughing. When you look at this cast, they're funny people. But then also our whole stage spins. Is it just me that doesn't know where I am?
NAKAMURA: It's like doing theater in the round.
You're debuting a new play on Broadway, and Selina is very young to be making her debut. What has it been like working with her and then going through that process of seeing the play evolve?
NAKAMURA: It's a fascinating process, but we all genuflect at the Church of Susan Stroman. It's a wonderful balance. Because Susan has experience and we trust her and then Selina has this newness to her.
WHITE: And the conviction of youth. Whereas as you get older, you're a little bit like meh.
NAKAMURA: We have that onstage too. We have the newness and the experience of Selina and Susan, but also on stage there's three Broadway debuts in our seven person cast. And there's a spectrum of people and experience and ages and backgrounds. It's hard to be objective because we're in it right. And we love it. But if you'll pretend for a second that we're not in it, the cast is phenomenal.
WHITE: I've done a lot of new American plays. Usually you don't open a play on Broadway. You do it off-Broadway somewhere for a few productions and then it moves to Broadway. But this was just coming straight out of the gate. It was something we were going to do pre-COVID like at the time of the election of 2020, and then COVID knocked it out. I remember I kept thinking, "Oh, that poor young woman who was probably so excited. But it came back around. I was really amazed and thrilled when it did. I had thought that maybe it was it was like the President was a Trump-y character. But the more that we've explored it, it's like, "Nope, he's just a character in a farce." He's not a good guy. But he's not Trump.
NAKAMURA: He's specific enough, but also general enough.
WHITE: We're in an alternate universe.
Obviously, we have many presidents that are easily recognizable. This one is fictional, but do you feel that he is drawn from real political figures that audiences will find recognizable?
WHITE: I don't think that that's the game. I don't think you're trying to identify the president.
NAKAMURA: I think the game is you know this man. Everyone knows this guy. It could take place on a cruise ship.
WHITE: And also people that have a public facing persona and then a backstage persona that is utterly gross and different. I'm thinking of someone like Harvey Weinstein, who on the front was hugely philanthropic, supporting liberal causes and then in the back, beating off into a potted plant in the Chinese restaurant. Like so gross.
Suzy, you're making your Broadway debut. And Julie, you're a Tony winner. So have you been giving Suzy any advice? Suzy, have you asked her for any?
NAKAMURA: She's given me no advice Nothing.
WHITE: I don't say anything to Suzy because she's really sensitive (laughs).
NAKAMURA: Except for in an interview like this, where she passive aggressively [drops hints].
WHITE: I'll say, "Suzy, the audience is this way. Talk loud. Don't wrinkle your wardrobe." No, but Suzy and I worked together on the NBC show Go On with Matthew Perry, where we played people in a grief support group. I want credit because y'all are going to freak out about how good this is. I was talking to Susan Stroman before we got started. I was like, "Oh my God, you know, who'd be so f--ing good is Suzy Nakamura."
NAKAMURA: Susan's like, "Who?"
WHITE: Cause Suzy doesn't do plays that often. She's always in LA working on shows. I was sure she couldn't do it. I was just saying it theoretically.
NAKAMURA: The last play I did was at a storefront theater on Pico Boulevard [in Los Angeles] that sat 29 people. But if you put two chairs on the stairs we sat 31.
What intrigues you about being in a play that is about something that we see a lot in our culture, which is these PR crises and the struggle to cover it up or make it right and this cycle of political shaming?
NAKAMURA: What's fascinating to me is we never see backstage. We never see behind the scenes. So, we have the liberty of just making it up. Or interpreting what we think is happening. Because we do see a constant public facing press release or whatever.
WHITE: What we don't see is the ducks feet under the water. [Makes frantic paddling motion]. This play is all the duck's feet. We're all kicking each other.
This play makes me think of that line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where she says, "The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck and she turns the head any way she wants." Is that accurate and is it invigorating to be in a show that's about the women who are actually doing the work?
NAKAMURA: It is. A lot of people will see a man that they know in this president character, but everyone will see themselves in women that we portray on stage.
WHITE: We do tend to let ourselves be in service. Women are naturally more service oriented in some ways. But it is not a message play. It is mainly a funny play.
It's a big ensemble cast. What is that like versus doing a two hander or something that's a lot smaller?
WHITE: It's fun. A lot of times for me it's a three hander or a two. It's fun to have so many people. I don't do musicals. But Susan Stroman does musicals, and she gave us a number. There's microphones. There's dancing.
Well, I would assume to that having been someone that directs a lot of musicals, she brings that flow and choreography to having an ensemble.
NAKAMURA: Yeah! She knows the flow, she knows the timing.
WHITE: And how to make, like Bob Fosse used to say, pretty pictures.
NAKAMURA: But also the physical. Farces are physical.
WHITE: And nothing is laid back; the stakes have to be high. It feels like it could be one of those where you get tickled, and then, you're really amused and you come out of it and your gut's hurting a little bit because you've laughed so hard.
NAKAMURA: I think that's what people want right now after the last two years.
What are you both most excited for audiences to see?
WHITE: I'm trying to think of, "What's the moment that I think is going to f--ing bring the house down?" There's a few of them.
NAKAMURA: I honestly think the first ten seconds.
WHITE: You're going to have to come see it. Thank you much for helping us try to get people to come to it. Because there are a lot of things on Broadway right now. People can be like, "I wanna see Sarah Jessica Parker. Or Music Man!" But there are lots of great plays right now.
NAKAMURA: New Plays! Funny plays!
WHITE: This one is mainly funny.