“There I am holding a porridge bowl and singing ‘Food, Glorious Food,’ and I’m like, I moved to Chicago to play an orphan in Oliver?” Patrick Andrews is recalling his first Chicago gig, at the Marriott Theatre in 2005. “I sort of had this existential crisis where I felt like I made the wrong decision.”
Consider the crisis averted. The dynamic young actor has made quite an impression in the four years since his Lincolnshire debut. In fact, a number of our most indelible experiences during that time—Tommy Rapley’s dance-theater Dorian at the Bailiwick, the raucous Speech and Debate and the moving docuplay People’s Temple at American Theater Company (where he’s now an ensemble member), and About Face’s reimagined Stupid Kids—have the chameleonlike Andrews as their common thread. His next job puts him in heavy company, sharing the stage with Tracy Letts and Francis Guinan in director Amy Morton’s revival of American Buffalo at Steppenwolf.
“I was timid at first,” Andrews says of his costars on a recent morning outside the rehearsal hall. “There was a lot of judging myself and looking at them as these versions that I know on paper and screen, and not as people.”
Andrews plays teenage pawn Bobby in David Mamet’s petty-robbery tale. “It was actually surprising to get the phone call,” he says. “I only had two auditions, and they were both on camera because Amy was out of town. And that was it.”
It’s little surprise to those who’ve witnessed Andrews’s range. The slight 24-year-old is often cast below his age, but he’s been equally credible as a slyly sexual Emcee in Drury Lane’s Cabaret and as multiple adult characters in About Face’s Laramie Project readings. More impressive, he’s displayed both the desire and the ability to move between the world of suburban musicals and the storefront scene.
“It’s hard to find such a young actor who’s so emotionally deep and free,” About Face’s Bonnie Metzgar says of Andrews. “And he has this amazing dance training, so physically he’s a wild man. That’s a hard combination to find.”
The Amarillo, Texas, native started young, performing with his family in local community theaters from the age of five; he began dance training in the eighth grade. (“I wasn’t much of a sports person,” he says. “My basketball team would put me in if they wanted to get fouls.”)
After attending the Broadway Theatre Project, a musical-theater training program, the summer before his senior year of high school, Andrews got a call from a New York casting agency to audition for the national tour of Fosse. “My dad’s a minister and my mom’s a social worker; we don’t really have money. I was like, Can I be in New York on Monday?” His family rallied to send him to the audition; he got the part, and right after graduation, he was on the road. “I really couldn’t see myself in college. I can now,” Andrews says. “But at the time, I couldn’t see myself in a classroom, removed from the source.”
On Chicago tour stops, Andrews saw Kabuki Lady Macbeth at Chicago Shakes and Steppenwolf’s Cherry Orchard; he’d seen Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses on Broadway. He was drawn to the qualities he saw in Chicago theater. “I fell in love with the physical theater; seeing this really trippy use of physicality with text and then a really amazing realism next to that was profound for me. It also didn’t hurt that I had fallen in love with a boy.
“I thought, Okay, I can move to New York and keep doing what I’m doing, be an ensemble dancer, or I can move to Chicago and learn how to be an actor. Treat Chicago sort of like my college.”
American Buffalo is in previews, opening Saturday 12.