The winner of the 2022 Olivier for Best Play, Life of Pi, officially opened on Broadway March 30 and Playbill was on the red carpet to chat with the company before they took the stage.
The play is based on Yann Martel's best-selling novel and adapted for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti. It made its premiere in 2019 at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, then opened in the West End in November 2021. Following a regional production at American Repertory Theater this past winter, Life of Pi began previews March 9 at the Schoenfeld Theatre. See what critics think of the show's Broadway run here.
The show's lead Hiran Abeysekera, who won the Best Actor Olivier in the title role of Pi, has been with the show since its premiere and is now making his Broadway debut. "You would think I'd found everything I could, but I feel like only now I'm really getting it," he says.
In Life of Pi, Pi is stranded at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan—brought to life onstage by puppeteers. Among them is Fred Davis, who shares the Olivier for Best Supporting Actor with the team who performed Richard Parker (the tiger) in the West End production. He, along with Abeysekera, is one of the company's 17 members making their Broadway debut in the show. "It's absolutely insane—magical beyond belief. I don't think any of us who did it in Sheffield thought that it would really go as far as West End. And then to Broadway! I think we're all a bit blown away," he enthuses.
Below, see the Life of Pi cast reveal what they would need if they were stranded at sea (outside of food and water). Then scroll down further for more reflections from the Life of Pi red carpet.
That sentiment is shared by much of the cast on their first Broadway opening night red carpet, which stood out by how much Indian-inspired fashion was on display. With so many making their Main Stem debuts, this night and this month of previews have been intensely special for this diverse cast.
It's not just that they are each reaching a pinnacle in their careers, but also that they have a tight-knit crew to share it with. "Everybody is just an amazing person and an amazing artist. And that is something that's really to be cherished in our business where it's so transitional," says Brian Thomas Abraham, who plays a ship cook and also voices Richard Parker during a dream sequence.
During the process, the cast themselves have been swept up in the magic of the puppetry on stage in Life of Pi, lending to a truly unique theatrical experience for them. "When I first saw the tiger moving, I thought, 'Oh, this is gonna be magical.' It came to life and I forgot about the puppeteers behind the tiger," says Mahira Kakkar, who plays Pi's mother in the show Amma, and also helps maneuver the orangutan puppet Orange Juice.
Though the show impresses with the puppetry and technical effects, there is also a heart to it. Salma Qarnain shares: "I've loved this book since I read it when it came out. It speaks volumes in terms of what it takes to survive and how to still have hope through the direst of circumstances."
For Abeysekera, he hope audiences leave asking big questions about the meaning of life, adding, "Don't be scared about those questions; just keep on searching for answers."
See photos from the opening night red carpet, where the attendees included Martha Stewart, Sarita Choudhury, Edie Falco, and Richard Parker, himself!
The cast also includes Rajesh Bose, Avery Glymph, Kirstin Louie, Sathya Sridharan, Daisuke Tsuji, and Sonya Venugopal as Rani—along with Davis, Scarlet Wilderink, Nikki Calonge, Rowan Ian Seamus Magee, Jonathan David Martin, Betsy Rosen, Celia Mei Rubin, and Andrew Wilson as Royal Bengal tiger “Richard Parker.”
Rounding out the company in the ensemble are Mahnaz Damania, Jon Hoche, Usman Ali Mughal, Uma Paranjpe. David Shih Adi Dixit serves as the Pi alternate.
Director Max Webster (Henry V) leads with production, with a creative team that consists of Tony- and Olivier-winning set and costume designer Tim Hatley, puppet and movement director Finn Caldwell (Angels in America), Olivier-winning puppet designers Nick Barnes (Angels in America) and Caldwell, Olivier-winning video designer Andrzej Goulding (Eureka Day), Olivier-winning lighting designer Tim Lutkin(Back to the Future), and sound designer Carolyn Downing (Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Original music is by Andrew T Mackay (Henry V), and dramaturgy is by Jack Bradley.