Chelsea Table + Stage, New York’s newest hotspot for intimate dining and music, will present the New York premiere of IT: A Musical Parody for 13 performances starting Oct. 20. The run will end with a special Halloween show.
Based on Stephen King’s hit horror novel, the John Flynn-written jukebox musical takes place in Derry, Maine and follows seven young outcasts confronting their worst nightmare – an evil shapeshifting clown known as Pennywise. The group must band together to overcome their fears and battle the infamous, monstrous demon.
This rendition takes inspiration from the original 1990 cult classic film starring Tim Curry as the titular antagonist, as well as the 2017 and 2019 remakes and the novel that started it all. When the piece made its LA debut in 2019, it won six Los Angeles Ovation Awards including “Best Production of a Musical.”
Garrett Clayton, known for his screen roles in Teen Beach Movie, King Cobra, and Hairspray: Live, played the villainous clown in LA, and he will reprise the character in New York. Other featured cast members include Vanjah Boikai, E.K. Dagenfield, Trevin Goin, Gwen Hollander, Janaya Mahealani Jones, and Sterling Sulieman.
Instinct caught up with Clayton to talk more about IT: A Musical Parody, his love of horror, and other projects.
Hi, Garrett! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me about the New York premiere of IT: A Musical Parody. What can audiences expect?
It just feels like a party. Every time we did the show, it was always such a blast. It felt like everybody really got into the spirit of what we were trying to produce, and I think people love that we try and touch on the different iterations of it. Whether it’s the book, the mini-series, or the movies, there’s a little bit of something for everyone, but the through line really is the books, which is nice because we really kind of lay into the Pennywise is an alien aspect. That’s fun to see onstage. It’s also a jukebox musical and we end Act I with “Bohemian Rhapsody” while the kids are trying to kill me in the sewer system. So, it’s a good time.
What are you enjoying the most about playing the infamous Pennywise?
For me, it’s the freedom of the role. I don’t know why, but doing this character feels so powerful and wild. They really allowed me to show a lot of different facets of different things. I can do different styles of music, different styles of dance, there’s a little bit of comedy, there’s people who are scared of clowns that are always screaming in the audience, even if I just walk by, so there’s a little bit for everyone. Also, we’re going to be playing with a different type of set that I don’t think people have really experienced before, so being immersed in a different way is exciting.
Is this the first time you’ve played a horror monster/villain?
I did the show before the pandemic in Los Angeles and that run ended up getting extended, and we won a couple awards for it. That’s why it’s coming back now, but this is my first time in this genre in this way. But to come back to something like this, it kind of feels like we’re celebrating that. A lot of these things, you do it and you’re done. So, anything in life that’s brought back for a second time feels like a gift. We were together before the pandemic and now we get to be together again.
When you did the LA debut in 2019, did you originally audition for the role, or were you sought out?
I’ve worked with the people on the team before and they had offered me parts in the past, but I knew that this one was going to be a bit of a hard pick because everyone would bring something different to the role. After I talked to the producers, we all agreed that I should go in and read. That made the most sense. If they just offered it to me, who knew if I was going to be really right for the part? I hadn’t done anything like that before. It wasn’t like playing a boyish lead or supporting character. It’s not a prince in a fairy tale, this is a massive villain in a very well-known franchise.
So, it was definitely important to me and them that the right person got the part. God forbid I demand to be offered this role and it turns out I’m not the right guy for the job. It could have been anybody. They literally auditioned anyone who wanted a shot at it, regardless of gender, height, weight, or shape. Everyone could come in and read for this, and I know that they considered some other ridiculously talented people who are in the same circles. Whoever they picked would have been in good hands, but I am obviously very grateful to be the one that got the job.
What were your initial thoughts when you found out It was being turned into a musical parody?
I thought it was exciting! Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise the Clown and Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, they were both my horror intros when I was a little kid. I remember seeing the It TV special when I was super young, and even though I was hiding behind a fort wall of pillows with my brother, I fell in love with horror because of it.
Then after that, I watched all the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Dream Warriors is my favorite because I also played Dungeons and Dragons, so I’m like, this one’s for the nerds (laughs). So, when this came across and I knew that it was happening, I was excited, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I figured a lot of people were going to want this part.
What are some of your other favorite Stephen King works?
Oh, man. I always thought In the Tall Grass was scary. They just made it into a movie a couple years ago, but the thought of getting trapped in some weird wheat field, Children of the Corn type stuff, that’s always been terrifying to me. There’s something so claustrophobic about the idea of being lost and not knowing where to go. Humans don’t innately have a compass, so you can legitimately get lost in a forest and walk around in circles because you can’t see the sun or know which way is north, south, east, west. Also, The Dark Tower, which I always thought was cool and a different level of horror.
In your opinion, why do you think LGBTQ people resonate so well with the horror genre?
I think there’s a lot of room in the horror genre that has been written for the outcast being the underdog, and I think a lot of queer people innately feel like they’re outside of the norm in a general sense. They feel othered a lot. There are a lot of heroes that we root for in horror, and they usually feel like the underdog.
As queer people, I think for a very long time, whether it’s fighting for our rights or our right to just be happy and exist in this world, many of us have felt othered. So, there’s a lot to resonate with the queer community. However, we’re always the ones to die quickly. They need to rework that a little bit (laughs).
Even though there is a special Halloween performance of IT: A Musical Parody, do you have any other plans this year? Do you and Blake have any special Halloween traditions?
We typically throw a Halloween party every year, but this is the first time we can’t since I’ll be in New York. I’ll be ending the show every night as a clown, so if I want to go out, I’m already dressed for it!
Do you have a Halloween that is most memorable to you?
Probably the year we threw one of our first big parties at the house we used to live at. Blake was Tippi Hedren from The Birds, and he had a big refrigerator box as the telephone booth with birds glued all over it. Anytime people would take a picture, he would scream. Then I was dressed up with our other friend, Miata. I was Mugatu and she was Katinka Ingabogovinanana from Zoolander. That was a fun year.
One of your more recent projects was starring in the short film The Letter Men. Is there anything you would like to say about that?
That is such a powerful piece because it’s a piece of our history that we typically don’t get to see a lot, and it is the largest archive of any love story from that time, from any queer couple. Hundreds of love letters, and their story is beautiful. Just seeing how a lot of the things they went through still resonates today in a lot of different places in the world. It’s an important piece of history because we don’t really have very many records in this size or capacity from people in this community.
We need to highlight these stories and use whatever voices we have in the community to bring these stories out because it’s not like it’s a made-up thing we’re making just for fun. It’s not like, here, get lost in this story for an hour and a half. This is a short that’s very important to Andy Vallentine, the director, and he respectfully went out, got the rights, and met the person who’s in charge of it. He was very thoughtful in his process of creating the short.
Honestly, I didn’t expect everything that’s coming from it, but I’m so grateful that people care that it’s happening. Also, going through this path with my husband and seeing the similarities between Gilbert and Gordon not being able to be open with their relationship and us having the similar issues until recently, I think a lot of people in our community could benefit from this piece, as well as people who aren’t in the community.
Is there a type of role you would love to play at some point?
I want to be a wizard or a superhero just because they’re fun. I’m having so much fun with all the work I’m doing right now, so that’s really what I’m focused on. I feel very blessed at this moment. I’m not particularly religious, but that’s the first word that came to mind.
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
Right now, I’m working on an album in Nashville with some people. I’ve been working on this for the last year, and I’m just starting to talk about it. We’re going to meet with some people to talk about the ways in which we want to release it in January, so that’s coming down the pipeline. Fairly OddParents is airing on Nickelodeon this month, so look out for that because it’s a really fun show, and then there’s Spotify Live that we have every week, A Gay in the Life. New episodes air on Mondays from 5:00-6:00 p.m. PST, and then just doing IT: A Musical Parody. Kind of job hopping a lot right now.