Ian Rubin got hooked on musical theater at his synagogue, Temple Beth Ami. Just graduated from Churchill High School, Rubin, 18, recently won a statewide high school theater award, the Brandon Victor Dixon Award, for his portrayal of Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda: The Musical.”
Congratulations on winning the Brandon Victor Dixon Award! How did you hear that you had won and what was your reaction?
It was pretty crazy. When I first found out I was in the top 10, the National Theater posted it on Instagram, so it was super cool. But then at the awards, I honestly felt physically sick. They were calling out the five names and they said, “And the Brandon Victor Dixon Best Actor Award goes to…” and then the woman was like fumbling with the award and she’s like, “Sorry, one second,” like trying to open it, and she finally opens it. And I immediately started crying. I know my parents did, too.
When did you start doing musical theater?
The Purim shpiel “Esther-Annie” in 2014 was actually my first time. Joshana [Erenberg, Temple Beth Ami’s cantorial soloist] got me into it. And then I met Rachel Herman through the spiels and then she got me into theater outside of the temple. I started doing musical theater at school and outside of school when I was in 6th grade.
When did you realize that performing was for you? Do you have a story in which you conclude “I want to do that”?
I saw “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway as a bar mitzvah present. And this was the original cast. So it had Ben Platt. I remember as soon as he comes out onstage, I just started bawling my eyes out because I had really been wanting to see it and it was just a lot of emotion. And I just didn’t stop crying the entire show and I watched him and then I left the theater.
And I told my parents, “That’s what I want to do. What he made me feel, I want to make someone else feel that way.”
Who’s been your favorite character to play? Why?
I think the Emcee in “Cabaret.” It’s just a very beautiful story. And I think it’s one of those stories that reminds you how easily we as a society can fall into the traps of hating. In “Cabaret” the Emcee is like, “This is what it looks like to society” and the society is like “oh, we’re happy. This is the sexual revolution.”
There’s acceptance, but behind the scenes, there’s also Nazis and then by the end, you see how not only the Emcee transforms, but this society transformed and I believe that the Emcee is a representation of society, and the degradation of society, to spiral into the Holocaust.
So just getting to play that, having my great grandparents who fled Nazi persecution… I really felt connected to them in a way that I haven’t felt in any other show. And also, that was my first show coming back from COVID. And I’d only done virtual shows for a year and a half. So that was super cool.
What’s your relationship with Judaism and what’s a Jewish musical people need to see?
I would say I’m an active Jew. I feel like I wherever I am in the world, I always try to find other Jews, whether it’s next year in college or wherever I am.
I think “Parade” is a super important musical right now. And I’m really glad it’s on Broadway. It’s an important story. And I think the way that Michael Arden directed it is so respectful and so beautiful and really highlights the intersectionality between anti-blackness and antisemitism in the South. And I think the way he directs it and shows that both are important, but both are separate issues and should not be compared. Both need to be given respect and both need to be given care.
The ending of the show — it brings the show from the early 1900s when Leo Frank was lynched to present day — and the way he does it shows us that our fight against antisemitism is not over. And just because we don’t see the Jewish people getting lynched all the time anymore, it doesn’t mean there isn’t antisemitism.
What are you looking forward to the most at the University of Michigan?
I think being surrounded by artists who are not only talented and kind, but are extremely hardworking and who have are just as passionate as I am about musical theater, because otherwise they wouldn’t be there. ■
Charlotte Freedberg is a freelance writer.