Suffolk University graduate Jonny Orsini makes his Broadway debut in The Nance opposite Tony Award winner Nathan Lane on March 21, and Orsini says his experience at Suffolk had a great deal to do with his success.

Switching gears in college

“I started out as a journalism major at Suffolk, but I found the Theatre Department, both teachers and students, so welcoming, I switched my major,” Orsini says from his home in New York.

At the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway, Orsini, who graduated in 2007, stars as Lane’s love interest in playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s new play, “The Nance.”

Paired with Nathan Lane

The play is a period piece, set in the 1930s, that tells the story of Chauncey Miles [Lane], a popular headline performer who played the nance, a campy, homosexual man. Beane’s story uses both humor and pathos to tell the story of a homosexual man whose secretive, messy offstage life contrasts with his outrageous onstage antics.

Although Lane has won acclaim on both stage and screen with The Producers and The Lion King, Orsini says he wasn’t starstruck.

“I’ve had the chance to work with a couple of big-name people,” he says, including Keanu Reeves and Kristen Wiig, on films scheduled for release this summer.

“I try to focus on projects that mean something to me, where the story is bigger than the individual’s involvement,” he says.

Jonny Orsini and Lesley Moreau in Suffolk University production of "You Can't Take It With You"

As for Lane, Orsini says he knew him from the film The Birdcage, the Mike Nichols-directed adaptation of the French film La Cage aux Folles.

“The scene where Robin Williams tries to teach [Lane’s character] to be a man really made an impression on me,” he says.

Orsini, who grew up in a small town in Connecticut, says he knew little about Lane’s musical theater career.

Introduction to acting

“I don’t have a musical theater background,” he says. “I played sports in high school and really didn’t do any acting until I got to Suffolk.”

At Suffolk, he was most influenced by Theater Professor Wesley Savick, who threw in unexpected reading material in addition to theater texts.

“He really opened my mind to Eastern philosophy when we read Zen and the Art of Archery,” Orsini says. “And it was really about not always taking the direct approach to acting or directing.”

Early roles

As a junior, Orsini starred in Boston-based Company One’s production of After Ashley and was then cast in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed, repeating his role at the Hartford Stage Company immediately after the Boston production closed.

“I really connected with his characters and his style of writing,” Orsini says. “His plays are hilarious. He takes a cold world and gets you to laugh to protect the heart underneath.”

An actor who writes

Orsini’s appreciation for Beane’s scripts comes from his own interest in writing.

“I wrote a ton in college, partly because of the influence of Ronan Noone, who taught playwriting.” he says.

While he hasn’t abandoned his own writing, Orsini says he’s 100 percent focused on acting right now.

“I work really hard at it,” he says. “But I also try to have as much fun with it as I can.”

Photo above shows Jonny Orsini and Lesley Moreau in Suffolk University Theatre Department production of You Can't Take It With You, 2005.