DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Winner Cady Huffman Plus Grey Gardens on Disc

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Winner Cady Huffman Plus Grey Gardens on Disc News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
(clockwise from left): Cady Huffman, James Colby, Larry Bryggman and Lois Smith, who will star in Surface to Air.
(clockwise from left): Cady Huffman, James Colby, Larry Bryggman and Lois Smith, who will star in Surface to Air. Photo by Ric Kallaher

CADY HUFFMAN
It probably comes as little surprise that my favorite performance in the original cast of Mel Brooks' The Producers was neither Matthew Broderick nor Nathan Lane's, but the one given by that statuesque stunner, Cady Huffman. Huffman, who played Swedish bombshell Ulla, had much less stage time, but she made each and every moment count. Her delivery of "When You Got It, Flaunt It" helped the actress earn a Tony Award for her comedic and thrillingly sung performance, and I still laugh when I listen to the Producers cast recording and hear Huffman state, "Now Ulla belt"! It's been a busy few months for the triple threat, whose breakthrough role was playing Ziegfeld's Favorite in the original company of Tommy Tune's Will Rogers Follies: Huffman recently played the role of Sabina in the Kander and Ebb musical All About Us, which ended its limited engagement at the Westport Country Playhouse at the end of April. And, now, the celebrated performer is taking a non-musical turn to Symphony Space where she has been cast as Terri in David Epstein's Surface to Air, part of the theatre's annual "Summer Stock on Broadway" series. The play, which is directed by James Naughton, also features Bruce Altman as Andrew, Larry Bryggman as Hank, James Colby as Eddie, Marisa Echeverría as Magdalena, Lois Smith as Princess and Mark J. Sullivan as Rob. Performances of the new work — about a family who must confront the harsh realities of the lasting effects of the Vietnam War — will begin July 11 and play through Aug. 5. I recently had the pleasure of chatting briefly with the good-natured Huffman about her many stage outings.

Question: Tell me about the character you're playing in Surface to Air.
Huffman: I play Terri, the sister. I'm a big Hollywood executive, and I've come home from Los Angeles with my husband, who is an independent documentary maker, and we're waiting for my brother Rob's remains to be sent home from Vietnam — 30 years later. I was 12 when he died, so basically we're just waiting for him to be returned to us. It's sort of the dynamics of family in these exceptional situations. My thing is [that] I'm this very powerful person who, when I get home, can just revert to being 12. We all know how that is. [Laughs.]

Question: It sounds like it's an appropriate play to be doing at this time, considering what's happening in the world.
Huffman: Yeah, it really is. It takes place in 2001, just after 9/11. So it does not mention the current war, but Dad is a World War II vet, we have another brother who is a Vietnam vet, and [it concerns] the perspective of soldiers having fought in different wars. It's very pertinent. You just realize that history repeats itself as time goes on. Does anything change?

Question: It's a great cast. What's it like working with Lois Smith?
Huffman: Oh, my God, it's so exciting! She's really lovely, and she's so great. Larry Bryggman [is also] fantastic [and] Bruce Altman, [who] plays my husband. It's really, really fun to be in a small cast and have everybody just be real professional and great.

Question: What's it like working with James Naughton as a director?
Huffman: Well, I just can't complain. [Laughs.] He's just extremely attractive, what can I say? Question: It's a limited run for a little less than a month. Was that appealing to you that it's not a longer engagement?
Huffman: That was not really a factor. August is pretty slow, although I have a couple of things going on in August, but the total appeal was the group of people and the play.

Question: Have you gotten onto the Symphony Space stage yet?
Huffman: We've done a little bit of rehearsing on the stage, but not with the set yet. It's a very big stage. It's an intimate show on a big stage, so we have to really think about our stagecraft — letting the people in on what's going on.

Question: Since we've never spoken, I wanted to talk about some of your Broadway musical experiences. Your breakout performance was Will Rogers Follies. What was it like working with Tommy Tune?
Huffman: It was great. My previous Broadway experiences I had worked with Arthur Laurents, and then I worked with Bob Fosse. I was primarily a dancer at that time, [although] I've never only been a dancer. I've always been an actress/singer/dancer, but at that moment I was primarily a dancer, and so Bob Fosse was the ultimate for me. And then when I got [to work with] Tommy, it just struck me the similarities of the intensity of these guys who are so great at doing what they do, but how opposite [Tune] was from Bob Fosse. I'd say Bob was very much of the earth — he was really earthy and grounded. And then Tommy was just all about the air — up in the air, just ethereal. It was very exciting. It was a chance for me. I was a little bit nervous [since] I had never done any kind of leading role on Broadway. I was being a little bit timid one day, and [Tune] says, "Well, Cady, do somethin'!" [Laughs.] That is some of the best direction just to take in life. "Just do somethin', for cryin' out loud! What are you waitin' for?" [Laughs.]

Question: Did they build up your role in Will Rogers Follies?
Huffman: Yeah, actually. When I auditioned, it was two roles: a soubrette and a showgirl. I really wanted to be the soubrette, so I went in there and sang some crazy thing from Die Fledermaus, and Tommy cast me and combined the two roles. That was really fun because it was a true workshop that we did. They had not defined a lot of the show when we started. So [with] my role, he combined several elements that they were considering for other characters into my role.

Question: For The Producers, were there workshops before the actual production?
Huffman: I was involved from the very first reading of it, which was April 9, 2000. I got a call from [a casting director, who] said, "Cady, would you consider reading the role of Ulla?" in [what was] basically a backer's audition. "Yeah!" He said, "Well, bring me your stuff, and I'll show it to Susan [Stroman] and Mel [Brooks]." And the next day, he called and said, "Okay, you're in! You're going to do this little reading." A week of rehearsal, learn the stuff, then we have these two readings in one day. Suits, producers, sitting watching… blue-purple in the face laughing so hard. This show was so different from The Will Rogers Follies because the show was there. It was already just there. There was never a significant difference, never a significant change made. And after we finished the two readings, Mel Brooks came up to me and said, "Kid, when we go [to Broadway], you're in!"

Question: That must have been pretty exciting to be a part of the show the whole way through.
Huffman: Absolutely. That was one of those experiences so few people are allowed to have.

Question: What do you remember most from working on the show?
Huffman: Rehearsals. It was extremely well cast for one thing. So, every day, was these great guys, Nathan [Lane] and Matthew [Broderick] and Gary [Beach] and Roger [Bart]. We went through a couple of different Franz-es. But every day, coming in, trying stuff, falling down, getting up. It was the safest environment I've ever been in. I think it was probably because there was nothing to change. It was well cast, and everybody was just brave enough to do what they needed to do.

Question: Every now and then I catch you on the Food Network. How did that gig on "Iron Chef" come about?
Huffman: That gig came about because I know the producer. When that show first started, they had no idea if it would be any kind of hit, and I think they had trouble attracting people. [Laughs.] I think they needed personalities that weren't just strictly foodies. It was like, "Cady, do you want to come on?" I'm like, "Heck, yeah. You kidding me?" So I've done it all five seasons.

Question: It seems like the greatest job.
Huffman: Next to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," it's the greatest job ever — only it's much better food than they served on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It's crazy what a good job it is. I don't get paid a lot, but the food is crazy.

Question: Where else do you get to try the work of all those chefs?
Huffman: Exactly, without paying an arm and a leg. The chefs are fantastic. It's fun to get to know the Iron Chefs, get to learn some of their tricks… the Iron Chef tricks [like cooking] ribs in an hour. It's amazing.

Question: What other projects do you have in the works after Surface to Air?
Huffman: I have little things here and there, getting back on the audition wagon. I'm doing a reading of Enter Laughing, apparently with Anne Jackson, in East Hampton over the summer. . . . Lewis Stadlen is directing it.

Question: Have you ever thought of doing a solo album?
Huffman: I would love to! . . . How do these 20-year-old kids have albums out? How did you do that? I would love to. If you know somebody, send them my way. [Laughs.]

Question: It seems to help if you put together a cabaret act.
Huffman: I did one last year. I have a show that I do, and I do private parties and all that stuff.

Question: Do you enjoy performing your solo show?
Huffman: I love it. In The Will Rogers Follies I was very involved in the audience. I could look right at them, wink right to them, talk right to them, and so I got very comfortable with that. Then I realized I get asked to do that a lot in shows, and doing it in my own show is just something I love. I love being able to see the faces, gage their responses and have fun — do a little ad-libbing and figure out what the atmosphere is. I love it.

Question: You were also in All About Us recently in Connecticut.
Huffman: I sure was — another moment where I had to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

Question: What was that experience like?
Huffman: Oh, my God, it was great!

Question: What role did you play?
Huffman: Sabina — so the role was enormous. It's a great piece with wonderful music. I got several of the good songs. It's just sort of a monster of a piece. We all had to work really, really hard, and that commute up to Westport can be killer.

Question: Were you commuting every day?
Huffman: Theoretically we were, but it got to be very clear that we needed to stay up there [or] we just were not going to survive.

Question: Is there any talk of that having any life somewhere else?
Huffman: That's certainly what they want. I'm hearing rumors here and there. Nobody has contacted me directly, but I have heard rumors.

Question: Would you be interested in doing the show again?
Huffman: Absolutely, it's a terrific role.

[Tickets for Surface to Air, priced $36-$45, are available by calling (212) 864-5400 or by visiting www.symphonyspace.org. Symphony Space is located at Broadway and 95th Street.]

FOR THE RECORD: Grey Gardens
For her work in the dual roles of Edith Bouvier Beale and "Little" Edie Beale in the Off-Broadway production of Grey Gardens, Christine Ebersole was honored with the Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, an Obie, a special citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Drama League's 2006 Distinguished Performance of the Year Award. When the musical transferred to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre this past season, Ebersole also picked up her second Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Her performance, which is both hysterical and heartbreaking (often within the same moment), as well as that of her Tony-winning co-star, Mary Louise Wilson, have thankfully been preserved on CD. In fact, an Off-Broadway recording was also released, but when changes were made to the Broadway production, a second CD was released by PS Classics.

The new disc features the three new songs added for the Broadway run — "The Girl Who Has Everything," "Goin' Places" and "Marry Well" — and omits those that were nixed: "Body Beautiful Beale," "Better Fall out of Love" and "Being Bouvier." The second CD also features the terrific performance of Erin Davie, who stepped into the role of Young "Little" Edie Beale that was created Off-Broadway by Sara Gettelfinger.

Grey Gardens, which is based on the documentary of the same name, charts the tumultuous relationship between a mother and daughter, who slide from the top of the social register to the bottom of the heap, eventually living in recluse in a dilapidated 28-room mansion in East Hampton, Long Island. The musical features a Tony-nominated book by Doug Wright and a Tony-nominated score by Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics).

That score is an eclectic mix of pastiche, novelty numbers and Broadway ballads that do a remarkable job telling the unusual story that is Grey Gardens, and each and every song benefits from the stellar cast led by Ebersole and Wilson. In fact, Ebersole's vocal work in the show's 1940s-set first act is so period-perfect, it is hard to imagine anyone else performing the role. Her transformation into the second-act "Little" Edie Beale is equally remarkable.

The two most beautiful songs in the musical have been given to Ebersole: the melodic "Will You?" that closes the first act and the gut-wrenching "Another Winter in a Summer Town" that concludes the second. Ebersole also shines in the emotional "Around the World," which features Wilson as the elderly Edith Bouvier Beale; the comedic "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," in which Little "Edie" explains her eccentric clothing choices; and the novelty number "Hominy Grits." Wilson also scores with "The Cake I Had" and "Jerry Likes My Corn," perhaps the first Broadway tune ever devoted to the edible plant.

The other cast members also have the chance to impress: Bob Stillman as Edith's pianist-companion George Gould Strong; the aforementioned Erin Davie as the Young "Little" Edie Beale; and Matt Cavenaugh in the roles of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. (in Act One) and as the corn-loving Jerry (in Act Two). Broadway veteran John McMartin is also a welcome presence. The single CD, which demonstrates the power of the Grey Gardens score, features a lavishly illustrated booklet with complete lyrics.

DIVA TIDBITS
Will Chase will play Sid opposite Kate Baldwin's Babe in the upcoming production of The Pajama Game at the St. Louis Muny, the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre. Paul Blake will direct Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' musical, which will run July 23-29 at the famed theatre. The cast will also include Patti Mariano as Mabel, Leslie Denniston as Gladys, Bruce Adler as Hines, Jack Friemann as Mr. Hasler, John Contini as Pop, Jennifer Cody as Mae, Sara Sheperd as Brenda, Gary Glasgow as the Salesman and Joe Farrell as Prez. Drew Humphrey and Brandon Bieber will be the "Steam Heat" dancers. Tickets are available by calling (314) 361-1900, ext. 550; for more information visit www.muny.org.

Cabaret favorite Andrea Marcovicci will return to the Algonquin's Oak Room for her 21st consecutive season Nov. 13. The celebrated singing actress — according to the official Algonquin website — will offer Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart through Jan. 12, 2008. Marcovicci's newest show, which she will premiere July 10-29 at the Empire Plush Room in San Francisco, features such Rodgers and Hart gems as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Falling in Love With Love," "The Lady is a Tramp," "My Funny Valentine," "Ten Cents a Dance" and "Where or When." The fall season at the Algonquin will actually kick off Sept. 4 with veteran singer-pianist Steve Ross. Ross' latest show, which runs through Sept. 15, is titled Good Thing Going. KT Sullivan will welcome Autumn in New York Sept. 18-Oct. 13, and Paula West will offer Something Good Oct. 16-Nov. 10. Although specific dates have yet to be announced, 2008 at the Algonquin will feature performances by Sandy Stewart and Bill Charlap, Tierney Sutton and Monica Mancini, Lari White, Taboo Tony nominee Euan Morton and Maude Maggart. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street. Call (212) 467-7444 for reservations; visit www.algonquinhotel.com for more information.

July is a busy month for singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway, who made her Broadway debut in Swing! The Tony-nominated actress will play a brief engagement at the Blue Note July 26-29. Show times at the famed Manhattan jazz club are 8 and 10:30 PM each night. July 26 will also mark the premiere of Callaway's TV pilot, "Singer's Spotlight with Ann Hampton Callaway." The program will debut on Chicago's PBS station WTTW. The first show in this series, which will soon be taped for a national PBS audience, features an interview with Academy Award winner Liza Minnelli. "Singer's Spotlight" was filmed before a live audience in Chicago. For more information visit www.bluenote.net or www.annhamptoncallaway.com.

Give My Regards to Broadway: Television Legends in an Evening of Song is the title of the upcoming benefit concert for Reprise! Broadway's Best. The July 21 evening will be held at the Brentwood Theatre in West Los Angeles and will feature the talents of Jason Alexander, Pam Dawber, Florence Henderson, Ken Howard, Shirley Jones, Michele Lee, Hal Linden, Peter Marshall, John Schneider, Jean Smart and Dick Van Dyke. Gerald Sternbach will be the musical director for the 8 PM event, which will feature the television stars singing Broadway tunes. The Brentwood Theatre is located at 11301 Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles. A pre-show reception will be catered by Sonora Café. Tickets, priced $150 and $350, are available by calling (310) 319-1111 or by visiting www.reprise.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Today’s Most Popular News: