DIVA TALK: Tony Nominee and Fun Home Star Judy Kuhn Ponders Her Dream Roles
By Andrew Gans
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
"I’ve had the best experience working on this piece," Kuhn told me during the musical's preview period. "I play Helen, who is Alison’s mother, and in the show Alison is played by three actresses, one when she’s nine, one at 19, and one the adult Alison, who is trying to find a way to tell her father’s story. We are all her memories of her childhood and her growing up at this moment in her life, and the year that she was 19, when everything happened that changed her life. It goes back and forth in time, and I, as Helen, only relate to small Alison, as she’s known, and medium Alison. But I love her. She’s just a really complicated [character, who] lived this very difficult life in this house [and] very much tries to maintain the kind of mythology of the family, and hold the family together until, basically, she can’t anymore."
About librettist Kron, who is making her debut as a lyricist with the Sam Gold-directed production, Kuhn said, "Her writing, I think, is extraordinary in this. It’s not an easy book to adapt, to figure out what the theatrical version of this graphic novel is because a graphic novel is obviously very visual. They decided that they couldn’t put the book on stage; they had to find the theatrical equivalent of these panels, of these snapshots of Alison’s life, how the adult Alison would tell her story in a theatrical form. And, I think they really found it.
"I always knew Lisa was a great writer, but what people will learn from this is that she’s an amazing lyricist," Kuhn added. "I mean, her lyrics are great, truly great lyrics. The way the music and the book are woven together is so seamless. And, Jeanine’s music is amazing, and Sam Gold’s direction is amazing. This team collaborated in a way I’ve never seen a team collaborate. I think Jeanine said the other day, 'We really worked as one,' and I think that it shows in what you see onstage."
Diva Talk also asked the Broadway favorite to select her dream stage roles in musical and/or nonmusical productions. Kuhn said it was an interesting challenge "for so many reasons, partly because I feel like I'm back on the boards a little bit, and yet I'm a different person and I'm re-aligning my thoughts about the kind of roles I should play."
Click through to see the roles Kuhn chose and her thoughts about each part.
There are roles I've always wanted to play, but I think now, "Hmmm, maybe that ship has sailed." [Laughs.] I also tend to think more about the writers that I want to do — [Stephen] Sondheim always. I’ve always wanted to play Dot in Sunday in the Park. Now, that's a ship that has probably sailed, but if someone would let me sing that score, I'd die happy.
Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music
I haven't [ever performed "Send in the Clowns"], and there’s such a challenge there because it’s the Sondheim song that even if people don’t know who Sondheim is, they know that song. To take on something that you can find a way to own and make it new again – I love those sort of challenges.
Sally Durant Plummer in Follies
Again, a woman who’s looking at her life through a different lens all of a sudden because of what her daughter is experiencing. She has to confront this lonely marriage she’s in and how to let her child go. … I’m also a mother in the process of letting my daughter go, now in college. As a parent, you’re so fiercely protective of your child, and then there’s a point you realize there’s only so much you can protect them from and they have to make their own choices, and you have to let them go… I’ve sung some of Adam [Guettel]'s songs, but I’d love to be in one of his shows. I just love his writing so much. I think he’s an extraordinary voice.
Kurt Weill is another one I feel such an affinity for, his music and also subject matter. …Lady In The Dark — I think it’s a hard thing to do, but I think it’s fascinating. It’s a play about psychoanalysis that was written in 1941! … Stylistically, his music changed depending on his collaborator, which I find fascinating, but I also think he tended to work with writers who kind of broke open the form of musical theatre. I think their stuff was so ahead of its time, and that piece is one example of it. Again, an exploration of a woman’s role in marriage and society. Just the whole idea of a musical about psychoanalysis. There’s all this fantasy…and the dream thing...I just think it’s a fascinating piece, and it’d be an amazing part to play… I think he was just so far ahead of his time. And, of course, one of his most beautiful songs is in it, “My Ship.” And that is used in such an interesting way because you hear fragments of it, but you can’t sing the song until she’s come to an understanding of herself through the analysis.
Susan Cooper in Love Life
I would love to play Anna in The King and I, and that’s also a role that I feel I’m right for now. Of all Rodgers and Hammerstein, I just feel an affinity for that piece. She’s a great character, and it also just feels like something that is resonant for now because it’s all about cultural difference and understanding.
And then on the non-musical front, I would love to do more Chekhov. I had the opportunity to do Three Sisters a few years back. The part I’ve always wanted to play, again I think that ship has sailed, is Sonya in Uncle Vanya. I think it’s my favorite Chekhov, and I just love that play so much. There's something about her life and situation that I’ve always found so moving. I mean, Chekhov you can endlessly explore.
Nora Helmer in A Doll's House
"Ultimately, it’s hard to say what you want to play because you don't know what’s coming," Kuhn explained. "I would’ve never known that I would want to play Helen in Fun Home because two years ago I didn’t know it existed. Ultimately, the role you want to play is the role that’s written for you. I wouldn’t say Helen was written for me, but I’d say it was written on me. Especially when you’re working with such great writers, that is extremely satisfying and gratifying… Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but when you feel like you’ve influenced the writing in some way, that’s I guess, ultimately, the dream."
[For further information phone (212) 967-7555, or visit PublicTheater. The Public Theater is located at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan.]
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