DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Three-Time Tony Nominee and Passion Star Judy Kuhn

By Andrew Gans
07 Jun 2013

Kuhn as Cosette in Les Miz.
Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

It should be noted that Kuhn is blessed with one of the richest voices in the musical theatre today; in fact, one suspects when God was handing out voices, she stepped into line twice. Kuhn not only possesses a rangy, glorious soprano that she used to dramatic effect as the original Cosette in Les Miserables and as Amalia in the revival of She Loves Me, but she also boasts a rich, thrilling belt that she first displayed in the Broadway debut of Chess, a production that garnered the actress numerous lifelong admirers, this writer included. That golden voice can be heard in its full glory on her new solo recording, the aforementioned "All This Happiness," which features an eclectic array of material including "Temptation," "Something Cool," "Losing You," "Goodbye Joe" and "Night Ride Home," among others.

One of the highlights of the new disc is a gorgeous pairing of Sondheim's "Happiness" and "In Buddy's Eyes," from the musicals Passion and Follies, respectively. When asked about the decision to group the songs together, Kuhn explained, "'Happiness' [isn't] a happy song, despite what the words say. That’s the genius of Sondheim. The harmonics and the way he sets those lyrics harmonically tell you, 'I don’t know if this is going to be so happy.' There’s a tension underneath it where he’s telling you this is not just a love song. There is a naiveté in that and misunderstanding about what love and what happiness is. I guess it was sort of my idea to put the two together, and then Dan Lipton did this brilliant arrangement. To me, to put the two together is sort of the arc of a relationship, the idea of that moment of passion you feel when you fall in love or meet someone you’re very attracted to and you have that wonderful, sexual beginning to a romance. And then what happens many years later in a marriage where that isn’t necessarily where it was in the beginning. And, because 'In Buddy’s Eyes' she keeps saying, 'I’m young, I’m beautiful. I’m still the prize.' And then Dan brought back the harmonics of 'Happiness' to the end as a reminder that while the character is thinking how [her husband] looked at her when she was young and beautiful, what that is like now and trying to hang on to that dream of that passion. That, to me, was what putting those two songs together was about."

And, what does the title of the CD, "All This Happiness," mean to the singer?

"I wanted it to be kind of ambiguous. Obviously, not all the songs on the CD are happy – there’s a lot of sadness and loss in there," Kuhn laughed. "The set and the CD sort of came together at a moment in my life when there was a lot of change and reflection going on. I was about to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary, and my daughter was about to go off to college, and I was doing a lot of reflecting on my life and the relationships in my life. It’s kind of what I was just saying about putting together the two songs – what you think your life is going to be when you’re young, and you're looking ahead and what happens when you get to that point in your life when you're assessing, 'What did I get that I wanted? Did I really want that? What did I think was going to make me happy, and what really makes me happy now?' I think those things change as you get older. And, I think when you come to this middle part of your life when things do change and children grow up and you're looking at a marriage to someone you've been with for a really long time, who I still love very much, but relationships evolve and you start to look at different things. So when I say 'All This Happiness' – it’s a whole kind of stew of happiness and unhappiness and disappointment but triumph, and all these things that you hope your life will be."

Kuhn also spoke about her decision to fund the recording — her third, following the equally impressive "Just in Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne" and "Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro" — via Kickstarter, the online platform to raise money for creative projects. "It was kind of amazing," Kuhn said. "When we were working on this music, I thought we really should record this. I certainly could not have afforded to pay for it by myself, and I didn’t know how to go out and look for investors, and I didn’t know that any label would pay for it because labels don’t often do that these days. I have a friend who’s a filmmaker, who’d raised money for a film on Kickstarter, and she had told me about it, and someone else said I should check it out. And, I thought there’s nothing to lose by trying!… I got help from friends and a young, talented actor-singer I know who has a sideline of doing web and social media stuff. He helped me kind of design the page and do a video and get the word out there. And then you just work it every day for a month. It takes a long time for it to get set up, and then once you launch it, you just work it constantly.