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

By Andrew Gans
07 Jun 2013

Kuhn in Rags.
photo by Carol Rosegg

"And, I’m still working it," Kuhn laughed. "Yesterday, I spent all day at PS Classics headquarters boxing, labeling and mailing CDs to all the people who backed the project. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. Frankly, I was so moved and humbled by the amount of support I got — from friends, family and fans. More than half of my backers were people I didn’t know. It was quite amazing, and I was very touched and moved by the support that I got."

Those many supporters and more will have the chance to hear Kuhn perform this material live in her June 10 and 12 concerts at 54 Below. "[We'll also offer] something from my musical theatre background, a couple from my Jule Styne album, and then a couple other songs — songs that I like that didn’t make it on the album. We have a Cole Porter song in there, all still in the theme of love and happiness."

When asked how performing in smaller venues compares to working on a Broadway stage, the Tony-nominated artist answered with a laugh, "Well, [it's] terrifying. There’s something very terrifying about just standing on stage in front of a microphone as yourself. It helps to have a great band behind you, which I do, and great material to do, which I do, but it makes me feel very vulnerable. It took me many years to have the courage to do it, and I’m getting used to it and I enjoy it much more than I did when I started. But definitely, for me, it’s a more comfortable thing to put on a costume and play somebody else. There’s another kind of nervousness about that, but it’s not the kind of terror that I often feel when I get onstage to do these solo shows. But, as I said, I’m definitely getting used to it, and I enjoy it much more. I think these shows are going to be really fun. I love that room. I think this show is going to fit perfectly in there. The whole vibe of it is going to be great in that room."

And, since Tony night is upon us, what are Kuhn's memories of performing on the Tony Awards?

Kuhn and Ryan Silverman in Passion.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"Oh my goodness. Well, it’s always very exciting. It’s like being Cinderella and getting to go to the ball, which I guess is an appropriate metaphor this season in particular," Kuhn laughed. "But I’ve only performed on the Tonys once, but I did it twice in that night. It was the year of Les Miserables and Rags, so I was nominated for Les Miz and then I performed from Rags and Les Miz, and it was one of the most crazy, terrifying nights of my life. I don’t think I’d ever performed on live television before and the Tonys – it’s not like you do a run through and you know how much time you have between things that you’re doing. My category was up first, so I was sitting in the audience, and they said someone would come get me and take me backstage to get ready to perform the Rags number, but nobody came to get me! I finally just found my own way backstage and made it just in the nick of time. That was really terrifying and awful! They were like mad at me! But nobody came and got me — I had no idea how much time I had. They got me into mic, wig and costume so fast, and I was standing in the wings without a second to even think about what it was I was about to do. And, considering that it was a song I hadn’t done in a long time, since the show had been closed for many, many months, and it was a 15-20 minute song that they cut down to three-and-a-half minutes, and they kept changing the cuts….I actually did make a mistake in the middle of it—I jumped something. And dear, beloved Dick Latessa just hung by my side and got me through. And then I had to do a quick change just off stage into nineteenth-century France, and was back out on stage moments later, and the next day woke up not knowing what had hit me!"

On the horizon for Kuhn is another new musical, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, which played a sold-out run as part of the Public Lab last season and will return with a full production this fall under the direction of Sam Gold. "I’m very excited about it," Kuhn said. "I think it’s a really beautiful piece. There’s a great cast and Sam Gold is directing it. It’s just such a wonderful, creative thing to work on. I just love everybody involved."

It would seem, as director Doyle wrote in the liner notes for Kuhn's new CD, that, indeed, the "best is yet to come" for the singing actress. When asked whether she feels similarly, Kuhn said, "One always hopes! You know, talking changes, transitions in life, I’m in a transition in my career because, obviously, I’m not an ingénue anymore, so different kinds of roles are coming my way. Sometimes those roles don’t get the same kind of attention, [but] they can be so much more interesting and challenging. Older people are more complex and have more problems than younger people, so to get to play those kind of parts are, I think, thrilling."

[Kuhn's new CD is available at the label's website, psclassics.com. (PS Classics discs and many other theatre recordings are also available at PlaybillStore.com.) … 54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. For tickets, reservations and club information call (646) 476-3551 or visit 54below.com or ticketweb.com. The shows have a $35-$45 cover. There is an additional $25 food and beverage minimum.]

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