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

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07 Jun 2013

Judy Kuhn
Judy Kuhn
Photo by Denise Winters

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Judy Kuhn
It's been a particularly busy season for three-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn, who was not only critically acclaimed for her performance as the ill-fated Fosca in the recent John Doyle-directed production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion for Classic Stage Company, but also just released her third solo recording, the beautifully touching "All This Happiness" on the PS Classics label, and will make her debut at the new Manhattan nightspot 54 Below June 10 and 12 at 7 PM.

The recent, extended production of Passion, which co-starred Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman, marked Kuhn's second time playing the sickly Fosca, who falls madly for the young soldier Giorgio (Silverman). The Broadway favorite had first taken on the role in the Kennedy Center's 2002 Sondheim Celebration opposite the Giorgio of Tony winner Michael Cerveris and the Clara of Rebecca Luker. "Oh my God it was amazing," Kuhn said last week about her chance to revisit the dark role Off-Broadway. "It was really amazing. I had such a great time working on it." She also said that the recent production gave her a chance to discover new facets about the obsessive character. "John Doyle gave the production and also the character a different kind of focus. I think in D.C. I focused much more on her illness and what it was. John was really more interested in other aspects of her character, like her changeability… He sort of challenged me to be kind of a different person in every scene — to keep Giorgio completely off guard so he would never know who he was dealing with, which I thought was a really interesting way of approaching the character. Also, I felt like because of the nature of the production and the lack of a real set, it became a much more animalistic and emotional, visceral production, which allowed me to find other colors in the character, too."

The intimate Off-Broadway venue, which features audience members on three sides of the stage, "was kind of fantastic and terrifying at the same time," Kuhn said with a laugh. "You feel very vulnerable and very exposed when everybody’s so close, but it also brings an intimacy and an intensity to the piece, which I feel it benefits from because it is a very intimate story about the most intimate things people experience in life —love and passion and the idea of beauty, all those things. So I think it was really interesting to do it so up close. I loved it."

Kuhn in Passion.
photo by Joan Marcus

Kuhn also loved working with director Doyle, whose Broadway resume includes the award-winning revivals of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Company as well as the debut of the new musical A Catered Affair. "He's just such a gentle, decent, caring person, and he truly respects the actors that are in the room – is deeply respectful," the gifted actress explained. "But he also wants you to take risks and basically just says, 'Bring it!' He actually said something really interesting to me about how he directs: by asking, not telling. He constantly is asking questions – 'When do you think the moment is that she falls in love with Giorgio?' and then you go, 'Oh!' Really specific things that you start to look for. He doesn’t want you to have a right answer – he never thinks there is a right answer. He wants you to always be searching. He’s not interested in doing the same thing twice ever. He really creates a great ensemble so that everyone in the room feels like they can’t do anything wrong. And, it creates this atmosphere of such creativity, and he also challenges you all the time to be better. He really finds very quickly the things you do to kind of protect yourself, and he subtly takes them away from you, so he makes you a better actor I think."

Although there was no recording of Kuhn's work in the Kennedy Center production of Passion, this time around she did get to preserve her layered performance as Fosca for release on the PS Classics label. Due to upcoming vocal surgery, co-star Errico had to bow out of the recording, but DC Clara, Luker, was able to step in at the last moment. "It was sad that Melissa was unable to do [the recording, but] it was so great of [Rebecca] to [join us] because it would have been so sad not to record it at all. … Because I’d done it with Rebecca, it wasn’t so odd for me; in fact, it was very nostalgic hearing her sing that music again. I’m sure it was much more of an adjustment for Ryan, who’d never even met Rebecca until we first got together and rehearsed, but he’s such an easygoing guy and Rebecca’s such an easygoing person that they hit it off right away. I think he loved working with her. It all went very well, and I feel very grateful to Rebecca for doing it, and she, of course, gave a brilliant performance." The Passion recording, the most expansive treatment of the Tony Award-winning 1994 musical to date, is due July 2.


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