DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Winner and Man Who Came to Dinner Star Cady Huffman

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Cady Huffman
Cady Huffman

CADY HUFFMAN
That Tony-winning triple threat Cady Huffman is thankfully back on the boards in The Peccadillo Theater Company's current Off-Broadway revival of Kaufman and Hart's classic comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner, which is currently playing a limited engagement at the Theatre at St. Clement's. Directed by Obie-winning director Dan Wackerman, the production casts Huffman, best known for her hilarious and Tony-winning performance as Swedish bombshell Ulla in Mel Brooks' The Producers, as actress Lorraine Sheldon opposite Drama Desk winner Jim Brochu as radio personality Sheridan Whiteside. During previews for Man Who Came to Dinner, I had the pleasure of chatting with the good-natured actress, whose breakthrough role was playing Ziegfeld's Favorite in the original company of Tommy Tune's staging of  Will Rogers Follies; that brief interview follows:

Question: How did this role come about for you?
Cady Huffman: They called me. They called and asked, and I've been wanting to do a play, and I gave them all my conflicts — which were many — and they still said yes. [Laughs.]

Question: Were you familiar with this play?
Huffman: Not really, no. I knew that it existed. I had heard of it, but I really was not familiar with it, no.

Huffman in The Man Who Came to Dinner.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: What was your response when you first read the script?
Huffman: Well, I thought, for one thing, Lorraine is a kick-ass role. Everybody I told I was doing it was like, "Oh, that part's great! You'll do great…" At first, because I had a lot of conflicts for rehearsals, I did not get to rehearse much, and I thought, "Oh, I'm only in three scenes." And then, when I really got into it, I was like, "Oh my God!" [Laughs.] "There's so much to learn." But, we're still doing the work. It's still in previews. We have about a week to get it right.

Question: How would you describe Lorraine?
Huffman: Vain. Selfish. Talented. Sexy. Ambitious. Clever. Fashionable… So many things. Fun! She is definitely the life of the party. Question: What's it like playing her?
Huffman: She's fun. I get to put on the prettiest clothes and sort of be very outside myself. I am a jeans-and-t-shirt-no-makeup kind of gal. It's fun to [play] somebody who really, really works on the way she looks and how she acts, and has really worked very hard to change herself.

Question: Tell me a little bit about the rehearsals and working with director Dan Wackerman.
Huffman: Rehearsals were nuts because we're not even on a contract. We're on some sort of agreement through Equity, so they only get so many hours with us, and because we're not getting paid a regular salary, there was never a rehearsal where we had everyone. [Laughs.] There was always a stage manager that was on for somebody. One day, the stage manager walks into the scene and Jim Brochu just goes, "Who are you [today]?!" [Laughs.] He played so many roles, you're like, "I don't even know where I am in the show! Who are you?" Fortunately, it's a very friendly, kind, wonderful cast, and we all just went through it with a good dose of humor.

Huffman in The Man Who Came to Dinner.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: As you're doing the play now, why do you think it has endured?
Huffman: Oh, it's such a crowd pleaser. It has all of those wacky, wild characters. It's that clash of cultures. It's a clash of status. It's showbiz coming to a small town… It's such silliness, and I think a silly comedy is always welcome. We go to the theatre to be taken out of our own dreary lives, and this one definitely takes you out of your own dreary life. Question: For Broadway audiences you're known for musicals —  Producers, Will Rogers Follies — but you've done both plays and musicals. How do they compare for you?
Huffman: They're actually quite different. Singing and dancing is sort of like, "Yeah! I know how to do that." [Laughs.] I always feel a bit more naked when I'm doing just a play. It's always sort of an adjustment to [think], "This is it? All I have to do is talk? That's it?" [Laughs.] "I don't have to do anything else?" I usually still do a full vocal warm-up and a physical warm-up because my comfort zone is doing big musicals, but I love doing plays, and I love the different world it is. The actors are very different in straight theatre than they are in musical theatre. I do film, I do television. One of the things that I love about what I do is how many different things I get to do and the different types of performers and directors and creative people that I get to work with. Anytime I get to do something different, it's welcome.

Question: Would you be interested in doing another big musical?
Huffman: Absolutely. We're hoping Empire does something. I just did that workshop, and I know they want it very much to go to Broadway, so keep your fingers crossed. That would be a huge musical, and I'd get to do a lot of big singing and dancing.

Question: What's that musical about?
Huffman: It's about the building of the Empire State Building.

Question: Who did you play in the reading?
Huffman: I played Gladys, the contractor.

Question: Is it musical comedy?
Huffman: Oh, yes. It's totally original. It's like an updated, good old-fashioned American musical. There's something very modern about it, at the same time being very pleasing with the style of traditional American musicals.

Huffman in the The Producers.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: Are you still judging on "Iron Chef?" I see you occasionally on The Food Network on that program.
Huffman: Indeed, yes. Ten seasons later — yes. Question: How did that originally come about?
Huffman: A friend of mine was producing it, and they needed personalities, and he said to me, "Cady, you're sort of famous." [Laughs.] "Do you want to come on our show?" It was a new show, nobody knew what it would be, and they were kind of having trouble finding people who would come on because they don't pay anything, and I said, "Yeah, free food. I'm an actor. I'm in."

Question: Have you ever eaten anything that was just horrible?
Huffman: You know, people ask me that all the time, and I've got to tell you, these guys would never make anything that's just horrible. There's certainly been things that have not succeeded, but, believe me, if you're like 98 percent of the people in the United States, your mother has never cooked anything as good as the worst thing on "Iron Chef."

Question: What are your plans for the holidays? Do you make New Year's resolutions?
Huffman: Well, there's a chance that this play will be extended, so I'm most likely in New York City for the holidays, which I love because the holidays get so nice and quiet in the city. I never make resolutions. They don't appeal to me. I don't like to fail at anything, so why do it? [Laughs.] Why start it?

Question: You also have a movie coming out — "Molly's Theory."
Huffman: Yeah, we just actually wrapped filming "Molly's Theory of Relativity." I play a dead mother. I play a mother — a Jewish mother. It's a small independent film, and I'm not really sure how it will be distributed. It's a great ensemble cast with Reed Birney.

Question: I wonder, have you ever been interested in being on the other side as a producer or director?
Huffman: I have produced films, and I loved it — some of the hardest work I've ever done. I produced a film right before I went into rehearsals for The Producers. I was fully thinking that I would be going into the other side, and then The Producers happened almost instantaneously, and I got pulled back in!… And, I have directed and I choreographed. I enjoy it very much. Our business is changing so much, you sort of have to reinvent yourself constantly. *

Here's how the Peccadillo bills the 1939 comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner: "Celebrated critic and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on an icy doorstep while on a December lecture tour. Confined for several weeks of recovery at the Midwestern home of the utterly conventional Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, he proceeds to turn the family’s life inside out with his incessant demands, long-distance phone calls and parade of eccentric celebrity guests. As Whiteside’s secretary Maggie says, 'He would see his mother burned at the stake if that was the only way he could light his cigarette!'"

[For tickets, priced $25, phone (212) 352-3101 or visit ThePeccadillo.com. The Theatre at St. Clement's is located at 423 West 46th Street.]

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

The cast of <i>The Man Who Came to Dinner</i>
The cast of The Man Who Came to Dinner (Photo by Carol Rosegg)