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."
|photo by Joan Marcus|
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.
|Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench|
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?
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.
|photo by Carol Rosegg|
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?
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
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.]
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