ActorQuest - Kristin Huffman Goes Inside 'Company' 17
In November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company. The actress, with a new series of tales that go inside the making of Company from an actor's perspective, starting at the Cincinnati Playhouse and on to New York, continues her stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
This is the seventeenth story about the "Making of Company." If you haven't read the others, go back and do so and then rejoin us here!
SCENE SEVENTEEN: MEET AND GREET
We had our Meet and Greet on the second day of rehearsal and everyone who's anyone was there. That included Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Furth…you know, the composer and writer of the book? There were press cameras and writers and a bunch of producers and PR types and ...the cast.
Cincinnati Playhouse should be proud that the spread of food they laid out was as good as the Broadway spread. A few more melons and strawberries, but on the whole, just as tasty. And despite my fear of dropping things on my nice Meet and Greet outfit, I still ate the stuff they laid out for us. And every time I had my mouth stuffed with something, the photographer took my picture. Appropriate for my character I guess, but it wasn't intentional.
Then we did the obligatory thing I hate at a Meet and Greet. We all went around the room and introduced ourselves and told what role we were playing or in what capacity we were involved with the show. My position happened to be right after the two big guns in the room. Mr. Sondheim said "Hi, I'm Stephen Sondheim and I am a friend of George Furth" and Mr. Furth said, "Hi, I'm George Furth and I'm an alcoholic." It got a big laugh but I could see the PR folks cringe because the cameras were rolling. I was so engrossed in watching the action that it took me a few seconds to remember who I was and the role I was playing. Somehow, I felt closer to George Furth in not only his own self admitted "therapeutic writing" i.e. our show, but also in his ability to piss off PR people.
After the introductions we all continued to mingle around and during this time it wasn't the PR folks who I offended, it was the set designer. He got there late, and so his little miniature set, that all set designers put together as a model of what we will be using, was all jumbled together. They had it laid out on the piano so folks could come around and see what it would look like. We had all seen it in Cinci, but, I guess you can never see that phallic column enough times. And there were new big blocks. The model stayed all jumbled up until one of the understudies decided to help set it up. She had never seen the show, but it is a pretty simple set. No one else was bothering to fix it up, so I saw nothing wrong in helping her. But as I got closer to the model I noticed with glee that there were little mini cutout versions of the cast mixed among the set pieces! They had taken our full length pictures and made us into tiny little stand up pieces!! So of course, we played with those. Putting them in different spots on the mini set. Then there were a bunch of the white phallic columns too, not just one. I guess in case one of them wilted. So I started putting them up around the mini set. Lots of them. If they followed my "set design" they would have a completely different show. There were some other set pieces that really didn't go in our set, but they were there, so we included them in the set as well.
No one in the entire room seemed to care about this mini set because they were all busy trying to talk with Mr. Furth and Mr. Sondheim. So we had a ball. Until, the set designer came over and got a little upset with us for "doing that to his set". I actually slid away from the mini set before he really got upset but the understudy didn't catch the vibe and she stayed to "play" a bit too long.
A change of venue was what I needed and as I felt drawn to Mr. Furth, due to his ability to say whatever the hell he wants and get away with it, I went over to ask him my burning question. When we were in Cincinnati he told us that the parts that Keith and I play were real people. He based "Harry" and "Sarah" on real people. As well as almost all the other characters. So I had to ask him two things. Was Sarah really that into food and did she really do karate on her husband. To my joy he answered an emphatic, "YES"! and then he said, "do you want to know who she really is?" OH MY GOSH YES!!! So he told me.
Remember the actress who played "Hot Lips Hollihan" in the movie, M*A*S*H*? THAT'S HER!!!! The real "Sarah"!!! He changed her name slightly. I understand that he has been telling people, little by little, these tidbits about who he based these characters on so I am not giving away secret info when I tell you that he said David and Jenny, were David O. Selznick,the producer, and Jennifer Jones, the actress. Bobby is based on Warren Beatty, and, yes, he knows that. Susan and Peter are real actors too. Susan was the white trash part in To Kill A Mockingbird and David was in The Bridge over the River Kwai. Joanne really is Elaine Stritch. The girlfriends are based on real people George knew as well. The only made up character is Amy. When you hear the names of other people in the first song, Company, those are real people that Stephen and George knew. Even Helen Kincaid, who got all "fat and blowsy" after she got married, was someone George knew but changed the name slightly. The conversation that Bobby has with Peter about having a homosexual experience was one that George had with someone who wasn't Peter's character in real life. Many of the situations you see in the scenes are version of real life happenings.
Even though I had helped to irritate the set designer. And even though every single time I had food in my mouth I got my photo taken. Because of all this cool insight from George Furth into our show, I rated this as my favorite Meet and Greet ever!
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For more information also visit KristinHuffman.net.
Photos courtesy Fred Rose: (top-bottom): Kristin Huffman and George Furth; Fred Rose and Stephen Sondheim; Leenya Rideout and Amy Justman; Bruce Sabath and Barbara Walsh