BWW Interview: NEWSIES' Liana Hunt on Moving Up from Understudy to Leading Lady!
As BroadwayWorld previously reported, Newsies just welcomed Liana Hunt as the show's leading lady Katherine Plumber earlier this month. Hunt's previous credits include Sophie in Mamma Mia! (Broadway and national tour), and Eponine in LES MISERABLES and Belle in Beauty and the Beast regionally. She joined the Newsies company in February 2013. Hunt has a BFA from NYU.
Following her first week in the role, Hunt chatted with BroadwayWorld about what it was like to officially step into leading lady shoes, how she got the news that she earned the role, and more. Check out the full interview below!
This is your first week as Katherine, but you've actually been in the show for a while now, right?
I actually went in for my audition pretty much exactly a year ago. I went in for Hannah/Smalls (the girl Newsie) and the understudy for Katherine. And I got it! So since then I've been playing the role of Hannah, who is Pulitzer's secretary and a few other small tracks.
How many times did you end up getting to go on for Katherine?
Oh gosh! I'm not really sure... maybe 20?
That's a lot!
Yeah, our lovely, former lead Kara [Lindsay] got married, so while she was on her honeymoon I got to go on. And then a few more times over the course of the year, so it was a good amount.
There is so much pressure involved with being an understudy. Do you remember the first time that you went on, or is it a blur?
I pretty much have no idea what happened. We get to have a put-in rehearsal before the show, and I remember being TERRIFIED for that. It's your first time in costume, with the sets, and the groove of the show. I remember that day pretty well- just being like "Oh my god, I can't believe this is happening!" The show was racing along and I was just trying to keep up with it. I don't really remember my first show though. I had a few friends in the audience, so I'm sure they could remind me what happened [Laughs]. It's such a blur.
And when did you get the news that you'd be the next Katherine?
It was totally out of the blue. I was taking a class back in November, and I was working on stuff and hadn't checked my phone in a while. Then I saw that I had a missed call from my agent, and a voicemail. You can always tell what kind of news it is by the sound of the voicemail. So I got very excited and curious by the tone of my agent's voice- it was after hours on a Monday and he was like "How would you like to, you know... take over for the role of Katherine?" I freaked out! It was so out of the blue and I was alone in my apartment. I ran laps around my apartment and screamed. It was pretty awesome!
Your first official show was earlier this week. How has it been going since?
It's just amazing. It's weird because I've been understudying the role. The first few shows just felt like I was 'on' again. We had a day off yesterday, so going back today... it's definitely starting to sink in that I get to do it a million more times. I'm so excited for next week because I don't think I've ever done it for more than a week in a row. So I think that by then I'll be like "This is mine!" This week has been so exciting though.
You're replacing Kara Lindsay, who originated the part- did she give you any advice?
Kara is THE BEST. She gives me all of the best advice in the best ways. We got really close while she was in the show. She had all kinds of advice about not only the show itself but also how to sustain it and be a part of the company. She set such a wonderful example of how to be a better company member and a better person, and how to lead the company with grace and compassion. I've literally just been standing back and taking notes from her. She is kind of the best.
Every time I've seen or heard your song, "Watch What Happens," I've gotten so nervous. There are so many words! Is it difficult to get through or are you used to it by now?
I think that is one of those songs that I won't ever be able to say "Oh yeah, I got this. I can take it easy now." It's just the nature of the song. It's a patter song, and Katherine's energy during the song is frantic. I don't think there will ever be a day when I feel at ease- and I remember Kara saying that as well! I remember when my mom came; she said, "Oh my god, I didn't breathe once! My knuckles were white!"
But I also kind of love it because it is terrifying that something could go wrong, but I know it so well and I love that moment in the show so much. Inside I know that I know what I'm doing. But to be able to string the audience along and have them with me at every breath that I'm taking is a really awesome feeling. I love it.
You are one of very few ladies in a male dominated cast. What has that experience been like for you?
There are five females in the show and we are all very close. Then were have 18 little brothers and a few father figures! The boys in the show are so special. They're like little bros! I've always had a lot of guy friends- I love the energy in the theatre. It's so unique and so special. There is constantly a brother-sister energy. We give each other a hard time, or give girl advice, or listen to their problems.
Have you gotten a real taste of the fansies yet?
Oh yes! I certainly have! The Twitter world is where I see most of it. It's incredible! The fansies come to the show over, and over, and over. They are right there with us. They know all the news of what's going on with the show- sometimes even before we do! When I was a new cast member joining the show they were so cool! I had never experienced anything like that in this business yet. They blew me away.
They go out of their way to do things for us- they send baked goods, I recently saw on Twitter that someone had drawn an incredible drawing of Jack and Katherine and someone posted a painting of me and Kara as Katherine. They never cease to amaze me.
Is there another Disney role that you'd like to play someday?
All of the Disney roles ever! I grew up on Disney movies and it played a huge part in how I got so in love with this world. I grew up wanting to be Belle and Ariel the most, but now there's word of new stuff coming to Broadway! Frozen is coming to Broadway, so Anna! There are so many possibilities. But getting to play Katherine, and getting to be a Disney leading lady is really a dream come true for me.
What are you most excited about in continuing on with the role?
Being an understudy has been such an awesome experience. It's taught me so many things and made me work really hard. It's taught me to really appreciate how great it is to do something every night, again, and again, and again. A lot of times people ask if I get sick of it, but if being an understudy has taught me anything it's kind of the opposite. Just how amazing it is that we get to keep doing it. That's what I'm the most excited for. When you get an opportunity to do something every night you get the chance to grow and develop. I'm so excited to find all of the new moments and to grow into the character. To find out my personal take on her and for her relationship with Jack to grow. That's what I'm so excited for!
Set in New York City at the turn of the century, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenaged 'newsies,' who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys' expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike for what's right.
The Nederlander Theatre box office hours are Monday through Saturday 10am - 8pm and Sunday 11:30am - 6pm. Newsies is performed on the following schedule: Monday - Wednesday at 7:30pm; Friday - Saturday at 8pm; Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm; and Sunday at 3pm. Visit NewsiesTheMusical.com for details.