BWW Interviews: PROMISES' Sean Martin Hingston
In the year 2000, the face of Sean Martin Hingston became quite familiar to New Yorkers; not just theatergoers, but the average Joes and Janes who traversed the city via public transportation. Susan Stroman's innovative CONTACT was playing at Lincoln Center and its ads were blazoned on every bus, taxi, and subway billboard. The artwork featured the ravishing Deborah Yates as "The Girl In The Yellow Dress being pursued by the forlorn-looking Boyd Gaines. Looking on was the menacing presence of Sean Martin Hingston. The image remains in the memories of almost everyone who saw it.
"I guess the biggest kick I got out of it concerned the gym that used to be across the street from Lincoln Center's plaza. I worked out there regularly and would often stare out the window while doing so. For many years I felt that I'd really like to work at Lincoln Center. Within six months of the show's opening, winning the Tony Award and all that acclaim, I'd be at the gym and look across the street to see a big banner for the show with my face on it," Hingston explains with a laugh. "That was a pretty remarkable turn-around for both my ego and my career. It was thrilling at the time."
Currently Hingston is featured in the colorful and energetic production of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David musical PROMISES, PROMISES which has been directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. The show, playing at the Broadway Theatre, is infusing audiences with such ebullience that they stand and cheer at every performance. They also exit humming snippets from the delightful score. This is not an easy task because the show touches upon such themes as marital infidelity, sycophancy, and suicide. With all that, it's possibly one of the most enjoyable production of the past season.
Speaking from his dressing room on one of the hottest days in New York's history, Hingston sounds remarkably cool and relaxed after a matinee performance. He and Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Benson and Ken Land have once again come close to stopping the show with their rendition of "Where Can You Take a Girl" and the crowd ate up every moment of Hingston's performance. Theatre-goers have long known him to be an outstanding singer and dancer, but in this production he shows off his skills as a character actor. On the telephone, his Australian accent is very much evident reflecting his roots in Melbourne.
"I worked in musical theatre in Australia. I also had a band-a 30's style jazz band, but I really started out doing the Australian production of CATS. Then I did FORTY SECOND STREET and a revival of MAN OF LA MANCHA. Really, I went straight out of high school to show business. There were one or two universities in Australia where you could go and study acting but they didn't have any musical theatre courses. Now, of course, they have a lot of them. It was plenty of on-the-job training for me."
CATS proved to be a veritable education in theatre arts for Hingston. "Yeah, I was young enough to get through that show," he comments with a chuckle. "It was a great two or three years."
While Hingston was hardly in his twenties he auditioned for the role of Tulsa in an Australian production of GYPSY. When he didn't get the role, he decided to head to New York. Originally thinking he'd come for some sort of extended vacation, things turned out differently.
"I arrived on a Sunday and on Tuesday I crashed an audition. By the following Monday I had been offered a job. I'd originally thought that I was just coming here to take some classes and get some experience doing auditions because in Australia we got to audition perhaps twice a year, as opposed to twice a week here. Suddenly I was being offered a job and I realized that New York was the mecca for musical theatre...well all theatre, really. It also gave me the chance to branch out into film and TV, so I jumped at it and decided to make my life in the City. You see, the theatre is really an industry here in New York. In Australia, it may also be an industry but it's a very small one. Unless you're a sporting hero or a sports personality Down Under, you can't really have the kind of career you'd want." Hingston has been in New York 18 or 19 years now. It's safe to assume he likes the place.
Hingston credits his desire to perform to the fact that he comes from a relatively large family. "You know, I'm the 4th of five children within seven years of each other," he says. "My Mum was always saying, ‘Sean was such a great baby; he was such a great child. We never knew he was there!' When I took that up with my therapist, he felt that that might have been the catalyst for my becoming a performer several decades later," Hingston comments with a true guffaw.
Joking aside, the performer has a distinct memory of a television show variety show that he'd been watching when he was around 8 or 9. ""It was somewhere in the mid-70's," he recalls. "It was a Lucille Ball special and she was wearing that kind of outfit Judy Garland wore in SUMMER STOCK when she sings ‘Get Happy'; the fedora over one eye and all. She had a whole chorus line of men and women across the back of the stage and they all came forward stepping one leg over the other. It looked so neat, so jazzy and so cool! That was pretty much the moment. I'd always been interested in singing and dancing but watching that television show made me realize I HAD to dance!"
The actor/singer/dancer made his Broadway debut as a replacement in CRAZY FOR YOU, the Gershwin musical that played at the Shubert Theatre. "It was a great show and it was a terrific lesson for me. I had come to New York as someone who had experience working in multi-million dollar musicals and I was in my early 20's. I discovered in that show that people in the industry were a lot older here. In Australia, if you were 16 and could do it, you were hired. When I came here I felt I had all that experience yet I was one of the youngest people in the cast. I felt like I was having a second career. CRAZY FOR YOU had a great group of people and the show, of course, was spectacular."
Working on that particular show left the Aussie with excellent friendships. "It was a wonderful experience working with the late Michael Ockrent who directed it. I've also cherished every moment I've worked with choreographer Susan Stroman down through the years. We've actually done quite a few things together. She was at PROMISES last night, you know."
Although Hingston loved his CRAZY FOR YOU experience, he left it when he was offered a tour in THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber starring Sarah Brightman. This was the production that played at the Radio City Music Hall as part of its tour. "I felt I had to keep moving on and moving up as it were," he comments. "I loved the Gershwin show and would have stayed with it longer.
The current production of PROMISES, PROMISES isn't Hingston's first brush with the property. He appeared in the Encores! 1997 production of the vehicle which starred Martin Short and Christine Baranski. In that version he wasn't playing the role of the bespectacled, uptight and cigarette puffing Mr. Eichelberger which he now essays. "No, I was part of the male ensemble there. That was a great production, too! As soon as Rob Fischer's orchestra started playing, the crowd went crazy for it! There's something about Burt Bacharach's music-- the sound and energy of it-- that gets everyone in the right mood," he recalls.
Hingston's done more of his share of shows for the Encores! series. In addition to PROMISES, PROMISES, he's been seen in their versions of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE, THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE and L'IL ABNER. He has particularly vivid recollections of doing CONNECTICUT YANKEE, though: "I was doing CONTACT eight times a week and my daughter was two months old. I would come home from CONTACT and stay up for the 2 AM feeding, go to sleep amd wake up at about 10 AM. Luckily my Mum came over when rehearsals for CONNECTICUT YANKEE started and she'd bring the baby to City Center for lunch. We'd all eat together, and I'd return to the afternoon rehearsal. After rehearsals, I'd walk to the gym and then to Lincoln Center for another performance of CONTACT. It was a crazy, crazy time. I don't know how I lived through it."
Hingston and his partner, the television industry's Brad Hurtado, have been together for sixteen years. They adopted Grace Hingston-Hurtado, who is 9 ½ now.
"I just put her on a plane unaccompanied, yesterday. She's visiting her grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Grace is doing great but doesn't seem to have any interest in performing. She'll probably become some sort of director because her idea of playing is coming up with these little plays and telling me and Brad what to do and how to do it."
Does parenting present any special challenges to a stage performer? "Not necessarily," he responds after a thoughtful pause. "Because it's a free-lance profession, you're not constantly working-there are always ‘down' times. When you are working, it's only for the 4 to 5 weeks of rehearsal and tech periods that you're working longer hours. Once the show is up and running, you have most of the day for parenting chores. It's great for the child before she goes to school or when she's on school holidays because I have the day to spend with her. When she goes to school there's a little less time because there's only a 3-4 hour period before getting to the theatre for a show." Hingston reflects for a while and adds, "Of course, there's the worry of being out of work, but so many people have that to deal with now."
Happily, PROMISES, PROMISES seems to be settling in for a long and successful run. It's proving to be another felicitous experience for Hingston, even though fans don't recognize the square jawed and handsome actor without the character glasses he wears in the show. He has nothing but praise for the cast, crew and creative team.
"Sean Hayes is extremely sweet," Hingston comments. "He's such a charmer and a true gentleman. He's an incredible amount of fun and is truly great in this show. How can you not love him? From the moment he arrives he is always smiling and a total pro. I mean, he was off book on the first day of rehearsal, knowing that he had a huge part to get under his belt. He was both committed and gracious. My only complaint about Sean-and Kristin, too--is that I don't get to spend enough time on stage with either of them. It's like they're coming on when I'm leaving. Really, I think Sean's a great guy and I think he's made a wonderful transition to Broadway."
"Kristin Chenoweth and I have known each other for quite a while," Hingston remarks. "I've been doing her concert for seven or eight years now, so Kristin feels like my little sister. She and I are good friends. Actually, my family and I were at the Equality March in DC and we ran into her. She dragged me aside and asked if I'd be doing PROMISES, PROMISES. You see, I'd done a reading of it previously with Sean and another actress played Fran. At that point Kristin told me she'd be doing the show and we both became very excited over the prospect of doing a show together on Broadway. In the weeks leading up to rehearsal, we were texting and e-mailing each other like kids before the first day of school." Hingston hastens to mention that Ms Chenoweth learned to play the guitar for this show and when she accompanies herself and Sean Hayes in "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" it becomes one of the most magical moments on Broadway right now. "I get to stand in the wings and watch that every evening," Hingston proudly states. "It's just beautiful; a great contrast to the rest of the show."
While critics, audiences and Tony Award voters have justifiably been praising Katie Finnerans's delectable performance as Marge McDougall, Hinston has his own blissful comments the famed "owl lady" of this production: "One of the highlights of every show happens for me right after the last bow as the orchestra playoff begins. I'm standing next to the delicious Katie Finneran. I put my right hand out, she takes it and we dance around together as the curtain descends. It's our one shared moment onstage and we make the most of it. Most nights we are left alone onstage still dancing along to the orchestra playoff - the rest of the cast is already on their way to the dressing rooms. Katie's performance is pure hilarity. She's a great lady who is always up for a laugh or a squeeze in the wings. She's always asking after Grace and loves hearing about her adventures. Hingston also has special praise for Tony Goldwyn and his work as the deliciously malevolent J.D. Sheldrake. "Tony's great. He's sweet, generous and easy-going. I have a true soft-spot for him," declares the performer. "Of course I know Dick Latessa because we did the show together years ago in the Encores! version."
When it comes to the show's director and choreographer, Rob Ashford, Hingston admits he has a special fondness for him. The two men met when the Australian first came to the United Statesand have been friends ever since. In fact, it was Ashford who recommended his new friend be cast in CRAZY FOR YOU. They've been great supporters of each others' work. "I think he's both talented and smart and has a great understanding of how to put on a musical," remarks Hingston.
After chatting with Sean Martin Hingston, it is obvious that he, too, understands how to put on a musical. He's committed to the sacrifice and hard work that goes into being part of any production. It's also obvious that he's affable and nothing like that menacing image that we'll always recall from
CONTACT's advertising campaign. Oddly enough, that image was reproduced in the JunePlaybills that were distributed at LincolnCenterproductions last month. It's an image that will certainly remain in our collective memory.
To purchase tickets for PROMISES, PROMISES, visit www.PromisesPromisesBroadway.com or call Telecharge (212) 239-6200