BWW Interview: Autumn Hurlbert Discusses Adventures and Laughs On Tour with SOMETHING ROTTEN!
Autumn Hurlbert is taking it back to the '90s (namely, 1595) in the role of Portia as part of the first national tour of SOMETHING ROTTEN! This new musical chronicles a fictitious rivalry between playwright brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom who, at the advice of a fortune teller, create the world's first musical in order to compete with William Shakespeare. Hurlbert portrays the romantic, literature-loving Portia, who becomes Nigel's love interest. In advance of the tour's Chicago engagement, Hurlbert chatted about why she loves the show, her time on MTV's reality show LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL: THE SEARCH FOR THE NEXT ELLE WOODS, and what it is like to tour the nation with her husband and two-year-old son by her side.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! had a successful run on Broadway, and now you're part of the national tour going across the country. How's it going so far?
It's so wonderful. It's such a funny, wacky, wonderful show. It's such a pleasure to do every night and to get to make people laugh. We get to be silly and hilarious on stage. I have my two-year-old little boy and husband with me so it's a complete adventure as we are traversing the country.
I'm a huge LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL fan and saw you on MTV's reality show a few years back. How do you think that experience has shaped your career, and does it inform the work you're doing now in any way?
Funnily enough, Portia is a blonde. It's so funny! I always book the blonde roles. It must be in my cards or something. The LEGALLY BLONDE reality show was a formative experience in many ways. It introduced me to a new aspect of the business in that it was putting musical theater on TV and reaching out to a larger audience than I had previously [reached] Sometimes musical theater is a niche audience, and when it was on TV, all of a sudden I had these fans from all across the nation. That show was nine years ago so some of them were in junior high or high school at the time. Now they're [grown up], and I'm getting to see them on the road. They're coming to see this show. I've had a few people come after the show and say, "I've been waiting to see you!" Being able to meet people is so special, and I wouldn't be afforded that opportunity without the LEGALLY BLONDE reality show. That's the biggest thing for me in how those two projects have melded together.
For those who are unfamiliar, how would you describe SOMETHING ROTTEN?
We dare you to leave in a worse mood than when you came in. We will definitely make you laugh. There's humor for everyone. If you love or hate musicals, there's something for everyone. If you love Shakespeare or don't know who he is, there is something for you. We all need to laugh right now, and I think this show accomplishes that with ease. It's for everyone. My husband has seen it with his 17-year-old sister and his 80-year-old mentor, and both were falling out of their seat laughing at different things.
What is the most exciting aspect of performing in the first national tour of a new, original musical?
You get to create these characters and these roles. We were given such a gift. The director and creative team really let us come into our own with these roles. You don't get to do that with longer running shows or shows about pre-existing characters from movies or TV. It's creatively fulfilling to put your stamp on these roles and to see how people from all across the country react is fascinating and fun.
Talk to me about your character Portia. How would you describe her?
Portia is all love. She's just a total lovebug, and you get to see her experiencing the world for the first time. When you meet her she is under the thumb of her father, Brother Jeremiah. She is only supposed to be reading the Bible, but she reads everything. She reads Shakespeare. She wants to find out about everything she has read in the real world. And when she meets Nigel Bottom, it's love at first sight and she gets to come out of her shell with him. I get to be a delightful idiot on stage every night.
You mentioned that you're traveling with your husband and two-year -old son. What has it been like touring with your young child alongside you?
It's really in equal parts amazing and crazy. [My son] loves it. He is thriving. The whole company loves him and on travel days they all lend hands and help us schlep all of our stuff through the airport. It's a funny, wonderful cast. My son will say to Rob McClure [who plays the lead Nick Bottom], "Uncle Rob, fall down!" And [Rob] will just fall down and crack him up in the middle of the airport. My two-year-old is being exposed to such a generous, funny community. He calls everyone uncles and aunts, and they're his friends. He watched our whole two-and-a-half hour show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He quotes parts of it. He sings parts of it. It is highly participative for him, which is really special. It is definitely an adventure. My husband and I may be worse for the wear, but we wouldn't take it back. It's a really special experience.
Given how busy you must be between the tour and your family, what do you to relax and wind down? Do you have any best practices for maintaining stamina and also vocal health while on tour?
Self care for any performer is important, and then when you're on the road and with your child, it's definitely important. I really have to carve out time for myself. Wearing costumes and doing repeated physical movement wears on the body. I try to get massages once a month and I exercise. I try to take 20 minutes to myself before the show, whether it's to meditate or write in my journal. I have coloring books on tour. When I'm not on stage, I try to color and doodle and decompress and let my mind rest a little. We are not for lack of adventure on tour so it's important to get that quiet time in.
Why should Chicago audiences come see SOMETHING ROTTEN!?
Chicago audiences will love this show. Its an homage to the history of musical theater. Chicago audiences are on it. They're sophisticated and fun and appreciate theater. This is a show that is a play-within-a-play. It's about making art and being true to yourself, and it's just such a wonderful message of finding your creative spirit animal. It's such a funny show, and it's all original music. The choreography is ridiculously amazing. There really is something for everyone. There's flashy dance numbers, a couple of beautiful touching scenes, and all the humor you could possibly want.
What has it been like to work with director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw?
He is just the biggest, brightest spirit. His personality is definitely imbued in this show and its energy. He is a firecracker, and he is so generous. He cast every single person because of their unique ability. Instead of trying to make us fit in this this mold, he laid the groundwork and let us thrive within that. He is just a genius. He is so much fun to work with. I can't say enough good things about him. I feel very lucky that we are under his wing. I don't think I've ever seen him even frown....he's very positive.
Do you have a dream role?
In my dreams of dreams, there is a small part of me that would still love to play
Glinda in WICKED. But really I'm kind of doing a dream role right now. Though I didn't originate the role on Broadway, I love being part of a new work. I think the big dream for me is to be a part of a show from its inception to whatever its ultimate goal is and to build a character from scratch.