ActorQuest - Kristin Huffman Goes Inside 'Company' 1
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.
Scene One: January 31, 2006 - First Rehearsal at Cincinnati Playhouse
The sound of sphincter muscles unclenching was almost audible as we broke for lunch on our first day of rehearsal. That seemed an apt description for the obvious relief we all felt after the first half day of working on Company.
I wish I owned a mini-video camera because I would have loved to document the experience. Reality TV performed by real actors in crisis! Theatres always start with a 'meet the cast' opening but this was the largest "meet and greet" event I have ever attended. There were at least 100 people there. The cast itself numbers fourteen but there were backstage types, sponsors, board members, executives, the musical director and the "star of the moment in musical theatre," John Doyle, the director. After mingling and watching people -- other than the actors who were much too nervous to eat -- munching on the breakfast food laid out for us, we began the first rehearsal.
Mr. Doyle talked to us for a half hour describing his vision for Company which boiled down to 'Let's explore this together and we'll see what happens'. Due to his charm and humor and obvious brilliance, we nodded like overwhelmed kindergarteners on our first day of school, soaking up every word. To let us know he was human after all, he intimated to us that it took him an hour to pick out what he was going to wear on our first day of rehearsal. He wanted to make the 'right impression'. We giggled nervously like true believers. Despite the inspiring opening speech, most faces still looked tense, and, I assumed other parts of the body were following suit.
It should be pointed out that in a normal rehearsal process, where we were hired to be singers and actors, we would have been our usual neurotic selves. But in this production we were also responsible for the orchestral parts added to the fact that we had no idea what to expect on our first rehearsal. Given this highly abnormal set of circumstances we were in the category of abnormally aberrant neurotics.
The Master left and we began the musical portion of our first rehearsal with Mary-Mitchell our musical director, a star in her own right. We began with just our voices, singing the opening number. It's pretty tricky so we were all flexing our singing muscles hoping to compensate for the first instrumental rehearsal which followed. Then we picked up our instruments and plunged in. Much to our surprise our instrumental work sounded pretty damn good. Hence, the slow unclenching of butt muscles.
Not sure why I was surprised as I asked around among our cast, many were double majors in college like me. Fred Rose, "David", majored in cello and voice and has played in Broadway pit orchestras. Leenya Rideout, "Jenny," was violin and voice and also writes her own music. Matt Castle was a music education major like me and concentrated in piano and voice. He is also a musical director in his own right. I was a flute and voice major and like many in my cast, kept playing my instrument throughout the years. Even though we all considered ourselves actor/singers first, it was clear to me that my cast mates were also wonderful musicians!
Upon closer inspection of the music, the arrangements by Mary-Mitchell were genius. For the song "Sorry-Grateful," she had my husband, "Harry," singing while I played the flute line with him. Then when "David" sang, his wife "Jenny" played the violin line. There were other great touches as well. For "Ladies who Lunch" only the wives play their instruments along with the piano. In "Being Alive" when "Bobby" mentions certain lines that correspond with a certain "girlfriend's" personality, THAT specific "girlfriend" plays along on her instrument. A particularly genius touch was in "Side by Side" where the tap dancing breaks normally go. Instead of the solo tapping sounds she put in a solo instrumental each time that mimics the original tap rhythms!! I don't know how many people will pick up some of those touches, but I was overwhelmingly impressed!
I should have known things were going too well. The cast and several board members were invited to the Artistic Director's gorgeous home for dinner that night. He's the big boss of the theatre. Being on another new diet, I was starved and promptly bellied up to the spread of food. After loading my plate with pasta and salad, I sat down on the couch in the kitchen and promptly dropped some pasta sauce on the couch. Hoping to keep the 'good impressions' from rehearsal going, I secretly took a little water and put it in a paper napkin to gently rub away the little stain. I had not noticed that the napkin was black. Who serves things with black napkins?? Black napkins that bleed on the stain so that my mistake on the couch was now more colorful! More than a bit flummoxed by this faux pas, I stuck a pillow over it, shoved the rest of my food down and hightailed it out of the party.
When I arrived back at my hotel room, I was greeted with a notice on the door stating that the maintenance man had been in the room due to the eggs I had left boiling on the stove. They had burned dry and smoked up the room while I was gone. The room had an industrial fan pushing out the smoke through all the windows which were wide open so the alarm would shut off. I called downstairs to tell the hotel manager how sorry I was and that it would never happen again. And then, I suddenly realized what had happened. My multi-tasking skills had hit their natural saturation point. I can only sing, act and play three instruments at a time. Anything else, like boiling eggs or eating would have to go on hold for a while.
Check out next week's story here on BroadwayWorld.com!
Visit www.kristinhuffman.net for more on Huffman.
Photos by Fred Rose - 1) Company cast; 2) Kristin Huffman; 3) Barbara Walsh and John Doyle; 4) Leenya Rideout; 5) Matt Castle; 6) Mary-Mitchell Campbell; 7) Fred Rose