Interview: Olivier Nominee Tara Hugo Talks LEGACY FALLS at NYMF, New Philip Glass Album and More!

By: Jul. 17, 2013
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Today we're speaking with Tara Hugo, Olivier nominee for THE THREEPENNY OPERA at the Donmar Warehouse, star of JoAnne Akalaitis and Philip Glass' THE BACCHAE at the New York Shakespeare Festival, singer, lyricist and all-around talented actress.

Hugo is reprising her 2010 London role in the new musical LEGACY FALLS, a soap opera farce currently playing through July 24th at this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival. LEGACY FALLS follows the hirings and firings, backstabbing and bitchiness, romance and catfights of the soap biz.

Below, Hugo talks about starting fresh with a new cast, her favorite scene in LEGACY FALLS, and takes a wonderful detour to discuss her new album of Philip Glass songs.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, I know you're busy with rehearsals.

Not at all, not at all. I just got back. We had a full day of it, getting geared up for tomorrow.

How are rehearsals going?

It's going great! It's like Edinburgh -- you don't get to live in the theater for a while like you normally would in a production. You go in, you get used to the space within an hour or two, and you do your tech, and the dress, and you're on. It's all in one day. So, I think we're all a bit like, "Oh, God!" It's the unknown. Whereas normally you would spend a day or two -- if you're lucky even a week -- in the theater where you're performing. But it's good. We have a great company. I love this piece. I've been living with it since 2010.

So this time around, what are some of the differences between the production in London and here at NYMF?

Well, first of all they cut the script. There was loads of great stuff in it -- there was just too much great stuff, so they trimmed it. I think they trimmed about half an hour off of it, so we lost certain scenes, but it's still intact, the best parts of it. It's a great group of actors. And I would just say it's different. Everybody has their own personality, and it's fun to see what new people bring to the roles. And for myself, the challenge has been to start fresh with a whole New Group and find new things, but not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Because I evolved to a certain point when I performed it in London. I did have some trepidation about it when I knew I was coming over, and I was the only original cast member. Because I had built up a rapport with some of the actors over there that I played the major scenes with. So I was thinking, "Oh, no. What will these actors be like?" as you do, but I love these people -- they're great. We have a fantastic company and there's a lot of love. So that's good!

Right! And with Kevin Spirtas in the cast -- who has experience with soap operas - what's it like working with someone who has been behind the camera on that end?

Yes! Well this is a theatre piece completely, but he also has experience in theatre. He's a wonderful actor, and I love playing with him. He's brought in some good insights into the soap opera world in our discussions about how true this script is. Even though this is more of a farce, as far as the hirings and the firings and people hanging on to their jobs or never knowing if they're going to get killed off -- all that stuff -- which is great fodder for comedy, he sort of verified that that all goes on. [Laughs.] Seriously, behind the scenes. So it's great to just have his insight into it. And from the beginning, Ian Poitier wanted that in London; he brought in soap stars for our opening night. But we're not doing television piece, we're doing a theatre show, so it's more research, I think, making it real.

Do you have a favorite song or scene, or one that you really connect with?

James Burn has written this wonderful scene where the character I play -- she's a real soap opera diva, she's sort of a household name, she's been on a soap for years, she's the queen -- and when the new management comes in, her position becomes precarious, and so she -- we all do in the piece -- we get more and more desperate to hang on to what we know. And so he's written this great scene where she's confronted with the newer people that they bring into the soap, which are, in her opinion, less talented. They're young, image-conscious, all about hair and body, and she believes that it's a craft, you know. And so she's pretty much losing it at one point because everything is changing, everything is switching, and she takes it out on the young actress who she considers a bimbo, and then she ends up revealing to her a bit about herself. So, it's a reveal moment in the piece. And he's written this great song called "Larger Than Life." I think that's my favorite.

But there are so many great scenes where he hits such a balance. It's really smart comedy. He never plays down to the audience. All the lines are based in some kind of truth but they're totally fluff -- it's farce -- and I love it. I'm just so excited about it, and I've remained excited about it.

You can tell, it's good! I read that LEGACY FALLS is heading for the West End next year. Is that true?

Well, we hope so. We have plans of that happening, but, of course, we wanted it to happen in 2011. [Laughs.] But these things take longer than you think, so we shall see. It's hard to believe that we're only doing five performances, really. You don't rehearse it any differently for five performances. You rehearse it with the six-month to a year run and put in the same energy and commitment, and then you're like, "Oh, yeah, we're only doing it five times." So, I think we hope that somebody picks it up. Fingers crossed. People have been in to see it during rehearsals, and I think there's a buzz. So, we'll see! Whether it's Broadway, West End, I don't know. It needs to go on somewhere. I really believe in it that much.

So if we can switch gears here, I wanted to ask you about your new Philip Glass album that you released last winter.

Yes! That's kind of different from this. [Laughs.] But you know, there are a lot of things in common. When people ask me about that, I think about how I love jumping around genres in music and in theatre. In theatre, we don't think that much about it. Actors do Shakespeare and then they do musicals and television. And that's kind of what I believe with the Philip Glass album. Even though it's so different, what they both have in common is that they're both good. That's how I feel about music; I like all music, whether it's rap, country western, classical, musical, pop. If it's good, it's good.

What we put emphasis on in the songs on the Philip Glass album was telling a story. Because the lyrics are poetry. Some of it's the poetry of Leonard Cohen, one is from Allen Ginsberg and one is from a 12th century poet called Rumi, and then four of them are my lyrics. And really the emphasis was on singing it, but also telling the story of those poems. And so I can find a common theme between that and telling the story in any theatre piece.

But as far as the album goes, I had done BOOK OF LONGING, which was a theatre concert with staging and direction. There were four singers, seven musicians, one of which was Philip Glass, who composed the music, and Leonard Cohen -- it used 22 of his poems. So, we did that piece -- BOOK OF LONGING -- for over two years off and on. We toured internationally everywhere. Every incredible house you can think of across Europe. And here in the United States we were at Lincoln Center and in California we were at the Claremont, and in London we were at the Barbican, and the Sydney Opera House, and we were in Taipei. So I got to know Philip Glass during that very exciting time. And when we finished, I went on to do THE BACCHAE at the Delacorte at the New York Shakespeare Festival that JoAnne Akalaitis had directed, but [Philip] wrote the music, so I was still doing his stuff.

And then when that finished, I wanted to record an album, and I went to him to ask if I could sing maybe one of his songs on the album. By the time I actually had a meeting with him, I decided to brave it and ask him if I could sing all his songs -- make an album of only his songs. I'm the first-ever singer to record a whole album of his songs. And so it was quite a big deal for me and very exciting and it took a lot of hard work.

Kurt Munkacsi, who was another one of the producers (Philip was the executive producer), wanted to take instrumentals or melodies of Philip's that already existed and turn them into vocals. And so we listened to loads of things and we came up with four of them. And we talked about getting lyricists or writers, but as time went on, I wanted to experience the song and how it would feel to sing it, so I just wrote kind of a sketch of some stuff, never expecting them to do them. And I was so happy that they loved them. And so we ended up doing my lyrics, and that's how that album came about.

It's not what people typically expect unless you really know Philip's work because then you know he writes all sorts of things. He actually started in the theatre. So he writes theatre pieces, he writes film scores, he writes operas; he bounces all over the place. A lot of these are very lyrical, and I think a lot of people are surprised. They don't necessarily think of him as a songwriter, but he's written some incredible songs.

You're right, I definitely wouldn't normally think of him that way, so I think it's really cool that you did this. I really like it.

I know, I really loved working on it. I think it came out well. And my background as actress, contemporary singer, jazz singer, a bit of classical -- I'm not an opera singer -- but I have classical training in some ways, with all of that we made, I think, one cohesive thing.

That's great. You answered almost all of my questions at once, which was perfect!

Well, you know, you get on a roll and one thing needs to the next.

So before I let you go, I wanted to circle back around to LEGACY FALLS. Is there anything you want to add about the production?

Just what attracted me to it, other than -- "Oh my God, this is wonderful!" -- was that it's funny. It's smart funny. It's not like a skit where the audience isn't necessarily in on the joke before you tell it. I think it sneaks up on you. So it's really good writing, the book. And the songs, you remember them, they're real songs. I think it's very special. It's different. I mean, what a great subject -- behind the scenes on a soap opera!