BWW Interviews: Hunter Ryan Herdlicka

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Imagine being 23 years old; an aspiring actor who comes to New York with dreams of "making it big" and having it actually happen two weeks later.  Sound too good to be true?  Not so, if A Little Night Music's Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is any example.  Fresh out of Carnegie Mellon last year, Herdlicka quite literally stepped off of the proverbial boat and into one of the most high profile productions of the season, starring as 'Henrik Egerman' in Sondheim's Night Music alongside Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones, directed by Trevor Nunn. 

Sondheim's musical interpretation of Ingmar Bergman's film 'Smiles of a Summer Night,' A Little Night Music centers on the elegant actress Desirée Armfeldt and the spider's web of sensuality, intrigue and desire that surrounds her in a weekend country house in turn-of-the-century Sweden, bringing together surprising liaisons, long simmering passions and a taste of love's endless possibilities. 

Trevor Nunn's production debuted to critical acclaim at London's Menier Chocolate Factory in November 2008 and subsequently transferred to the West End where it played a successful limited engagement through July 25, 2009 at the Garrick Theatre before transferring to the Great White Way last fall.

A Dallas native and 2009 graduate of Carnegie Mellon, Herdlicka has appeared regionally in Fiddler on the Roof (Motel) and Othello with the Utah Shakespearean Festival, The Full Monty (Malcolm), Disney's High School Musical (Ryan) and My Fair Lady (Freddy) with the West Virginia Public Theatre. He has additionally participated in readings and workshops for The Greenwood Tree for NYMF '09, Bubble Boy: The Musical (Bubble Boy) and Mrs. Sharp with PCLO/ASCAP. 

And now, A Little Night Music on Broadway.  Quite a story indeed.  BroadwayWorld recently caught up with the up-and-comer to talk specifically about this particularly unique Broadway debut, what he will miss most about the show after it shutters on June 20, and how he plans to pursue his next role in New York: that of a tourist. 

Tell me how A Little Night Music came into your life.

It was actually an incredible experience. I graduated school in the last week of May 2009. Feeling ambitious, I sold almost everything I owned, packed up the rest and moved to New York into a sublet. I then went on my very first audition - A Little Night Music. Two weeks later I had the part. I'd never done any auditions! I did a callback for Trevor and the producers and then Sondheim came in two days later to listen to me sing. And that was it. I found out the next day I had the job. It's like a fairytale story. I'd never gone on an audition...it was incredible.

I'm wondering, for a show like A Little Night Music, which is such a staple in the canon, how much autonomy did you have to make the role your own? How familiar were you with the show? Did you look to past productions for inspiration?

Well, I'd been listening to the CD since I was in 6th grade, but I hadn't seen a production and was not really familiar with the story. When I was in college and I heard that they were doing it on Broadway - all of my friends were talking about - my initial thought was "Aaaah, I'll never be in that. I'm not right for that show." [Laughs] So it's actually hysterical that I'm in it. As for our autonomy as actors, they had done the production in London already, and so pretty much the structure of the production and all of the staging was set from the show Trevor did there. The rehearsal process, accordingly, was very quick so I didn't feel like there was a lot of our own creativity allowed to be put into it, just for that reason. However, it was an incredible experience, though, to be working with Trevor and Angela and Catherine and Alexander [Hanson]...all of them. This has been a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Can you elaborate on that a bit more? I would imagine that working with such an iconic combination for any actor would be thrilling, and for a newcomer even more so. What was the most significant thing you learned from working with this talent?

You know, I was never star struck. I think that when you're a part of a company, it just takes away that hierarchy. We had a really well-established company, and I always felt like it was truly an ensemble cast. After all, there are about eight leads in the show. That said, there were - and still are - those moments every once in a while that hit me...where it's like "Oh my gosh, I'm seeing Angela Lansbury rehearsing a song and rehearse with a script and figure out where the laughs are." That's where it's just fascinating. It's fascinating to see celebrities and theater legends in rehearsal and it reminds you that they're just like us. They're regular people, regular artists, and we're all the same. I guess I learned a lot of things from Catherine and Angela but I think the biggest thing I've learned is about being generous with your time and your energy. They're both so encouraging and so supportive. Especially Angela. She's always there to teach and encourage and to talk about her experiences in life as an actress because she wants to pass that along to us, this younger generation, for when she retires. There are not a lot of people left of her class and caliber and she wants to pass those traits and traditions along. She doesn't want certain things to be forgotten.

What was the tone of the rehearsal process?

I'd say it was very serious and very structured, especially at first. I think a lot of people in the castBWW Interviews: Hunter Ryan Herdlickadidn't necessarily know how to act around Catherine, Angela and Trevor in the beginning. And, of course, there wasn't much need for experimentation since the show had already been done and set in London and it was pretty much set in stone what we were going to do - where to stand, where to sing, where to do this, where to do that. But both Angela and Catherine definitely tried to keep it light and would constantly be cracking jokes. Whatever's at the top kind of trickles down, and so they made it a lot of fun for all of us and kept us relaxed, which was great.

In what ways are you like Henrik?

[Laughs] Well, I'm very religious. I think that's the wonderful thing about playing Henrik, is that Henrik is religious and I can totally relate to that. You have to believe that there's a higher power - whatever it is for you - that's in control because there are so many things that happen in life that you can't control. I have to realize, for example, that I can't control the fact that my show's closing, and I can't control what my next job is going to be. And by believing that a higher power controls that, you can breathe a sigh of relief and go about your day without going crazy.

Either during rehearsal or the run, what were some of the standout "the show must go on" moments?

Well, this is certainly not a favorite but a couple of weeks ago in one of my scenes during a performance, I heard these obnoxious noises coming from the audience. I had no idea what was going on and I almost stopped and left the stage. But we were at the end of the scene, so I decided to finish out my lines. The next thing I know, they held the show because somebody in the audience was having a heart attack! And it was just one of those moments in the theater where you're faced with the choice, "Do I stop the show?" That's definitely been one of the strangest things that's happened. On the lighter side, I'll never forget when one of our cast members in the ensemble came onstage with his costume tunic and no tights [pants]. It was a huge inside joke between all of us and one of the funniest moments, I think. Hard to stay focused onstage!

What about the show are you most proud of?

I think just the fact that it's a Sondheim show and that it's had such a wonderful run. And that I'm 23 and that I've been able to work with Angela and Trevor and Stephen... these three huge living legends. Especially when this is such a big year for Sondheim. I went to his birthday concert at Lincoln Center that Lonny Price directed, which was perhaps the best thing I've seen in my entire life. And at the end I was just sobbing and crying when Stephen was onstage and I realized I was not only thanking him for inspiring me as an artist and for giving so many people in this world a dream...I was thanking him for my job. He gave me my first job in New York, my big break. If it wasn't for Stephen who knows where I'd be? And so it means a lot this year and I think that's probably what I'm most proud of: just being a part of this process and this show.

Given the fact that it was your first show, is there anything in retrospect that you would have changed in either your process or performance now that you are more seasoned? What are the most significant lessons that you've taken from this experience?

I don't think I would have changed a thing, actually, because everything in the experience makes you who you are. And your first Broadway show is a learning process - you have to learn how to perform eight times a week, and you have to learn what it's like in these high-stakes performance situations. It's not like performing in college or in a regional theater. You're performing for critics and celebrities nightly, and people who can make or break your career. I like to believe that everything has happened for a reason.

How did you learn of the show's closing and how did the cast react?

Well, we sensed it was coming. We had heard tons of rumors about the replacements that they had tried to hire and so in the back of our minds, we all had hopes that they had found somebody. But when I walked into that theater that night, ten minutes before the producer meeting, there was an energy in that theater that I could tell wasn't good. And we all gathered in a circle on the stage, and the producers said that despite their hard efforts to find A-list replacements for Catherine and Angela, they haven't been able to. They simply said that as a result they were having to close the show but that they're proud of what the show has been and they're proud to close it on such a high. And I think that's a really good point and a smart decision. I'm really, really sad but it just means that we can all move on to whatever's next - whatever's big and exciting, whatever that's going to be.

Now that you have this fabulous credit and open opportunity, how would you like to see the next phase of your career unfold?

I think the next thing I'd really like to do is a play. That's what I've done the most of in my life, and that's what I enjoy seeing the most on Broadway.

Do you have a favorite play of the season?

I really, really, really liked The Miracle Worker. I love Alison Pill and I thought Abigail [Breslin] was wonderful. Michael Cerveris is my hero so of course The Vibrator Play is up there.

Do you have anything lined up for after Night Music closes?

Yes! I'm doing a solo concert at Feinstein's on June 27 that Mary Mitchell Campbell is music directing. She's the music director of Addams Family and Company and Sweeney Todd so I think that's going to be an incredible evening. And after that, there are a couple of readings and workshops that I'm doing, and there's a new musical that's being done here in the city that hopefully I'm going to be a part of but that's not untill the spring. Unfortunately I can't give any details on it just yet, but I'm really excited for it!

So, new to New York, new to professional theater, new to Broadway all in one year! How are you adjusting to the city?

I love it. I live right in Hell's Kitchen, a block away from the theater, so it's incredibly convenient to my new lifestyle. I don't get to do a whole lot around town just because I have to be careful of my health and whatnot. I try not to go out late at night and things like that, but my favorite thing to do is see shows. Every Sunday night and Monday night when I'm off, I'm at a show. I'm still in awe of Broadway as I always have been. I love it, there's no other place I'd rather be than in a Broadway theater. It's kind of an obsession, I think [laughs].

With some more time after June, I'd imagine you'll be able to get out and around town finally.

[Laughs] What's so funny is that even though I just moved here and jumped right into the show, I've been coming to New York since I was in second grade, and so I've done and I've seen a lot here. But since I got here last year I've had this ridiculous craving to go on a double-decker bus tour. You know, the cheesy ones. I just want to wake up and to have nothing to do but feel like a tourist for the day.

BWW Interviews: Hunter Ryan HerdlickaWhat advice would you give to all those actors out there who are aspiring to have your story...who come to New York hopeful and ambitious and work their way into a Broadway show from the get-go?

I think that you have to trust and know that there is a plan already mapped out for your life. And you have to trust that these passions and intense dreams that you have that almost become obsessions are there for a reason. And you can't deny those and you have to give into them. And if you want to be in this business, especially in New York, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. Continue studying and taking voice lessons and dance classes and things like that. Continue working and know that it's not always going to happen right away. I have friends who moved here the same time I did, and a year later they're just now getting their very first theater job. And then there are actors I know, like one friend of mine, who's lived here for 27 years and he's never been in a Broadway show but he goes on auditions weekly and will never give up. Who knows when his time is going to come? He could be cast in a Broadway show next week, after 27 years of nothing and win a Tony award. You just never know.

What will you miss most about A Little Night Music?

I'm going to miss the structure of the day, of doing a show eight times a week and having my schedule planned out. I'm going to miss meeting people that come to see the show at the stage door. That's the most fun...meeting people from all over the world and hearing the greatest stories from strangers at the stage door. And I'm also really going to miss Catherine and Angela. I love them. I love being around their energy and I just loved being a part of that company.

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The first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Tony Award-winning masterpiece A Little Night Music, starring Academy Award-winner and Tony-nominee Catherine Zeta-Jones, five-time Tony Award-winner Angela Lansbury and Olivier Award-nominee Alexander Hanson, has announced its final performance will be Sunday, June 20th at 3:00 PM after 20 previews and 217 regular performances. Directed by Tony Award-winner Trevor Nunn, the production began previews on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 and opened on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th Street).

A Little Night Music is nominated for four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Angela Lansbury) and Best Sound Design of a Musical (Dan Moses Schreier & Gareth Owen).

A Little Night Music stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desirée Armfeldt, Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt, Alexander Hanson as Fredrik Egerman, Aaron Lazar as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Erin Davie as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Henrik Egerman and Ramona Mallory as Anne Egerman. The cast also includes Stephen R. Buntrock, Bradley Dean, Marissa McGowan, Katherine McNamara, Betsy Morgan, Jayne Paterson, Kevin David Thomas, Keaton Whittaker, Karen Murphy, Erin Stewart, Kevin Vortmann.

For tickets and more information, visit www.NightMusicOnBroadway.com. To keep up with Hunter, visit www.HunterRyanHerdlicka.com.

Photos: (T) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Credit Deborah Feingold; (M and B) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka & Ramona Malloroy, Credit Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.

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