BWW Interview: Cady Huffman and Will Nunziata Talk Bringing Peggy Lee Back to Life at the Green Room 42
Tony award winner Cady Huffman returns to The Green Room 42 with her critically acclaimed sold out one woman show Miss. Peggy Lee: In Her Own Words and Music for two more shows on Weds. July 24th and Weds. July 31st. BroadwayWorld's own Richard Ridge caught up with Cady and her long time collaborator, writer/ director Will Nunziata during a break in rehearsal to chat about bringing the life and career of the legendary Peggy Lee to the stage.
I was at the stunning sold out first performance of your Peggy Lee show at The Green Room 42. How magical was that night for each of you?
C: Thank you so much for being there! I always love seeing you, and that night was very special. Will and I took a huge leap of faith bringing our Peggy to life. To have the audience respond so positively to what we are trying to do, was humbling to say the least! It has given me the faith and energy to go even further with bringing one of my icons to a modern audience.
W: You have been there since my first big directing gig, Richie, when I directed and re-conceived Kander & Ebb's THE ACT. You are simply the best because you are always there with positive reinforcement and you show up!
I agree with Cady 100%. And off of that, Cady's performance is devastating... in all the right ways. Her ability to portray and celebrate the "essence" of Peggy is completely astounding, and I could feel the audience's breath be taken away on numerous occasions. I am so proud of the work Cady has done and continues to do in "digging" deep into the nuances and subtleties of the character.
The show is an evening of music and lyrics composed or co-composed by Peggy Lee. How did the idea for this show come about?
C: We talked about how to bring her voice forward. We didn't want it to be a cabaret, we want it to be a theater piece. We went through many versions and did our homework. Once we had spoken with and met with her granddaughter, Holly Foster-Wells, we knew we wanted the show to be as exclusively in Peggy's voice as we could get it. Her inner life and the story of her life is all over her music! But, the people who knew and loved her, really revealed to us how we wanted to tell this story.
W: And in this exploration of solely focusing on the songs Peggy contributed to, it was in the creation of the show and in the rehearsal process we really found out the "why" - why tell this story today? And to get that question answered, you can come see it on July 24th and 31st at GreenRoom42.
How long have you been working on creating the show?
C: About a year and a half.
You are collaborating again with each other. Why do you think you both work so well together?
C: I trust Will. We are stalwart friends, but truthful with each other. We have worked hard to be able to say anything in the room while we work without feelings getting hurt. We also both agree that the best idea wins. It's almost like we share one ego rather than fighting it out with two grumpy egos in opposing corners. Life is too short!
W: Cady is the key that unlocked the door to my directing career. She was the first artist I worked with as a professional director, and from there, she listened to my dreams of being a theatre director and always supported me. Ever since then, I've built numerous projects around her skill set. She has also become one of my closest friends - she was just at my wedding! Whether its in a house of 1,200 or 100 - I love that when we collaborate we are creating theatre, and pushing the "form" constantly of what a theatre piece can look and feel like. I also trust Cady so much. She has given me more tools in my tool belt as a director, friend, and human than she'll ever know.
What has made this project so special for each of you?
W: The work. The work. The work. I loved researching every article, interview, and tv appearance she's ever been involved with. To work with a once-in-a-generation talent about a once-in-a-generation talent has truly been (not to sound hokey, but here I go) once-in-a-lifetime experience that I have not taken lightly.
C: Peggy has always been a favorite because I can relate to her life's story. I heard a radio documentary when I was in my teens and it was the first time I realized that famous people can have hard lives too. She's a survivor and so am I. I love telling her story because she never apologizes for it. Life is hard and we do the best with what we got. Preferably with kindness and forgiveness and the dignity of putting ourselves out there without trying to clean up the messy business. She was very intimate with her fans. Something that's not as easy to do these days.
For both of you- Where did your love affair with Peggy Lee begin? And Cady why do connect so well with her songs?
W: Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by Peggy. I was always so intrigued with the strength in her restraint. A raised eyebrow, a flick of a snap, a sway of the hip - every movement had life and death stakes, every moment was filled with an authentic focus and commitment.
C: Hearing "Fever" when I was a child was revelatory. Telling a story with such a simple orchestration and barely doing more than snapping fingers is powerful! AND, being sexy and strong at the same time. She's a gal who can hang with the boys. I definitely relate to that.
While working on the show, what were some of the things that you learned about Peggy Lee that you didn't know beforehand?
C: I learned how vulnerable she was and that she wore her heart on her sleeve. She loved the people from her hometown and she loved her fans and she was able to show it. I think her friends and fans understood her more than any critic ever could. She lays it all out there if you're willing to come along for the ride.
W: The dichotomy of her strength and vulnerability continues to astonish me. You can see it in her performances, her songs, and throughout her life.
Cady- Tell me about what you were thinking, the first time you saw yourself in the mirror made up as Peggy Lee?
C: Truthfully, I am yet to see myself in a full-length mirror! But, Many friends came together to help me with this one. Each element is detailed and wonderful. Many thanks to Barry Ernst for the wig, Todd Thomas for the costume, Rodney Gordon for my hair piece and Moans Couture for my jewels. I am so grateful!!!
What are you each looking forward to with the return of Miss. Peggy Lee?
C: I just want to go further. Tell her story more fully and keep learning from her. She's powerful and she's changing me. I know I'm better for allowing her in and trusting. I pray that I am doing her justice.
W: Cady is doing her more than justice. Along with fabulous musical direction and arrangements by Eugene Gwozdz, a stellar band, and Cady's brilliant performance - I hope we are taking the baton of this woman's great body of work and life and passing it on to audiences young and old with love, care, integrity, and heart. I am so thrilled for NYC to see this show for two more shows, and fingers crossed, more in the future!
THE GREEN ROOM 42 - Broadway's newest intimate concert venue - will present the return of Tony Award winner Cady Huffman in Miss Peggy Lee: In Her Own Words and Music for two more shows, Wednesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 31. After the show's world premiere debuted to packed houses earlier this month, this celebration of the jazz and pop icon's upcoming 2020 Centennial is coming back for two encore performances. Long-time collaborators Cady Huffman and Will Nunziata lovingly bring to life Miss ?Lee's extraordinary journey from her humble beginnings as Norma Deloris Egstrom of Jamestown, North Dakota to becoming one of the biggest stars the music world has ever seen. Backed by a swinging four-piece band led by musical director Eugene Gwozdz, songs include "Fever," "I Love Being Here With You," "I Don't Know Enough About You," "It's A Good Day," "Here's To You," and many more.
Cady Huffman is perhaps best known for her Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award winning performance as "Ulla" in The Producers on Broadway opposite Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. This led to her unforgettable recurring role on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" where she almost became Larry David's 10th anniversary present. This success also brought her to the Food Network's kitchen stadium where she judged for 10 consecutive seasons on "Iron Chef America." Cady's other Broadway credits are her Tony-nominated performance as "Ziegfeld's Favorite" in The Will Rogers Follies, her Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated performance as "Sylvie" in The Nance, the original productions of La Cage aux Folles, Chicago, Steel Pier, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, and Bob Fosse's last original musical Big Deal. She has had several guest starring appearances on television, including recurring roles on "The Good Wife," "Blue Bloods," "Younger," "Madam Secretary," "Master of None," "Difficult People," "Law & Order: SVU," "Law & Order: CI," "Law & Order: Trial By Jury," "Frasier," and "Mad About You." Cady was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the digital series "After Forever," for which she won the 2018 IAWT Award. She created and stars in her own digital series titled "Cady Did," which will be released soon. She is directing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Weathervane Theater this summer. @CadyHuffman CadyDid.tv
Will Nunziata is a New York City based director. The concert director for Platinum recording artist Jackie Evancho and Tony Award-winner Lillias White, he recently conceived and directed the critically-acclaimed off-Broadway theatre revue Our Guy, Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman, starring four Tony Award winners who all worked with the late-great composer Cy Coleman - Lillias White, Cady Huffman, Randy Graff, and Judy Kaye. Will is currently working with the estate of world-renowned singer and songwriter Charles Aznavour on conceiving and directing an original musical around Aznavour's robust canon of songs. He is also working with Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar-winning songwriters Alan & Marilyn Bergman on an original theatrical concert of their songs. A few years ago, Will collaborated with John Kander and directed a revised version of the Kander & Ebb musical The Actstarring Julia Murney, Randy Graff, Cady Huffman, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Parris, Stacie Bono, and more. Will graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Theatre, and is also a professional singer and entertainer who recently headlined Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops alongside his twin brother, Anthony. www.willnunziata.com
Cady Huffman in Miss Peggy Lee: In Her Own Words and Music will be performed at The Green Room 42 (570 Tenth Avenue at 42nd Street, on the 4th Floor of Yotel) for two performances only, Wednesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 31, both at 7:00 PM. The cover changes is $35-$75. There is no food and drink minimum. For tickets, please visit www.TheGreenRoom42.com.
Photo Credit: Steve Singer