BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Judy Kuhn
Today's subject Judy Kuhn has been living her theatre life as a working actress/singer/recording artist for over thirty years. On May 5th you will be able to see this incredible Tony-nominated talent live in concert at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown as part of the Dumbarton Concerts series. The program is entitled Judy Kuhn: A Broadway Cabaret.
Ms. Kuhn's memorable performances include Florence in the original Broadway production of Chess, Bella in Rags, Helen in the Tony Award-winning Fun Home, and the singing voice of the title character in Disney's Pocahontas. You read that right. Judy Kuhn introduced "Colors of the Wind" to the world. Her Broadway debut was in the original Broadway production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She shared the stage with Dame Cleo Laine, George Rose, and Howard McGillin. Quite a debut wouldn't you say?
Her solo recordings include the Jule Styne tribute, Just in Time, All This Happiness, and her latest, Rodgers, Rodgers, and Guettel. She also can be heard on the original Broadway cast recordings of Chess and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and a recording of Rags that featured some members of the original Broadway production,
Ms. Kuhn is also a distinguished concert artist and performs in prestigious venues all over the country. Her most recent appearance in DC was at the Kennedy Center as part of the very much missed Barbara Cook's Spotlight series.
Judy Kuhn is one of those performers that always delivers a memorable and solid performance. For musical theatre geeks like myself - that have followed her career from the beginning - having a chance to see her in person once again is always a plus. This Saturday evening will be well worth the time spent, so get your tickets to see one of Broadway's best doing what she does so well. Judy Kuhn is only in town for one night so please don't let it be "Someone Else's Story." Experience this talent for yourself.
What was the turning point in your life when it became clear that you were going to become a professional performer?
I resisted the idea of being a performer for a long time. I came to New York to try it and loved it.
Where did you receive your training?
I went to Oberlin College and transferred to their conservatory. I trained classically. I then found an acting teacher in New York and started taking classes. I am now a member of The Actor's Center Workshop Company.
Can you please give us a small idea of what we will hear at this Saturday evening's performance at Dumbarton Church?
There will be songs from my stage career and solo albums, including my most recent one focusing on the Rodgers family (Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers, and Adam Guettel). My Musical Director is Todd Almond and he also did the arrangements.
Putting together a solo show can be challenging because of the plethora of material you have to choose from. What is your process for selecting material?
There isn't any one kind of process. If it's a songbook show you go through the catalogue of that writer. What was challenging with the Rodgers show was the huge catalogue of stuff from Richard Rodgers to choose from. When I did my show at Kennedy Center, I just started with a list of what I wanted to sing. My shows have to have a meaning for me. It has to speak to me.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was your Broadway debut. What do you remember most about your opening night in that show and performing with our dearly departed George Rose?
It was my first Broadway opening. I was very excited. There was a big party at the Public and it was just dazzling. It was a privilege to be onstage with George Rose. He would improvise and was a total joy to watch.
April 28th was the 30th anniversary of Chess opening on Broadway. What do you remember about the process of putting that show together?
It was a lot of work and overwhelming. A lot of the focus was on making the set work.
You recorded the songs for Disney's Pocahontas. When you did the recording session for Colors of the Wind did you know that song was going to hit as big as it did?
You never know when you are working on it. I did know that it was a great song, but I never think about whether or not if the song is going to be a hit or not. I just focus on the work.
You were nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Fun Home. It is one of the most important musicals we've had in a long time because of the subject matter and, of course, the all-female writing team. Aside from that, what sold you on accepting your role in Fun Home?
I was involved with it from one of its earliest readings. I got an e-mail that told me who wrote the show and who was directing it, and that was it. I didn't need anything else.
What advice do you have for someone fresh out of college, armed with a degree in theatre and ready to jump into the business?
Be brave and say yes. Keep studying and know that careers are long and winding with ups and downs. Be kind to the people you work with. I get a lot of work from people that have already worked with me. Your reputation can follow you.
What is the biggest change you have seen on Broadway since you started performing?
The whole business has changed. There was a bigger divide between mediums. No one wanted to do television. Now it's almost like you have to do television in order to do Broadway. Of course, it's now more expensive. It's commercial, but then there are shows like The Band's Visit and Fun Home that do very well. It's also a fruitful time for writing now. The Internet has changed the business too.
What upcoming projects would you like us to know about?
Steel Magnolias at Cape Playhouse, a Playbill Cruise, and some concerts with Seth Rudetsky in Provincetown.
Here is a live performance of Judy Kuhn performing Colors of the Wind at Concert for America in 2017.
Special Thanks to Caroline Heaney of Bucklesweet Media for her assistance in coordinating this interview.
Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.