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15 Minutes with Judy Kuhn

June 1st, 2016 Comments off

by Jim Gladstone

Judy Kuhn (photo provided by 'Fun Home')

Judy Kuhn (photo provided by ‘Fun Home’)

Kuhn’s work as Helen Bechdel, long-suffering wife of a closeted gay man, in the show adapted from lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographic novel, is indelible. While Fun Home might easily have played primarily as a father-daughter story, the distillation of intensity, bewilderment and loss Kuhn brings to her show-stopping performance of Helen’s soliloquy song, “Days and Days” adds astonishing dimensions to the show as a whole. It presses audiences to reconsider the entire story from a third perspective.

It is a wrenching portrayal, and one would hardly blame Kuhn for taking a hard-earned hiatus for purposes of rest and relaxation alone. But the 57-year-old’s six-week break was long-planned to allow a much-needed hip replacement surgery.

But for Kuhn, creation and recuperation went hand in hand. In the midst of her successful recovery—“We are so lucky to be living in a time when this is not such an ordeal and you can be walking on crutches in days,” she said during a recent phone conversation—Kuhn put finishing touches on her new concert’s repertoire.

Judy Kuhn in 'Fun Home' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Judy Kuhn in ‘Fun Home’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The program, an evolution of Kuhn’s one-night American Songbook show at Lincoln Center last year, brings together songs from a single family’s three generations of composers: Richard Rodgers, daughter Mary Rodgers (Once Upon A Mattress), and grandson Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza, Floyd Collins).

“I first heard Adam’s work,” says Kuhn, “through my friend Tina Landau who directed the premiere of Floyd Collins. I’m actually not the kind of person who has ever spent much time listening to cast albums. But I listened to that one over and over, I just found it so compelling.”

“At some point, I found out that he was Richard Rodgers’ grandson and I was so fascinated. When I thought about the opening of Floyd Collins [set in an Appalachian coal mining community] and the opening of Oklahoma, I could see a connection. There’s this idea of American optimism and the search for what you’re meant to do, a sense that ‘Something really good is about to happen to me.’”

“And then, when you bring in Mary, you see that all three of them are romantics. They write the most beautiful ballads that express people’s need for connection. In the past, we’ve seen multiple generations of actors and authors, but I’ve never seen this sort of thing with composers.”

Whether exploring the Rodgers family or the Bechdel family, Kuhn, who also works as an acting teacher, says she doesn’t like to make a distinction between her acting and her singing.“It’s all storytelling,” she says. “Sometimes we use music to help tell the story. Shakespeare used verse.”

“I always start with the lyrics. I don’t know how to do a song without a good lyric. Language is the leading element, its what needs to be communicated,” says Kuhn. “Then I think about what the composer has done with the music to lift the lyric up. What are the musical cues the composer is offering me as a storyteller. There are some highly trained singers who have never been asked to focus on anything but perfect sound.”

“I’ve never been interested in doing any writing,” says Kuhn. “I never wanted to learn to play the violin. I like being a detective and trying to understand how to best tell a story.”

Judy Kuhn
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
222 Mason Street, San Francisco
June 3, doors: 6:30 p.m/Show: 8
June 4, doors: 5:30 p.m./Show: 7 p.m.

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.

Don’t Miss: Judy Kuhn and More at NJPAC Gala

October 2nd, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Judy Kuhn (photo provided by GreenHouse Publicity)

Judy Kuhn (photo provided by GreenHouse Publicity)

While the tri-state area braces for a weekend full of chill and rain, the New Jersey Performing Arts center (NJPAC) forecast includes shining stars in rays of spotlight as it hosts their annual gala for the Women’s Association of NJPAC this Saturday, October 3 at 7 p.m..

This year’s event, under the musical direction of Sirius XM Broadway host Seth Rudestsky, will celebrate the songs of one of Broadway’s most well known composers, Stephen Sondheim.

Tony Award winners and nominees including James Monore Iglehart (Aladdin), Vanessa Williams (Into the Woods), Tony Yazbeck (On the Town), and special guest Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd) will present an evening of Sondheim songs. The program will also include a brief awards ceremony. Judy Kuhn, currently starring in the award winning hit Fun Home, will also join the starry lineup. The Broadway Blog caught up with her to discuss the event:

BB: How did you become involved in the NJPAC  gala and what can audiences expect to hear from you on Saturday night? 

JK: Seth Rudetsky and I are old friends and colleagues and Oberlin Alumni! He asked me to participate which I am thrilled to be doing. The audience can expect to hear some favorite tunes, but I don’t want to give away which ones!

Judy Kuhn in 'Fun Home' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Judy Kuhn in ‘Fun Home’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

BB: The Women’s Association of NJPAC shares the same mission as you with regards to Arts Education for students. Why is exposure to the performing arts so vital to younger audiences? 

JK: I don’t think it can be overstated what arts programs of any kind do for young people, no matter their skills. It builds confidence, encourages and teaches self-expression and collaboration, all of which are crucial for success in any field they may want to go into.

BB: You are no stranger to Sondheim repertoire, having performed in his revival of Passion at Classic Stage Company. What is it about his vast collection of songs that inspires performers to constantly perform and reinvent them?

JK: No one writes for actors the way Sondheim does. He writes the way people think and speak, and the connection between words and music is profound. It is endless what you can explore in his writing.

BB: What is your all-time favorite Sondheim song and why? 

JK: That is a tough one…I would say one of my favorites is from Passion: “I Wish I  Could Forget You,” which Fosca sings to Giorgio in the form of a letter she dictates to him addressed to her. Complicated, layered and the most heart rending melody. I always loved that moment of the show.

For tickets and information to the NJPAC gala, visit: http://www.njpac.org/events/detail/spotlight-gala-2015

Here’s a sneak peek of Judy Kuhn and Seth Rudetsky

Categories: The Buzz Tags: , ,

Review: Fun Home

May 4th, 2015 Comments off
"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Home is where the heart is. But sometimes that heart can ache from a life burdened with secrets and lies. That same heart can also beat strong when love, compassion, and empathy flows through its chambers. Fun Home, the new Broadway musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, is full of heart in every capacity — a humorous and occasionally harrowing journey that touches upon our creative yearnings and the emotional baggage we carry and occasionally let go of.

funhomeBased on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is the autobiographical journey of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel as she grows up in a funeral home helmed by her closeted father, discovers her own sexuality during college, and eventually comes to terms with his suicide. Tesori and Kron’s brilliant construct allows for us to share the journey with Alison through three stages of her life: as a young child (played by Obie winner Sydney Lucas), middle Alison (Emily Skeggs) and adult Alison (Beth Malone). Director Sam Gold seamlessly shepherds the action around David Zinn’s set, which includes a carefully curated collection of “fun home” antiques as well as other specific elements in Alison’s life. Originally presented at The Public Theatre on a proscenium stage, Fun Home benefits greatly from Circle in the Square’s in-the-round setting, which enables Gold to further immerse older Alison into the action.

Tesori’s music is a driving force and carries the same emotional highs and lows as previous works such as Violet and Caroline, or Change. But she’s a chameleon and also imbues the score with 70s riffs that echo The Partridge Family and The Jackson Five. Kron’s book is just as keen, balancing humor with pathos as Alison retraces her life before the audience’s eyes.

"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Alison, in each of her three incarnations, builds a story of hope and forgiveness. As the youngest of the trio, Ms. Lucas is haunting in her natural and untainted demeanor. She is a child discovering her love of drawing and creative expression yet emotionally tethered to her father’s fleeting approval. As the college student, Ms. Skeggs is beautifully gangly and awkward, yet fiery with her newly discovered sexual desires. And providing a calm yet solemn through line, Ms. Malone is not only narrator, but also a mirror of the experiences unfolding before her. Rounding out the cast are exceptional performances from Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother, and a Tony-nominated performance by Michael Cerveris, whose tortured inner conflict is riveting and will likely resonate with anyone who has struggled with his or her own sexual identity.

Fun Home was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and it’s easy to see why. The musical, which so truthfully delves into the specifics of Bechdel’s life, also touches upon universal themes about creativity and truth. As her father falls deep into a life of deception as a means to cover up his repressed homosexuality, he inadvertently smothers her artistic expression in an unconscious attempt to control what cannot be controlled, both within him as well as others.

In Julia Cameron’s principles of The Artist’s Way, the author writes that “there is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.” The fact that real-life Bechdel was able to transcend her father’s creative suffocation is a triumph and testament to the human spirit and a destiny that she felt compelled to follow. Fun Home pays homage to her journey with a captivating theatrical sensibility you won’t want to miss.

Fun Home
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street
Open ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

Applause, Applause: Judy Kuhn, Just Around The Record Label?

November 19th, 2012 Comments off

In his continuing series, Andrew Glaszek pays tribute to music theater greats deserving of diva status. Today, he looks at an actress who has been in some of the biggest hits of the last few decades but still isn’t a household name…

Judy Kuhn "Just in Time". Image via Amazon.

To some, life would just be bland and banal without The Broadway Album, It’s Better with a Band, Way Back To Paradise, or Matters of The Heart. And though I respect Barbra, love Barbara, Audra, and worship at the altar of Patti, my life (and repertoire) wouldn’t be the same without the album Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne. It’s a recording that is, start to finishfantastic.

This should be no surprise to anyone who fell in love with Ms. Kuhn in the revival of She Loves Me  (TONY Nom), was blown away by her “Just Around The Riverbend” as Disney’s Pocahontas, or found her Betty Schaefer better than the leading actress in the Broadway Sunset Boulevard. Choosing a favorite song or performance by her is a tough task since this is the same wonder woman who leaves people obsessed with her soprano in Les Miserables (TONY Nom) and her belt in Chess (Tony Nom)! This season, Judy hit the NY stage and filled the house in the Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home at The Public and is sure to tear up the town as Fosca in Classic Stage Company’s upcoming revival of Sondheim’s Passion.

It’s also great to have the prospect of a new solo album on the horizon that should include songs by Sondheim and Porter amongst others. Without a record label backing this project, she’s taken to kickstarter for financing of this, her third solo recording after Just In Time… in ’95 and Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro from ’07. Check out her campaign for a video and incentives.

So while you get your tix for Passion and help kickstart her new album, get your Judy Kuhn fix with these clips (and go buy Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne on iTunes!)…

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