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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 27
Broadway buccaneer - An exclusive interview with Pirates of Penzance star Hunter Ryan Herdlicka
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Broadway buccaneer - An exclusive interview with Pirates of Penzance star Hunter Ryan Herdlicka

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
July 11 - August 4


It seems to be the pirate's life for actor Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, and quite the charmed one at that. Fresh out of school, his first Broadway audition turned into his first Broadway job - a Stephen Sondheim show, at that! After honing his chops on the Great White Way, he performed a solo concert at 54 Below, a new venue in the lower half of the infamous Studio 54 space. Coming to Seattle, Herdlicka is playing the lead pirate in the 5th Avenue's production of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic The Pirates of Penzance.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: Shockingly, they were Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, and Elaine Stritch. When I was in middle school, my school did a production of Into The Woods Jr. My best friend had a DVD of the original Broadway cast, and we watched it. I begged my mom for the DVD and so we got it. Then we got the DVD player. I'd watch that DVD at least five times a week, over and over. Sometimes even twice a day. I'd also watch Bernadette's concert. That's how I learned about Sunday in the Park with George. Then eventually it started over with Out to Sea with Elaine Stritch.

Andrews-Katz: What was the most challenging thing about attending the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama?

Herdlicka: Carnegie Mellon was the very first drama-degree-generating program in the United States, so that being said, it is extremely demanding and has a highly rigorous conservatory program. The time commitment was the most demanding. You'd have to be up for a 7 a.m. mandatory yoga class, and then your other classes on top of that. There'd be times I wouldn't get done with classes until after midnight. It was very rigorous and time-consuming, but it was worth it. I was honored to be there.

Andrews-Katz: You were in New York less than a week when you auditioned for the revival cast of Sondheim's A Little Night Music. You got the part. What was your audition like?

Herdlicka: I had gotten an agent from my school showcase and I had two weeks to kill before starting a summer (playing Freddy in My Fair Lady at West Virginia Public Theatre) stock show for my Equity card. I wanted to kill time in New York, but my family said I should go home and save the money. I moved to Queens with a sublet and my agent sent me to an audition. I sang 'Later' from the show, and was called back. I was told that I'd be singing for Trevor Nunn. He directed the first show I saw, CATS, when I was in second grade. That was what inspired me to start taking voice lessons and acting classes! Just seeing and meeting Trevor was amazing. Knowing he was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, I did a Shakespeare monologue (Shakespeare is one of my favorites), and then I sang 'Later' again. I received a third callback saying, 'It'll be the same drill as before but this time with Stephen Sondheim.' That's NOT the same drill as before!

Andrews-Katz: Sondheim is known to be a subtle and humble man. Describe your first meeting with him.

Herdlicka: We had a funny first meeting. I was standing in the lobby of this huge building waiting at the elevator for my callback. I was listening to my iPod, to some motivational speaker, when I see this man walking in with a New York Times under his arm. He waits next to me. I take another look and realize it's Stephen Sondheim. He gets into the elevator with me - we're the only two in there - and I turn to him and say, 'What floor?' as if I didn't know!

After I push the button there is complete silence. Finally I turned and said, 'Hi. I'm Hunter. I'm here to sing for you.' He pauses for a moment and then says, 'I'm here to listen to you.' We got out of the elevator and he went into one room and I another. I wait for Trevor Nunn to come get me and bring me to meet him. When we're introduced, Stephen says, 'Oh, Hunter and I go way back!' Everybody did a doubletake!

Andrews-Katz: You've said that Bernadette Peters was one of your earliest icons. What was it like to work with her?

Herdlicka: It was really a dream come true. I did the show first with Catherine [Zeta-Jones] and Angela [Lansbury]. Then we got our closing notice and we all thought it was done. I read on one of the Broadway blogs that we were going to be continuing with Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters after three weeks. I couldn't believe that I was going to work with both of them! It was amazing watching Stephen work with them and those are moments I'll never forget. There are things I've learned from Bernadette, not only as an actor but also as a human being. She's kind, genuine, and a funny person. Even though she has millions of accolades and is absolutely gorgeous, she is still so humble and kind. I've never once seen her even come close to acting like a diva.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of music do you listen to when you relax?

Herdlicka: I went though a period where all I listened to was Broadway. From second grade on up, it was Broadway, Broadway, Broadway. Now I listen to a lot of theater, but I listen to a lot of gospel, too. That's my favorite thing to listen to. I love pop music, of course, and I like the normal stuff on the radio that guys aren't supposed to like.

Andrews-Katz: You recently performed at the newest New York venue, 54 Below. What kind of music did you sing and will there be a recording of it?

Herdlicka: Unfortunately, there won't be a recording of it. I did mostly Sondheim songs. Phyllis Newman was there, so I did several Comden and Green songs because I was close with her and in New York for her 80th birthday. I did a 12-minute tribute to Elaine Stritch, songs that she told me I should put into my act. I had my music arranger put them into a 12-minute Elaine Stritch medley. She loved it, and it was hysterical. Bernadette told me to sing 'Johanna' [from Sweeney Todd], so I did, with a gorgeous cello arrangement. I did a few Jerry Herman songs and Cole Porter that people would know. I'm really an old-school person, and Sondheim is about as contemporary as I'd like to get.

Andrews-Katz: What can you tell us about the challenges in your upcoming performance in the 5th Avenue's production of The Pirates of Penzance?

Herdlicka: I think it's a lot like any show as an actor. Your job is to communicate the text. That is the number-one primary goal as a performer - to communicate the play to an audience. Gilbert & Sullivan has a lot that the modern audience may not understand. It just means that you (as an actor) are going to have to be more detailed in your job, with how and what you are saying. Especially in dialogue. It's a lot like Shakespeare where they wanted the periods where they want them. Each punctuation mark is precise and needs to be communicated as such. It's all there, there's just more to mind than something like Next to Normal or Rent. We're just lucky to be working with the great people at the 5th Avenue that we are working with!

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of limitations - what would it be, and why?

Herdlicka: If I were doing a male role, I would like to do Puck in A Midsummer's Night's Dream. I'd also like to do Huck in Big River. Otherwise, I'd like to play Lady Macbeth, or Rosalind in As You Like It - pretty much anything Shakespeare. I'd also like to play Edward in Edward II, but that's not Shakespeare, that's Marlowe.

The Pirates of Penzance (or The Slave of Duty) is considered to be a comic opera. With lyrics by W.S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan, it was first presented (coincidentally) at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York, on New Year's Eve, 1879. Considered to be one of the three most frequently performed G&S productions, Pirates has been on Broadway more than 26 times, with its most recent production in 1982.

FREE PERFORMANCE!
The cast of The Pirates of Penzance will perform selections from the show at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle on Wednesday, July 10, at 11:45 a.m., as part of the 'Out to Lunch' free summer concert series.

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