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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 18 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 16
Louis Hobson talks about his life in theatre and The 5th Avenues A Room With a ViewRuPaul bares all
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Louis Hobson talks about his life in theatre and The 5th Avenues A Room With a View

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

A ROOM WITH A VIEW,
THE MUSICAL
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through May 11


Louis Hobson is a great example of Hometown Boy Does Well! Originally from Washington state, Mr. Hobson studied acting at the local Pacific Lutheran University before heading out to the Great White Way and making a name for himself in the (originally local) Pulitzer Prize winning musical, Next to Normal. Now this talented man is living back in Seattle as the Artistic Director of The Balagan Theatre and performing on stage at The 5th Avenue Theatres debut musical, A Room With a View.

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

Louis Hobson: It varies, I suppose. I would have to say that growing up I was always doing shows for my parents. Saturday or Sunday mornings I was doing impersonations (like the Ernest kind of films) for them at the foot of their bed. They were my first cheerleaders. When I got into high school I got into theater. Rogers High School in Puyallup exposed me to professional theater and laid the groundwork for when I went to college and started working professionally. Everybody has given me something as I go and I learn from those around me. Patti Cohenour gave me a lot of advice when I was first starting in Seattle and entered the world of professional acting. Ive been very blessed along my way.

Andrews-Katz: What was the first professional show you saw?

Hobson: I was in the 4th grade when a teacher took a group of us (I think we were all in the orchestra; I was playing cello) to see Julius Caesar at The REP theatre. It was my first show and I think it was a student matinee. I remember I was blown away by it. I didnt understand everything dealing with Shakespeare, but I understood enough. It set me off on this desire to do what they did: to do something that means something to an audience.

Andrews-Katz: How did you become involved with the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, Next to Normal?

Hobson: Thats a fantastic sort of story. Its just being in the right place at the right time. I was doing a show at Village Theatre in 2003 (The Sound of Music) and Brian Yorkey (one of the writers for Next to Normal, and a good friend and champion of my work) asked if I would be interested in the workshop. I did the show (then called Feeling Electric) and it was the first draft of the stage production. After that I didnt do anything with it for over six years. I was doing Cabaret in Seattle and decided to move to New York. It was tough as I had a wife and small daughter, but I wanted to give it a shot. I flew out on a Friday and right before I got on the plane my agent called and said I had an audition for Next to Normal (the new name of Feeling Electric). I got the music on Friday (it was for the son, Gabe), and came in on Sunday to audition. I got several callbacks, for every role except the doctor. The final audition I went in and the casting director pulled me out and said they wanted to see me for the doctor role. I came back that afternoon (after buying a suit and restyled my hair) after learning the music and had a great audition. I got the call back the next week and the rest is history.

Andrews-Katz: Since you were part of the beginning workshop, how hands-on were you in forming the characters?

Hobson: Strangely, I played the husband in the first workshop. He had no name yet and was just called Husband. It was really cool being a part of creating it. We (Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt and I) talked about the show as it was being done. Where the songs appeared and where they would fit. Sometimes a song would disappear and later it resurfaced exactly where we had talked about putting it. Playing the doctor was sort of new for me, but it was amazing to have the opportunity to originate and create a role on Broadway. Ive got to do that three more times.

Andrews-Katz: What brought you back to Seattle after a career on Broadway?

Hobson: I dont see my career on Broadway as ended. I finished doing Leap of Faith (the musical) and had done three other Broadway shows. When you open a show it takes all of your energy. I was offered to do the tour of Jekyll and Hyde, but I didnt feel it was the right place for me at that point. I took a breather and came back to Seattle. I wanted to do five months of reassessing before making any decisions and ended up doing a few films in that lull. Children of God (based on the David Sedaris short story) is Jonathan Groffs film with Denis OHare. I didnt want to get burned out and shifted to something else.

Andrews-Katz: How did you get involved with being Artistic Director of the Balagan Theatre?

Hobson: It was in the middle of all my previous shifting that Jake Groshong approached me about being an Artistic Director of Balagan in 2010. I heard of Balagan and saw an interview with Jake on Tuesday Northwest, and wanted to get to know him. I called him up out of the blue and started talking. We met for coffee and chatted. Flash forward two years later, and he approached me about the job of Artistic Director. I had a vision where Balagan was becoming the place of where the next generation of musical theater gets produced. I wanted to combine my New York connections with the Indie-hippie community and blend them. I think we are really onto something.

Andrews-Katz: Alice Ripley was supposed to be Madame Thernadier in Balagans acclaimed Les Miserables. What prompted the decision to have her wait for Carrie, the musical?

Hobson: I went out to NY to do a Lincoln Center concert series, and sort of mentioned to Alice (who was performing as well) that we were doing Les Miserables. She immediately said, I want to be your Madame Thernadier. I spoke to the executive director and we started looking at the production. The economics didnt add up due to the scale of the production in such a small space. Its also such a small role, so I called her and said that Id love to have her in the show, but thought that if she were going to be doing something, there should be more for her to do. The directors liked the idea of her doing Margret White in Carrie, the musical, and Alice was interested in doing it. So thats the road we went down. It was a gift to hear her sing it and a great experience to have her here.

Andrews-Katz: How does being an actor help your insight as director?

Hobson: When I was in college I almost went the director route. Of all the doors of opportunity that have been opened to me, the directors door has been most frequent. I have a passion for developing new material and as an actor and director, thats what I want to do. My experiences add to how I approach as an actor or director. I had amazing directors that Ive worked with and learn something from each of the great directors Ive worked with. As I develop that muscle I think that Balagan affords me that kind of opportunity.

Andrews-Katz: How did you become involved with The 5th Avenues A Room With A View?

Hobson: I was doing People in the Picture at Roundabout Theatre and at the same time I was doing the workshop for the revival of Carrie. In the middle of it, I got a Facebook message from this guy saying, You dont know me, but my girlfriend saw you in West Side Story. I am working on a musical version of A Room with a View and she suggested you. Lets talk. I went and met with Jeffrey [Stock  music/lyrics] and Mark [Acito  book] and learned the song Something Tremendous. I was blown away by it. Once you hear it, I felt that it was one of THOSE songs that will be a part of auditioning repertoire. The rest of the score was as lush and complicated and we did a workshop in NYC with Terrance Mann, and an all star-studded cast in a tiny workshop studio. In walk Hal Prince and Adam Guettel and it was surreal being in the middle of what you feel is going to be something special. We only had a bit of dialogue with 7 or 8 songs, and the Old Globe in San Diego picked it up and wanted to produce the complete show. It usually takes about 10 years from draft to Broadway so this was incredible. They wrote the show in 6 months and then started to rework it. I mentioned it to David [Armstrong of The 5th Avenue Theatre] and thought there was something very special about the show. Like Tony in West Side Story, I think itll be a role you hope to play one day.

Andrews-Katz: Would you say the stage production follows the E.M. Forster novel more closely, or is it more of an adaptation of the acclaimed film?

Hobson: I think its actually neither. It follows the book pretty closely, but there are some characters that are changed for the sake of telling a story on stage. I think it honors the book beautifully. A lot of us cant get those movie images out of our minds, or the influences, but the stage production is definitely its own entity.

Andrews-Katz: What particular moment of the new musical personally has the most impact for you?

Hobson: Its just ever changing at this point. You kind of allow these works to roll around and bounce around in your head and on stage. You are constantly trying to find what the characters will latch on to emotionally, and that helps create the characters. What they think about? What they are about? One thing will pop out as something inspiring, but I think the general theme of the piece is really about we should not fight in the spring. That we must take the opportunity that is before us. It impacts my character George that up to this point he is a person that has lost a lot. Hes a person that doesnt really believe in anything. He kind of turns into this person, through a series of events, that life is worth hanging on to with white knuckles. Theres so much life in the show.

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

Hobson: I would love to play Mama Rose. I love that role. I had the great pleasure of working at the 5th Avenue and saw the incomparable Judy Kaye do that role every night. Its just one of the great roles of musical theater.

A Room with a View was written in 1908 by E.M. Forster as a commentary on women in the repressed Victorian Age as well as English Society of the time. The first stage production was adapted in 1975 with the more famous film released in 1985. The Merchant-Ivory film starred Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Dench, Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smith and Julian Sands. A BBC television version was released in 2006. The debut musical boasts music and lyrics by Jeffrey Stock and a book by Marc Acito.

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