From Drood to Fiddler, Judy Kuhn Recalls Her Most Memorable Nights Onstage

Diva Talk   From Drood to Fiddler, Judy Kuhn Recalls Her Most Memorable Nights Onstage
 
The four-time Tony nominee looks back on the craziest nights and most moving moments of her career.
HR - Judy Kuhn.jpg
Judy Kuhn
Judy Kuhn in<i> Fiddler on the Roof</i>
Judy Kuhn in Fiddler on the Roof Joan Marcus

Four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn is back on Broadway in the critically acclaimed revival of Fiddler on the Roof, playing the grounded Golde opposite six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as the questioning milkman Tevye. Kuhn, who recently concluded a Tony-nominated run in the award-winning musical Fun Home, is blessed with one of the richest voices in the musical theatre today; in fact, one suspects when God was handing out voices, she stepped in line twice. Kuhn not only possesses a rangy, glorious soprano that she used to dramatic effect as the original Cosette in Les Misérables and as Amalia in the 1993 revival of She Loves Me, but she also boasts a rich, thrilling belt that she first displayed in the Broadway debut of Chess, a production that garnered the singing actor numerous lifelong admirers, this writer included.

That golden voice will also be on display when Kuhn performs her terrifically moving cabaret act on Playbill Travel’s star-studded Broadway on the High Seas 8 Caribbean cruise in February 2017. (Click here for more information.)

I recently asked Kuhn, who continues with Fiddler through its final performance December 31 at the Broadway Theatre, to pen a list of her five most memorable nights onstage; her responses follow:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
My Broadway debut was in the original production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I understudied Betty Buckley, who played Drood, and Patti Cohenour, who played the ingénue, Rosa Bud. The show opened first at the Delacorte the summer of 1985 and moved to Broadway the following fall. I think it was maybe our third preview, and I had not yet had any understudy rehearsals for the Broadway production, when I got a call in the afternoon that Patti was out and I had to come in right away to try on costumes and have a put-in rehearsal. The whole night is still a blur, especially the part where I was voted the murderer and hadn’t really learned the song!

Les Misérables/Rags

In 1987 I was nominated for my first Tony Award for Les Misérables. For the telecast I was asked to sing the title song from Rags (which had been nominated for Best Musical) as well as perform the Act I finale of Les Miz. I had never performed on live TV, so I was understandably nervous about the whole evening. My category, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, was up first, and they told me that after the award was presented, someone would come get me and take me backstage. I waited and waited and nobody came, so finally I found my own way backstage. When I got there, everyone was freaking out wondering where I had been. I just made it onstage for the Rags number and then proceeded to forget where a cut had been made in the song only a day or two before. Having finished that performance, and before I had a chance to process what had happened, I was pulled into a quick-change booth, changed into my Les Miz wig and costume, then pushed out onstage for the next one. Another out-of-body experience.

Fun Home on Broadway

Judy Kuhn and Sydney Lucas in <i>Fun Home</i>
Judy Kuhn and Sydney Lucas in Fun Home Jenny Anderson

Another very memorable night would have to be the opening of Fun Home on Broadway. I had been involved with the piece from the first reading about five years ago now. The journey to that night, through all the workshops, the Sundance Theatre Lab, the Off-Bway production at the Public, had been so extraordinary for all of us involved. While I knew from that first reading Fun Home was a very special and important piece, none of us ever imagined the way it would be so embraced or that it would have the success that it had. You always hope for that, but you never know. When our creative team—Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori, and Sam Gold, along with Alison Bechdel on whose book the show is based—joined the cast onstage for the curtain call that night, it was the fulfillment of a dream. It was deeply moving.

Fun Home in Orlando

There were many memorable and extraordinary experiences in the course of my involvement with Fun Home, but this one was the most profound. Last July, our whole company, including our band and our creative team, went to Orlando on our day off and did a benefit concert version of the show. All the proceeds went to Equality Florida, who was providing all kind of support and services for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre and their families. It was in a concert hall down the road from the club that had 2,800 seats, every one of which was filled. There were many people there directly affected by the tragedy, including family members of victims and people who worked for the club and were there that night. It is hard to describe how profound and emotional that night was. People laughed harder and cried more than any other time that we had performed the show. And the gratitude we received was amazing. There was a long sustained standing ovation when we walked onstage. It was a reminder of how important it is just to show up for people who are suffering. We raised over $100,000, and I will never forget those people we met that night.

Fiddler on the Roof

Judy Kuhn
Judy Kuhn and Danny Burstein Joan Marcus

And, lastly, there was my first night in Fiddler! I learned the role in two weeks and had maybe five rehearsals with various members of the cast, so that first night was crazy. I was doing many things for the first time, hearing the orchestra for the first time, playing scenes with people for the first time. It was terrifying and thrilling. I could not have made it through without the extraordinary company of actors that are in this show. They all treated me with such kindness and made sure I was always standing in the right place!

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.

Kuhn will perform aboard Playbill Travel's Broadway on the High Seas 8 cruise in February 2017. The luxury cruise—complete with performances by top Broadway talent like Kuhn—tours the stunning islands of St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Antigua, and more. For more information about Playbill Travel and to book your next Broadway getaway click here.

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