Monday, May 28, 2012


Leap of Fate:
Professional opera singer (and native San Diegan) Tom Corbeil makes the move from arias to “Addams Family”
By Donnie Matsuda
Tom Corbeil.
Tom Corbeil is not afraid to take on new ventures. 
For the past eight months, the 34-year old opera singer – who has tackled such roles as Leporello in “Don Giovanni,” Colline in “La Boheme,” and Don Basilio in “The Barber of Seville” – has been touring the country as Lurch, the larger-than-life butler in the first national tour of The Addams Family.  It’s a bit of a stretch (pun intended) for him to be stepping into such big shoes and the physical demands of the role required him to extend his 6’6’’ frame to a towering 6’11’’ with the aid of lifts in his shoes.  On top of that, he doesn’t get to showcase his powerful pipes, but instead has learned to communicate by mostly grunting, grumbling, and hitting one single note – a low E-flat – that resonates well with his shambling but mostly silent character. 
Corbeil doesn’t so much mind because he’s always up for giving his booming bass-baritone a rest and this tour (which creeps into the San Diego Civic Theatre starting this Tuesday for a week long run through June 3rd) is a great way for him to break into the world of Broadway musicals – one giant step at a time.  Here, he’s surrounded by a bizarre and beloved cast of musical talents and Corbeil (a newly-born Broadway baby himself) says he’s learned a lot just by watching them work their macabre magic each night on stage. His ghoulishly gloomy co-stars include: Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) as Gomez, Sara Gettelfinger (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Nine, Seussical the Musical) as Morticia, Cortney Wolfson (Les Misérables, The Addams Family on B’way) as Wednesday, Blake Hammond (Sister Act, Billy Elliot, Hairspray, The Lion King) as Uncle Fester, and Pippa Pearthree (Boeing Boeing, Titanic) as Grandma.
Tom Corbeil in 2012.  Photo by Jörg Meyer.
Before going Gothic, Corbeil - who has an undergraduate degree in statistics from the University of California at Davis and a master's degree in Old Testament studies at Regent College in Vancouver - worked for the U.S. Navy as a data analyst in San Diego and joined the chorus at San Diego Opera, which started him on his modern-day musical journey.  He soon quit his day job, and within the next few seasons, Corbeil practiced his craft as a young artist at Opera North, Palm Beach Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Santa Fe Opera (among others), spent a summer in the Merola Opera Center at San Francisco Opera, and made his New York debut with Gotham Chamber Opera singing the role of Enrico in Haydn’s “L’isola disabitata.”   

Now, he’s taking a break from the world of opera and indulging his inner-Addams.  (Although his is scheduled to return to the Canadian Opera Company for “La boheme” and the Florida Grand Opera for “La sonnambula” and will make debuts with Alabama Symphony in Handel’s “Messiah” and Michigan Opera Theater in Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia” in future seasons.)  For now, amid a crazy whirlwind tour schedule, Corbeil had time to escape his butler duties and answer some questions about how he constructed the character of Lurch, his take on The Addams Family score, and what he’s most looking forward to as he returns to his hometown of San Diego.

DONNIE: Where did you grow up in San Diego?  Did you know at an early age that you were blessed with a professional-grade bass-baritone?

TOM: I grew up just north of downtown San Diego, near the Mission Hills neighborhood. I sang quite a bit as a kid, in church and in school, but I didn’t ever think I’d end up using my voice to pay the bills!

DONNIE: How did you get involved with the first national tour of “The Addams Family”?  It seems like quite a change (and a huge leap) from your career as an accomplished opera singer.

TOM: It’s a funny story actually – the role of Lurch came up in several disparate casual conversations with friends (and a few strangers) in San Diego, Miami, Toronto and New York – all at completely different times. After about the fourth or fifth occurrence, I thought maybe it was time to look into it and see if I might be able to get an audition.

Tom Corbeil transforms from handsome hunk to lanky Lurch.  Photo by Lori Kane for
DONNIE: Tell me more about the character you play, Lurch.  How did you prepare to tackle this role of the family’s towering, hulking butler?  

TOM: Lurch is a tricky character to pin down – it can be very easy just to try to imitate performers who have played him in the past, whether that’s in the TV show, the movies or the Broadway production of the musical. In the rehearsal process, we went back to the original Addams cartoons from the New Yorker and looked at Lurch’s posture and demeanor to provide a foundation from which to build the rest of his character. It was definitely a great challenge, but the result is something that is much more personal for me while still adhering to traditional expectations about this iconic character.

DONNIE: How well does the concept of the Addams Family translate from TV screen to the stage?  Is the musical version as creepy and kooky as we would expect?

TOM: Honestly, I think we exceed what most audience members expect when they enter the theater. The artistic team that put this show together did a phenomenal job of creating the Addams Family ambiance (if you will), and the finished product is just as hilarious as it is heart-warming.

DONNIE: How would you describe the Andrew Lippa composed score?  I’m assuming it’s a far cry from the astounding arias or beautiful ballads you are used to singing.

TOM: The score is really beautifully done, actually – with pop-driven melodies for the younger characters, tango-inspired harmonies and rhythms for Gomez, a great classic Broadway number for Morticia, and lots of really gorgeous, lyrical lines throughout.
Pippa Pearthree (Grandma), Tom Corbeil (Lurch), Douglas Sills (Gomez), Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday), Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia), Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) and Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley) in "The Addams Family" national tour.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
DONNIE: How has the show been received by audiences across America?  Any surprises?  Any funny stories?

TOM: We’ve all been really happy with the response we’ve been getting – there’s nothing like watching an audience of thousands rise to their feet after the final notes have been played. And of course there are some great moments that we laugh about backstage – I’ve been accidentally punched in the face a few times!

DONNIE: What are you most looking forward to as the show tours through your hometown of San Diego?

TOM: It’s always great to be home. I’m mostly looking forward to seeing my family and friends. And the sunshine isn’t going to be taken for granted, I promise you that!

DONNIE: Any more aspirations for breaking out of your comfort zone once the tour is over?  Ballroom dancing or Cirque-inspired acrobatics, perhaps? 

TOM: Well, I started my singing career after working as a data analyst in Point Loma for three years. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll move on to something completely different in a few years.

For more information about The Addams Family at Broadway San Diego, visit:

For more information about The Addams Family tour, visit:

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Diversionary Theatre has got magic to do with its 2012-2013 season (titled “Fresh, Fun, and Fabulous”), which was just unveiled this past week.  The LGBT-themed, University Heights-based company is kicking off its five-show season with two musicals – one a new, fresh take on homophobia in the rural Midwest called “Harmony, Kansas” and the other a tried and true Stephen Schwartz classic we all know and love, “Pippin.”   

The season continues with another Kansas-based play, “When Last We Flew,” and carries through with the bird theme in the fourth show, “Birds of a Feather,” about two families of birds who have to deal with species-specific (and non-species specific) child – or more specifically, chick – raising.  The season ends with a celebration of theatre’s most angst-filled, tortured, and terribly-suicidal character, Hedda Gabler, as she embarks on an imaginative journey that involves TV cop shows, Black feminist theatre, and self-hating gay characters from the 1960s. 

Sounds like a fun, flighty, and fantastical time for all.

Music by Anna K. Jacobs
Book & Lyrics by Bill Nelson
Directed by James Vasquez
                       June 14 – July 22, 2012                        
With a lively, soulful score, Harmony, Kansas tells the story of Heath, a gay farmer making his way in a rural community where homogeneity rules. When his city-born partner, Julian, talks him into joining a spirited group of gay guys who meet once a week to sing, Heath discovers a love for making music and a kinship he didn't expect. But his world is turned upside down when the group considers performing in public, threatening everything that matters to him, including the life he’s made with the man he loves.

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by James Vasquez
September 6 –October 14, 2012
A reimagined, innovative staging of a musical favorite!  James Vasquez upends the story of a young prince longed to discover the secret of true happiness and fulfillment. He sought it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power (after disposing of his father King Charlemagne the Great). In the end, he found it in the simple pleasures of home and family. Pippin is a hip, tongue-in-cheek, anachronistic fairy tale that captivated Broadway audiences and continues to appeal to the young at heart everywhere.

By Harrison David Rivers
Directed by Colette Robert
November 8 – December 9, 2012
"Before we were human. We were birds. And. We. Were. Magnificent!" Inspired by Tony Kushner's Angels in America, When Last We Flew is a moving and often humorous look at life in small town America from a contemporary teenage perspective. After stealing his local library's only (and unread) copy of Angels in America, misfit teenager Paul locks himself in the bathroom and begins reading the landmark play. He soon finds that his life and the lives of those around him in his small Kansas suburb are about to take flight, and over the course of a seemingly ordinary day, extraordinary things start to happen…

By Marc Acito
Directed By James Vasquez
January 31 – March 3, 2013
Birds of a Feather is a heart-warming, smart comedy about two bird families: Roy and Silo, two penguins at the Central Park Zoo that adopt and raise a chick, and Pale Male and Lola, two hawks living and raising their own on a trendy Manhattan building. The play is based on true events. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a controversial children’s book based on the penguins, and the entirety of New York City was in awe of the hawks that nestled onto an expensive residential building. The show emphasizes a great message: that any type of family that works should be celebrated, conventional or not, gay or straight.

By Jeff Whitty
Directed by Matt McGrath
March 28 – April 28, 2013
Beginning immediately after Henrik Ibsen's classic ends, The Further Adventures Of Hedda Gabler finds Hedda mired in an alternative hell: a place where death is only possible when a fictional character is forgotten by the real-life public. So what is one of drama's most famous suicides to do? After taking advice from helpful neighbor Medea, Hedda and her servant, Mammy, set out on a perilous quest to return to the imaginative furnace of their creation. Along the way, they meet characters from science fiction, Black feminist theater, TV cop shows, Biblical dramas, as well as a couple of wisecracking, self-hating gay characters from the 1960s. Once Hedda and Mammy arrive at their fiery destination, they face a heartbreaking truth about themselves, their creators, and the forces that make them eternal.

For more information about Diversionary, visit:

Friday, May 18, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "Hands on a Hardbody" at La Jolla Playhouse

“Hardbody” Kicks Up Its Wheels:
Ten Texas desperados go neck-and-neck (and hand-to-hand) in La Jolla Playhouse’s exuberant musical ode to hope amid hard times

By Donnie Matsuda

La Jolla Playhouse may have finally hit the high road with its most recent vehicle-centric production of Hands on a Hardbody, a slick, splashy, and soul-stirring world premiere musical currently playing at the Mandell Weiss Theatre until June 17.

(L to R) Jay Armstrong Johnson, Keala Settle, Hunter Foster, and Keith Carradine in La Jolla Playhouse's world premiere musical "Hands on a Hardbody."  Photo by Kevin Berne.
While the Playhouse has certainly had its fair share of car-based creations (if this past season’s “The Car Plays: San Diego” and the VW-bug based “Little Miss Sunshine” are any indication), in this case, Hardbody is far more than just a musical about ten cash-strapped Texans vying for a brand new truck.  Sure, there is the peculiar premise of a grueling endurance contest – a shady sales gimmick at a struggling Longview, Texas Nissan dealership - in which these ten contestants must keep their hands firmly planted on the sleek blue truck until the last man standing wins it.  But, given the inordinate amount of time these ten devoted, working class strangers spend standing (and hand-ing) the truck, it’s no surprise that their heartfelt stories and quirky personalities start to pour forth as each participant pushes the limits of their own physical strength while doing everything they possibly can to keep their sanity from veering off the road.  

It doesn’t quite sound like the makings of a bold and brilliant musical, but in the more than capable hands of Phish singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio (his first stage musical) as musician/co-composer and Amanda Green (High Fidelity and Bring It On) as lyricist/co-composer, this rocking dynamic duo really get the wheels of this show turning.  The score they have carefully crafted features eighteen original songs that - in ways both ebullient and inspiring - bring out the best in classic American rock while also conveying the sad stories and gritty determination driving each of these competitors to the finish line.  

David Larsen (right) and the cast of "Hands on a Hardbody."  Photo by Kevin Berne.
The show gets off to a rousing start with a somewhat conventional opening number titled “Human Drama Kind of Thing.”  With a nice blend of rhythmic beats, country twang and good old fashioned rock, this compelling musical number gets things off the ground as we are introduced to each of the ten contestants (aging patriarch JD Drew played by Keith Carradine and previous winner Benny Perkins played by Hunter Foster look like early frontrunners), the rules of the contest, and the bang-up seven piece band lead by music director Zachary Dietz.  

That wave of powerful musical numbers continues with the beautifully haunting “Alone With Me” (sung with incredible pathos by Mary Gordon Murray as JD’s wife, Virginia), the gorgeously harmonized group anthem “If I Had This Truck,” the sexy and seductive “Burn That Bridge” (handled with sass by Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone as Heather Stovall and Jim Newman as dealership manager Mike Ferris), and the tuneful ballad “I’m Gone” between budding young lovers Allison Case as Keilli Magnum and Jay Armstrong Johnson as Greg Wilhote.  But it is not until the end of Act One that we are treated to one of the most creative and awe-inspiring numbers in the entire show – the rollicking and rafter-raising “Joy of the Lord.”  In this spectacular spiritual, contestant Norma Valverde (played with incredible verve by powerhouse performer Keala Settle) leads the cast in a rousing gospel-infused number that is driven mostly by Settle’s breathtakingly belty voice, the soul-stirring harmonies of the supporting cast, and the percussive antics of the hardbody truck itself, which plays along to the beat of its own hood slamming, hatch-hitting, and horn honking.  It’s a glorious number and one in which all the elements of musical theatre – music, lyrics, staging, and choreography - align perfectly and to stunning effect.

While many of the songs in Act Two are less praiseworthy – the obligatory title song “Hands on a Hardbody” is a bit of a stretch and the forced quartet “The Tryers” seems contrived at best – there are still some winning tunes here.  Most notable is “Born in Laredo” the breakout number for contestant Jesus Peña played with youthful exuberance by Jon Rua.  In it, he wars against the culturally insensitive cluelessness of contest manager Cindy Barnes (an appropriately prudish Connie Ray) as he sings with passion about the American roots that ground his Mexican heritage. Also outstanding is the finale number “Keep Your Hands On It.”  It is the perfect way to sum up the sentiment of an intense and exhausting 144 hour-long competition and provides an apt and appropriate musical theatre metaphor in the show’s closing lyric, “If you love something…keep your hands on it.”

Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone and Jim Newman.  Photo by Kevin Berne.
Director Neil Pepe (longtime artistic director of the award-winning off-Broadway Atlantic Theatre Company) knows how to tell stories well and does a brilliant job of handling Doug Wright’s homespun book with lots of humor and heart. (Wright, by the way, is a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and Drama Desk Award winner who grew up less than 60 miles from Longview, TX, the blue-collar locale for Hardbody.)  And choreographer Benjamin Millepied does excellent work here, allowing the show’s cast to move and breathe organically while also showcasing some finely tuned jazz sequences around the perimeter of the truck.

As one might expect, the technical elements here are simple, but incredibly slick.  Christine Jones (designer of Broadway’s American Idiot and Spring Awakening) authentically recreates the Texas-based Nissan dealership with plenty of kitschy banners, office furniture, and a giant billboard that nicely frames the action center stage.  Add to that some incredibly vibrant hues designed by lighting designer Kevin Adams and some down-to-earth, rough and regular costumes by Susan Hilferty and you have the perfect setting for a good old fashioned Texas show-down.  But such a fierce competition would not be complete unless we can all feast our eyes on the prize, and the technical team does a bang-up job of crafting the show’s shiny blue centerpiece.  Billed as “the 16th character,” the sleek new pickup truck is something to behold as it spins on its casters and rolls around every corner of the stage, becoming a dynamic symbol for the Midwestern American Dream.   

Allison Case (seated on truck) and the cast of "Hands on a Hardbody."  Photo by Kevin Berne.
While the show runs a bit long at two and a half hours and could certainly use a few more tune ups for its next journey (no word yet on its Broadway ambitions, though this kind of show will unfortunately be a tough sell despite its many glimmers of brilliance and its mostly spot-on delivery), Hardbody still remains a remarkable piece of musical theatre.  It boasts real heartfelt American stories, features a cast of incredibly soulful characters, and packages it all together with a tuneful, toe-tapping score.

And who really wins the competition in the end doesn’t so much matter.  What matters is that Hardbody does the unthinkable – it’s the little truck that could take an unlikely concept and transform it into a real, rollicking, rock and roll musical.  And because of that, it’s already a winner.

Things to know before you go: Hands on a Hardbody plays at the Mandell Weiss Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse through June 17, 2012.  Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.  Performances are Tuesdays/Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays/Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm and Saturday/Sunday matinees at 2pm.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call (858) 550-1010 or visit

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "Nobody Loves You" at The Old Globe

Keeping It Real:
The Old Globe’s “Nobody Loves You” a mostly cute and clever contemporary musical comedy

By Donnie Matsuda

As one of the contestants on the faux-reality TV dating show “Nobody Loves You” quips: “You can either perform or connect, but you can’t do both.”

That’s an honest observation that holds true for the Old Globe’s world premiere musical of the same title, a pop-rock flavored burst of musical exuberance set in the world of reality television as its sleazy cast of characters tries to find love (or at least a good lay) all while the cameras are rolling.  It’s an homage to the tried and true dating shows that have tainted the tube ever since The Dating Game premiered in 1965 as America has become fascinated by watching real people compete to find “true love” and “romance” in front of a national audience.  Over time, such dating shows have become less about happily-ever-after and more about happily-after-ratings, as producers have shamelessly relied more and more on voyeurism, exploitation, and cheap tricks to achieve their outrageous goals.  So now, it is probably no surprise that the reality TV watching phenomenon has slithered its way into the musical theatre genre with the Globe’s newest musical, Nobody Loves You, playing now though June 17 in the intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. 

(L to R) Heath Calvert as Byron, Adam Kantor as Jeff, and Nicole Lewis as Nina in the world premiere of "Nobody Loves You" at The Old Globe.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
The musical – with a sassy book by Itamar Moses, a pop score by Gaby Alter, and lyrics by both - is everything you could possibly want in a reality-inspired, social-media savvy piece of theatre.  In it, a bookish and highly analytical philosophy student named Jeff (a clean-cut, silky voiced Adam Kantor) tries to win back his ex-girlfriend (a spunky Nicole Lewis) by chasing her onto a reality TV series in which highly attractive, sex-crazed twentysomethings must pair up and “fall in love” (i.e. make out gratuitously for the cameras) or be sent packing.  The problem is his ex-girlfriend doesn’t make the casting cut but he does, and he’s forced to participate in the awful antics and sitcom-style shenanigans he totally despises.  As we learn from his own on-camera confessionals, his plan is to turn his experience on the show into a research experiment in which he exposes its overly contrived nature from within.  But as fate would have it (or perhaps because this put-upon reality show must have a love story to ground it), he falls for the show’s production assistant Jenny (a frumpy and fantastic Jenni Barber) and they abruptly espouse their “real” love for each other in the show’s final ten minutes.  Cue finale.  Run end credits.

Jenni Barber as Jenny and Adam Kantor as Jeff.  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
From start to finish, Nobody Loves You (or “NLY” as show groupies call it) gives off a very fake and superficial vibe.  Actually, that’s pretty much the whole point of a musical that exists to make a mockery of the very insipid institution it embodies.  We’re supposed to laugh at the vapid and ruthlessly shallow antics of the show’s host Byron (a slick and smooth voiced Heath Calvert) as he leads his gyrating, spandex-clad backup dancers in the show’s high-energy opening number, “Which Love is for Real.”  And as we’re introduced to the full cast via their tacky yet traditional on-camera confessionals in the musical number titled, you guessed it, “Confessional,” we meet Megan (a seductive Lauren Molina) who drinks till she blacks out and sleeps around most weekend nights, Christian (an upstanding Kelsey Kurz) who much like his name is an uptight religious fanatic who wants to play it “cool” for his “fans,” Samantha (a sassy Kate Morgan Chadwick) who wonders why the guys never stay with her for long, and Dominic (a Jersey Shore-ified Alex Brightman) who…well…’nuff said.   And then there’s Jeff who isn’t so much actively competing on the show as he is smarmily commenting on it in his own utterly urbane and overly academic way.  Taken together, it’s quite a motley crew of messed up fame whores, but isn’t that part of the fun – and intrigue - of reality TV?  
As these dim-wits fall in and out of “love” during the two hour long intermission-free musical, the full cast frequently gets to show off their sure-fire acting and singing chops.  And despite it all, there’s not a lot to grab onto as they babble about how they feel (“I Just Wanna Be Loved”) or why their lives suck (“The Obstacle Course of Love”) or what they want to do in the hot tub (“Come On In”/”You Let Me In”).  The nineteen songs in the show all carry the same generic pop-rock sound to them and the lyrics (while at times clever and funny) try to be a lot more serious and profound than they really are.  For instance, the following snippet from “I Just Wanna Be Loved” is pretty much representative of all the songs in the lengthy and monotonous score: “My heart is in chains I need someone to free it/The love of my life I need someone to be it/And when they do I need the whole world to see it/Oh, oh oh oh I just wanna be loved.”  

Lauren Molina as Megan (background) and Kate Morgan Chadwick as Samantha (foreground).  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
The one exception comes in the form of the show’s most hilarious number, “The Twitter Song,” delivered with power and pizzazz by NLY’s most fun, flamboyant, and faithful viewer, Evan (perhaps the ultimate tube-tied social media maven who religiously watches and tweets from his couch).  Filled with cute lyrical riffs involving hashtags, commas, and emoticons, the song provides some much needed exuberance at the show’s halfway point and does the trick in getting the audience re-engaged in (and dare I say, all a twitter about) the latest drama on the game show set. 

While there aren’t many breakthrough songs or remarkably moving moments in this musical (itself a winner of the prestigious Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award), director Michelle Tattenbaum does what she can to take a number of flighty, superficial elements and craft them into a somewhat cohesive whole.  Overall, she does an excellent job of keeping the flimsy scenes moving along at a brisk pace and weaves them as best she can into the generic yet serviceable score.  To her credit, her slick reality-show-within-a-show vision is appropriate for a musical of this size and small scope and she conveys her message without the use of any TV, video, or multimedia projections.  Meanwhile, choreographer Mandy Moore (of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance fame) works her magic in the incredibly intimate confines of the Globe’s compact, arena-style theatre, consistently giving an edgy, contemporary flair to the proceedings.

The company of "Nobody Loves You."  Photo by Henry DiRocco.
The technical elements of the show are absolutely first rate and frequently re-create the look and feel of the TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.  Michael Schweikardt’s set truly transforms the intimate space into a sleek game show set with its slick parquet floors, lit-from-below colored tiles, and a central circular platform that rises up for special occasions (and by “special” I mean such significant, life-altering moments as crush ceremonies and confessionals).  Tyler Micoleau’s bright neon lighting and Emily Pepper’s contemporary costume designs add an edgy rock vibe that is further enhanced by Vadim Feichtner’s outstanding five piece electric band.

So, getting back to that contestant’s comment about having to either perform or connect (and not both) on unscripted TV shows.  It is probably no surprise that Nobody Loves You is chock full of professional-grade performances delivered with plenty of panache by a uniformly game cast.  But what is sorely lacking here is a connection of any kind.  As a musical that prides itself on being “real,” Nobody Loves You keeps to today’s superficial standard, which means it doesn’t delve very deep or leave any sort of lasting impression on the viewer.  Instead, it comes and goes with the click of a remote and throws out enough drama and deviant personalities in the hopes that it will somehow be renewed for a second season, or better yet, get its own reality spin off show.

Whether or not this particular musical will have such long-term success is uncertain (and highly unlikely).  But one thing’s for sure: regardless of its contrived plotlines, outrageous personalities, and need for major streamlining, we’ll still keep watching.

Things to know before you go: Nobody Loves You plays at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe through June 17, 2012.  Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes without an intermission.  Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE or visit

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Hunter Foster Gets His “Hands” on a New Role in a New World Premiere Musical
By Donnie Matsuda
Hunter Foster.  Photo courtesy of BroadwayWorld.
North Carolina native Hunter Foster first broke onto the Broadway scene as an understudy in Les Misérables.  He went on to play Roger in the 1994 revival of Grease and Bickle in the original Broadway cast of Footloose in 1998.  After touring nationally as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and performing the role of Martin Guerre in the Cameron Makintosh production of Martin Guerre, Foster landed his breakthrough role as Bobby Strong in Urinetown, the irascible tongue-in-cheek musical comedy that opened on Broadway in 2001.  The show won Tony Awards for best book, best original score and best direction of a musical and Foster himself received nominations for an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Lucille Lortel Award.  Since then, Foster has tackled many more roles in the musical theatre canon, including Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors (for which he received his first Tony Award nomination), Leo Bloom in The Producers, Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet.  

And recently, Hunter Foster has taken to San Diego and the La Jolla Playhouse stage.  Last year, he originated the role of Richard Hoover in the Playhouse’s world premiere of Little Miss Sunshine (which had its sights set for Broadway this season, but has since been put on hold).  Now, he gets his hands on the role of Benny Perkins in the Playhouse’s current world premiere musical, Hands on A Hardbody, which is currently playing at the Mandell Weiss Theatre through June 17.  What follows is my pre-premiere interview with Foster as we chatted about his involvement in the development of Hands on A Hardbody, his thoughts about the show’s score and mass appeal, and his own musical writing endeavors. 

DONNIE: We last saw you in San Diego playing Richard Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine.  What have you been up to since then?
HUNTER: Well, I'm also a writer and two musicals that I wrote premiered last year right after Little Miss SunshineThe Hollow, based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, opened at the Signature theatre in Arlington, VA last September and Clyde and Bonnie: A Folktale opened at the Aurora Theatre in Atlanta in March.  In between working on those shows, I went back to acting and did an Off-Broadway play at The New Group called Burning.
DONNIE: How did you get involved with Hardbody?  Were you a part of the musical though its many readings and workshops or did you just join for its La Jolla staging?
HUNTER: I was not involved with any of the workshops or readings, but in November, 2010, when we were doing a 1-week reading of Little Miss Sunshine before we came to La Jolla, Hands on A Hardbody was also doing a 1-week reading right across the hall from us.  I kept hearing really great things about it, so when I got a chance to be a part of it, I was thrilled. 
Keith Carradine, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Allison Case, Jarrod Emick, and Hunter Foster in rehearsals for "Hands on A Hardbody" at La Jolla Playhouse.  Photo by Terri Rippee.
DONNIE: How would you describe the energy and general spirit during rehearsals for Hardbody?  Is the approach to this musical different than what you experienced during Little Miss Sunshine?
HUNTER: Every musical process is different, and this is no exception.  Little Miss Sunshine was more of a traditional musical, and Hardbody is more rock and roll, and very unorthodox structurally -- which I think is great.  I think it will surprise people because it's not something they would have seen before.  We've definitely had a lot of fun during the Hardbody process and it's been exhausting.  I think we calculated that we've been on our feet around the truck for more hours than the original contestants were in the documentary.
DONNIE: Tell me more about Benny Perkins, the character you play in Hardbody.  Do you relate to him personally on any level?  And do you have the opportunity to contribute to his growth and evolution as a character since this is a musical in development?
HUNTER: I'm from the South.  I grew up in Georgia so I knew a lot of guys like Benny, so I draw a lot on that.  What I've loved about this process has been the creative input that's allowed us to make the characters come alive in a way that is not a caricature of what's in the documentary.
(L-R) Jay Armstrong Johnson, Allison Case, and Hunter Foster in "Hardbody."  Photo by Kevin Berne.
DONNIE: How would you describe the Hardbody score crafted by the eclectic team of Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green?
HUNTER: They are really quite a pair.  Amanda has really found the heart and soul of these characters with her lyrics, and nothing that we sing ever seems false.  Trey is just a musical genius.  The way he hears things and crafts things musically is really something to see.  The score is "real" rock and roll and that's so rare to hear in musicals these days. 
DONNIE: What do you think audiences will like most about the show?  Does it have a certain mass appeal or do you think it caters more to a specific niche?
HUNTER: I think it's a show that relates to the heartland of America, and to working class people that seem to get ignored by our government and Hollywood.  And whether you live in New York or California, I think we all know someone or have family that are blue collar, working class people. 
(L-R) Jay Armstrong Johnson, Keala Settle, Hunter Foster, and Keith Carradine in "Hardbody."  Photo by Kevin Berne.
DONNIE: You seem to wear many hats in the theatre world.  Not only have you risen through the ranks to become a Tony-nominated Broadway actor, but you’ve also taken to writing musicals yourself.  Tell me more about your latest effort, Clyde ‘n Bonnie: A Folktale.
HUNTER: We recently premiered it at the Aurora Theatre in Atlanta, and it went great down there.  The audiences really seemed to love it and I was so proud of that production.  Probably one of my favorite experiences.  So, we are hoping to do it again … somewhere.  
DONNIE: And I do have to ask, what is lil’ sis Sutton up to these days – is she still tapping up a storm in Anything Goes on Broadway?  And how about your wife, Jennifer Cody?
HUNTER: Sutton is currently in LA filming a new TV show called “Bunheads” for ABC Family.  I am so proud of her.  It should start airing in June.  My wife, Jen, is doing a new Charles Busch play in New York called “Judith of Bethulia.”  They both should be here for opening!   
Hunter and Sutton Foster.  Photo by Jenny Anderson.
You can preview Hardbody’s “real rock and roll” score here:

And, for more information about Hands on A Hardbody and La Jolla Playhouse visit: