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 Sunshine. The 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: http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/