An Interview with Cady Huffman
By Gregg Shapiro
Tony Award-winning actress/dancer/singer Cady Huffman is a born storyteller. Therefore, it’s not surprising that she’s such a natural when it comes to performing her acclaimed one-woman shows. In her latest one, Tomboy, Showgirl, Huffman takes a “gender be damned” approach that is sure to appeal to LGBTQ audiences, as well others from all walks of life. I had the privilege of speaking with Cady, a Tony-nominee for Will Rogers Follies and a Tony recipient for The Producers shortly before she came to South Florida for her show.
Cady Huffman brings her cabaret show, Tomboy, Showgirl, to The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton on November 16, 2019.
Gregg Shapiro: I recently interviewed your friend and collaborator Will Nunziata, who directed you in Miss Peggy Lee: In Her Own Words and Music and will be directing you in Over Here!. He had many wonderful things to say about you, including crediting you for opening the door to his directing career, how much he adores you as a collaborator, and describing you as “one of the kindest, most sincere, loyal people you will ever meet on the planet.”
Cady Huffman: Awww!
GS: What makes your working relationship with Will so special?
CH: Complete control [laughs]! No! I met Will when he was very young. He and his (identical twin) brother (Anthony) have been performers for a very long time. I met them when they were fresh out of college. It was about 10 years later when I reconnected and heard that he wanted to be a director and [laughs] sort of forced him to work with me for no money. Will is hugely enthusiastic, always wants to learn and is not committed to having his way or no way. He’s a true collaborator. He’s sort of an old-fashioned guy that way in theater. For a long time, theater was a big handshake business. It’s gotten much more (corporate) now that Disney and big business is in it. He’s a handshake kind of guy and I can trust him and he’s proven that I can trust him. We have gotten to be extremely close as friends and talk openly and honestly about what’s going on. He’s super-talented. We’ve worked together many times now and he grows every time. It’s extraordinary to watch him grow.
GS: When did you know that the theater was your calling?
CH: [Laughs] I don’t remember not knowing it. I grew up not knowing any better. I grew up doing it. I was passionate about singing and dancing from an early age, before anybody told me what the hell anything is. I sang and danced around the house and begged my mother for lessons. Eventually, when she found the right ballet teacher, she let me take ballet at seven. At nine, a good vocal instructor heard me singing and said, “Let me train her.” I loved it. I love the hard work of it. I love how it gets me out of myself. You have to love being in a darkened theater twelve hours a day [laughs]. That excites me! Being around other creative people.
GS: You received a Tony Award for your performance as Ulla in the Mel Brooks musical, The Producers. What did that honor mean to you?
CH: Everything! It was a crazy moment that none of us had ever experienced before. Probably the person closest to an experience like that was Matthew Broderick. He was Ferris Bueller, for crying out loud. But he’s also a theater rat who loves theater and continues to do it. It was a once-in-a-generation (experience). There was A Chorus Line, then The Producers, now it’s Hamilton. Those moments are precious. The six of us who were the principals were all veterans and had been nominated or won Tony Awards before. I think we were all extremely aware of how extraordinary the experience was as a family unity. It was super hard! Everybody wanted a piece of the show, particularly Matthew and Nathan (Lane). I always wanted to be one of the Beatles and this was as close as I was going to get. It was really special.
GS: You are bringing your lauded cabaret show, Tomboy, Showgirl, which is described as “exploring the duality of life, gender roles, and the juxtapositions of youth and experience, comedy and poignancy,” as well as your “weariness and genuine love of show business.” What was involved in putting together the show?
CH: I’ve done several one-woman shows before this. I write them myself. For the first one, I was terrified, so nervous. I was terrified again for the second one [laughs]. My goal is to get more and more personal. Bring me to my audience. Eugene Gwozdz is my musical director. He’s an orchestra in ten fingers and he’s hilarious. I’ve always felt like I don’t look like the way I feel. It always amazes me that I play these big, glamorous showgirls, because I just want to play softball or build a house or dig a hole. I love that stuff. I think I succeed at these hyper-feminine roles because I can really fall in love with that woman. I can see a side of me that I don’t normally explore and make her full and well-rounded. I would never play dumb blonde. Ulla spoke at least three languages. She can sing and dance! It’s a beautiful, wonderful challenge to explore that other side of me.
GS: Do you think there might be a recording of this show in the works or perhaps a different Cady Huffman album somewhere down the line?
CH: I would love to do an album. I have been talking to somebody about that. I love to be funny. I love to make people laugh and cry. So, maybe, yeah. We’re thinking about what that album might be. I’m not a standards singer. Not someone you listen to and go, “Oh, that voice!” The voice is what it is. It’s pliable and flexible and does lots of acrobatics and weird stuff. I call myself a character singer. The songs I sing in shows are usually not the pretty ones [laughs]. I wish I could sing some pretty songs. But, yes, I would love to do an album with what excites me about Broadway and music.
GS: Your performance as Lisa in After Forever led to a Daytime Emmy nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Digital Daytime Drama Series as well as a win in the Best Female Performance in a Drama category at the International Academy of Web Television Awards. What was it about Lisa that made you want to play her in After Forever?
CH: [Laughs] they asked me! That was sort of a last-minute thing. I think I was replacing somebody. It was a friend of mine who thought I would be great for the part. I said, “I’ll jump in for three or four days and do this.” The role of Lisa is close to me as a performer. I get to bring all of my silliness as well as my heart to Lisa. She wears her heart on her sleeve and can really love people. That’s me, too. I’m somebody who wants to be around the people I love. I’m not just passionate about musical theater, but about who I work with. Lisa and I are the same age and we’re going through the same questioning of, “What am I doing”?
GS: Including After Forever, you have a long history of movies (the 2004 short Billy’s Dad is a Fudgepacker and the 2007 feature Itty Bitty Titty Committee) and theater (The Nance in 2013 and La Cage Aux Folles in the early 1980s) with strong LGBTQ appeal.
CH: I have to credit La Cage. I got cast in La Cage when I was 18. In 1983, I did the Los Angeles company and San Francisco. It was my first Broadway show. I was a teenage drag queen! I was a woman playing a man playing a woman. We opened in San Francisco in the Tenderloin at the Golden Gate during Gay Pride Week. As a teenager, I’m like, “What am I witnessing?” Eyes wide open! The men playing the drag queens in La Cage! There’s never been a show more fun backstage. It was crazy fun. Then those friends started dying. I was 19 years old when my first friend from the AIDS epidemic died. Going to the hospital and seeing him not how I remembered him and saying goodbye and the confusion that came with that. Then it became so common. We were losing our friends. It was important to do something about it. The performers in La Cage did the first Easter Bonnet Competition while I was there. I was surrounded by love and these extremely intelligent men who were political and fighting for rights. I can do that! I can fight for something I believe in. That was a huge lesson. When I did Will Rogers Follies, that’s when Jerry Mitchell created Broadway Bares. I was always in it. There are people from several of my Broadway shows who are no longer with us. But now that our friends are living with AIDS, I’ve just grown to love these people. One thing about my show – I never thought of myself as a girly girl. If I were growing up now, I might be a they/them, whatever it is those kids do these days. Because it would describe me better than she/her. How do we describe ourselves as artists? I’ll tell you, I’m getting more girly as I get older, but I was an athlete. I was one of the boys. If you look at my shows, I’m often one of the guys. I played boys growing up – Peter in Peter and the Wolf and Fritz in The Nutcracker. I’ve always had a bit of that energy. I understand the fun of dressing up and being flamboyant and I enjoy being quiet and listening to friends going through what they’re going through. We have any number of things that our friends go through as artists and young people trying to identify and become fully themselves. I’m still on that journey, too.
GS: Are there any other upcoming film, TV or theater projects that you’d like to tell the readers about?
CH: We’re starting to shoot season two of After Forever. Lisa comes back! I have my own web series called Cady Did, which, fingers crossed, will come out some time soon. We’re working on getting the rights to the Peggy Lee show that I do and I will hopefully be able to perform that in Florida and other places. Get onto my social media and you’ll see that I’m always doing something.