[Ed. Note: In this week's column, Jim Caruso departs from the usual format of his "Prying!" column to offer an extended interview with Sean Martin Hingston, one of the stars of Broadway's Contact.]
JC: Sean, thanks for meeting me at the glamorous Utopia Diner.
SMH: I love it here! When I first came to this country from Australia, I couldn't work because I didn't have a green card, and I took the opportunity to study acting, singing, and dance. My money was flying out the window, so we used to sit in this very diner for hours and just order soup. It was all very starving artist-like.
JC: You worked a lot in Australia, though, didn't you?
SMH: I was very lucky there. I did Cats and Man of La Mancha--big, multi-million-dollar musicals. Before that, I was dancing in a Vegas-type show. I remember one night, right before my big dance solo, I was kicked in the face by a can-can dancer. My solo started with a series of pirouettes, and I became like this sprinkler from hell, spraying blood all over the front row and the stage. Backstage, the choreographer was horrible, screaming to the cast, "Get away from him, he's just a hypochondriac!" My nose was broken! Then she glared at me and said, "Get the blood out of the costume."
JC: What did you do?
SMH: I was a kid; I made sure I got the blood out of the costume! My nose has never been the same, either. Never had it fixed. Sunglasses don't fit to this day.
JC: What was your first job in America?
SMH: I got my green card doing Crazy For You on Broadway. I also did some things at City Center, but then it was time for divas! I played the Phantom opposite Sarah Brightman in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber on tour, then I did Bernadette Peters at Carnegie Hall. I was also lucky enough to go on the road with Chita Rivera.
JC: Tell me a funny Chita story.
SMH: She had these little rubber warm-up shoes that she wore before the show, as we'd all be rolling around on the stage before the audience came in. She'd take them off at some point for part of the warm-up, and we'd all be talking and laughing and stretching. One night, the curtain went up, she went out to sing, Sebastian LaCause and I entered--and there, down center stage, were Chita's little warm-up slippers, perfectly crossed over each other like little dance mascots! We all screamed. Then she constantly tried to make us laugh when she turned upstage, by making the most horrific faces possible. She is the funniest woman in the world, and I love her so much.
JC: What was it like to perform with Bernadette at Carnegie Hall?
SMH: That was the perfect Carnegie Hall experience. We got to sit in the audience all during the first act of her incredible performance, then we walked onto the stage from the audience in our suits with umbrellas and sang "Raining in My Heart" with her. During our dress rehearsal, I sat in the orchestra pit next to the harpist and listened to Bernadette sing the show full-out. Almost 30 songs! Her technique is so good, she can sing and sing until the cows come home.
JC: And Sarah Brightman?
SMH: She was very shy, and she didn't really talk to many people on that tour--except me. I think it was the English/Australian thing. Of course, we'd heard lots of stories about her, but she was marvelous. We did 42 cities in 44 days; we played Radio City and huge halls all over the country. It was a cast of nine and an orchestra. Each day, we'd be in a different city. What a sense of camaraderie that brings!
JC: Didn't you work with Gwen Verdon?
SMH: Yes. My whole life, she'd been a hero of mine. Within a year of moving to New York, I was in a studio dancing behind her as she was teaching me the rooftop dance from Sweet Charity. I couldn't believe I was in the room with her, let alone that she knew my name and was working with me! I danced for her when she won the George Abbott award. What an amazing woman she was.
JC: Let's talk about Contact.
SMH: It's the most inspiring artistic endeavor, and it was the easiest birthing of a show I've ever been witness to. Contact is exactly what I came here to do: to create something from the grass-roots level and see it through. We spent five weeks in a rehearsal studio at Lincoln Center in January 1999, doing the final piece of the show. Susan Stroman had basically choreographed the show by the time we got there. What we have now is almost exactly what we had after only three weeks of working on the piece, except for some brushing up. Stroman is so organized, so conscientious and compassionate, loving and open to everything happening around her on stage during rehearsals. She allows the actors to create and incorporate their own ideas into the piece. When we were creating the show, there was a prop table with every prop you could imagine, so when I was directed to cross to the pool table, I grabbed a pool cue and just started playing. That became a bit later on. In the second piece, I was directed to enter with a dessert cart, and I came in as an incredibly old man--which is how Uncle Vinny was born. I consider myself a character actor before anything else, so it was great to work with someone who let me create. That's how the show was developed; it was like a theater lab.
JC: Uncle Vinny may be the only man on Broadway right now who wears a hair net. What's that all about?
SMH: The night before we did a presentation of that piece, I happened to go to a movie. The girl behind the popcorn counter was wearing a shockingly ugly hair net. I asked her where she got it and she said, "Duane Reade." So I ran to Duane Reade, got a hair net, and wore it the next day. I've never laughed so much during a rehearsal process as I did during Contact. For the first piece, we created a dance where we make love on a swing for 10 minutes; it was just the five of us in the room, and we screamed! Can you imagine how far it went before it came back to what it is now? There were moments of absolute hilarity.
JC: How did your Sex in the City appearance come about?
SMH: I had auditioned for the show a few times, and they seemed to like me. The role of a gay couple came about, and my agent thought of my boyfriend Brad and me. Brad, mind you, is not an actor; he's a television producer. He did a lot of musicals in school, though, and he has an incredibly deep voice. When we went to audition, he was as casual and calm as can be. Of course, I was a wreck. But we got it! We played a couple who wants to have sex with Kim Catrall. There we were on TV in our underwear. It's a story to tell our grandchildren.
JC: Speaking of that, tell me about the upcoming addition to your family.
SMH: We are adopting a baby! It's something we've desperately wanted in our lives. The process ended up being strangely easy: Six weeks after our initial meeting, the agency called and had a case for us. We couldn't believe it. The baby is due on my birthday. It's a Hispanic baby--Brad is Hispanic--and the mother used to work at an adoption agency. She said she found that gay and lesbian parents were incredibly devoted, caring, grateful, and worthy. We had a great phone conversation with her, and we talked about everything--her diet, her other children, how we'd be there for the birth. Then she said she wanted to ask us a personal question. Both of us thought, "Well, here it comes." She asked if we wore dresses! She said she didn't care; she just wanted to prepare her family in case. We roared!
JC: I know that you don't know if it's a boy or girl, but do you have any names picked out?
SMH: Well, the last name will be Hingston-Hurtado, which is a bit of a mouthful. So you can bet it will be a short first name.
JC: Are you nervous about taking on this huge responsibility?
SMH: I just keep thinking about all the love and goodness we have to give. What a great life we can give this child! It's like any family; we'll have to deal with things as they arise. Everyone says, "Do you know what you're in for?" No parent really knows what it's all about until they do it. Brad and I have learned the greatest lessons by knowing and loving each other. We've both been very lucky in our careers. There will be sacrifices that we can't even imagine at this point, but we feel it's time to start the next chapter of our lives.
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