Audiences accustomed to seeing Hunter Foster in musicals such as Urinetown, The Producers, and Frankenstein are in for a big surprise if they go to Billy Goda's thriller Dust, now at the Westside Theatre, in which he plays an ex-con and recovering drug addict named Zeke, who gets caught up in battle of a wills with an executive (played by Richard Masur). "It's definitely a challenge," says Foster. "I read the script and thought Zeke was an interesting character -- and one I definitely haven't done before. I think he's basically a good guy who got caught up with drugs after high school and now wants to get his life back on track, and ends up in this situation that throws his world backwards, so he's in this hole he needs to climb out of."
Zeke's downfall involves crystal methadone -- and without indulging in the drug, Foster learned a lot about it in preparing for the role. "I talked to a lot of recovering addicts to see how it affected them, and it was shocking to see how people changed after taking the drug; many of them lost a lot of weight and their teeth got very bad. I hadn't realized that it was considered this chic drug among certain members of the community," he says. The actor also mentioned that the Internet came in handy. "One day in rehearsal, we wanted to know about this slang term for the drug, so I simply turned on my iPhone and everything we needed to know was right there."
Foster isn't turning his back on musical theater; but his next big project finds him behind the scenes as he continues to work on Bonnie and Clyde: A Folktale -- which he co-wrote with Rick Crom and which had an award-winning presentation at the recent New York Musical Theatre Festival. "We learned a lot from the audience; I always find putting a show in front of an audience for the first time to be the most interesting part of any project. We're considering another presentation here in New York and maybe a production next year in Los Angeles," he says. "I had always been interested in the two of them since I was a kid. There was something romantic about running away and having nothing to tie you down and being able to live life without any rules. Of course, once you grow up, you realize they killed nine people, but they're still good subjects."
Of course, Foster himself is tied down these days -- most happily -- to actress Jen Cody, who co-stars in Broadway's Shrek: The Musical (alongside Foster's sister, Sutton Foster.) "It's funny, she's doing this big musical and I'm doing this dark Off-Broadway show; but most of all, we're just trying to find someone to walk our dogs and to make sure we both eat dinner," he says. "In some ways, it can be harder when we're both working -- our apartment tends to go to hell -- but it's just good that we both have jobs."
One might expect total nonchalance from Jackie Hoffman about her first CD, Live From Joe's Pub, and that was exactly what the hilarious comedian-singer planned to feel too. "My first impulse was to tell people it meant nothing," says Hofffman. "But it took so much work and it was so crafted, I am really proud of it, and it means a lot that all these songs are now fully legitimized by being on CD."
The songs in question -- nearly 20 outrageous numbers that cover everything from her dislike of children, her illnesses, and her outright enmity for Christmas -- were all written by Hoffman, with a variety of composers. "I enjoy writing songs; in fact, I find them much easier than writing comic pieces or monologues," she says. "I tend to hear a certain musical style in my head, but when I give the lyric to one of the guys I work with, they always come up with something much better than whatever was in my head. I think they become inspired by these lyrics, since a lot of musicians have a particularly dark and nasty sense of humor they never usually get to express. In a way, I let them spread their wings."
Hoffman will be performing many of the songs from the album, as well as some new sure-to-be-favorites, at Joe's Pub in a show entitled Scraping the Bottom on Mondays, December 8, 15, and 22. "I was very self-conscious about doing any sort of best-of-show where I had to repeat old material, because my fans are very smart and very loyal and have really good memories. But with the holidays coming up, I decided how could I not do a show," she says. "There are a couple of real treats in this one."
Hoffman's plans for 2009 are totally up in the air, she says. "I would like to try doing one of my shows at a legitimate theater," she says. "But most of all, I'd like to do a play. My training is as an actress; this kind of work was born out of necessity. And I think what hurts me now is that casting directors and playwrights think of me as someone who does just these dirty little songs. But really, I just want to play Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS OPEN
The Fringe Festival hit Too Much Memory, written by the husband-and-wife team of Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson, begins a three-week run at the Fourth Street Theatre on December 2; international singing star Christina Fontanelli presents her annual holiday show, Christmas in Italy on December 7 at the Kaufman Center's Merkin Concert Hall; BAM will present a special sneak preview of the film Revolutionary Road, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and including a live Q&A with director Sam Mendes on December 10; famed rock group SHA NA NA will play the Times Square Arts Center on December 11-12; PS 122 will co-present singer Meow Meow at the Highline Ballroom for four shows between December 17 and December 22; and musical theater stars Timothy Shew and Elena Shaddow will headline a concert presentation of the new musical Mother Russia at Carnegie Hall on Friday, December 19.
Meanwhile, some new additions to my CD shelf include Howard Sings Ashman; Helen Marcovicci's Seems Like Old Times; Philip Chaffin's When the Wind Blows South; Devin Richard's My Own Voice; the original Off-Broadway cast recording of The Marvelous Wonderettes; and a studio recording of the new Off-Broadway children's musical Dear Edwina, featuring special guests Andrea Burns, Danny Burstein, Kerry Butler, Rebecca Luker, and Terrence Mann. Finally, PBS' Independent Lens series will show two fascinating documentaries, Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic and Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, on December 16 and 23 respectively.
Playing C.S. Lewis in the Guthrie Theater's production of Shadowlands isn't actor Simon Jones' first brush with the famed author, whom he portrays in William Nicholson's play about Lewis' relationship with Joy Davidman. "In 2004, I played Lewis in this PBS series called The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud," he recalls. "It compared their journeys -- which in hindsight was like comparing Queen Elizabeth and Attila the Hun -- but we filmed it in Prague, which was lovely, and made me interested in doing more about Lewis. But I'm not sure I can do any more of him after this play. The emotional journey of the play is hard; we couldn't get through our first table readings without crying -- and I once heard that Nigel Hawthorne, who did the play originally, used to cry for 20 minutes after every performance. I'm okay, though; it's just that we seem to reduce the audience to tears every night."
Tears of laughter are more likely to greet Jones' next project, the star-studded Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit, directed by his old pal Michael Blakemore. "Michael and I did the original Privates on Parade together, and we've worked together a few times since, so thankfully, I didn't have to audition for the role of Doctor Bradman," he says. "I think I have a bit of an affinity for Coward; my last Broadway appearance was in Waiting in the Wings and I've done quite a lot of Coward readings with my friend Barry Day. I think it's going to be great fun -- it's always fun to be part of an event -- and quite a contrast to what I'm doing now."
Being in Blithe Spirt means Jones won't be taking part in the next project of TACT, the actor-run theater company he helped found. But he's very pleased by their success. "We've really exceeded our goals," he says. "We were basically a group of actors who were fed up being told what we could and couldn't do, when we knew better. And we've all got to do a lot of what we wanted. In fact, we often pick our plays based on whose turn it is to have a decent part."