Final Bow: The Nance's Cady Huffman on Working With Nathan Lane, Making Hats, and Meeting Mr. Spock
The Tony Award winner looks back on "discovering a new way of doing theater" in Douglas Carter Beane's drama.
Every show ends sometime (unless you're Phantom), so before the cast takes their final bow, there are a few things we want to know.
In 2001, Nathan Lane and Cady Huffman won Tony Awards for their work in a little musical called The Producers. Over a decade later, they're on stage together again, but no longer as a lecherous Broadway producer and a Swedish bombshell. In Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance, Lane plays a closeted burlesque performer specializing in flamboyant roles while Huffman appears as a Communist stripper.
As the extended run of The Nance at the Lyceum Theatre draws to a close, we took a walk down memory lane with Huffman, who shared her backstage secrets, her love of fart jokes, and the reason why her Mom calls her the "Eye-Full Tower."
What is your favorite line that you delivered?
I wanted to think of something funny. I have funny lines and some that got changed during previews. But I have to go sappy, because this is the line that keeps sticking out: "You're not a snitch and you're not a fake." The plosives of "snitch" and "fake" are fun to say, but when I look up, I'm with Nathan, and I'm so pleased to be the last person on stage with him, with our history and after he's given this tour de force. There's nobody I'd rather be on stage with.
Everyone loves inside jokes.
a. What's the best one from your show?
We have a tradition. Every Saturday night, Andréa Burns — who is amazing and really the heart and lightness of our team — writes a song that deals with the goings-on of the week. It's called "Saturday Night on Broadway." It's very personal to us and specific to what our journey is. And she sings it every night before we start the show.
b. Since there probably is one, what's the punch line of your cast's most unprintable inside joke?
"They ain't ready."
Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty to be experienced during your show, and how was it handled?
Well, the toughest day was when the revolve gave Nathan some trouble in the middle of act one. That was terrifying. We stopped and we made sure he was all right and discovered he was not able to go on that night. Then, they got Stephen DeRosa into Chauncey's clothes and we all went on that adventure. It was exhilarating and terrifying and sad and happy — every kind of emotion simultaneously. We had to help Stephen through everything and hope Nathan was OK. He hasn't missed since then. We have great physical therapists.
What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
This guy Bob, he's one of the paparazzo, he took this great picture of me at one of these opening nights. He saw a picture of me on Facebook with a whoopee cushion and gave me a self-inflating whoopee cushion. You don't have to do any work but sit on it! Nothing makes me laugh harder than fart jokes. I'm like a twelve-year-old boy.
Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Oh my god, this is the easiest thing. During the Hula sequence, the lights come up and we can see where the fancy seats are. I'm singing and I see Zachary Quinto, who I've met several times through a mutual friend, and Leonard Nemoy. The two Spocks were sitting together. They came together. It's like Old Spock called New Spock and said, "Do you want to see The Nance?" I lost my mind. My brothers and I watched Star Trek like crazy. We used to go to Trekkie conventions. To see the two of them together and then backstage. I took a picture with the two Spocks. It was one of the coolest days of my life.
Another way cool person was Ian McKellen, and he trotted up to the third floor by himself and knocked on our doors. I was too stunned to get a picture with Gandalf.
How is working with Nathan Lane this time around different from working on The Producers?
It's so totally different. They're such different shows. The Producers was somewhat enchanted. So little of it changed in the process of making it, from the first reading we did, it virtually didn't change. True to Nathan's form, he comes in knowing all of his lines. The difference [here] was that we were really in the process of creating, with Douglas and Jack, a very new piece and discovering a new way of doing theater… It was a real, real process we were just lucky enough to be a part of. It was great and hard work and fantastic. Not that The Producers wasn't [hard work], but it was just simpler only because not much changed. We were able to keep building on what was there, not having to learn new things.
What would your burlesque name be?
At this point in my life, being as old as I am, it would have to be tongue in cheek. My mother had a good burlesque name for me. It was "The Eye-Full Tower." I think it's funny.
If you could bring back one element of 1930s fashion, what would it be?
The girl's hats. The men's hats. I'm a milliner. I love hats and I find them very attractive. I blocked all of the top hats for The Book of Mormon. I work for Rodney Gordon, who is the genius behind so many of the hats and masks on Broadway. He does the crowns for Cinderella, he did all the Book of Mormon stuff. I love blocking — what I do is, I make the base for the hats and the real artists make it pretty. It's hard for me not to just constantly be prepping these hats in our show.
What was the most surprising factoid you learned about the era depicted in the play?
I was already a geek for that era. I grew up with my grandmother and my mother and listened to their stories. Not that I didn't know it, but seeing it dramatized that you could be arrested for being homosexual has left the current culture's existence. It doesn't exist anymore. Like they say, "Anyone who doesn't remember history is destined to repeat it." Our young people need to understand that, whether it's homosexuality or race or women having the right to have their own credit cards, these are things we take so for granted. It was the 1970s when women could get their own credit cards without their husband's cosigning. Homosexuality, I think it's literally still illegal in some states. It doesn't get prosecuted, but we need to know that. We can be prosecuted for living our lives as our true selves.
If you could choose between being a performer in that era or being a performer in this one, which would it be and why?
This one. I just wouldn't want to live like [they do in the play]. I'm a modern woman. Sylvie wasn't difficult for me; it was all about the women's movement. I wouldn't want to be either objectified as a secretary or objectified as a stripper for men. It was difficult to be heard or have rights. As much as I'd like to go back and experience the amazing culture that came about, I don't think I could. I'd go back to the thirties as a dude, though. That'd be cool.