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January 3, 2011

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka’s last page of ‘Night Music’

by Jesse North

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is preparing for the closing of A Little Night Music—for real this time. Last June, the cast of the acclaimed production was given a second life when Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch signed on to replace departing stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury—just two weeks before the show was set to close. For Herdlicka, who is making his Broadway debut at 24 as the morose Henrick, the extension was a fairytale ending to a story that already had one.

“We thought we were done,” Herdlicka said. “I was on my phone and I clicked onto and I saw that headline that we were going to stay open with Bernadette and Elaine. It was a shock.”

With Night Music, Herdlicka experienced an aspiring young actors dream. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009, Herdlicka was cast in the role of Henrick in the revival of A Little Night Music before he even moved to New York. He was, in fact, the first person cast in the show. “It wasn’t until that summer that I started hearing names like Uma Thurman, these celebrities that were going to come and be in the show,” Herdlicka said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! They’re not just bringing over the people from the London [Menier Chocolate Factory] production?’ It didn’t hit me till a few months into the run that it was such a huge deal.”

Herdlicka’s audition process took just nine days. During his final callback, he sang for the show’s composer Stephen Sondheim. “I had met him in the elevator on the way up,” Herdlicka said. “I shook his hand, he knew my name. That kind of helped me relax a bit. In the audition room, [director Trevor Nunn] was introducing me to everyone, which makes you feel so comfortable, I wish everyone would do that when you go to an audition. Trevor says, ‘Stephen, this is Hunter.’ And he says, ‘Oh, we go way back!’”

To play Henrik, Herdlicka would have to learn the cello—a process he recalls as “a nightmare.” While the rest of the cast was rehearsing scenes and being directed by Nunn, Herdlicka was separated, working privately “in a tiny room” with his music teacher. “I was just in there, forgotten,” Herdlicka said. “One time, the doctor came and gave everyone in the company flu shots and nobody came and got me out of the room!” Despite talking of his newfound cello skills fondly, when asked if he will continue with the instrument after the production closes, Herdlicka laughed and said, “No way!”

With the cello lessons down, Herdlicka only needed to look within to complete his characterization of Henrik. “You have to trust that you have this character’s thoughts and feelings,” Herdlicka said. “I’m religious, just like Henrik. I felt like I was a grownup when I was a teenager, just like Henrik.”

Being directed by Nunn, famous for his work on iconic musicals like Les Miserables and Cats, didn’t hurt either. Herdlicka said Nunn’s constant support allowed him to go further in his portrayal. “If Trevor hadn’t taken a risk on casting me and putting a nobody in this huge role in this huge show… [pause] I would have nothing if it weren’t for Trevor,” Herdlicka said.

In addition to the world-class director, the Broadway newcomer has now worked with some of the most lauded actresses of stage and film. Here is what Herdlicka had to say about all of them:

Catherine Zeta-Jones: “She has so much energy. I just love her. She is a goofball. She is one of those people that she’ll tell a joke, laugh at herself, and then snort. So much fun.”

Angela Lansbury: “When she sat in her dressing room, it was like your grandmother was sitting there. You could always go in and talk to her about anything. She is supportive and honest. A joy to have her in the building.”

Bernadette Peters: [jumps and looks around dressing room] “Do I have a picture of her? Everywhere I go I usually have some kind of picture. I think she is the most gorgeous human being alive. I’m absolutely in love with her. I think she is beyond talented. The thing that I would say about her is that she’s dedicated. I asked her about when she was doing Song and Dance, did she take voice lessons. She said she went every morning to her voice teacher’s house before the show. I thought, no wonder she won the Tony, no wonder she’s a star. She’s dedicated and she took it seriously. There’s so much to learn from that. She’s at the top and now I know why.

Elaine Stritch: “I don’t even if there are words to describe Elaine. Every time she opens her mouth, you’re learning something. You’re learning the history of entertainment, about Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince. You learn the art of comedy. She’s been so supportive. She took me to a Christmas party. She doesn’t know she’s 85; She thinks she’s 35. She has such a youthful spirit and that’s why she’s 85, above the title, and still carrying a Broadway show.”

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka Ramona Mallory A Little Night Music

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Ramona Mallory in ‘Night Music.’ Photo: Joan Marcus

Working with four A-list actresses is just one of the many opportunities that Night Music opened up to Herdlicka. During the show’s run, he has performed two cabarets at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency. “Being in a cabaret is completely different from being in a Broadway show,” Herdlicka said. “It’s you. [clasps chest] You have to show [the audience] what’s in here for people to really buy it. You can get through a couple songs, but if you’re up there faking it, telling terrible jokes, then they’re not seeing you, and that’s what it’s about.”

In his year and a half with Night Music, Herdlicka has experienced situations that most young actors only dream about. Reflecting on how he’s grown since graduating college in 2009, Herdlicka said he would advise himself, “Trust yourself. You are enough. You might be young and you just graduated, but just trust that you have what it takes.”

As of press, Herdlicka has yet to line up his next project—something he said his family does not forget to remind him of constantly. “Every day they say, ‘Well? Do you have another job?’” Herdlicka said. “Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, I’m in a Broadway show. Is that good enough? Is that OK?’ I think we all forget what a huge deal it is. Broadway’s at the top—there’s nowhere to go.”

After acknowledging that he’s accomplished some of his life’s biggest dreams, Herdlicka pauses and says with regained calmness, “Time to re-dream, dream more, dream bigger.”

What do you think of Hunter’s story, Rushers? Would you be able to keep as cool if you were co-starring with the likes of Catherine, Angela, Bernadette, and Elaine? Do you wish Night Music was sticking around longer? Sound off in the comments below!

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