This week Playbill catches up with Tony winner Jane Houdyshell, currently playing Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in the hit revival of Meredith Willson's Tony-winning The Music Man, which continues at the Winter Garden Theatre through January 1, 2023.
Whether she's making TV watchers laugh in the Hulu series Only Murders in the Building, thrillingly belting out "Broadway Baby" in the 2011 revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, or sharing the stage with co-stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the current revival of Music Man, Houdyshell is never more than, and never less than, completely human, a fitting description of an actor who won her Tony Award for her performance as Deirdre in Stephen Karam's The Humans, a role she would subsequently preserve on screen. The Kansas native was also Tony-nominated for her performances in the aforementioned Follies; A Doll's House, Part 2; and Well, which marked her Broadway debut and also earned her a Theatre World Award.
Houdyshell's other Broadway credits include King Lear, Fish in the Dark, Dead Accounts, Romeo and Juliet, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bye Bye Birdie, and Wicked, while audiences Off-Broadway have enjoyed her work in The New Century, The Pain and the Itch, Well, The Language Archive, Relevance, The Receptionist, and Much Ado About Nothing. A recipient of two Drama Desk Awards, two Obies, and the Lily Award, her screen credits also feature Little Women, The Chaperone, Everybody’s Fine, Changing Lanes, Garden State, The Good Fight, Evil, Law & Order: SVU, Elementary, and Blue Bloods.
What is your typical day like now?
On a performance day I try to keep my personal schedule on the light side, not overloading myself with a lot of appointments. I run the mundane errands needed to keep my life and home running, get a nap in if I need it, and get to the theatre at a couple of hours before showtime. I have a cup of tea, check in, have a chat with my dresser Kathleen, who is fantastic, and settle in to enjoy the quiet absorption involved in putting on my make-up, and getting into costume and wig in a non-rushed, centered way.
there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly
poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
I think the most moving part of offering The Music Man to audiences is their response to the production itself. This great old classic musical has always been a crowd pleaser, but the intensity of joy in response to this revival has been extraordinary. I cannot help but feel that it’s due, in part, to people's very real need at this time in human history to experience something that feels innocent, and wholesome, and unapologetically unjaded.
Tell me a bit about working with fellow Tony winners Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster?
I think both Hugh and Sutton are stars in the purest sense of the word. Their presence on stage is generous, and their talents are huge. Their stardom radiates a light that illuminates all of us who are fortunate to be in their presence. Both of them are generosity personified. They give all they have with joy and a passion through artistry that is infectious and inspiring for the entire company. They set the bar very high for all of us in the company, and we collectively relish the challenge of reaching for that standard eight times a week.
this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and
artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in
power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think it is very important for the people who have traditionally been represented on stage (and I’m talking about me here) attend and support theatre that is about fellow humans who have not been adequately or equally represented. Buy tickets to see stories about and written by BIPOC. See plays and musicals by artists whose life experiences reflect people's lives you may not know that much about. I think we all need to support theatre for the true mirror it can be for all of us… and let the theatre's true purpose expand our personal world view to include all of humanity.
Speaking for myself, I know that I have had a very privileged seat at the table because of the simple fact that I am white. I feel something that I can do with the greatest of pleasure is to buy tickets to see stories that expand my world view. It’s a privilege and opportunity to hear stories about people different than myself and also broaden my knowledge of artists who I need to know about and can learn from. I also feel there is great growth to be had in witnessing, listening, and identifying with our shared humanity as well as the experiences that define us differently.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
That I can cook. Not that well…but I’m teachable.
When you look back at your Broadway performances, is there any one production that stands out as the most memorable?
My Broadway debut at the age of 52 was in a play written by and starring Lisa Kron called Well. It was a wonderful play. I played Lisa’s mother. It was a fantastic role. We performed it Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2004 to critical acclaim. It was a big hit and sold many tickets. In 2006 it was transferred to Broadway. Again, to great notices. Unfortunately, we had no advance sales. We played for a total of six weeks including our preview period. Sales were not good. We closed on a Sunday, the following Monday the Tony nominations were announced, and Lisa Kron and I were both nominated. Go figure. I learned through my brief debut that Broadway is a crazy sometimes kinda thing, and, also, that I couldn’t wait to do it again!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Broadway Inspirational Voices. They are all about making glorious music for audiences, and they also develop programs that bring children into the arts. Talk about creating hope for our world! I encourage anyone who loves music to attend their concerts and buy their CDs. Also, donate if you can to their fabulous programs for kids.