Stunning thespian Cady Huffman is currently knockin’ em dead as Sylvie – a pastie-wearing, intellectually complex, politically savvy Catholic/Communist Stripper in the “The Nance” playing to rave reviews at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway on Broadway.
“I think doing this [performing] is one of the few times that I have any idea what I’m doing in life,” Huffman laughs. “Thank God. I’m just very happy to learn lines, learn songs, to make my mind stop going everywhere.”
The Nance opened on April 15 and that same month, Huffman was nominated for the 2013 Outer Critics Circle Award. But Huffman is no stranger to theatrical accolades. For her blonde bombshell of a character “Ulla” in the original cast of “The Producers” (2001), she famously belts; “When You Got it, Flaunt It,” and walked away with a Tony Award for best performance by a featured actress in a musical.
Strippers or burlesque dancers make what they do seem easy, but removing your clothes while doing complex dance steps is a recipe for falling flat on your face, but says Huffman of her current role in “The Nance” “I think…no. I know, preparation is the most important part of the job,” whether, I am singing, acting or dancing, it is finding the truth of the situation, the truth of the role. As I always say to the kids that I teach every once in a while, you have to do your homework. To get the truth of any role, you have to work for the acting to be believable and truthful.”
Not a fan of the theatre? Then you might recognize Huffman as a regular judge on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” or for her depiction of Dr. Paige Miller on the soap “One Life to Live,” or for her recurring roles in “The Good Wife, Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and on three different reincarnations of “Law and Order” as well as “Frasier” and “Mad About You.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Huffman is currently throwing her considerable theatrical chops behind an ambitious project being spearheaded by fledgling group the New York Shakespeare Exchange, dubbed the Sonnet Project. The project involves the performance all 154 Shakespeare Sonnets, at places of interest around New York City. Each sonnet will be interpreted by up and coming filming makers.
Huffman has agreed to take on the project free of cost, which, when completed, will be available online free the general public. The first was released on May 21, 2013. “I love Shakespeare, and particularly these sonnets,” she enthused. “They are so beautiful.”
Huffman jumped headfirst into the project when publicist and friend Karen Greco introduced her to it.
“I’m so excited; I actually went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to study Shakespeare, and this is literally the first time anybody had asked me to do Shakespeare. I’m thrilled and terrified,” she said.
The timing of this project is perfect, as Huffman’s almost 30 years on stage is taking a toll. “Singing and dancing is not so easy anymore, and this is at time in my life when I am winding down and looking for these more serious roles. Seeing these sonnets through these [older] eyes, they are like songs to me.
Before her star began to rise on Broadway, Huffman was already a bona fide star in her hometown of Santa Barbara. Her ascent started as a kindergartner.
“I think I was pretty much born doing it [performing]. I just always loved it,” she said. “I had my first acting class because I literally begged my mother.”
She was six years old at that first acting workshop, ballet training followed a year later and by age nine, Huffman was doing voice training in classical opera. By the time she got to San Marcus High School, she was already royalty in the dynamic Santa Barbara theatre scene. Concurrently, Huffman was also a student at the Goleta School of Ballet where she performed numerous classical productions with the school’s company.
On her graduation from San Marcus, she went through a period of uncertainty, with a high pitch laugh she remembers.
“I started working in retail because I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
The brief period of limbo didn’t last too long, and months later when she turned 18, packed her bags and left for the bright lights of Hollywood. Huffman was quickly noticed and an equity card was not far behind when she auditioned and was cast as a “Voice” in “They’re Playing Our Song” at the La Mirada Civic Light Opera.
Not doomed to be a chorus girl forever, Huffman was soon cast in the original Los Angeles Company of “La Cage Aux Folles” which she played for 18 months. “When that closed they asked me to replace one of the actresses in New York production, so my first Broadway show brought me to New York, and I was a teenage drag queen, that’s what I was.”
By the following year 1985; Huffman was cast as both a dancer and the understudy in “The Big Deal.” Sadly, she was injured doing this show and had to endure physical therapy for 10 months. This forced her out of her rigorous dance regimen and into a larger emphasis on her other theatrical skills, singing and acting.
In the interim, Huffman made a decent living doing TV commercials. However, her career turned a corner in 1990 she did a workshop for what would later become the Will Rogers Follies. The play opened in May with Huffman playing “Ziegfeld’s Favorite” and by June, she living the heady experience of being a Tony Award nominee getting the nod for best performance by a featured actress in a musical. She reprised that role for more than a year.
Between her TV and stage roles, she also had roles in major films.
“I did a few movies, “Romance and Cigarettes” which was written and directed by John Turturro. Very fun,” she mused. “I got to do a choreographed death scene with Christopher Walken to the tune Delilah. It was just a crazy, fun time – a really interesting movie,” she said.
Huffman also starred alongside Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper in the “Company Men,” and also did “The Nanny Dairies,” and also tried her hand at film production when in 2003/04; with the Indie film “Sunday on the Rocks.”
“It’s [The Nance] doing really well,” Huffman said. We have great houses. I’m getting great feedback.”
“The Nance” is on at the Lyceum Theatre each night, for ticket information visit nyc.com/broadway_tickets/the_nance.