The AYT team fired off some questions via email to Judy Kuhn, star of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s Fiddler on the Roof and all-round legend. We find out whether the show’s relevance has changed, what her advice to graduating students is and of course, what it was like playing such an iconic Disney character.
AYT: If you had to choose just three, which of your roles do you think have been the most significant or formative in your career? Why?
Judy: Hard to choose…I guess I would start with playing Cossette in the original Broadway production of Les Miserables. That was the first time I worked with Trevor Nunn and he was such an important mentor to me early in my career. He is not only a brilliant director but also a teacher.
Second I would say playing Fosca in Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s Passion which I had the privilege to do twice. That part is so challenging vocally, physically, and emotionally. The second time I played her was in a production directed by John Doyle who is also a teaching director. I feel like he really encouraged me to go places with my work I hadn’t gone before and more importantly perhaps, he taught me to really trust myself because he trusted me.
And last, but not least, was the journey I took with Fun Home. I was involved with that show from its very early stages and felt very much a part of creation of it. The creative team are all brilliant artists who I learned so much from. But also the experience of doing the show was extraordinary. And maybe for the first time, there was a real intersection between art and social justice and activism which is very important to me.
When rehearsing Fiddler did you find any themes that resonate boldly with current affairs? And how did you approach them?
Fiddler has never felt so relevant. You don’t have to look far to see images of refugees fleeing violence and poverty. Or to see racism and anti-Semitism. If there was any doubt about the timeliness of this production, the second or third week of rehearsal we got the news of the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. The only way to approach material like this is to tell the story as truthfully as you can. And I think with the approach this production is taking, its intimacy and the attempt we are making to really bring the village of Anatevka alive, the audience can’t help but see the connection to today. At least that is what we all hope for.
How do you think Fiddler on the Roof’s most recent incarnations both on Broadway and of course at the Menier next month will reach out to a new generation? How does it feel to you?
Hard to say. I will be so happy if we can reach a new generation. I believe many people think they know Fiddler, the songs, the character of Tevye, the humour, but I think a lot of people forget what it is really about. Even when they have seen it before, they forget how dark and sad it really is. With this production I believe that will especially be striking to people because of what I said above about the intimacy and realness of it. Of course there is still much fun and laughter, but I do think the impact of the tragedy and the relevance will, I hope, be felt by everyone who come to see it especially by people who have never seen it before.
So many people were inspired by songs from Disney’s Pocahontas such as ‘Colours of the Wind’ and ‘Just Around the Riverbend’. With this in mind and our increasing acknowledgment of animal welfare and the planet’s health, did you have your own personal connection to the character and story?
It’s interesting Pocahontas, like Fiddler, feels so relevant today. The message of that movie is so much about taking care of our planet and also about having compassion and understanding for people and cultures different from our own, walking “in the footsteps of a stranger”. With the climate crisis, the refugee crisis and so much hate and racism in our world I think Pocahontas has a lot to teach children as well as their parents!
What advice would you give to graduating students for bridging the gap between studying and finding work?
I always tell students to never stop studying whether they are working or not. We all need to continue to hone our craft. There is always more to learn. And I also would say use the rehearsal room as your classroom too. Look around and see what your colleagues have to offer you. I have learned so much form the people I have worked with. The directors, as I have mentioned and actors who have experience and skills I lack. The more you stay engaged in your own growth as an artist I think the more work will find you.
Fiddler on the Roof will be playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory from November 23 to March 9 2019. For more information and tickets, follow the link.