From Legally Blonde to The Sound Of Music-Live Autumn Hurlbert has cornered the market on Broadway chanteuses. She is taking on the role of Portia the lovelorn starlet of Something Rotten! which is in Philadelphia at the Kimmel Center through March 4, 2018.
I sat down to talk with her about similarities between her and her character Portia, the merging of Broadway and reality television, and how she perseveres as someone in the arts in today’s sometimes challenging culture.
Michael Cook: Are you excited to bring Something Rotten! and your character, Portia to Philadelphia?
Autumn Hurlbert: I am! I have only been to Philly a couple times before and I love it so much. I worked at The Price Theatre there previously, but have visited friends and gotten to stop in a few times before. I absolutely love it. Rob (McClure) and Maggie (Lakis) both live in Philly, and Maggie is actually a native, so we’re lucky.
For those that have never seen Something Rotten! explain to me both the story and how your character, Portia, fits in with the overall show.
AH: The show is set in the 1690’s during the Renaissance. You have two brothers that are trying to write their next big hit and their competition is Shakespeare, and they are both looking for inspiration in different ways. The older brother Nick Bottom (played by Josh Grisetti) seeks out a soothsayer, who tells them that the next big hit is going to be a musical, so you’re getting to watch the birth of a musical. His younger brother Nigel quite literally bumps into me. I play Portia who is a Puritan. I am under the thumb of my father. Brother Jeremiah, and Portia, are supposed to be reading the Bible and leading a very chaste lifestyle, but I have been reading all of the poetry I can. When I run into Nigel and I find out that he is also a poet, it is love at first sight.
The music in the show is spectacular. Karen and Wayne Kirkpatrick have done a fantastic job!
AH: Oh, the music is amazing. I love it! It’s all original and it is so catchy. It just hits your ear in such an amazing way.
Throughout your career, you have worked in all kinds of styles of music. Do you take something from each role you work with and bring those experiences into your next role?
AH: I guess a little bit, yes. Each role is so different and they are their own microcosm of technique and outside influence. A lot of what inspires me as Portia in this role is my son. I travel with my two and a half year old and who has celebrated both her second and now her third birthday on tour with me. Portia has lived under this strict rule of law, but when she meets Nigel. This whole world opens up to her for the first time. There is a certain glee and awe, and free spiritedness to her that I definitely see in my child as we are traveling the country. It blows her mind when I can tell her we are getting on a plane, and that is really the same kind of amazement that is in Portia.
You were the understudy for Legally Blonde and the music from that show is absolutely incomparable, and the show became a massive hit. What was it like being part of a show that became a massive hit?
AH: I got into Legally Blonde right as it was ending its run. I went into it in June, and it closed in October. So, I was in at the tail end of the mania, which was an incredible experience. It was like being shot out of a rocket. When I started, it was in the midst of full on craziness. There were times, especially after we got the closing notice, that we would come out of the stage door and it would take us sometimes a half an hour or more to get through the signing line. People just wanted autographs and to say how much the show meant to them. It was a really crazy and special experience.
You were part of Legally Blonde-The Search For Elle Woods and with that and The Glee Project and your role in The Sound Of Music-Live we have really gotten to see Broadway dipping its toe into the reality genre. While some may think its sacrilege to have Broadway be intertwined with the reality genre, others think it is a great way for people to expose Broadway to people who normally would not get the opportunity. Where do you fall in that debate?
AH: I am definitely not on the side of thinking that it is sacrilege. I am a big proponent of supporting the arts and making them accessible to a wide range of people. We live in a digital age, and that is how it is. I think theatre cannot only afford to be adaptive. I think it is a necessary, and I think it’s a good thing.
In the times we are in, what do you do to stay inspired?
AH: When you make performance your profession, you have to have a lot of ambition. You definitely hear “no” a lot. You hear you are not right for a role, or for this show, things like that. You just have this sort of perseverance. You continuously have to light the fire from within. I just take my frustrations, my dismay, and hopelessness with what is happening in the world and turn it around.
I truly believe that the more creative you are, and the more love you put out into the world, it is going to expunge the bad stuff. It is going to take a long time if you are really patient. I believe that we will win over though. We have seen it over, and over with all of the cities we are going to also. We have gotten amazing receptions at cities you would not think would be as accepting. Actually, they see the show the same way that New York and Philadelphia audiences see it — as something fun. It is a way to escape the regular life. A way to come away inspired and come away as a better person. We have had the best experiences on the road. I believe that in general people are kind. They want to live the best life that they can. It is our job to find the different avenues that it takes for people and to portray that on stage.
The 10-Time Tony Nominated Something Rotten! is in Philadelphia through March 4, 2018 at the Kimmel Center. For tickets: kimmelCenter.org.