Hunter Ryan Herdlicka Previews Show at Landmark

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Michael Feinstein’s nightclub at the Loews Regency is this Broadway actor’s next stop

Hunter Ryan HerdlickaWhen I was in high school (many moons ago), I was in a special theater program. The program, called “theater careers” required you to spend three periods a day for two years studying theater — all aspects of theater, from acting to directing to set design.

There were two types of people in this program. Most of them were like me — regular kids with a streak of hambone who thought that doing a high school production of “South Pacific” was the cat’s meow. But then there was the other type — the very talented and very rare “true” theater kids. The ones who lived and breathed theater, who sang show tunes rather than pop songs, who collected Playbills instead of comic books, who watched the Tony Awards instead of the Emmys. When I saw Hunter Ryan Herdlicka perform at Landmark on Main Street, I knew, right away, that he was one of those true theater kids.

Herdlicka has lived a charmed life thus far. The Dallas native graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama in 2009 and aced his very first audition for a role opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in his idol Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” At 23 years old, he’d fulfilled his dreams, and was a Broadway actor. He has been appearing in the show nightly since November 2009, and although Zeta-Jones and Lansbury will be departing, Herdlicka is staying on to perform opposite Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

His show at Landmark was appropriately titled “I Happen to Like New York.” Clearly he does. Many of the songs he performed involved New York or dreams. His songs came from such varied sources as “Peter Pan,” the movie “Dick Tracy,” the Bock/Harnick play “The Apple Tree,” the musical “Into the Woods,” and many more. For such a young man, he’s got great stage presence and a powerful voice that can cover both low and high ranges.

Between songs, he regaled the audience with stories of his childhood (which really wasn’t that long ago!) A self-described “musical theater addict,” Herdlicka admitted that his favorite childhood book was Stephen Sondheim’s biography. He told the story of coming to New York for the first time in fourth grade and being blown away by the billboards and lights of Broadway. He recounted watching the Mary Martin version of “Peter Pan” on VHS with his mom and memorizing all the songs. He confessed to borrowing a Barbara Streisand tape from a friend in elementary school and not giving it back for years.

Herdlicka was charming, sincere, and self-deprecating as he recounted being in a elevator with Sondheim on his way to his audition. Overcoming his anxiety, he blurted out “Hi! I’m Hunter! I’m going to be singing for you!” “I’m going to be listening to you,” replied Sondheim, dryly.

For me, a few of the highlights of Herdlicka’s performance were “Giants in the Sky” from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” “A Glamorous Life” from the movie version of “A Little Night Music,” and the song sung by the snake from the play “The Apple Tree.” Herdlicka’s performances were dramatic and energetic. This is not to say that the night didn’t have a few little glitches — he did forget the words once or twice (who could blame him — there are so many, especially in Sondheim songs), and there was a contact lens incident — but his singing was such that it was easy to look past these small problems.

Herdlicka was accompanied on piano by his musical director, Mary Mitchell Campbell, who also provided a foil for his stories, commenting periodically from the piano bench. The show was directed by Diana Basmajian. During his performance, Herdlicka (with some audience participation) also sang “Happy Birthday” to two Port Washington luminaries, Angela Jagger and Dot Slade.

Herdlicka closed his show with “Letters from War” — a touching ballad based on letters between a mother and a son during WWII. I had tears in my eyes when he finished singing, and when I looked around I saw that I wasn’t the only one.

This “out of town” preview of his one man show was an advance of his June 27 performance at Michael Feinstein’s nightclub at the Loews Regency. Herdlicka has a long and promising career ahead of him, and I think we’ll be seeing (and hearing) a lot more from this true theater kid.

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