PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Hunter Foster, Performing The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at the O'Neill Theater Center
By Sophia Saifi
Playbill.com sits down with Tony Award nominee Hunter Foster at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.
Foster dons many caps: Actor, singer librettist and playwright.
The actor has starred in a string of successful musicals (Urinetown, The Producers, Grease and Little Shop of Horrors) and was most recently seen on television on ABC family's dramedy, "Bunheads."
Foster is at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center starring as the lead in Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman's hilarious love letter and parody of the American musical The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes.
The musical revolves around the tale of a man who wakes up to find himself stuck in a musical who embarks on a quest to escape.
Foster sat down with Playbill.com to talk about reliving summer camp at the O'Neill, his limited grasp of Japanese and how much fun he's having working on Howard Barnes.
Question: Have you enjoyed your stint at the O'Neill?
Hunter Foster: I have. It's like summer camp. You have different casts, like there's a play going. There are two musicals happening and people are taking classes and interns. There are a ton of things going on. Everyone eats together and we dorm together.
Question: Has it been traumatic sharing a bathroom and living in dorms all over again? When was the last time you were thrown together with a bunch of people like this?
Foster: It's been fun. I've done other things that are similar but nothing like this. it takes you back to college. Thats the good thing about it. That is all there is. It is just the show and it's just the O'Neill and it's nice. You don't really have any distractions from the work.
Question: Yes, the work! The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes. Thoughts?
Foster: I got the script and I thought it was really funny and it's sort of like a little love letter to Broadway. It's been fun from the first moment we started it. We laughed in rehearsals and we've laughed during the show, and we've been having a great time. Like I said, it's like summer camp! It's beautiful here, the beach is right there and its really, really nice to be a part of it.
Question: What was one of the first shows you watched?
Foster: Well Les Misérables was one of the first shows I watched in New York and it was big and dramatic. That's when I fell in love with becoming an actor and moving to New York.
Question: And then it's been mocked so beautifully in Howard Barnes. Do you agree that musicals should not take themselves too seriously?
Foster: I think that... yes and no. I think that no matter what story you're telling, whether it be in a play or musical, I think you have an obligation to say something. I don't necessarily think that shows should just be just for comedy. Like even some of the funny shows, The Book of Mormon has a message, it has a point. And I think that Howard Barnes has a point as well.
Question: What is that point, in your opinion?
Foster: I think they're still discovering it, but I think we all get wronged in life, we all have moments in life when we doubt that things can exist. Obviously, Howard Barnes was damaged by someone and it's learning to get back up and take a chance. It's kind of overcoming your past and moving forward and trusting and believing that you can move forward even though you've been damaged in the past. That's how I look at it. He really goes on a journey of letting go of the past and moving forward in the most hilarious possible way.
Question: There are lot of other pop culture references in Howard Barnes. Apart from music theatre what other stuff do you enjoy?
Foster: I like Lady Gaga. I like people that are talented. She has a great voice. She plays the piano and she sings and she writes her own stuff. I dont like these manufactured pop stars.
Question: Speaking of people who write and produce their own stuff, you've been a librettist as well. Could you share what you're working on right now?
Foster: There are a few things thats kind of up in the air. Nothing tangible but I would love to write something and have it up at the O'Neill. That is a goal of mine. I'm directing a production of Summer of '42 at the Bucks County Playhouse. I start rehearsals Monday.
Question: It's going to be an interesting summer!
Foster: It's going to be interesting to direct a piece that I wrote.
Question: I read that you were working on a musical based on a recent event. Is that still in the works?
Foster: I'd rather not talk about it. I don't want to give the idea away. It was definitely an event that happened in the past three to four years and it reflects your faith in something. You believe in something and suddenly it doesn't happen. How do you deal with that? Like you literally believe that something is going to take place. How do you live with that?
Question: And you're basing the musical on that idea?
Foster: Yeah, though I can't tell you the event!
Question: You had a guest role on on the ABC ballet dramedy "Bunheads." Have you considered moving into television or other mediums?
Foster: I mean it's not that easy, it's a different world. It's a different sort of skills set and they want different things than obviously people in New York do. I had a great experience on "Bunheads;" I hope "Bunheads" gets picked up. That's still undecided. I would love to be a part of it.
Question: Did you enjoy working with your sister (Sutton Foster)?
Foster: It was so much fun I wish we could do more of it. We're waiting to see what's happening with "Bunheads."
Question: Have you considered other projects apart from "Bunheads" to work together?
Foster: If "Bunheads" doesn't work out we would love to do something together. A brother and sister type of show. I have a few ideas.
Question: Where do you see Howard Barnes going?
Foster: It's such a fun show and you get such a great reaction from the audience it definitely deserves a life. Obviously every show wants the Broadway experience, that is the goal. I think this show, it doesn't have to be on Broadway, it could be Off-Broadway, it could be regional. I think everywhere it goes, people will love it and enjoy it.
Question: What was like originating your role in Urinetown to now this?
Foster: It was very similar in a lot of ways like this. Urinetown was a love letter to musical theatre. It (Urinetown ) was a room where we laughed a lot and this is a room where we laugh a lot. I think the more you enjoy yourself...that's why you get into this business, to have fun. That's why we love it. You should have fun when you're doing it.
Question: What was the most random job you had while you were trying to make it big in New York?
Foster: I worked at the Bank of Tokyo and I was one of the of the few English-speaking people in the office.
Question: In New York?
Foster: I worked in the office of the Bank of Tokyo. Everyone was from Japan and I was one of the only English-speaking people.
Question: Did you pick up any Japanese?
Foster: (laughs) Mush Mushi was the only thing I knew
Question: What does that mean?
Foster: "Hello," and that was only said when I answered the phone!
Question: What's next?
Foster: I'm going to be part of "Broadway 40". It's an interactive movie that they're putting together with all these iconic musical numbers like from Cats and from Pippin. Ben Vereen is involved. Betty Buckley is involved. It's going to be good.
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