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October 26, 2017
Interview: Bebe Neuwirth, Tony Speciale, Telly Leung, and Others Meet the Press at Abingdon’s 25th Anniversary Bash
Bebe Neuwirth at The Abingdon Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary Gala, featuring a special all-star concert of Kander and Ebb's AND THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND. Monday, October 23rd at The Edison Ballroom, NYC. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

You know how it goes. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad, and sometimes you throw on your snazziest tux or gown and host a big, blow-out bash in honor of your milestone 25th anniversary! At least, that’s what staff and supporters of the grassroots Abingdon Theatre Company did when, on October 23rd, they rang in a quarter-century on the New York theatre scene.

Held at the Edison Ballroom, the one-night-only gala event was indeed an extravaganza in the fullest sense of the word — complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a ceremony recognizing both the accomplishments and contributions of the evening’s luminous honoree: Emmy and two-time Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth.

It all culminated with a star-studded performance featuring over 25 notable names from the Broadway, national, and international circuit, who all joined together to pay tribute to the incomparable songwriting duo of Kander and Ebb.

We caught up with a few of the stars and Abingdon staff members just before the night began, to discuss Kander and Ebb dream roles, their personal connections to Abingdon, what the evening means to them and…you know…all that jazz.

So, put down the knitting, the book, and the broom, and check out their answers below! We know you won’t be disappointed!

HUNTER RYAN HERDLICKA AND TELLY LEUNG AT THE ABINGDON THEATRE COMPANY25TH ANNIVERSARY GALA ON MON. NOV. 23, 2017. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

What brings you out tonight? What is your connection to the Abingdon Theatre Company?

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Performer: I did a reading a few years ago for the Abingdon, and I performed here two years ago, when it was announced that Tony [Speciale] was going to be the new Artistic Director. I just love him so much and I love what he’s done with the theatre, and I’ll support him in any way that I can. It’s great to be out here tonight.

Telly Leung, Performer: My wonderful friend, Deidre [Goodwin, Choreographer of the And the World Goes ‘Round performance event], reached out... and you know, when Deidre calls, you say “yes,” right? I’ve never worked with Abingdon before, but I know, of course, that they’re so synonymous with such inspirational, great work in New York City. And then, they told me, we’re also honoring Bebe Neuwirth with songs from the [catalogue of] Kander and Ebb, and I said, “What?! Yes! Sign me up!” Nothing more I’d rather do on my night off [from Aladdin].

Tyler Hanes, Performer: My good friend, Diedre Goodwin — I’ll do basically anything for her. She told me about this event, and I’m a big fan of the company and also Bebe Neuwirth and obviously, Kander and Ebb. So, I jumped at the opportunity. Simple as that.

Katie Thompson, Performer: Chad [Austin, Abingdon’s Associate Artistic Director] e-mailed me… how could I say anything but “yes”?

Bebe Neuwirth and Tony Speciale at The Abingdon Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary Gala. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

What does it mean for you to be part of this evening — this monumental celebration of 25 years? 

Tony Speciale, ATC Artistic Director: It feels great! It’s the official kick-off of our 25th anniversary season, and it’s a night to celebrate and honor the people that make the work that we do possible. And really, for us on the staff, it’s a chance to stop and reflect on where we’re going and where we’ve been. It’s been a great year… and we’re announcing some really exciting changes to our producing model, as well as all of our programming for the upcoming year.... there’s a lot going on. Stay tuned. (laughs).

Denise Dickens, ATC Producing Director: Well, it’s a lot. It’s hard to unpack it. I mean, 25 years for a small, Off-Broadway non-profit theatre [company] is a feat that is special and unique. It really is something to be proud of. And I do feel proud to be part of it all,  especially as we turn the corner onto the next 25, and I get to work with all my friends and these people who I respect and love forever, but I also feel very privileged, too. It’s a very meaningful evening.

Katie Thompson: I’m really happy to be part of this company that supports new theatre 'cause it’s so hard to get it done. As a person that does it and as a person who writes it, [I know] it’s practically impossible. So, to be here, honoring a company that has done it for 25 years — it’s a really wonderful thing.

TYLER HAYNES AT THE ABINGDON THEATRE COMPANY25TH ANNIVERSARY GALA ON MON. NOV. 23, 2017. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

Bebe Neuwirth, Gala Honoree: On one hand, it’s a little embarrassing, I guess, when someone says, “We want to honor you.” On the other hand, it’s extremely lovely and I’m really looking forward to this evening. Everyone [involved in the show] is so talented. I’m just very happy and very grateful to be here.

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: For me personally, again, it’s about celebrating Tony. I love him, and so, yes, I’m celebrating Abingdon, but I’m also celebrating a well-deserved two years for him as well.

Telly Leung: It means a lot to me that they’re honoring Bebe Neuwirth. [She’s] someone who I’ve been a fan of for so long. That [1996] revival of Chicago [in which Neuwirth starred as Velma Kelly] came out when I was 16 years old [and] it really moved me.

The year it came out… that was the year that the $20 rush ticket really started to become a thing. I was a high-school student and I would come down and get my $20 rush seat, and sit in the front row watching Bebe Neuwirth… I don’t even wanna admit how many times. But every time I’d go, I’d say, “If I want to be up there one day, I’ve got to be as good as those guys.”

And any time I needed my butt kicked, or to get a little inspiration to push myself to move forward, I’d go see Chicago. So, I’m very grateful. It’s essentially the reason I’m here.

Kevin David Thomas, And the World Goes ‘Round Musical Director: I think it’s a beautiful celebration honoring a wonderful woman. I’m just happy to invited to come along.

Musical director Kevin David Thomas, choreographer Deidre Goodwin. and director Chad Austin. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

Fill in the blank: When I think of Abingdon, I think of ________.

Chad Austin, ATC Associate Artistic Director: Art.

Denise Dickens: Brave.

Katie Thompson: Collaborative spirit.

Bebe Neuwirth: New plays.

Ali Stroker, Performer: Bebe Neuwirth!

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: Pioneer. They’re real pioneers of the theater, and I think that’s so important, especially now.

Tyler Hanes: Limitless possibility.

Telly Leung: Great theatre in New York.

Tony Speciale: An intimate space where people can go to see work that is brave and risky. And a place where artists can go to experiment and be free. And that’s what it’s been for the last 25 years.

Describe Abingdon in one word: 

Telly Leung: New.

Denise Dickens: Fresh.

Ali Stroker: Collaborative.

Bebe Neuwirth: Creative.

Deidre Goodwin, And the World Goes ‘Round Choreographer: Unique.

Tony Speciale: Risk-taking.

Katie Thompson: Inspiring.

Chad Austin: Strength.

ALI STROKER AT THE ABINGDON THEATRE COMPANY25TH ANNIVERSARY GALA ON MON. NOV. 23, 2017. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

What’s your go-to Kander & Ebb song? 

Denise Dickens: Well, it has to be “All That Jazz,” right?

Chad Austin: “All That Jazz.” (pause). And no one else can have it (laughs). 

Katie Thompson: You know, I didn’t have one [initially], but now I think it’ll become “And the World Goes ‘Round.”

Bebe Neuwirth: Well, when I do my cabaret show [Stories with Piano, which currently tours around the country], I sneak quite a few of them in there. But what’s my go-to? I suppose “And the World Goes ‘Round.”

Deidre Goodwin: “And The World Goes ‘Round,” because it’s actually gotten me all of my gigs.

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: It’s “Sometimes the Day Goes By.” I do it a lot in auditions, and it’s actually what I’ll be singing tonight. But they’re all good!! They’re some of my favorite writers, not just in theatre, but in the world. Gosh, it’s going to be so exciting.

Tyler Hanes: “Cabaret.” Always a classic!

Ali Stroker: I’m not sure, but the song I’m singing tonight, “Only Love,” is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Maybe I’ll use it again sometime.

Tony Speciale: Well, I do sing “Maybe this Time” in karaoke, but I’d never admit that outside of the confines of this article.

KATIE THOMPSON AT THE ABINGDON THEATRE COMPANY25TH ANNIVERSARY GALA ON MON. NOV. 23, 2017. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

What role in which of Kander and Ebb’s musicals is at the top of your bucket list? 

Katie Thompson: I’ve always wanted to play Mama Morton… like, really badly. Anyone? We’ll see.

Bebe Neuwirth: I’ve always loved The Visit. I’d love a crack at Claire.

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: I’ve done Cabaret twice regionally... I played Cliff [both times]. That’s my bucket list role. It’s really my favorite part. And [Cabaret’s] my favorite show of theirs. Of course, if I was a woman, I’d do Flora the Red Menace… no questions asked.

Tyler Hanes: The Emcee. Hands down.

Telly Leung: I mean, what male actor wouldn’t want to take a stab at the Emcee? That’s the one I’d really love to do. And opposite [Aladdin co-star] Courtney Reed as Sally Bowles. Aladdin and Jasmine doing a little Cabaret. Why not? It sounds like it’d be a really good time.

What Kander & Ebb lyric best describes how you’re feeling right now?  

Ali Stroker: A lyric from the song I’m doing tonight, “Only Love”: “For after all… after love… what else is there?” or “Love, give me love, only love, that’s everything.”

Denise Dickens: It’s that breathy sound in “All That Jazz.”

Katie Thompson: I don’t know about describing what I’m feeling right now, but I can tell you my favorite lyric. How’s that? It’s “sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound.” I just love that description. Ooh... it’s so good!

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: [A lyric] to describe how I’m feeling right now?  I think most of us are terrified to have to get up and sing. You have a lyric for that?

Chad Austin: “There Goes the Ball Game”? (laughs).

Kevin David Thomas: “We can make it. We can make it fine.”

Telly Leung: “Sometimes you’re happy… sometimes you’re sad… but the world goes ‘round.”

Bebe Neuwirth: Wow, that’s hard! There’s a lot of lyrics and they’re all so beautiful. You know, you through all the songs, and you think, “Oh, that’s a good line! But wait a minute… there’s a really good line in this one over here. Oh, hang on a second. There’s a really fabulous line in this one!” I can’t pick just one… but I guess that’s just [thanks to] the brilliance of Kander and Ebb.

Connected Post:

Abingdon Theatre Company Rings In 25th Anniversary with Kander and Ebb Extravaganza

By Matt Smith

It was a cold winter’s night in January 1993, when a small group of theatre artists banded together, and unanimously decided to take greater control of their creative lives. Determined to leave their own distinct mark on the New York arts community, they would gather twice a week in a brownstone apartment located in Abingdon Square Park for informal discussions and readings of new plays. Proud to be contributing, in a small way, to the ongoing conversation of the ever-changing art form, they hoped to someday parlay their discussions onto the world at large, but weren’t sure if anything would come of it. 25 years later, with more than 700 readings, 85 full-length plays, and collaborations with more than 200 diverse playwrights under their belt, it’s safe to say their experiment was a success. Now flourishing under the artistic direction of Tony Speciale, who joined the venture in October 2015, ‪Abingdon Theatre Company continues to be a “safe haven” for playwrights, directors and actors from around the world — upholding the very ideals the original group had sought to achieve from day one. All the more reason to celebrate, and celebrate they will, as they mark a quarter-century in t …Read more

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Written by: Matt Smith
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