Another new regular feature, in which performers answer questions about their life and career. I’m kicking it off with Jan D. Hunter, one of Birmingham’s most prolific and beloved performers. She’ll be appearing as Cinderella’s stepmother in the Virginia Samford Theatre’s upcoming production of “Into the Woods,” running Feb. 1-18.
What’s your brief bio?
I was born in Union, Mississippi, the baby of four children. Attended Millsaps College before moving to New York for eight years, then LA for five. I have two children, Dylan and Callie, and two grandsons, Oscar and Simon.
What is your first memory of being on stage?
I don’t remember NOT being on stage. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I was in front of people from the time I could walk. My first starring role was as Gretel in “Hansel and Gretel” in the 5th grade.
What’s your favorite role you’ve played?
That’s hard! There are many! I loved getting to perform with my kids back in the days of Summerfest and the Carl Stewart days at TNT. I loved working with my Four For Time family and the many shows with Jack Mann. And working with Kristi Tingle Higginbotham is tops. Oh, I loved playing Amanda in “Glass Menagerie.” Sometimes it’s not necessarily the show or role but the experience that I love and remember.
Who is your favorite composer?
I can’t narrow it to just one. I adore Irving Berlin, Kander and Ebb – “The World Goes Round” combines their best of the best. And, of course, Stephen Sondheim.
Who is your favorite playwright?
Probably Ken Ludwig.
What is your favorite show?
What’s a performance that sticks out to you as an audience member?
I’ll never, ever forget Hugh Jackman in “The Boy From Oz.” It was almost like a religious experience. Also, Christine Ebersole’s stunning performance in “Grey Gardens” will always be one of my best times as an audience member. But I also have to go back to my kids – each time they were on stage was always the best.
What’s a role you hope you will or wish you could have played?
I’d like to play all the older woman parts in shows I’ve already done – Albert’s mom in “Bye Bye Birdie,” Mama Morton in “Chicago.” I’m really enjoying straight plays these days and would love to play more dramatic roles.
Any great advice you’ve been given by a director?
The best advice I ever got from a director was to stay still. As a younger performer, I moved around too much. There’s power in stillness.
When is a time something went wrong on stage?
Oh my gosh, I can’t even begin to tell you about things that have gone wrong! Going completely up on an opening night! Completely forgetting the big solo dance number and just freestyling! The lyrics I’ve forgotten, the zippers that have broken, the wig I didn’t pin on good enough! Talking backstage and almost missing an entrance. Ugh. But I adore live theater.
What is something people might not know about you?
Well, I’m pretty much an open book, but my favorite parking space is next to the cart return. Now, I have no secrets.
What’s the last book you read?
The last two books I’ve read are written by friends of mine – Sue Ferguson (who lives at The Episcopal Place, where I work) wrote “What’s Next – Timely Tips on Aging” and Barbara Sloan’s “Theatre Is My Life!”
What music do you listen to when you’re not performing?
My taste in music is fairly diverse. Other than mean rap and very twangy country, I listen to most genres. I love old-school female jazz singers – Ella, Nancy Wilson, Anita Baker, especially. Basia! I love Basia! Bossa Nova, show tunes (of course), classical, opera, rock and roll from the ‘70s on, and I will always remain a fan of the good ole American Songbook. I also listen to a lot of cabaret singers, hoping to find the next addition to my repertoire. My kids are wonderful about turning me on to newer, more obscure artists, thankfully, trying to keep me a bit current.
What do you watch on TV?
“The Crown,” “The Gilded Age,” “Julia.” My favorite recently was “Lessons in Chemistry.” And I’ve rewatched all of “Ted Lasso” – I loved it.
What’s next for you?
I’m in rehearsals now for the upcoming VST production of “Into The Woods.” Y’all, get your tickets!