Mother and daughter Jan Hunter and Callie Hunter are no strangers to the Birmingham stage.
Jan, activities manager and assistant manager at The Episcopal Place, has starred in numerous productions at a number of theaters in town, most recently in “The Glass Menagerie” at the Virginia Samford Theatre, and Callie, before moving to Chicago and forging a career in advertising, appeared in productions at Red Mountain Theatre Company and Terrific New Theatre. (She’s now back in Birmingham and working remotely).
The two appeared together in Summerfest’s “The Wizard of Oz,” TNT’s “Reefer Madness” and, most memorably, in 1999 in TNT’s “Ruthless,” when as a 10-year-old, Callie starred as a precocious child star being raised by her driven mother, played by Jan. (“She still loves the fact that she was able to curse at me on stage,” Jan says). They’ve also sung together in concert a number of times.
Now, they’re together again on stage, with Jan playing Joanne (“The Ladies Who Lunch”) and Callie playing Kathy (“You Could Drive a Person Crazy”) in the Virginia Samford Theatre production of “Company” that runs Thursday through April 10. Chelsea Reynolds directs a cast that also includes Caleb Clark, Amy Johnson, Barry Austin, Dana Porter, Jeff DeGarmo, Savannah Hudson, Charlie Bryant, Virginia Barr, Lydia Yates, Abigail Williams, Jonathan Skaggs and Richie Lisenby. Debbie Mielke is music director, and Jared Wright is choreographer.
Jan and Callie were game to answer a set of questions – the same questions posed to each of them but answering about the other.
Question: When did you realize she was talented?
(Jan about Callie): “Oh, Alec, you don’t ask a mother that! The first time she smiled! Callie’s talents aren’t limited to singing and dancing. She’s quite a gifted artist, crafter, organizer, worker and cook. She outshines me in every regard.”
(Callie about Jan): “I’m not sure I can nail down the exact moment of when I realized her talent. She’s been sprinkling my life with song and teaching me the alto part of lullabies since day one, but I honestly feel that I took her talent for granted for most of my youth. It’s as if I felt the understanding of her talent was never unique to just me — it was shared with the city of Birmingham and then some. Once I entered my mid-20s, I feel that’s when I really started separating her performances from simply being my mother on stage to recognizing the depth of her abilities as a performer. I’m so proud.”
Question: Which of her performances is your favorite?
(Jan about Callie): “I can’t necessarily even say which of her performances was my favorite. Right now, we’re rehearsing for ‘Company’ at VST and as I watched her do her scene the other night, I teared up just like I did when she was 6 and dressed like a penguin in a dance recital!”
(Callie about Jan): “So many options! First off, you’ll never find a better Wicked Witch of the West. I loved, loved, loved her as the Drowsy Chaperone. Also, seeing her dazzle in red as Dolly was quite special. I hate to have recently missed her in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ – I heard she was fabulous. Ask me this again after the run of ‘Company’ – she’s absolutely killing it as Joanne.”
Question: What shows would you like to see her in?
(Jan about Callie): “I’d like to see Callie do whatever she wants to do, you know? Whether it’s a show, a new job, whatever it is, I love watching her on her path.”
(Callie about Jan): “She’s already done so much. This is a tough one. I’d honestly watch her in anything. Watching her play the new role of grandmother (aka “Jazzy”) is pretty freaking cool.” (Dylan Hunter, Jan’s son and Callie’s brother, is a new dad).
Question: How is it working with her, and how has it changed since y’all starred in “Ruthless”?
(Jan about Callie): “Working with her, just being with her all the time (which I’m sure she wishes we weren’t!) makes me abundantly happy. She’s smart, funny, and above all, kind. An added bonus is we’re carpooling together.
There are many years between ‘Ruthless’ and what we’re doing now, so I can’t compare the experiences except that we rode in the same car back then, too! We don’t have any scenes together but get to share stage time during musical numbers. We even get to sit next to each other during one of them. I’m so, so excited to see her back on stage, because it’s been a while. She’s been in the corporate world in Chicago for 10 years, which didn’t allow her any creative time. To have her back in a theater she loved as a child and she’s loved as an adult is making this momma very happy. She’s one of the two best things I ever did.”
(Callie about Jan): “So cool. I’ve loved having this outlet with her. Getting to witness a parent interact, learn a dance routine, absorb feedback, succeed (‘slay,’ as they say now), etc., at almost 33 years of age is something I don’t want to take for granted. Witnessing her exist as a performer, not just as my mom, has taught me so much about who she is, who I am, and has deepened our bond. That said, I’ve noticed that we do have VERY similar ‘70s dance styles when asked to improvise during ‘Company’ rehearsals, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
One of the most obvious differences is how old we were/are. I’m loving getting to experience this with her in my 30s. We have only a couple moments on stage together, but they sure are fun. Feel like it’s when I have to act the hardest — she’s my mom!”
“Company” runs March 31 through April 10 at the Virginia Samford Theatre, at Caldwell Park, 1116 26th St. South. Tickets are $43 ($23 for students).