Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is the latest to make his mark at 54 Below, a new venue that Patti LuPone and Bebe Neuwirth have already made into one of New York’s hottest spots for intimate theater.
Herdlicka took the stage March 25 and treated his audience to a charming, heartfelt, humorous show, chronicling his short life (he’s 26!) and the passion for music that he’s acquired in that time.
Herdlicka most visible role was as Henrik in Broadway’s A Little Night Music, alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. But he’s known just as well for a smile that stretches the length of any room.
In his concert he started off by demonstrating his mature sense of humor, allowing for some chuckles as he broke into Josef Myrow’s and Mack Gordon’s 1946 tune, “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
“Being young is just a state of mind,” he said as he continued with a melody from Peter Pan. The song, he said, began his addiction to musical theatre.
Herdlicka mentioned that he was an intense child, and it was clear to his audience that his propensity for feeling emotions with great strength had not changed. He went on to perform with great control and beautiful intonation his favorite Stephen Sondheim pieces, such as “Not While I’m Around” and “Johanna.”
Herdlicka shared the story of his first audition in New York. It was for A Little Night Music and took place in front of Sondheim himself. The audience got to relive Herdlicka’s magical version of “Later,” the show-stopping Broadway number that he performed “495 times at the Walter Kerr Theatre.”
Eventually Herdlicka also got to share the bill of A Little Night Music with replacements Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch, two women who became close to the up-and-coming performer. So close, in fact, that they were both proudly in the audience at 54 Below to cheer him on.
Herdlicka reminisced about the first time he “almost” met Stritch, when he waited in line to have her sign a playbill. Except, he ran away in fright when he reached the front of the line.
He compared waiting to see her to “waiting to go sit on Santa’s lap, but Santa’s terrifying.” In an ode to Stritch he performed a powerful medley of songs, including Barbra Streisand’s “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”. Herdlicka also granted Peters’ requests for music from Sweeney Todd, calling her “the most wonderful woman alive.”
Although every moment of Herdlicka’s cabaret was sincere and touching, the highest note came when he delivered “Penny in My Pocket”, a Jerry Herman tune that was cut from the out-of-town version of Hello, Dolly.
Herdlicka magnificently sang the moral ditty, in a rendition that will be hard for future acts on 54 Below’s stage to follow. By the end of the evening it was obvious that Herdlicka has a long and dazzling career ahead of him.
54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Learn more about Hunter at his website and be sure to follow TheImproper on Twitter for all the latest theater updates.