Blake Hammond on Playing Sebastian in ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ at The National Theatre

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Blake Hammond is playing Sebastian in the Tour of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella which is about to open at The National Theatre.

Joel: Hi Blake. Where may have some of our readers seen you perform on the stage? 

Blake Hammond. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Blake Hammond. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Blake: My name is Blake Hammond I have performed throughout the country many times on Broadway, regional stages and was last seen in Washington DC at The Kennedy Center as Fester Addams in The Addams Family.

How did you first get involved with the Cinderella Tour? And when were you offered the role of Sebastian? How long did it take from your audition to the offer?

My audition process only lasted a couple of days. I went in and read for the role of Sebastian.  he next day I was sent to watch the Broadway production and then the following day went to my call back. I received a phone call later that afternoon that I had won the role. It so rarely happens that way. I loved it!

Fans of the Disney and TV adaptations (with Julie Andrews and then Leslie Ann Warren and then Brandy) may not have heard of Sebastian. Is this a newly-written character? Who is he, how do you relate to him, and how much of your own personality (because you are a very funny guy) are you bringing to your performance? What was so enticing to you about playing Sebastian?

Blake Hammond as Sebastian. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Blake Hammond as Sebastian. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Sebastian is indeed a new creation by Douglas Carter Beane. In this production, the Prince’s parents have passed away when he was a young child and Sebastian has raised him as his own. There is conflict however when the Prince is ready to take control of the kingdom and Sebastian does not want to let go of his power. I think this struggle is what drew me to the part. I do have some funny moments in the play but the desperation and conflict  with power is what I ultimately found attractive about playing the role.

Have you performed in DC before, and if yes, where? What have you heard or experienced about and with DC audiences? 

I have performed at The Kennedy Center in The Addams Family tour and in Bells are Ringing with Faith Prince. I also had the privilege of appearing on “The Kennedy Center Honors.”  I love performing in DC and look forward to adding the National Theatre to that list.

The Broadway production was so sumptuous. How close is the tour design to the original Broadway production design? What is your favorite costume that you wear and someone else wears in the show? Is there a scene where the design makes you say, “WOW!”?

The tour comes very close to matching the Broadway design. The costumes are the same recreations of William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning designs and the set has been modified slightly for traveling purposes, but all the color and grandeur is still there. The WOW scene would certainly be the transformation for the Ball. It will take your breath away.

Does Sebastian have any songs/solos in the show? Have any other songs been added or removed for the Tour?

The tour has all the same songs as the Broadway production. Sebastian sings very little but you will have a chance to hear my dulcet tones briefly.

Why do you think Cinderella is still so popular with families? 

Well, It is a universal story that has been around a long time. Almost all little girls want to be Cinderella and find their own Prince Charming. Most parents want there child to find that once in a lifetime love. It’s a perfect family story.

The company of When Pigs Fly with director Mark Waldrop. Photo by Photo by Craig Schwartz Blake Hammond is in the back row-second to the right.
The company of When Pigs Fly with director Mark Waldrop. Photo by Craig Schwartz. Blake Hammond is in the back row-second to the right.

I am a big fan of your work. The show that you appeared in that I saw dozens of times was When Pigs Fly. I came up to NYC to usher for it every two weeks during the run. It was, as you remember, a tragic time when young men were dying from AIDS and when I buried so many of my friends. The show was ‘comic relief’ to me and my friends who were experiencing the horrors of that disease. What fond memories do you have of performing in that show and do you think today’s audience could still relate to it?

First off, thanks for the kind compliment. When Pig’s Fly will always have a special place in my heart. It was certainly a timely and hilarious show full of the imagination of it’s creator Howard Crabtree. He tragically died of AIDS too soon during the making of this production. Heartbreaking. But it did run for almost 2 years and gave many people a chance to laugh and cry and share in his glorious vision. I do think the show could work today with some updated political references. But I will always cherish that show. I was able to do the LA company as well. The west coast needed that show as well.

You have played some very fun roles: Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, Edna in Hairspray, among others. Which are some of your fondest memories of appearing in these two shows-one on Broadway and one ‘on the road’?

It’s always hard to pinpoint fondest memories. We do so many performances a week and sometimes for years so there are many. But I think my fondest Edna memory is the day my two brothers came up from Texas to see the show. The joy in their faces seeing me as Mrs. Turnblad was priceless. I have a wonderful photo of the three of us in front of my huge photo outside the Neil Simon Theatre. Love it.

Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester in 'The Addams Family.' Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester in ‘The Addams Family.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

And as Fester, I would have to say the opportunity to perform the magical “Moon and Me” number each night.  It is so rare to have a number that everyone leaves the theatre taking about. I certainly loved that.

What do you like the most about being on the road? And what is the hardest thing about being on the road?

My favorite part of touring is the actual change of venue. We get to play so many wonderful theaters across the country and meet new people and it can really help in keeping a show fresh and on it’s toes. The hardest part of being on the road for me is not having a kitchen. LOL I like my kitchen!!!

What is the strangest or funniest unexpected thing or things that has/have happened during a performance of Cinderella?

Strange things happen all the time with live theatre. Last night we had a woman in the front row who was enjoying her wine and thought it appropriate to talk directly to us on the stage. When her friend tried to stop her, she said loudly “I don’t have to be quiet.” I find that behavior both strange and funny. But we are constantly surprised by the little things and big things that you have to negotiate daily in live theatre.   

What roles that you have not played yet that are on Broadway today would you love to play and why? What show that you appeared in that the critics were not kind to-would you like to see produced and given another chance outside of NYC?

I am currently keeping my sights set on Something’s Rotten. I thought the show was absolutely hilarious and would love the chance to work with Casey Nicholaw again. Would be happy to replace in the NY company but would also love to create the tour next season.

And as far as shows with second chances, I would have to go with First Date. It was a fun and unique show that audiences loved and critics did not. But the cast had a great time.

If someone asked you to describe a Blake Hammond performance how would you respond?

That’s tough to be objective about. I guess I would hope my performance would be full of truth and joy and ultimately entertaining.

What advice would you give a young actor who is considering making theater his or her career?

Get good training, try to be as debt free as possible when starting out, and say yes to any chance you’re given.

https://youtu.be/JLDavuKFTO4

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you and the cast of Cinderella perform at The National Theatre?  

I hope people leave with a smile and song in their heads and hearts. That may sound kind of sappy but sometimes people just need to leave their troubles outside for a while and relax and enjoy and a magical experience. I truly think Cinderella offers a family that opportunity.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays from November 18-29, 2015 at The National Theatre –  1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets go to the box office, or call the box office at (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.