On October 15, 5-Star Theatricals becomes the next theatre company to emerge from its COVID-induced hibernation with its production of the feel-good musical, Mamma Mia! Playing the central role of Donna Sheridan, a middle-aged single mom running a taverna on a Greek island, is Kim Huber, an actress with a resume a mile long who is delighted to get back on stage to sing the show’s melody-rich score of ABBA tunes. Huber created the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast’s first national tour and has also played in shows ranging from classics like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music to cult favorites Chess and Floyd Collins. We met on Zoom to talk about her first part after coming out of self-quarantine during the COVID crisis.
VCOS: How long has it been since you’ve performed on stage with a live audience?
KIM: Not since November 2019. I did the Sondheim show Script to Table in Lexington, Kentucky. Then it was the holidays and then it was COVID.
VCOS: Have you ever taken this long of a break in between shows?
KIM: Maybe, when I was having my kids, but I was pregnant with my daughter on Broadway when I was doing Marie Christine and when I had my son, he was back stage with me when I did The Sound of Music and he was only ten months old, but this is the longest amount of time.
VCOS: Did you do virtual theatre in the interim?
KIM: No, I didn’t. It was too hard for me. And I was sad, you know what I mean? What I crave isn’t performing, I crave the time spent with everyone and the camaraderie, and the rehearsals and being in the room together. I really appreciate everybody who kept putting out content and wonderful shows for us, but it kind of broke my heart. I couldn’t do it. Things have been getting better in the last couple of months, I’ve been taking a strength and conditioning class with my daughter at our dance studio, and just being in a studio with people just make me start crying. It was like being in a rehearsal hall with everyone, but that’s what I missed the most.
VCOS: Are there things that actors do to stay in shape and keep your acting muscles in shape while you’re on hiatus?
KIM: For me, no. I was more in a state of survival. I really didn’t sing for about a year because it made me sad. I was so connected to all the things and I was a lot more guarded. I don’t know if that was anybody else’s experience, but that was mine. It’s been my whole life since I was a kid. I’d turn on my Annie records or my Disney records and act out in my room. Then I started doing shows when I was ten or eleven so it was always part of my life and to have it GONE COMPLETELY? Not just for me, but for everyone? I can’t even go see a show? It was inconceivable. So I put guards up. My daughter is in college and her lifeline was to take Zoom dance classes. That’s what SHE needed to stay connected and deal with her stress. But for me, I just kind of took the break and, I don’t know, living through crazy experiences teaches you a lot of things that I hope are going to make me a better actor.
VCOS: What did you learn about yourself?
KIM: I worked on being okay with the present. You’re always thinking about the next show or the next thing that’s going to happen, and having so much uncertainty, I thought it was time to really just enjoy the moment. And I think that’s part of what I love about acting so much because it forces you to be in the moment. It’s a time where really just get to be and not think about other things. So while I was home, I made it a practice of enjoying being, taking walks with my family, making dinner, and all those things.
VCOS: In your career you’ve done a lot of challenging roles. You’ve done classic roles like Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady to edgier shows like Floyd Collins. So when you come back from this long hiatus to the role of Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! is that a lot easier for you to do or is there something more challenging to that show for an actor?
KIM: Well, I got to do the show before once and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I think it’s the ideal show to do right now. As much as I love the camaraderie and being in the show with everybody, it is about the audience, and especially right now. This show doesn’t really work without the audience. We’re not living our little lives up on the stage. It’s almost like a concert and there is so much joy in the theater, bouncing back and forth, it just seems so necessary now. I just can’t think of a more thrilling show to come back to. I don’t want to do something sad like Floyd Collins and think about all the hard things in that show. I want to celebrate and this show celebrates family and friends and community and joy and music, all the things we’ve missed. And we get to do it all together.
VCOS: It is a community-oriented, participatory show, isn’t it?
KIM: Yeah, and the role is just so much fun because I get to sing all these great ABBA songs that I would roller skate to when I was a kid. And it’s all kind of tongue in cheek because the three of us are just ladies; we’re not really cool but we feel cool. And then there’s these beautiful songs – the song with the daughter is really moving. The show still makes me cry (laughs).
VCOS: So you were you an ABBA fan growing up?
KIM: I can’t say I was a fan. I was just a little bit younger when it was going on but you don’t realize how much all of those songs were part of your childhood. I knew most of them. I heard them but I didn’t have the albums. They were just part of growing up in the late ’70s and ’80s.
VCOS: Do you have an old disco outfit in your closet somewhere?
KIM: No, but there were some disco dance recital outfits that I wore when I was a kid.
VCOS: How does Donna compare with Kim Huber’s personality?
KIM: Oh, God. Her life is nothing like mine. She had a pretty wild time living on her own and her escapades with her guys but I think our independence is something we have in common and also her relationship with her daughter and how close they are. When my daughter went to college, it was hard letting go and so much about this show is about letting go of your kids and trusting them to do a good job and sending them on their way. So that part really moves me. It’s a lot of fun because I usually play characters who are really prim and proper like Eliza Dolittle and I tend to be a little more straightforward and pottymouth like Donna so it’s fun to play that side of me that I don’t get to play on stage.
VCOS: How old are your kids?
KIM: I have a son, Adam, who’s twelve and my daughter, Paige, is twenty-one. My son was home with me for a year and a half doing all the remote schooling and that was hard but we got really close. But now we’re getting him off to middle school and that’s really hard because he was a fifth grader before all the quarantining started and now he’s in seventh grade.
VCOS: Your daughter would be about the same age as Sophie in the musical, isn’t she?
KIM: Yup, she sure is.
VCOS: Have you talked to her about your character and her relationship with her daughter?
KIM: You know, not really. It’s interesting because when I did it four or five years ago, she was sixteen and it just scared me so much because I was right in the pocket of that “one-day-she’s-going-to-leave-me” period so that was really hard on me. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I got to have her home, too, for a year and a half. She had to lose school and that was really hard for her as well as for all the college kids. Now, I’m on another place with her where I’m so thrilled she’s on her own and doing her own thing, so it’s nice to be past it and not be quite as fearful and said, knowing that this grief is coming.
VCOS: Tell me about working with 5-Star.
KIM: This is my first time working with them even though so many people associated with it have been lifelong friends. I love Tal Fox, a good friend who asked me to be a part of the show, and since I moved back from New York, Richard Israel has been a constant presence as a director, actor, and friend. Coming back into the room with him has made it super special.
VCOS: What’s been the best part so far?
KIM: For me, it was the table read on the very first day. Sitting at the table with all of us around, and the music started and everybody was singing together, in a room, and I just started to cry. And we were singing “Thank You For the Music.” Just that simple song. And I was a wreck.
VCOS: Now you got me tearing up a little.
KIM: I know, and kind of feeling the hope again that we were not only going to be here now, enjoying it, but we get to do this, on stage, with an audience, with an orchestra. Yeah, that was the best. Mamma Mia! is surprisingly well constructed and is a joy to do.
Mamma Mia! runs from October 15 – 24 at the Kavli Theatre in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. For tickets, visit www.5startheatricals.com or call 1-800-745-3000. The theatre will require full vaccination of all patrons or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours prior to the performance along with mask requirements for all attendees.