As the theater world mourns the passing of Stephen Sondheim, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is joining a host of artists in reimagining the composer’s legendary catalog.
The New York actor and singer is featured on “Sondheim Unplugged: The NYC Sessions – Volume One.” The two-disc album includes 42 songs from classic Sondheim musicals, including “West Side Story,” “Company” and “Sweeney Todd,” performed by a variety of artists.
The album, due out Wednesday, is the first installment of a three-part series, with the latter two editions to be released in March and June 2022. Collectively, the project will serve as a major testament to Sondheim’s legacy. The composer died last Friday at the age of 91.
HuffPost got a first listen to Herdlicka’s recording of “Talent,” a song that first appeared in the 2003 musical “Road Show.” While it’s not one of Sondheim’s best-known compositions, its lyrics instantly struck a chord with Herdlicka, who called it “super meaningful emotionally and storytelling-wise.”
Listen to Hunter Ryan Herdlicka’s version of “Talent” below.
“It’s about a guy trying to discover who he is and wanting to please his family and not being able to,” he told HuffPost in an interview. “As fate would have it, he discovers his purpose and what he should do with his life. I love the story.”
Herdlicka made his Broadway debut in the 2009 revival of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” with Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Since then, he’s gone on to star in New York productions of “Dear World” and “Once Upon A Mattress,” among other shows. Like many Broadway performers, he continues to hold a special affinity for the Sondheim songbook.
“Sondheim Unplugged” was first conceived as a monthly New York revue in 2010 that, over the past 11 years, has featured some of Broadway’s most beloved performers. Herdlicka said he was first approached by “Sondheim Unplugged” creator Phil Geoffrey Bond to appear on the album shortly before COVID-19 shuttered theaters worldwide in 2020.
“Phil had wanted to do something like this for a while, but the pandemic really slowed everything down,” Herdlicka recalled. ”Once things started to feel back to normal ― well, the new normal ― I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, please, yes.’”
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Herdlicka was at work on a show called “Alive! The Zombie Musical,” featuring music and lyrics by his boyfriend, Josh Canfield. His next major project is a production of “The Full Monty” in Virginia, set to debut in April 2022.
Looking forward, he’s got his eye on playing a number of other Sondheim roles, like Giorgio in “Passion” and Georges Seurat in “Sunday in the Park with George.”
“You really have to wait and hope that the stars, the time, your age and your location align and you can do a Sondheim show,” he said. “His music is the most fun to work on because it’s so challenging. You can work and work and work and work and work, and never quite feel like you’ve reached the bottom of it. There’s always something to discover in the performance.”