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Sondheim Meets Pocahontas at Judy Kuhn Performance

The Bethesda native returns to DC for Barbara Cook’s Spotlight series at the Kennedy Center.

Of her role as Disney’s Pocahontas, she says: “It was wonderful to do something that will be around forever.” Photograph courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Judy Kuhn’s career in musical theater has included playing Cosette in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables, receiving three Tony nominations, and singing the title role in the Disney movie Pocahontas. Kuhn, 54, grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Georgetown Day School before studying music at Oberlin. She performs in the Barbara Cook’s Spotlight series at the Kennedy Center December 7. Here’s a conversation with Kuhn.

What do you have planned for the Kennedy Center show? 

I premiered it in New York last March and then did it for a week in London. It’s a meditation on love and happiness, and the music is wide-ranging, from Sondheim to Tom Waits to Joni Mitchell to Cole Porter. I have a fabulous band playing piano, hand percussion, and cello.

What else are you working on?

I’m doing a new musical by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron called Fun Home [based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel] in a lab production at the Public Theater. It’s a beautiful piece. I’m doing Stephen Sondheim’s Passion at the Classic Stage Company off-Broadway next year. I played this role, Fosca, at the Kennedy Center ten years ago for the Sondheim celebration, but we only did 15 performances. I’ve always wanted to do it again. It’s a small theater, which will be interesting because it’s such an intimate and intense piece.

Who are the most interesting up-and-coming artists?

The director I’m working with on Fun Home, Sam Gold, is becoming a superstar. You can’t open the New York Times without reading his name. One of the other things about this production is that there are a bunch of young people in it who are so talented. It’s funny to be at this point in life where I look around and I’m the old sage.

What’s it like to make a Disney movie?

I loved being in the recording studio, and it was so much fun to sing with a huge orchestra. It was also fascinating to see how animated movies are made. And being a creature of live theater, it was wonderful to do something that will be around forever. I have a child, and I’m sure somewhere within her she loves the idea of her mom being Pocahontas.

Singer Judy Kuhn performs at the Kennedy Center Dec. 7. Tickets ($45) are available at kennedycenter.org.

This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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