Jackie Hoffman wasn't kidding. The trek up to her fifth-floor walkup at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a lot like scaling Everest. But it's worth the climb when you're talking to a live-wire interview subject like Hoffman, one of Broadway's favorite scene-stealers.
Hoffman is back at the Lunt, where she previously appeared as Grandma in The Addams Family, in a new musical based on equally beloved source-material: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Taking on the role of Mrs. Teavee (mother of the media-obsessed Mike Teavee), the production reunites Hoffman with a very special trio, which she refers to as the "Hairspray triumvirate": songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and director Jack O'Brien.
"You can't say no to the Hairspray triumvirate," she says of the team whose musical put her on the map. "It was magic. They know me so well and they write with me in mind." She takes a pause. "I'd like to think so."
Hoffman has been involved with Charlie since its earliest inception. "I ran into Marc and Scott in the street, and they said, 'We're gonna have you do a workshop of our new musical of Charlie. This was years ago. I think the first workshop I did was during Addams Family. They worked me so friggin hard. I started to lose my voice at Addams Family. They were taskmasters."
That was around 2010. For Hoffman, Charlie remained a "dangling carrot for a long time." The creative team wanted Hoffman to open the show in London — where it premiered in 2014 under the direction of Sam Mendes. "But the producers didn't want to," she says, and Hoffman, within earshot of her personal publicist, the show's publicist, and a member of her management team, mimes the international symbol for money.
According to Hoffman, the Broadway run didn't become an offer until she had moved on to an extremely high-profile television project: Ryan Murphy's television series Feud. Chronicling the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as they filmed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Feud features Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as the Hollywood icons, and Hoffman as Mamacita, the maid to Lange's Mommy Dearest.
"We're trying to get away from the Mommy Dearest angle," Hoffman says. "But she did have her Mommy Dearest moments. It's in episode six when it almost hits the fan — and almost hits me. It was terrifying at points, because when Jessica gets into a character, get the f*ck outta there."
While Feud isn't Hoffman's first television gig, it is her first series regular role. "I remember sitting in the makeup chair and saying, 'These are gonna be people I really work with and see a lot, as opposed to seeing them for two days and then never again.'"
The two worlds of Charlie and Feud couldn't be further apart. "It's a whole different gig," Hoffman says of her time shooting Feud. "Broadway to them is this alien, mysterious thing. They don't understand. They're impressed by the word but everybody thinks that you've won a Tony. 'Oh, you must have won a Tony! You didn't? Really? You're so good on this show.' It's surprising. It's like they're talking about a different country. It's the crew, mostly. The people who've lived out their whole lives working in film."
But the opportunity to reunite with her Hairspray triumvirate, on this particular musical, is an undeniably special opportunity. "It's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," she says with a laugh. "It's one of the few books I've read in my life. And it's not softened for a toddler house. It's akin to the Bugs Bunny cartoons, which, interestingly, are also produced by Warner Brothers. In those cartoons, Chuck Jones and all those guys did things that made them laugh, even though it was for kids. And that's what I love so much about this. We're making ourselves laugh. If kids happen to like it, great."
Guy who works stage door: why are you in a kids show if you hate Kids so much?— Jackie Hoffman (@JackieHoffman16) April 12, 2017
Me: I didn't think it through
The classic tunes "I've Got a Golden Ticket" and "Pure Imagination" are there, with Shaiman and Wittman providing a brand-new score, as well. "I think their stuff is far more thrilling and interesting," Hoffman notes. "I love everything they've written. It's so old-school, so melodic." Over her years with the show, she's received a variety of new tunes from the pair. "Of course, my stuff is the most dicked around with. There were two songs that I've had previously, and this is my third that they've tried." For a prolific Tweeter like Hoffman, the tune, about the perils of too much media, "is almost topical in what it represents, and this is the one we're going with."
And while they were doing 12-hour days in television land, the thought of coming back to Broadway in a brand-new musical was daunting, even for a veteran of as many shows as Hoffman. "I knew when I was spending so much time sitting in a director's chair with my name on it, and people were bringing me lattes and catering, that Charlie was going to be so much work. And I didn't even know about the stairs then."
But is she excited? "Yeah, I am. I'm very excited. But it always seems like you're working. Every night is a new, terrifying reality."
Stairs aside, does it get any better?
"No," says Hoffman conclusively. "It doesn't."
Backstage early and can hear the orchestra rehearsing. pretty lovely. And that's the last wholesome thing I'll say this evening #charlie— Jackie Hoffman (@JackieHoffman16) April 11, 2017
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