By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
British actor Harry Hadden-Paton took the New York theater world by storm in 2018 with his remarkable portrayal of Henry Higgins in Lincoln Center Theater’s lavish revival of My Fair Lady, which earned the now-40-year-old actor a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award, along with many other honors.
Now, he’s on the very same stage playing famed Brave New World novelist Aldous Huxley in the musical Flying Over Sunset. Written and directed by James Lapine, with a score by Tom Kitt and Michael Korie, this unusual new musical explores the use of LSD in the 1950s through a fictional encounter that brings together Huxley, actor Cary Grant (played by Tony Yazbeck) and wealthy writer Clare Boothe Luce (played by Carmen Cusack).
Hadden-Patton recently spoke to Theater Pizzazz about the show, how he prepared to play Huxley, and his activities during the pandemic, including filming Downton Abbey: A New Era, which hits movie theaters in March 2022.
Q: Flying Over Sunset was originally set to play its first performance on March 12, 2020 — the day of the Broadway shutdown. Did the piece change in any significant ways during your 18-month break?
The piece changed very little, but the distance was good for all of us. I know I felt more pressure than I have with other roles because I was playing a real person, and I think all the research I was doing about Huxley was getting in my way. Covid amnesia, as I call it, loosened me up a little bit and gave all of us some perspective. The heart is there now, both in my work and in the piece, which is very appropriate for a show that’s really about connection. It was very prescient of James to have us think about that, wasn’t it?
Q: What kind of preparation did you undertake to play Huxley?
I read everything I could – both what he wrote and what was written about him. There’s this wonderful book called Huxley in Hollywood that give me so much insight into him. And having access to that TV interview which we recreate on stage – it’s on YouTube – really made all the difference as well. I did not, however, try LSD. James said he had tried it enough for everyone.
Q: How did it feel to be back in the rehearsal room and then on the Beaumont stage after 18 months of being in the UK?
The first time we had a rehearsal, there were so many ghosts and memories, but it’s a whole different chapter now. Tony, Carmen and I had bonded a lot while doing the show in 2020 and we got even closer during the pandemic because we did a lot of Zoom hangouts. But the first time I got to hug everyone in person again was really so special. When we started previews in November, a lot of our time was initially spent getting used to the set and the projections all over again. But the most important thing was having an audience. You may think you can live without them, but really, without people in the seats, you can’t tell what’s funny or what’s important.
Q: How did you get your singing voice ready to do this show eight times a week during those 18 months?
Back in the UK, I did sing around the house and play piano with my wife and kids. That’s pretty much all I did when I wasn’t baking bread. Trust me, without my sourdough. I wouldn’t be here. As for singing the role, it’s not too far from Henry Higgins; no one hired me to sing like Carmen. When I got the part, Tom and Michael said to me, “you do what you want with the melodies, just focus on getting those lyrics across.” Honestly, I was a choir boy when I was a kid, but I learned quickly I was never going to be the next Freddie Mercury.
Q: Of course, you have a whole cadre of fans who know you from playing Bertie on Downton Abbey. What can you tell me about the upcoming film, Downton Abbey: A New Era?
I can’t say much about the plot, but it was an amazing experience, especially since we filmed during Covid. It was so great being with that cast again. We’ve all known each other for a while, so there’s a shorthand to working together. And there was a bonus this time – which was, as part of the film, we got to take a trip to the South of France. The hoops they had to go through so we could film were so tricky. But the feedback from early screenings has been great. I think it’s a perfect post-pandemic movie and it was a joy to be a part of it.
Flying Over Sunset is now at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center (120 West 65th Street). Visit lct.org for tickets and information.
Photos: Flying Over Sunset: Joan Marcus – Featured Photo: Tony Yazbeck, Harry Hadden-Paton, Carmen Cusack
Photo Downton Abbey – Focus Features