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MUSICALS 'The hills are alive' with Edward Hibbert
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

Starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start, actor Edward Hibbert was born in New York but raised in Britain, hence the charming accent. He returned to the United States in the '80s where his career took off. He won an Obie Award for his part as Sterling in Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey.

He has numerous television appearances but may best be remembered for the recurring role as the restaurant critic Gil Chesterton for 11 seasons on Frasier.

After appearing in several Broadway musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains, he is now tackling the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Sound of Music playing at the Lyric Opera House in the role of Max Detweiler.

We talked to the out and proud actor over lunch one day about his career in the arts.

Windy City Times: Hi, Edward. Where do you call home these days?

Edward Hibbert: I grew up in England, then the theater kept me in New York; afterward a project took me to the third world, Los Angeles. I never lived in LA but I spent a lot of time there. I have a domicile in New York and one in London that I hardly ever get to see. I have been kept pretty busy over here.

WCT: How often have you been to Chicago?

Edward Hibbert: Hardly ever. The last time I was here to work at the Blackstone Theatre. I was just a new kid on the block in New York in a really funny play called Noises Off in its original Broadway Production. I did the national tour and it was a great way to see America. We sat down for five weeks in places like Denver, San Francisco and Chicago. I can't remember anything about where I stayed. It was near the lake.

WCT: How long are you here for?

Edward Hibbert: May 25. We are going to an intense week now. We got on stage for the first time yesterday. Have you been to the Opera House?

WCT: I have.

Edward Hibbert: It's like playing JFK! It is huge and absolutely cavernous. I was sitting there watching those beautiful nuns trilling away and I thought, "I hope those subscribers bring binoculars."

WCT: I will remember that when I get to opening night!

Edward Hibbert: You better.

WCT: How has it been going on Sound of Music so far?

Edward Hibbert: It has all be very quick. To do an epic musical like this in barely three weeks is pretty extraordinary. Thankfully our director, Marc Bruni, came to the table really focused. He had it all worked out. The child labor laws are just ridiculous with the Von Trapp children. We have a very short rehearsal period. The kids are only allowed to work three hours a day with us so that is tough. We got on the stage the day before yesterday then we go into a really intense week. We have technical dress rehearsals starting tomorrow then with the orchestra we heard last night—all 38 of them: amazing!

WCT: Have you done this role before?

Edward Hibbert: I have once. It was not that long ago at the Paper Mill Playhouse, which is a lovely Broadway sized house although next to the Lyric it is a little doll's house, located in Millburn, New Jersey. This production is much more lavish with no expense spared.

WCT: Since you are familiar with the role of Max do you just expand on it?

Edward Hibbert: Yes. I didn't have to start doing my character research, that was there. It is nice to bring new things to the table and return to a part.

WCT: Are you excited about working with Billy Zane?

Edward Hibbert: Yes; I am loving this company. The lady I play opposite is an opera singer, Elizabeth Futral. Here I am with a semi comedy musical voice with this beautiful soprano! It is working out alright, sort of a yin and yang.

WCT: Max saves the family's lives in the show.

Edward Hibbert: I think he's ambivalent in terms of his affiliation with the Nazis. That gives him a few layers. I did a club act in New York earlier this year and I described Max as a cross between Nazi sympathizer and Auntie Mame! He's there to make the kids stars of the festival, he's a friend of the captain, and he has a sparring partner in the baroness.

WCT: Did you see the Carrie Underwood version of Sound of Music?

Edward Hibbert: As much as I could tolerate, which wasn't much. It was horrifying, soup to nuts.

WCT: On to happier things. Tell me about winning an award for your role in Jeffrey.

Edward Hibbert: You have to understand that Paul Rudnick wrote that play and it was all about timing. That play came along at exactly the right time. The AIDS epidemic was virulent at that time. Paul had the brilliant audacity to write a play about a man looking for love and finding it with a man that was HIV-positive. It was done against the backdrop of a 1930s screwball comedy.

It was not only funny but very profound and very moving. I had a wonderful part playing his best friend, an interior designer. I won two awards and got to do it in New York. My partner at the time told me to go and do it in Los Angeles. I did go and it opened a lot of windows for me. I think they had enough chiseled young blonde men around so they were looking for some character actors. Out of that, I got a lot of television. It was wonderful.

WCT: Is that how Frasier happened?

Edward Hibbert: It came out of that.

WCT: Do people think you are a restaurant critic when you dine out?

Edward Hibbert: I do get that sometimes, and sometimes you get nice treatment as a result of that. I am amazed that people stop me in the street about it. It is on every day. I was in Starbucks and a guy came in saying, "Oh my God, it's Gil Chesterton." He started quoting dialogue from the show. That tells us it was a truly great show. The writers were excellent. It doesn't get better. There is nothing as good as that on television, maybe Modern Family but a lot of the same guys wrote on Frasier.

It was one in a million. We adored each other, all theater trained actors.

WCT: I did some extra work for Boss while it was filmed in Chicago and met Kelsey Grammer.

Edward Hibbert: He's a lovely man. I have worked a lot with David Hyde Pierce [Grammer's co-star on the TV show Frasier]. I did a show on Broadway with him. He's directing a show that I am doing at the end of the year on Broadway with Tyne Daly.

WCT: I heard she was in town.

Edward Hibbert: She is in New York doing a play about a mother who's son has died of AIDS. She's superb. I adore her. This new show is a complete departure from that. It's a musical about an interfaith wedding. Tyne plays the Jewish mother and I play the wedding planner.

WCT: What is called?

Edward Hibbert: It Shoulda Been You.

WCT: Talk a bit about being out of the closet in Hollywood.

Edward Hibbert: I've never had a big issue about it. I suppose looking back there is a difference between being a character actor like Ian McKellen and coming out and being a leading man where you know the box office receipts and girls fantasizing about the actor is one thing. That is a different department.

Being gay for me in Hollywood was not a problem. Someone once said, "An Englishman and a homosexual is a distinction without a difference." Everyone thinks all Englishmen are gay and a lot of them are.

Ironically the character I played on Frasier announced on season five that he had a wife. I am always happy to play gay characters as long as they are well written. Do I think there is still homophobia in the entertainment industry? Yes. Less so than it was but it's there.

WCT: Tell about working with Carol Burnett.

Edward Hibbert: I've been very blessed with some of the ladies I have got work with. I had the most wonderful time and fell in love with Vancouver. We shot Once Upon a Mattress there. Can you imagine the fun when you are working 12 hours a day with Carol Burnett and Tracy Ullman? I was in gay heaven!

WCT: You are working on a cabaret act?

Edward Hibbert: I have done it, twice. It is the most exciting and terrifying thing one will ever do. You are launched into the world of a nightclub. I have a superb musical director, who is also a composer that wrote two songs that I sing. I hope to take it to points beyond New York. I was going to do it in London but that date didn't work out. I may go to Palm Springs and I think San Francisco is in the cards.

Do Re Mi your way over to the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., now through May 25 for The Sound of Music. Ticket information can be found at Article Link Here or call 312-827-5600.

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