Traveling Man

42nd Street actor Tom Judson


If he has his druthers after August, Tom Judson may never stay in another hotel again as long he lives.

Not after a year of living on the road with 42nd Street, the 1980s mega-hit musical that’s enjoying another popular run in a Tony Award-winning Broadway revival and national touring company — featuring Judson in the role of Oscar — that recently opened a Washington engagement at the National Theatre.

“Touring is a real double-edged sword,” says the gay, 42-year-old Judson. “There are really great aspects of it — like I can travel around the country and see lots of places I would never choose to go on my own. But we’re away from home, without our friends and family. Living in a hotel for a year is not a lot of fun. We work six days a week, and generally on our day off, we travel. So it’s a very hard life. Fortunately, it’s made up for by doing the show itself, which is really fun.”

Judson also toured with the acclaimed revival of Cabaret and spent time afterward in the Broadway company, his first gig on the Great White Way.

“I’m a downtown guy,” says Judson, whose New York career spans two decades, “and really, the worlds don’t merge too much. But a friend of mine dragged me along to the Cabaret audition because he knew that I played several instruments. Lo and behold, I got the gig.”

Judson’s instrumental background in piano, trumpet, accordion, French horn and clarinet, among others, was key to his casting not only in Cabaret — where he played in the onstage band when he wasn’t performing one of four male roles he covered as a swing — but in 42nd Street as well. Judson’s character, Oscar, is the rehearsal pianist for the 1930s show-within-the-show who has to actually play the piano in his scenes.

Judson will eventually return to the New York audition grind (“A bigger job than doing the job,” he jokes) when his year-long contract is up after 42nd Street‘s Los Angeles engagement in August. But he also balances his performing career with composing, something to which he wants to devote more time, along with a well-deserved break, at a “little cabin in the woods” he calls home in upstate New York.

“I sort of emphasize one or the other,” Judson says of his dual career paths. After a stint in film school at New York University, he started out primarily writing music, including contributions to the original East Village production of Charles Busch’s legendary Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, as well creating a slew of his own small musicals.

“I basically couldn’t get people to be in them for free,” says Judson, “so I ended up being in them myself. Then other people started asking me to be in their shows, and one thing led to another. Then I just started pretty much doing both things.”

Judson has a number of films to his compositional credit, including Whit Stillman’s 1990 indie fave Metropolitan, A Friend of Dorothy, and The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love. He also writes music for television, where his credits include promotional spots for Nickelodeon and the MTV series Oddville.

Future plans for Judson also include modeling for popular physique photographer Tom Bianchi, who’s planning a book devoted to men over forty. It will be a return engagement for Judson, who was tapped while in San Francisco for an engagement of Cabaret to pose for photographs featured in the Bay City-based Bianchi’s book On the Couch.

Although many actors might shun nude modeling, Judson has also posed for noted physique photographers Jeff Palmer and Kevin Caudill, and doesn’t fear a backlash that could negatively impact his entertainment industry pursuits.

“The main thing is that I wanted to do it,” he says. “And for me, that’s the bottom line. People who know me know that I just sort of follow my instincts — that I’m a free spirited, Bohemian type. It’s not like I’m Tom Cruise out there, so driven that I have to do everything exactly ‘right.’

“Bianchi’s photography is just amazing,” he adds. “It’s flattering to have him ask to take your picture. Besides, I figured it might get me a date down the line. And that’s not a bad thing either. But I’ve been on the road since the book came out, so I haven’t been in one place long enough to take advantage of it.

However,” Judson emphasizes playfully, “I will be in D.C. for three weeks.”

Performances of 42nd Street continue through April 12th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Tickets are $35 to $75. Call 800-722-4990. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.

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