Out actor Blake Hammond camps his way through the Middle Ages
At age 53, Fort Worth native Blake Hammond has made a career on stage and screen, dividing his work between a long list of television and theater roles. He’s one of the lucky one who — after years of hard work and risk-taking – finally found his Broadway groove and cruised along through it. Best known for his long-run taking over the role of Edna Turnblad (created by Harvey Fierstein) in the Broadway production of Hairspray, Hammond also has appeared in Hello Dolly, The Music Man, Kiss Me Kate and countless others — including now a juicy role of in the national tour of Something Rotten! And Hammond is right where he wants to be.
“It’s such a great joy as an actor to be able to be able to choose a role for you, not because you have to,” he says.
Something Rotten! is a rarity among musicals these days — it had no direct source material. Instead, this brainchild of John O’Farrell, Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick is a hilarious and jaunty origin story about musicals themselves. Hammond plays Nostradamus — that is, the down-on-his-luck nephew of the more famous prophet, poet and prognosticator of the same name — who in a bid to make a little cash takes on brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom as clients. He convinces the two, who are competing with none other with William Shakespeare for fame and fortune, that the next big thing will be plays in which the actors sing, act and dance at the same time.
“It’s a great show for people who have never seen a Broadway show,” Hammond says. “It’s just so much fun. It’s funny and colorful and the numbers are great. But for those who love Broadway, it is a love letter to musical theater.”
Funny and larger than life, the Nostradamus role is tailor-made for Hammond’s show-stopping abilities. He found unique angles to take when deciding how to play the character.
“There’s such desperation,” Hammond says. “He’s trying to get clients and get money, so part of the motivation is this, ‘Pick me, pick me!’ He’s also so confident that he understands the future but he doesn’t always get it right — that’s where the comedy comes in.”
Hammond reached the sweet spot in his career via a uniquely Texas experience. He grew up in Glen Rose, where his graduating high school class totaled 24 students. There was no theater department, but there were two people in town who opened a small theater that produced shows in an old firehouse.
“There was literally a fire pole in the middle of the stage,” Hammond laughs. “You had to work around it. We did a centennial celebration play that was basically Waiting For Guffman,” referring to the 1996 film that pokes fun at community theater. “But I was hooked. I loved being onstage.”
He also knew he was gay — a tough spot to be in in 1970s small-town Texas.
“I never even met a lesbian until I went to college,” he says, “… at least, that I knew about. My friend Deb and I were voted Mr. and Mrs. Glen Rose High School our senior year, and it turns out she’s a lesbian. They voted a gay couple as winners of the year!”
He came out to his parents at 16, “which was crazy, because [dad is] a Baptist minister. But they were actually really wonderful and loving about it,” he says.
Still, it’s not like Hammond could make a federal case out of it. “I was lucky. There were other people I knew who were getting pinned up to their locker being called a name.”
In general the town employed an unspoken policy. “There were two men who owned a little shop in town,” Hammond recalls. “In retrospect, they were obviously gay. But they were called, ‘close friends,’ or ‘roommates.’”
Hammond was blessed with a surfeit of talent — a great way to fend off potential problems. Despite the lack of a theater department, Hammond represented his high school at several UIL theater competitions. In total, he represented Glen Rose H.S. in eight state competitions his senior year alone. He played basketball, tennis, and football (which he quit after several years, instead picking up a baton and wowing crowds during halftime).
“If you’re gonna be a boy in Texas, you better be good at it,” he jokes. “People didn’t pick on me because I overachieved. The guys left me alone, and the girls adored me.”
It might be that drive that got him where he is now. He lives in New York, literally sees his names in lights on Broadway, and has earned a living doing what he loves. And now he’s found a role that sums it
“I had the great honor of being cast in the Bette Midler Hello, Dolly and I took this role instead,” he says. You can hear the gratitude in his voice. “I’ve reached a point where I can do that. Where I can turn down a role so that I can choose the right one.”
In true Broadway fashion, he laughs
and notes, “And now I get this big role with show-stopping number, and that’s
— Jonanna Widner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 09, 2017.