Blessed with an irresistible grin and a bucketload of singing and dancing talent, Hayley Podschun is currently giving a winning star turn in Freckleface Strawberry, the off-Broadway musical adaptation of Julianne Moore’s bestselling children’s book. Podschun—pronounced Pa-CHUNE, “like a sneeze”—jumped to the role of a plucky, freckle-hating seven-year-old after a busy couple of years in the Broadway companies of Hairspray, Sunday in the Park with George and Pal Joey and the L.A. revival of Parade. The vivacious young actress chatted with Broadway.com about playing (very) young and maintaining a long-distance romance with Next to Normal tour star Curt Hansen.
Did you have any trepidation about playing a seven-year-old in Freckleface Strawberry?
Not really, because I feel like I’m still such a goofy kid. Basically, it’s like playing myself when I’m home being silly with my dog and my boyfriend.
And you get to do it as the title character in a new musical!
It’s pretty awesome. I’ve been working professionally since I was a kid—my Broadway debut was when I was 12, in The Sound of Music with Richard Chamberlain and Laura Benanti—and I’ve worked really hard to get to a lead role.
How were you cast in Sound of Music? Are you from the New York area?
I’m from Kansas, and when I was here on spring break with my mom, we found out they were having auditions. I had just played Pippi Longstocking in Kansas City—the first time I dyed my hair red! [Laughs.] I always knew I would work as an actor, and luckily, I had the fun experience of doing it on Broadway when I was a kid.
Now you’re a kid again onstage. How do young audiences respond to the show?
They love it. I’ve even gotten noticed a few times on the subway. They say, “Are you Freckleface?” We had a group of kids a few weeks ago who raised their own money to come and see the show because they had read the book in school. It’s cool that they get to see it brought to life.
Do you get teased by any of your actor friends?
Not at all. They thought it was awesome, especially the red hair. I’ve been a blonde all my life, so this was the perfect excuse to go red.
Even though this is a small-scale family show, you do some seriously strenuous dancing.
Oh my gosh! I did Hairspray for three years—the tour and then the film and then Broadway—and I wasn’t as physically beat as I am with this show. It’s only 70 minutes long, but, for me, it’s nonstop: lots of cartwheels, lots and lots of jumping and sharp, quick movements that affect the body in a weird, funky way. We have a new schedule with seven-show weekends, so when we have days off, we really take them.
You’ve been in such a variety of musicals. Who’s the nicest star you ever worked with?
I guess my greatest memory of a star is Laura Benanti, because she was so nice to me [during The Sound of Music]. She would have me over to her apartment and we would have little “dates.” She didn’t treat me as a kid, she treated me as a person. That taught me a lot. When I was in Sunday in the Park, I tried to do the same thing with the two Louises, because I know what it’s like to be a kid on Broadway. I still run into Laura on the street, which is kind of cool because I’ve known her for so long.
Tell us about your boyfriend, Curt Hansen [now playing Gabe in the national tour of Next to Normal]. Did you meet through work?
Yeah, we did the workshop reading of The Flamingo Kid. Curt was still living in Wisconsin, where he’s from, and they flew him in for the job. I was like, “Who’s this kid? He’s so cute!” He got Hairspray after I left, and all of our friends meshed together. Two years later we started dating; two years after that, we’re still together.
You and Curt were in the L.A. production of Parade together, right?
Yes, but we didn’t tell anyone we were dating while we were auditioning. We were called back for opposite roles, and we thought it might hurt us getting the job. After we got the show, [director] Rob Ashford said, “I thought there was something between you!” We said, “Yeah, we’re in love!”
How do you handle being apart because of work?
It's not that bad. My little dog, Gus, and I miss him dearly, but we iChat and Skype and talk and text every day. I’ve been on tour, so I know what that’s like. We keep each other sane because we’re so involved in each other’s lives.
It probably doesn’t hurt that you’re from Kansas and he’s from Wisconsin.
I know! We’re just a couple of Midwestern kids.