Kyle Hustedt ’02 fights hard for his dream: he freelances as a floral designer and moonlights as a bartender in order to pour his extra time, money, and energy into the Cabaret Project, a variety troupe that specializes in comedic, whimsical, racy entertainment. This winter, a big player took notice of Hustedt’s efforts by casting him in a 60-second American Family Insurance Super Bowl commercial alongside singer and actress Jennifer Hudson.
Cabaret as a Medium
After earning a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s voice and opera program, Hustedt spent a few years doing cruise ship work with Jean Ann Ryan Productions. “When I was traveling around, I had a lot of time to think about my life and what I wanted to accomplish. While doing a musical-revue show, I realized that I wanted to be involved in a cabaret community,” Hustedt says. In 2007, between ships, Hustedt staged his first cabaret show in Chicago, his home base. He returned to Jean Ann Ryan but realized “it was pretty much done for me. I had to focus on building a life in one location, because I wanted a home, a family, a dog. I needed a sustainable way to be a working singer, actor, dancer and have those possibilities.”
In 2009, Hustedt’s Cabaret Project ramped up production, from one show per year to nine, performing at corporate events, historic hotels, private parties, benefits and galas, and everything in between.
This January, Hustedt saw a poster soliciting musical-revue troupes or casts that just closed and were available for a commercial. He submitted materials for the Cabaret Project’s 12 core members. Soon after, Hustedt was asked to fill out a lengthy online survey. “It was peculiar. . . . It was very personal as far as your dreams were concerned, your day-to-day life and how you were striving to achieve your dreams, and regrets over having given up on dreams,” he recalls.
It soon came to light that the commercial, which highlights five unknown “dreamers” singing “Ooh Child” in a recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, was part of American Family’s Dream Fearlessly campaign—and that Hustedt was a frontrunner. But an eleventh-hour scheduling conflict nearly tanked the opportunity when the production team told Hustedt that if he were one of the five dreamers chosen, they would need him for the next four days. With a cabaret show scheduled in Lake Geneva, Wis., that would require six hours of his time, Hustedt was torn.
The tough choice
“I could not get out of the show. It was a company that I worked tirelessly to build for the past seven years. I couldn’t just throw that away on one maybe opportunity. I worked too hard to get this company where it’s at. So they said thanks, if that’s the case we’ll no longer need to see you again tomorrow.”
An hour later, the team called back with a change of heart. “In retrospect,” Hustedt says, “when you look at the story behind the commercial, it’s a living-your-dreams sort of thing, and the Cabaret Project played a huge part in that. It’s something I fought for fearlessly for years, and in the end it was my unwavering commitment that was part of the fabric of the person they were looking to highlight in the commercial.”
Hustedt says that the four days of shooting (the producers gave him leave for the Lake Geneva show) were a whirlwind of signing papers, getting fittings, singing in the recording studio, acting on set, and having every step of the process filmed for an accompanying documentary.
“I can’t thank them enough for the gift they gave me this year,” Hustedt says. “It not only validated everything I’m doing, but it gave me the opportunity to do more of it and pursue it even harder.”
"I came to Luther to be in Nordic Choir—that was my entire reason. There was one Nordic pizza night at Mabe’s when Weston Noble asked what our daydreams were, and so we all talked about our dreams as young adults about to be turned loose on the world. My dream was to play Jean Valjean. And working on a cruise ship, I had the opportunity to play him. It wasn’t exactly as I pictured it, on Broadway, but my dream came true. There’s so much hard work that goes into a dream, but it’s the dreamer’s ability to follow through that makes it a reality. I’ve always—as American Family would put it—dreamed fearlessly because of that question at Mabe’s. I always carry a dream in my pocket."
—Kyle Hustedt '02
Watch a behind-the-scenes video of Hustedt.
Learn more about Hustedt’s cabaret company, whose upcoming shows will feature the music of Cole Porter (Porter to Paris), Bette Middler (You Bette We Did!), and Cher (Cher the Love!), as well as a murder mystery (Adieu, Adieu), on the Cabaret Project website.