On stage, Richard Hummert often played the heavy.
But in the real world, the Buffalo character actor who died in December after undergoing heart surgery, was a softie.
He was known for his easy sense of humor and a constant desire to connect with his colleagues in the Buffalo theater world and with friends scattered across the country.
Many of those friends and colleagues will gather at 6 p.m. March 27 in the Kavinoky Theatre to honor Hummert's life and career. The program starts at 7 p.m. and features remembrances from Shakespeare in Delaware Park founder Saul Elkin, Irish Classical Theatre Company co-founder Vincent O'Neill and many Buffalo actors who worked with Hummert. The evening will also feature music by Mary Kate O'Connell, Sandra Gilliam, George Caldwell and Philip Knoerzer.
For Buffalo theatergoers, Hummert was hard to miss -- not only due to his imposing figure but because of his near-omnipresence on the Buffalo theater scene in the 1990s and into the 2000s.
He was best-known for playing Big Daddy in a 1995 performance of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and for playing Fallstaff in a 1998 Shakespeare in Delaware Park production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor." (The company is restaging that play with an all-female cast this year.)
In a review of Hummert's 1995 performance in the iconic role of Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," critic Terry Doran called him "just the man" to step into the character's shoes.
"Hummert hits the stage like a tank in a white linen suit," Doran wrote, "and then scares the daylights out of everyone except Brick. He's a force that galvanizes the play."
Shakespeare in Delaware Park founder and artistic director Saul Elkin recalled Hummert as equal parts gregarious and hilarious, a performer who excelled in comic roles. He recalled Hummert's performance as Falstaff in a 1998 performance of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" as a highlight.
Elkin also praised Hummert's sense of humor, legendary among denizens of the local theater scene. "He was the Henny Youngman of the theater district," Elkin said. "My phone would sometimes ring and I would pick it up and a voice would say, 'A Rabbi and a Priest walked into a bar...' He wouldn't even say hello. He would tell me the same jokes over and over again, and I would still laugh."
His wife and fellow actor Darleen Pickering Hummert said that her late husband might have been a villain on the stage, but he was a sweetheart away from it. In addition to reading four or five books a week, working as a paramedic for many years and playing Santa Claus in local hospitals for more than 40 years, he went out of his way to stay in touch with friends and colleagues from across his long career.
"He was such a loyal friend," Hummert said. "Every few months he was on the phone with somebody from [the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival] or from his hometown. People always remarked to me about that.
"I always tell people that when I married him, I married up," Hummert continued. "I'd always say to him, 'Well, do you think I'd marry down? No!"