Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Interview with Playwright Aruna Harjani


Famous Indian journalist/playwright Aruna Harjani has written a new comedy West Bollywood that will play at the Matrix Theatre for 4 performances only beginning July 27. Due to its controversial subject matter about two gay men, one American and one Indian - who become a couple, the play has been banned in many countries. In our conversation Harjani talks about the highlights of her illustrious career and tells of her excitement at finding what she feels is the perfect place to produce West Bollywood.

Tell us in your own words about your play West Bollywood, its plot and characters, and why it was banned in seven countries.

West Bollywood is a story of two men Pratap and Daniel who fall in love and get married. What Daniel didn't know was that he had to adapt to the Indian culture. So the cross cultural exchanges between an American and an Indian become the platform for the play. It is banned in many countries because the play is about a marriage between two men and many countries and its people haven't accepted the issue.

Is this your first play as an adult? I understand you wrote 3 or 4 plays as a young child. Tell us about your love of writing, how it started, and how it progressed.

This is not my first adult play. I have been writing and directing plays over the years and most of them have been successful. I have been writing since the age of ten. I started with a short story and won first place in my class. When I was gifted with a notebook and a pencil, it triggered me to continue. Our school didn't have an auditorium so our plays were held in classrooms. I would direct plays and my teachers and classmates would look forward to watching them. I took a course on Mass Communications and for my thesis I made a documentary film on a prison camp in Manila. The thesis won third place at the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.

I understand that you have been a freelance journalist in Indonesia. Tell us about that. Do you have a favorite story?

Yes, I am a freelance journalist and write profile stories on well known celebrities. One of my favorite ones was the interview with Cipurtra who is known for his ardent desire to build Indonesia. His life story inspired me because once upon a time he used to walk miles to go to school but from sheer hard work, he is now riding in the best cars.

At this point in your life, why is playwriting more heartfelt than journalism?

In playwriting you share your story of how your perceive life. I can relate lessons in life to teach the audience and inspire people. When it is staged the audience can see what your are trying to say, In journalistic writing you can bring in emotions but the reader can't see it, thus the style of writing differs.

West Bollywood sounds quite humorous. How did the idea come to you and what made you decide to turn it into a comedy?

Something just popped up in my mind when I was writing the play. It just struck me why not not have a gay marriage for a change. It was a comedy already when I wrote it because having two men with two different backgrounds get married is already hilarious.

Tell us in detail about your award-winning documentary feature in the Philippines.

I was only 18 years old, and we were told to compose a thesis. My brother gave me an idea to use the topic of the prison camp in Manila, When I consulted my two other partners, they both agreed, There it was, the content was the edge of the film, because we had prisoners explaining their plight inside the prison.

Based on your documentary experience with film-making, do you have any desire to possibly turn your play into a film?

Yes, of course.

Talk about Los Angeles and why you feel it is the perfect place to present West Bollywood.

West Hollywood is a prominent place for gays, and there is easier access for them to watch the play. Many gays can relate to it.

Yes, I agree. And you should receive helpful comments from those industry related gays who see it. This brings me to ask whether you like criticism. What is your process as a writer? Do you like to constantly rewrite and revise or are you more than satisfied with your first draft?

When I write an article or play, I write it and then leave it for the next few days. I go back to it then and conduct a rewrite. My works have a lot of revisions.

Do you live in Indonesia?

Yes I live in Indonesia.

Would you consider living in the US if career opportunities come about?

I will decide on living in the US when the time comes.

What cultural difference is the most inviting and exciting for you in this country?

Americans are more broadminded in their outlook on life. Thus there are more opportunities here to express oneself.

Tradition is turned upside down, and chaos ensues in this Cinderella spoof with plenty of Bollywood music and dancing. The 4 show limited engagement runs Friday, July 27 – Sunday, July 29. Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm; Sunday at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm. $25 General Admission tickets are available at https://www.plays411.com/newsite/show/play_info.asp?show_id=4841 Reservations and information: (323) 960-7822. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Actor/director/writer Michael Arden needs no introduction. He was nominated for a second Tony this past season for directing Once On This Island and is the first Artist.In.Residence at the Wallis Annenberg Theatre here in Los Angeles where he has directed Spring Awakening among other productions. In our conversation he talks about directing Annie at the Hollywood Bowl and why the show is still a popular revival.

What is the most interesting aspect of Annie for you as a director?

I am most excited by the prospect of doing something that is incredibly beloved on such a large scale and with such talent. It's a show that almost everyone has a personal connection with, so I want to honor that feeling as well as shed a little new light on the material. 


Why do families everywhere continue to love it so?

I think there’s something incredibly unifying about the forging of an unconventional family. So many families are made by love and out of a sense of moral responsibility, as opposed to simply blood relation. It’s a story about love being bigger than political, social or circumstancial differences. 

What challenges do you foresee for the Bowl stage?

It’s enormous! There are very intimate book scenes and moments that I want to make sure come across as honest and true, all while making sure the audience at the back of the Bowl feel like they are in the scene as well. 

What are you adding or taking away in this production?

You’ll have to come and see! I am hoping to reflect back, with this production, the incredibly beautiful and diverse tapestry that is Los Angeles. 

Talk about your casting and about your individual cast members.

It’s really an embarrassment of riches here. We have Broadway vets, comedic geniuses, bold new talent, and a spectacular bunch of kids. I can’t wait to get in a room with them all. 

Congrats on your Tony nomination! If you remember, I told you you would have won a Tony for playing Quasimodo if Hunchback had gone to Broadway. Now I hear you are leaving acting behind. Tell me that is not true. You are too good to abandon acting, even though you are an excellent director.

 I haven’t been getting the calls as much these days for acting roles. Perhaps I was spoiled in playing Quasi, who is such a layered and beautiful character. I would absolutely perform again. Let’s see if anyone asks. I’ve been fortunate to stay incredibly busy as a director the past few years, and that’s one way to play all of the roles at once. 

What else is in the wind? What's up for you at the Wallis? Any singing engagements/cabaret performances planned?

I am thrilled to be developing a new version of A Christmas Carol starring the incomparable Jefferson Mays at the Geffen this Fall.


Annie will take place at the Bowl on July 27, 28 and 29th. It will be helmed by director Michael Arden ... and conducted by Todd Ellison, and choreographed by Eamon Foley. Annie's book is by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin.

Annie, the classic story of a young girl overcoming adversity, features a beloved score of hits (including "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life") and is a delightful experience for the entire family.

Subscriptions and single tickets for performances during the Hollywood Bowl 2018 summer season are available at hollywoodbowl.com, 323 850 2000, or in person at the Hollywood Bowl Box Office.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

2018 Interview with Susan Egan


Triple threat performer Susan Egan is no stranger to theatre audiences. She originated Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and is now reviving it 20 years later for 5 Star Theatricals. She took time out of her busy rehearsal schedule to discuss the role and explain why it means so very much to her and her career.


How do you feel playing this role again?

It's such a wonderful surprise having the chance to play this role again.  It's funny - it honestly feels like I've come full circle - playing 'Belle' all those years ago - breaking that princess image with roles like 'Sally Bowles' in Cabaret - and now coming back to where it all began for me.  I think I had to travel far from this in order to have a better perspective of it.  I'm wiser now and get to bring that into the character. But I did wonder - and worried - it might feel odd, but it doesn't at all.  It feels like the most natural thing in the world!!! This character has been hibernating, but woke right back up in me, and playing her feels like the most comfortable pair of jeans you've ever worn!

Is it your favorite role? If not, what is?

When I worked with director Sam Mendes in Cabaret, he said to me that every actor seems to have the perfect role at the perfect time in their lives:  there is always something in the actor's life that can uniquely inform that character, AND there is always something in the character's story that can teach the actor something about their life. I've always found that to be true, so my honest answer is, my favorite role is whatever I'm playing at the moment!  I try to mine each character and discover as much as I can, and that's still the case. Even after almost 800 performances as 'Belle,' there is more to learn and I'm loving that process!

Talk a bit about your costars and your director. Are any familiar to you or is it a completely different cast this time around?

Almost everyone in this cast is new to me and I'm LOVING it!!  Listen, I was spoiled in the original cast, working with the best actors in the world in each and every role. I was nervous doing another production, and honestly, THAT is what has kept me from doing the role again!  BUT Yvette Lawrence Bishop is directing, and for me that was the reason to have faith and say, "yes."  She and I were the only two actresses to play 'Belle' in the Los Angeles company of Beauty, so I knew I'd be in wonderful hands.  Well, she has outdone herself in casting!!!!  I am THRILLED with this company - from Beast and Gaston to every enchanted object and my papa, Maurice - any one of these actors could have (and should have!) played these roles in New York!  They are marvelous, as is our extraordinary ensemble; and the nuances Yvette is bringing in her direction are truly magical.  These rehearsals feel exactly as they did all those years ago!

Tell us about the changes at Cabrillo. Is Patrick Cassidy taking an active part in this production?

I have never worked at 5 Star Theatricals before - other than a one-night concert last February - but already this has been a lovely experience. It was a bonus that Patrick Cassidy stepped in; he and I have been pals for too many years to count, and it's wonderful having him support this show!!!  The experience at 5 Star is truly the best of both worlds: absolute professionalism mixed with the warmth and humor of community theatre.  The result for audiences, is that this production will have all the spectacle and pizazz to rival any Broadway tour, and the heart that emanates from a company who truly loves what they do.  It's a perfect combination for this show in particular!

What is your favorite musical of all time? Why?

I cannot narrow it down! I love shows that are jewels for what they are - whether a large cast with lots of special effects, or an intimate two-person show that melts your heart.  I do happen to have one daughter who is Hamilton obsessed, and so I've loved sharing that show (and it's brilliance) with her.

Who is your favorite composer?  Why?

Again, I appreciate the writers who excel in their genre and particularly those who move the medium forward - Lin Manual Miranda, Pasek and Paul - I love where musical theatre has been heading. I've also been lucky enough to become close with so many writers, and I love and am grateful for them all from Alan Menken to Jason Robert Brown. As an actress, I take something from the page and hopefully bring it to life, but the writers .... they bring something into existence from thin air.  I'm dazzled and inspired by that! 

Talk a bit about doing Putting It Together a few years back...and working with Carol Burnett and John Barrowman...

Only very, very lucky people get to meet their heroes, and it's nearly impossible for those icons live up to the expectation - but Carol Burnett surpassed every hope and dream I could have had.  I went to UCLA and won a Carol Burnett scholarship, so to have the chance to work with her (as the only two women in the show!) was beyond anything I could have hoped for.  And then, to learn first-hand how warm, gracious, generous, and hilarious she could be .... sigh. She's brilliant, yes, but she's also a cheerleader who celebrates if YOU get the laugh. She's there if you've had a bad day; she congratulates you on a success... I hope I can be a fraction of Carol.  As for John Barrowman ....bring it on!  He is just about the craziest, most-wonderful person to work alongside - a practical joker and a light.


Anything you care to add about this new production of Beauty?

I seldom take jobs these days that don't have some obvious, strategic reason for doing them - otherwise I'd rather be with my kids! This job I took on a lark, not sure where it would lead - nervous how it might look to the industry - but trusting that it was meant to be.  The timing is funny, because I just started a partnership with Broadway's Cinderella Laura Osnes and musical director, Benjamin Rauhala, producing our Broadway Princess Party concerts across the country and beyond.  I had thought my princess years were behind me, but because of Laura and Benji the door opened again in my heart, then 5 Star called and offered me this job. 

At first I laughed and politely said, "no thank you."  I mean it's been 20 years!  But I was sitting with my pal, Bambi at lunch and she said "you could totally still do it." I laughed it off, but called Benji in New York and he said, "Do it!"  I talked with my husband (who didn't know me yet when I was playing 'Belle' the first time) and his eyes lit up; and my daughters (age 8 and 11) told me to go for it.  So I took a leap of faith .... but still not quite sure why. I mean, I had thought I might have an opportunity to share with this cast and crew a bit of how the show originally came together, maybe help bridge the community theatre world and the professional world for them. How silly I was!!! (Oh, the hubris, Susan!)  Yvette is currently staging the prologue of the production - her own, new vision of the prologue.  It's magical.  

She's creating - channeling the spirit of our production from years ago, but taking it to the next level, and the dedication of this cast and crew is marvelous to watch. I love it.  THAT'S the reason I'm here. I see it now.  To be surrounded by a group of people who love this, and then share that love with audiences.  Like the show itself, it's all about love.

http://5startheatricals.com/

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

2018 Interview with Director Doug Engalla


A native of San Francisco, Doug Engalla first joined The Group Rep in 1997 as an Actor; while directing projects outside of the Company. In 2007, Doug’s first full-length play as Director at the Group Rep was Arsenic and Old Lace, with Rumors being his seventh production as Director there. Other directorial projects included Harvey, A Nice Family Gathering, A Nice Family Christmas, Bless Me, Father (by late Playwright and Group Rep member, Craig Alpaugh); and four World Premieres in the Don’t Hug Me musical comedy series by Phil Olson and Paul Olson.

When did you first get interested in doing theatre or working on the stage?

I was a high school sophomore when I expressed an interest in working behind the scenes for the school’s drama department. I wasn’t even interested in being on the stage, at all. I was also a fan of George Carlin, and of his comedy album, “AM/FM.” I was such a fan, that when I was helping out on auditions for the fall show, I read a role in Carlin’s voice, and the director, Miss Jean Robinson, decided I shouldn’t be working backstage. After a couple of roles, I pretty much never worked backstage. I became a student director during my senior year in high school, of which I enjoyed the experience, but I preferred acting; knowing that there was more to learn as a fledgling director.

What was your first directing job (and where)?  What did you learn from that experience that you carry with you today and put to use?

My first directing job – my first paying job as a Director, in 1979 – was for Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn, for a now-defunct theatre company up in Fremont, located in Northern California. The irony, was that many of the things I learned as a director for that show back then, became things I try not to do, today. I was much younger, and still had quite a bit to learn as a director; so, I made mistakes. The biggest lesson I learned, was not to have as tight a rein on directing actors. These days, I consider actors as assistant storytellers, and the trick is to not only have their voices heard, but to also arrange and blend their voices and ideas in accordance to how I interpret the work that I direct, something I developed when directing the plays of Phil Olson.

You’ve directed several plays written by Phil Olson, best known for the successful ‘fish out of water’ DON’T HUG ME musical comedies, written by Phil Olson with his brother Paul Olson, about some quirky characters set in a little north woods Minnesota bar.  There are other plays by Phil Olson which you’ve directed as well.  How did that partnership come about?  How does the partnership continue to work even as time has gone by?

For me, I feel as though our partnership began in earnest in 2000, when Phil asked me to help produce the World Premiere of his second full-length play, A Nice Family Gathering. Before then, I was an actor in Phil’s very first full-length play in 1997, Crappie Talk, where I figured my role was quirky yet so minor that Phil, whose comedy I truly enjoyed, wouldn’t really notice me. But, as I worked on other acting projects at The Group Rep, Phil would call on me to help on a reading, or to eventually workshop a new episode in the Don’t Hug Me series. I also developed a permanent knack for the rural Northern Minnesota accent. And, I was directing plays outside of the Group Rep, primarily in Burbank, so he may have attended a few of those.

I think what keeps our partnership ongoing, is a combination of my growing understanding of Phil’s style of comedy and storytelling structure, my willingness to work with Phil in such a way that he becomes an actual directing partner, and that we have complementing personalities; in some ways we’re like brothers, and we respect each other’s instincts. I feel as though he can trust me with his material as well, which I think is critical to our working relationship, and adds to my continuing growth as a Director. By the way, during our talkback for our recent production, Don’t Hug Me, We’re Family, Phil named Neil Simon as the one playwright that inspires him. So, there ya go!

You’ve also worked at the Walt Disney Company for many years.  What is your job there?  Is there anything you learned on or at your job that you’ve been able to use when directing?

I’ve worked at the Walt Disney Studios for just over 28 years, and specifically, with Walt Disney Animation Studios. I have the distinct honor of helping to archive and to preserve the production art that goes into the making of the Studio’s theatrical animated features and short films; for the purposes of reference at the Walt Disney Company as well as for publications, home video galleries, and museum exhibitions. It’s a truly unique position to have; yet, working around the filmmakers at the Animation Studio has taught me a great deal about collaboration, and in telling a story clearly and without clutter.



RUMORS may not be as well-known as some of Neil Simon’s other comedies. However, the play is an audience favorite and produced quite often.  Tell us a bit about the play, and what is it about RUMORS that appeals to an audience?



Rumors is a modern farce, about civilized people compelled to create a fabrication of events in order to maintain a façade over a truth; of which is not completely known at all to any of the characters. And, when the stakes are raised in maintaining that façade, the veneer of civilized behavior starts to drop.

It's not your typical Neil Simon comedy; it’s silly, and at times outrageous, but grounded in the author’s comedic writing style. We get to see polite people behaving relatively badly, and I think the audiences have gotten a kick out of not only that, but the frantic, almost slapstick opening and closing of doors as the characters try to make nonsense of what’s going on in the story. It’s not what most Neil Simon fans expect from him, which is part of the fun.

What would you like the audience to feel or take away with them having seen the play?

The testing of the bonds of friendship is that human condition that gets illuminated in this comedy, and more so than ever is that testing evident in the world of social media and societal division. Even so, I would love the audience to feel entertained by Rumors and its terrific cast, and to just let loose and to have a good laugh for the two hours that our guests spend in the Lonny Chapman Theatre. Neil Simon wanted to write a flat-out, door-slamming farce, as a catharsis for the sad things that was happening in his life at that time. I have often said, that one of my favorite sounds ever, is the often-healing sound of laughter.

What’s up next for you?

Some of my Group Rep colleagues and I are hoping to mount a production of The Dixie Swim Club in the not-too-distant future, which I would be directing, and I have a couple of directing projects for Phil Olson; both of them non-musical: one, is developing a revival of his play, Mom’s Gift, and the other, a new adaptation of one of his earlier works.

The Group Rep presents Neil Simon’s classic farce RUMORS, directed by Doug Engalla, produced by Alyson York. June 15 – July 29.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm. Sundays at 2:00 pm.  Talkbacks after Sunday matinees June 24 and July 8. General Admission: $25. Seniors/Students with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15.  Buy Tickets: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990.  Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood.



Monday, June 11, 2018

2018 Interview with Actress Laura Bell Bundy

Actress Laura Bell Bundy is about to reopen Reprise. She will be playing the role of Charity in Sweet Charity, set to open at the Freud Playhouse, UCLA on June 20. In our chat, Bundy talks about the joy that Charity exudes, the reason she cannot wait to play her.

Laura, how exciting to be playing Charity and …being a part of the first show to open the new Reprise! What do you love most about the character of Charity?

I love her childlike quality.  Children are open, excitable, playful, optimistic, hopeful, delicate, resilient … they haven’t become jaded by life’s trials yet… and despite the trials Charity goes through, she still keeps going back for more with her head up, and her heart open.  

 I can follow that. Are you like her in any way?

 I am very much a child.  Just ask my husband.  …  But yes, in life, I choose to focus on the flowers that come out of the dirt… 

What are your greatest challenges as an actress to play her?

I am a perfectionist and I like my work to be nuanced.  So I think my biggest challenge will be learning the entire show and everything about her in under 2 weeks!  AH! That’s a very quick process, and when I do a role, I find I learn something new every day, every performance… Like, I’ll be sitting in the bathtub six months into a run and get a new idea of how to make a scene better, or a joke funnier…  My moments of inspiration are gonna need a prescription for adoral.

Tell us about your director and fellow cast.

Well, rehearsal hasn’t officially started yet so I cannot tell you much from experience…  But I am so looking forward to working with the brilliant Kathleen Marshall.  

Barrett (Foa) and I have been friends for years, but never gotten to work together… He’s such a thoughtful and inventive actor.  He’s going to be an incredible Oscar.  And I know that, because we cheated and already started rehearsing together on our own… : )

Why do you think audiences love Sweet Charity? What is its best facet as a musical show?

Charity falls in love like it’s the first time every time. I think most people can relate to the idea of wanting to be loved. It’s also a show about resilience… How many times do we get knocked down in our lives, and we have to pull ourselves back up again and stay looking forward?  I’d say a few times a day… we either have the choice to wallow, complain or move forward.  It’s a story about the human spirit.

Also, there are so many iconic songs in this show— “Hey Big Spender”,  “Rich Man’s Frug”, “If They Could See Me Now”….  They are imbedded in our cultural consciousness … then you come to see this show and you are reminded of what an impact it had!

What is your favorite role, one that you have played? Why this choice?

In musical theater?  “Elle” (Legally Blonde) has had my heart up to this point… but Charity take's Elle’s “under dog” to a whole new level… a grittier one.  She’s a human in a cycle that’s not working for her.  One she’s desperate to get out of and yet keeps walking into.  Isn’t that all of us?  Just naively repeating cycles until we become self aware enough to make a change?  On a very base human level, I feel quite connected to Charity… and emotionally ready to take her on.

What is your favorite musical of all time? Why this choice?

When I was 11, the all drag off-broadway show “Pageant” was my favorite, and then at 12, it was the Jack O’Brien "Damn Yankees" Revival.
But, I think “Gypsy" is the Mother of all musicals.   And, that musical is all about my mother...

What's up next for you?

 I am currently writing a show for Netflix.

Anything we left out that you wish to add? Mention something about the reopening of Reprise.

We are so lucky to have Reprise in LA— a series of classic musicals re-conceived by award winning directors and starring seasoned theater, tv and film stars.  I am so glad they have reprised Reprise and I’m honored to be asked to kick it off!


(left to right: Barrett Foa, Laura Bell Bundy and Jon Jon Briones rehearsing for Sweet Charity)(photo credit: Tom Drucker)


 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
 UCLA’s Freud Playhouse 
Macgowan Hall245 Charles E Young Dr E , Los Angeles
Sweet Charity plays Wednesday, June 20 to Sunday, July 1.
Plays Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings at 8 pm,
Saturdays at 2pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 2pm and 7 pm
To purchase tix, go to: www.Reprise2.org
or phone: 800-982-2787
Group Sales 310-281-1800

Friday, June 8, 2018

2018 Interview with Actor Jeff Skowron


3-D Theatricals is currently reviving their Ovation winning production Parade at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. The production will end there on Sunday June 10 and next week move on to Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in Redondo Beach opening June 15 and playing through June 24. Ovation winner Jeff Skowron talks about reviving his lead role in Parade.

Jeff, what is it like doing this role again? I know as an actor you approach it fresh. What do you feel are the greatest challenges at this point in time?

I'm enjoying it very much. I've never revisited a role before in this way, with the same company and artistic staff. I was a little apprehensive as the start date approached, as I didn't want to just slip into recreating a portrayal that I'd left behind 5 years ago. That felt like a burden. But TJ (Dawson) is a wonderful director, and we eased into this in a way that made it all feel fresh and alive again. The script is very good, which also helps in stimulating new ideas and takes on moments. 

Talk a little about the theme and message of Parade.

Well, at the center of the story is the murder trial of Leo Frank. For me there are two predominant themes. First is this man's stagnant, if not unhappy relationship with his wife. Through fear and adversity he is forced to depend upon his wife, essentially for the first time and we get to see his appreciation and love for her blossom. Second is the focus on tribalism and its dangerous appetite for scapegoating of the ethnic or religious "other." Nothing has changed.

Tell us about additions to the cast and how this affects the overall presentation.

Well we have some really terrific additions to the cast, first and foremost is Chelle Denton as my wife Lucille. This young woman is a grounded, powerful, mature actress and she has a beautiful, soaring voice. Watching her is worth the ticket price alone. Being onstage with her is such a pleasure. TJ has also assembled a much larger ensemble this time, so there is a much bigger sound and sense of mob mentality. 

What else will you add about TJ’s direction?

TJ is a very prepared, knowledgable director. When he directs, he knows the piece inside and out, which I appreciate. At the same time he is open to discussion, new ideas and collaboration. There is no ego. I always gush about him so I may be repeating myself from another interview, but he is one of my favorite directors.

What else have you been up to and anything special coming up?

Well I just played the Emcee in Cabaret at La Mirada and I'm currently developing my second tv series with my writing partner, Matt Yeager. This one is called Max Riddle, about an awkward but well meaning man who loses his job to a robot in a dying rustbelt town. I hope to have great news about that, soon.

https://www.facebook.com/3dtshows/

(photo credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)

Monday, May 7, 2018

2018 Interview with Richard Israel


Director Richard Israel is returning to Actors Co-op to helm the musical Violet. At the Co-op he has previously directed Our Town, The Baker's Wife and 110 In The Shade (LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award Winner for Outstanding Musical in an Intimate Venue), among others. Most recently, Richard was the Theatrical Coordinator for the multiple Emmy-award winning HBO series Big Little Lies, directing all of the Avenue Q sequences in the series. Regional theatre credits include West Side Story, Rent and Floyd Collins (LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards for Direction and Outstanding Musical in a Large Venue) for McCoy-Rigby Ent.; Kiss Me Kate and Once Upon A Mattress for Cabrillo Music Theatre; the multiple Ovation award-nominated Having It All for the Laguna Playhouse; and Meet Me In St. Louis for MTW. Intimate theatre productions include Bronies The Musical, The Burnt Part Boys, The Full Monty, Avenue Q, Gypsy, Assassins, Big The Musical and the world premiere of Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins. As a resident director for the Musical Theatre Guild, he has directed Women On The Verge, Do I Hear A Waltz, Road Show, High Fidelity and many others. He is recipient of the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Career Achievement in Directing.

Tell our readers about the musical Violet.

Set in 1964, Violet is the story of a young woman who is profoundly disfigured by a facial scar, the result of a childhood accident. She embarks on a quest to have the scar healed by a televangelist, traveling on a Greyhound bus from North Carolina to Tulsa. The show is really a journey to self-realization as Violet discovers that the search for healing starts with ourselves.

How different is Violet from most American musicals? What is special about the character and her relationships?

Violet is a very gentle musical - it's a small story that takes place over 48 hours, mostly on a Greyhound bus. It doesn't come at the audience with flash and splash - it assumes that an audience is going to sit forward, be present, and listen to the story. There is something about the tone of the musical that invites the audience to lean in.

Violet is a flawed and damaged woman, trying to find answers in the best way she knows how. As her relationships unfold, she is indelibly changed by the people she encounters - her relationships with the other characters change her view of herself, and the way she defines herself.

What challenges do you anticipate as director?

We've chosen to perform the show in 3/4 thrust, which is tricky for a show in which much of the action takes place on a bus. So ... figuring out how to keep the focus where the focus needs to be is a challenge. And because the material assumes a certain willingness on the part of the audience to engage and actively listen, clarity of storytelling becomes that much more important.

Do you have a favorite show you have directed? Why this choice?

I don't really have a favorite show that I've directed - I guess I love all of my children equally. Floyd Collins will always have a special place in my heart, because the material is so beautiful and I connect with it so strongly. It was also the musical that really launched my directing career, so I owe it a lot.

Do you prefer directing musicals to plays? If so, why?

I do prefer musicals to plays. In a musical, you are always driving forward to the next song - it's easier for me to plot the peaks and valleys of the storytelling because the songs act as a "safety valve" for the dramatic propulsion. If the song is doing what it's supposed to do, it tops out the dramatic action; then we "reset" and push forward into the next song. In a play, you need to be pushing forward all the way through to the end of the act, which feels more challenging to me.

What is your favorite musical of all time? Why?

Merrily We Roll Along is actually my go-to favorite musical of all time. It's one of the few musicals that will land on you differently at different ages, but with equal resonance. It's a complicated show that requires attention from the audience, but it's worth the effort and it's a show that, if done right, creates a change in the audience and how they conduct their lives.

Tell us about your cast of Violet.

We have a beautiful cast of 12, and each one of them brings an openness and honesty to the show that is really gratifying to watch. While the characters of Violet, Flick and Monty do a lot of the heavy lifting in the show, it's truly an ensemble piece, and watching these unbelievably talented performers bring their hearts to this story makes my job really joyful.

What's up next for you?

I am in pre-production for Victor/Victoria, which will be presented as part of Reprise 2.0's inaugural season. I am so honored to be working on this piece - it's another tricky show, but we're assembling an incredible cast and I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

Violet opens Friday, May 11 at 8:00 pm. Runs May 11 – June 17, 2018. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Additional Saturday matinees May 19 and May 26 at 2:30 pm. Tickets prices: Adults $34.00. Seniors (60+): $30.00. Students with ID: $25.00.Student Rush Tickets with ID one ticket per customer: $17 Cash Only, available at the Box Office window for select Friday performances 45 minutes prior to curtain. To buy tickets or make reservations please visit www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323) 462-8460. For more about Student Rush Tickets or Group Rates call (323) 462-8460. Actors Co-op Crossley Theater, 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.