Monday, November 30, 2009

December, 2009 Interview - Alan Cumming

Actor/singer Alan Cumming, Tony Award Winner for his role of Emcee in the smash revival of Cabaret (1998) is a singular performer and humanitarian. He reopens his brilliant cabaret solo show I Bought A Blue Car Today for one week only December 13-18 on the second stage of the Geffen Playhouse, where his initial engagement (end of September-beginning of October) was SRO for all performances.
I caught up with him after his return from Australia and his appearance on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day

Q: What is the very favorite role on stage that you’ve played?
AC: It’s usually the role I am doing at the moment. (I’m a very in the moment kind of guy). So right now, I guess my favourite role would be me!!

Q: What role do you long to play?
AC: I have always wanted to play Jean in Miss Julie, and lately I’ve had a yearning for Iago in Othello.

Q: Were you trained in London or Scotland?
AC: I trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, bonnie Scotland.

Q: What do you think is the advantage of your training over that which American actors receive? Do you encounter a big difference in acting styles between Americans and Europeans?
AC: I think the biggest difference is that we tend to get a more concentrated sort of training, more intense and then it’s done, rather than the idea that you go on training for years in little dollops here and there. I think American actors are victim to the over-analysis of acting and the various derivations of the Method, and consequently I think they tend to make it all a bit more difficult for themselves than it needs to be. I think Europeans tend to just dive off the cliff and get on with it rather than try and remember a sense memory of what it might feel like to jump off a cliff.

Q: You mention in the show that you were shy and it was difficult for you to sing, and for that reason, this show is a challenge for you. Enhance upon that for us!
AC: Well, I know I can sing a bit, but I also know that the way I sing is not the type of singing that you might expect from a Tony award winning musical actor, and so I think over the years I have worked myself into a frenzy about the increasing potential to disappoint an audience by doing a show like mine. Therefore it got more and more scary for me and when I finally decided to do it, it seemed an even bigger obstacle. But of course doing it, and singing my way (which is sort of just like how I speak but with a tune) and realizing that audiences respond to that and are refreshed by it has been a great thing for me.

Q: What is your favorite musical show of all time (not necessarily one that you’ve done) and why?
AC: Cabaret. It’s got it all. It’s got substance, something to say and great tunes.

Q: I thought your scene in Eyes Wide Shut was hilarious. How do you feel about gay roles in film? Do you think gays will ever get their proper recognition? Will they ever be represented properly on film or television sans stereotypes?
AC: I really believe that the train has left the station in terms of equality. It has already happened in some countries, like the Uk, even Catholic countries like Spain, and I believe it will happen soon in America. I think the sooner that happens the sooner people will be forced to confront their prejudices and the sooner gay people will no longer be feared and hopefully will be represented more positively. As for me playing gay roles, I really don’t make a distinction. It’s unusual that sexuality is the most important thing about a character.

Q: Who are your favorite actors on film and on stage?
AC: I adore Dianne Wiest, Meryl Streep, Jane Lynch, Chris Cooper, Bobby Canazale. But most of my favourite actors in the world you’d never have heard of like Laurence Spellman, Siobhan Redmond, people I have worked with in the UK.

Q: The thing I love about your show is that you go out on a limb to be you. You put it out there for the world to see and admire. For that reason I’ve picked you as Best Solo Show: Male on my website for 2009.
Elaborate a little on your political views and your choice for the title of the show.
AC: Gosh, thanks so much! My political views are pretty left-wing by American standards. I want MORE government. I want a socialized health service. I want free education for all. I want the rich to pay more taxes to help out the poor. And I believe everyone should be legally recognized as equal and deserving of everything society has to offer, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexuality

Q: What’s up next for Alan Cumming? I read you are going to New York this spring to star in a new musical? Elaborate on that!
AC: I am going to play the Green Goblin in the musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, directed by Julie Taymor, with music by Bono and the Edge. It’s very exciting, and I think will be a totally incredible spectacle. So that’s exciting. And before that I am doing a film called Burlesque with Cher and Christina Aguilera, and also doing some appearances to promote my record.

Q: You make your characters on film – the cartoon ones – bigger than life and you are ideally suited to that. I know the recognition off screen for them is immensely satisfying, but isn’t there some great dramatic role you see yourself playing at some point?
AC: Well you know, I’ve done my fair share. I think that the more commercial films and therefore the ones that people see you doing more tend to skewer their opinions of what the entire body of your work is like. But that’s ok. I just hope that if people like something I’ve done they’ll seek out the smaller and more weirdy work too. Go to for the full skinny.

Q: Care to advise our readers on anything?
AC: Wear a condom! Come and see my show! My record is the perfect holiday gift! Call your mother!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with Megan Mullally

Actress Megan Mullally, best known for her two-time Emmy Award winning role of Karen on Will & Grace, is also a versatile stage actress. Last year she co-starred on Broadway in Mel Brooks' musical version of Young Frankenstein and is currently treading the boards once more as Beverly in the controversial The Receptionist at the Odyssey Theatre, extended until November 21. Quick to admit that she is "not Karen", Mullally is a diversified character actress, who, in our conversation, became quite frank in her appraisal of herself in relation to the play and her various other acting projects. She's an actress who most assuredly knows where she's at and where she's going.
Q: Have you been a lifelong member of The Evidence Room,the company that is producing The Receptionist?
MM: Well, uh (chuckles)..since 2000, when they moved to the space on Beverly Boulevard near Alvarado (which is no longer their space), where their first production was The Berlin Circle. My friend Bart (DeLorenzo) was producing---he's the director of The Receptionist...and that's where I met my husband Nick Offerman, who was also in it...I became a company member and this is my third show for them.

Q: Don't they do very edgy works?
MM: Yeah...Bart picks really smart material that challenges you, which is good. I think one of Bart's strengths, apart from his choice of matetrial is his visual sense. The last three shows that I've seen that he also directed have all been absolutely exceptional. Voice Lessons...did you see that?
Q: Yes, it was great!
MM: Hilarious, and The Projectionist, which he staged so ingeniously and Churchill's A Number.
Q: How would you describe in your own words the character Beverly that you play in The Receptionist?
MM: The thing that I really responded to was that she's extremely loyal. I hope that's a trait I share with her. She's very no nonsense; she is the opposite of a flirt (laughs). One of the challenges...when I first read the play, I knew what I wanted to do with the character emotionally, but I was drawing a blank in terms of the visual...
Q: Very much the opposite of Karen, wouldn't you agree?

MM: It's a character that Karen would not find cute in any way, shape or form. At the beginning of rehearsal I went out with Ann Closs-Farley, the costume designer, and got that wig and then the pair of glasses...and we went to the Glendale Galleria and I put the wig on and just walked through the Ladies of a Certain Age Department (she cracks me up, as she looks amazing for almost 51) and I tried jackets on and that was good; I was set to go. I had gone to New York and looked at the ladies there and that seemed to be the haircut of choice right now and those wire-rimmed glasses are very much the rage with those ladies. I needed to take anything fresh or useful...not that she's so old, but it's that she's not a flirty or sexy kind of woman. Anything fresh or sassy with me had to go.
Q: I heard a lot of people comment about how strange the play is! But I think that's what makes it so interesting, as well as the fact that you bring to your character such a wonderful sense of humor.
MM: I think she has a sense of humor, especially with people she's very fond of like Lorraine (Jennifer Finnegan). She kind of thinks of her as a daughter. In the end when she believes that Lorraine has betrayed her, she remains loyal and goes to bat for her. And that's what's really heartbreaking about the play. I don't think the play is weird at all. I know some people do and I'm not casting aspersions on that, it's just that, first of all, it's a great piece of writing (playwright Adam Bock). It's very cool, and it's been a real privilege to work on. I love that it's not all spelled out, that there's ambiguity. And as an actor, every time it's so much fun to do and every time it just unfolds itself a little bit more.
Q: How did you enjoy doing Young Frankenstein?
MM: I loved it. I had a great time. It was just a great group of people to work with.
Q: I heard the actresses just couldn't wait for it to be over.
MM: Well, I can't speak for the others, but Sutton (Foster) went into Shrek and Andrea (Martin), that's just her temperament, she likes to keep moving and changing, but when I get in a show, I'll keep doing it for 70,000 performances...I keep going and going forever, but we don't live in New York, we live in Los Angeles, so...
Q: Might you do it here on tour?
MM: I don't think so. I feel like I did it and I did it with the greatest group of people imaginable and I'm pretty much booked up for the next year or so.
Q: Good for you! How was working on the movie version of Fame?
MM: It was so fun. I only worked on it for four days. I have a little song, the full-length version is on the soundtrack. In the movie they cut down about half of it.
Q: Bummer! Tell me about your short-lived TV talk show. What happened to that? You have the perfect natural quality for hosting a talk show.
MM: It was really a lot of fun, but it was bad timing. It was at the time that Rachel Ray premiered and we didn't have Oprah (Winfrey) behind us, but, more importantly, I really want to do something in the arena of talking to people about their stories. I don't know if syndicated television is where I'd like to be, because it's a really different world and it's much more sort of corporate - more corporate than it feels truly creative. So if I do something down the road, I prefer the talk format. It's probably going to be radio or a pod cast. I learned a lot about what I want to do and what I don't want to do. One of the problems with the show was also they wanted it to be celebrity talk, sort of what Ellen (Degeneres) does. I wanted it to be more everyday people talk.
Q: I heard people say they wanted to see Karen!
MM: I don't know how to respond to that. I'm not Karen. I'm not Beverly. I'm not Lydia, this character that I'm playing on Party Down (Starz) right now. She brings things out in people.
That's what I like to do: bring out the best in people. It's a very solid half hour of comedy from Adam Scott and Ken Marino. Last season when Jane Lynch left to do Glee, a slot became available. I'm not playing the same role. The whole cast is great and it's a well-scripted, very funny half hour comedy.
Q: Any network show in the offing?
MM: I was doing In the Motherhood for ABC last season, but it only lasted seven episodes. It was not a very satisfying experience, but I'm really happy doing Party Down.
Q: Who's your favorite film actor?
MM: Meryl Streep. I do love her, but I also love some of the character actresses, some of the Brits are great. I also like Patricia Clarkson...most of the people who haven't had plastic surgery (I laugh) I end up liking the most.
Q: No artificiality. What about Broadway actors?
MM: You mean, musical stars?
Q: Sure.
MM: I always enjoy Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters. Kind of the old school.
Q: Is there a role you really want to do?
MM: I want to do the Edward Albee play The Goat. When I read it, I fell in love with it. Bart (DeLorenzo) and I trying to get the rights to do it.
Q: I would love to see you do a play with Leslie Jordan. You were a scream together on Will & Grace.
MM: I'll be doing Karen The Musical. It hasn't been written yet; it's a couple of years out. (she laughs) Fox Theatricals is producing it, Casey Nicholaw is directing (Spamalot) and it's basically me and Leslie Jordan. He has so much stage experience. He's so funny.
Q: That's certainly something to look forward to. So you're doing Receptionist every Saturday through November 21. Do you like doing two shows back to back?
MM: Yes, but I hate waiting a week to do the show, though. You want to just keep it going. The 5 o'clock show seems just a teenie bit rusty. You have to prepare.
Q: You make the show fun to watch, as with just about every part you play.

It's been a pleasure.

MM: Thanks so much.

Remember to catch Megan Mullally in The Receptionist at the Odyssey Theatre on Sepulveda in West LA Saturdays only at 5pm and 8pm through November 21.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Mitzi Gaynor

What can one do but stand in awe of the legendary accomplishments of Mitzi Gaynor! Motion picture star of over 17 films, including her Golden Globe nominated performance as Nellie Forbush in the 1958 blockbuster musical South Pacific, TV star of 9 spectacular musical specials that garnered 17 Emmy nominations, and night club performer extraordinaire in Las Vegas and touring the entire US and Canada, this lady has done it all. As part of this season's month long tribute to Richard Rodgers by Reprise Theatre Company and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joshua Logan's film South Pacific, Miss Gaynor will appear onstage this Thursday, October 15 at the Majestic Crest Theatre in Westwood. As well as a stellar performer, she is also the President of the Professional Dancers Society. Via phone, Gaynor excited me with the same high energy and enthusiasm that has remained her trademark for six decades. She is genuine, personable and caring with that vivacious charm that we have all come to associate with Nellie. What caught me off guard was her incredible -sometimes salty- sense of humor.
Q: What has life been like since the passing of your husband/manager Jack (Bean)?
MG: Jack was my whole life - my breakfast, lunch and dinner. The love of my life, my best friend, my producer, my director, my boss (ha, ha!) It's almost three years and I still think of him all day. But some great things have been happening storage places were just overflowing and a friend suggested I call the museum of Radio and Television and see if they wouldn't be interested in displaying them. Well, that happened and I know that Jack is a big part of this. These two guys Rene Reyes and his partner Shane Rosamonda (co-produced the fabulous dvd Mitzi Gaynor: The Razzle Dazzle Years, the PBS special + extra footage of her Emmy winning TV specials) have become very close and it takes two people really to be Jack - I'll never be able to live without him, if you know what I mean, but these two guys are so much like my husband that because of their association life is not as bad as it was.
Q: I understand you just visited Kauai for the first time since filming South Pacific there?
MG: Such fun. When we did the picture, Rossano Brazzi and his wife Lydia were the Italian "I Love Lucy". She weighed about 300 lb and she had great big golden... huge boobies. You'd hear in the morning (in her best Italian accent) "Rossano, you international son-of-a-bitch!" "Lydia, I love it when you make love to me!" I used to say, "Grazi, grazi!" He'd answer, "Prego, Mitzi!" I'd say, "You know Rossano, you are the handsomest, most gorgeous foreign leading man that has ever lived!" He's say, "Mitzi Gaynore, I know!" We used to call Lydia Saint Francis, because she was always saving the animals on the island. One time she found two little tiny kittens, put one on her breast and said "This is a boob pissy and this one's a pussy". (I laugh heartily.) It was amazing that we got the picture done. Just think what Josh (Logan) had to go through. First of all, it was in Todd AO, they had a new kind of sound...every director in the business wanted to do the picture, no one had ever been to the island of Kauai before...and who were we? Rossano was a dramatic actor and I had always done high-kick musicals.
Q: Do you have one specific memory that shows how challenging it was for you to make the film?
MG: The crew was time, God was really with us...the day we were about to shoot the scene with "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair". The sun was up, they dropped the needle on the record, I pulled the chain and the water came out, took the shampoo, started to pour it on my head - (sings) "I'm Gonna Wash That Man..."and the shampoo gets in my eyes. Cut. "Save the eyelashes!" I remembered when Rossano and I were in the car going onto location, there was a general store on the highway, just a little shack, and in the window there was a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo. Two hours drive there and two hours drive back to the set. All in one day. So, Johnson & Johnson saved the day. How did I remember that? I'm a great believer in what's supposed to be.
Q: Tell me about your part in the Richard Rodgers celebration. You are going to host a screening of South Pacific this Thursday in Westwood, isn't that correct?
MG: I think this whole Richard Rodgers thing is a fabulous idea. You know it's on Blu-ray now? Imagine! I'll do a short onstage interview before the film. I'll talk a little about the film and...
Q: Tell them some funny stories. What about your association with Bob Mackie through the years? How did that come about?
MG: We've known each other for 45 years. In 1966 I was going to do a special with Danny Thomas called My Home Town, which was Metro Studios, because he did a lot of pictures at Metro. There was a costume designer named Ray Aghayan. He's Persian and he talks like this (affects a rich Persian accent) and smokes cigarettes with two fingers like that. He's brilliant. I told him he did the most beautiful sketches. "I should only look like these sketches!" "Darling", he said "I have no time to do sketches. My partner does the sketches. His name is Bob Mackie." In the end the clothes turned out like the sketches, which very seldom happens. So, fade out, I'm going to do a new act. I called Ray, and he said, "I'm up to my ass in Judy Garland, so I cannot do it. But remember I showed you those sketches?" I'm in rehearsal above the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega and Bob Mackie was supposed to come and see me. I'm standing there in my leotard and the sash around my waist, which is the same color as my leotard...and my 4-inch heels. A knock came at the door and in walked this young blond-headed guy, Bob Mackie. We've been together ever since. We're family, he and I.
Q: I recently saw The Joker Is Wild (1957, directed by Charles Vidor and starring Frank Sinatra) on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). You had a totally dramatic role, which was quite a switch for you; you were terrific in it!
MG: Thank you so much. Nobody's ever told me that. You got a minute? Let me tell you a story. I met with Josh Logan and he said "Hello, Nellie!" and sent me to meet Richard Rodgers. Rodgers said to me, "That's a beautiful mink coat you're wearing." I said, "Thank you. My husband gave it to me for our third anniversary." We had tea, spent a lovely few hours in front of the fire in his library and later Josh told me he wanted Oscar (Hammerstein) to see me in California. I went back and started filming The Joker Is Wild. Josh called Jack (Bean) and said Oscar's going to be in town on Thursday. So I went to director Charlie Vidor - a fellow Hungarian - and said I had a chance to sing for Oscar Hammerstein for South Pacific. Vidor said, "We can't. Thursday's the big casino day and we've already hired about a hundred and fifty extras. That's a big scene for my character, who says to Frank (Sinatra) "Joe, can't we please get a divorce so we can be friends?" So, Frank walks by and he said, "What's up, baby?" I said " I have a chance to sing for Oscar Hammerstein for South Pacific on Thursday." He asked Charlie (Vidor), "What's going on Thursday?" "The big casino scene." " Should we shoot around Mitzi?" "That's up to you Frank?" Frank turned to me and said, "OK, honey, we'll shoot around you. Go and get the job!" Frank was so wonderful to let me go. I went and went crazy, I had such a good time!
Q: Well, you got the part. No one could have done better!
MG: Well, I don't know about that, Don. I did sing in the right key; that's very important for those who write for Broadway. And I had the same kind of inflections. So, Oscar and Richard had a lot to say about that. And Josh... could work with me. He was my champion.
Q: Getting back to Joker. Did doing that give you the desire to play heavier, more dramatic roles?
MG: This is the way I look at it. There are so many really good dramatic actresses that are not working right now. And there are many who cannot sing and dance and shake their butt...and I really enjoy that. I'm dramatic enough at home. I can carry on a Hungarian fit (ha, ha, ha!). the likes of which you've never seen anything like that. I bring my own fiddles, really, my own gypsies. I've really had no desire to do those roles, and I've been asked to. It gives me great joy to be with people. I love that wonderful contact you have with an audience. They're like
your friends and family.
Q: Who's your favorite movie star?
MG: Meryl Streep is a phenom. She can do anything better than anyone else. Judd Hirsch is a fabulous actor. And my favorite actress of all time? Betty Grable, because she was brilliant. Not brilliant in that she was a great actress, but... I was so in love with her...and Rita Hayworth was so fabulous.
Q: You love glamour. What about your new night club act?
MG: Mitzi Razzle Dazzle. I'm alone and I have eight costume changes, and I tell you my life story on and on and on...songs that progressed the story. There's a whole South Pacific section, a whole section when I got dropped from Fox, how I started out in San Francisco in the Civic Light Operas, how I was groomed to be a dancer and a singer...and funny anecdotes's hard for a woman to go on location, especially if you're supposed to be an army nurse in the 50s. You had to wear a girdle and stockings. If you had to go to the john, pardon the expression, you had to get into a car and drive someplace to go, because the honeywagons were far from the set, they just were...
Q: Will we get a chance to see this new show in LA?
MG: We'll see. You're always a bum in your own home town.
Q: Everybody loves you here!
MG: Bless your heart, we'll see, we'll see. Don, thank you for being so warm.
Q: Thank you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview with new artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's Kooza- Melanie Lalande

Cirque du Soleil's newest show Kooza, now playing in Denver, Colorado, will open at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles on October 16 for a limited run until November 29 in the familiar blue and yellow big top. Derived from the Sanskrit word 'koza' which means 'box' or 'treasure', Kooza was chosen as the title to fulfill the concept 'circus in a box'. Melanie Lalande, the new US artistic director of Kooza, a former dance instructor in the DC area, told me more about this intriguing production.

Q: I love Cirque du Soleil. I feel like a kid anticipating each new production. In the press release Kooza is described as being set in an 'exotic world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement'. That pretty much describes every Cirque show. What specifically makes Kooza stand apart?
ML: Kooza is fascinating because it's really a throwback to the original roots of circus: high level acrobatics, and an emphasis definitely on the clowning. David Shiner is the director of the show and it's pretty phenomenal in that respect. And it goes back to the real precisional circus acts. That will make it stand out a little bit from the other shows.

Q: By traditional circus acts, you mean like juggling, right?
ML: Juggling, highwire, trapeze, yes!

Q: Are the highwire and trapeze artists the same people who have been working right along for Cirque du Soleil?
ML: Most of the ones who are with us have been doing their traditional acts in every circus for 35 years. Cirque du Soleil is so proud and happy to have them become part of our family.

Q: For me, the sets, the costumes, the lighting design, the music - they all add to make the performance extra special. You never know what to expect. Will you give our readers a sneak preview of the surprises in Kooza?
ML: Again, it's back to the traditional circus, so you have what you would see there. Our bataclan travels back and forth on the stage; it is a huge moving figure with phenomenal depth and dynamics.
Q: It sounds like a machine. Is that correct?
ML: Yep. It rides along the stage, and the band sits on top of it. It's amazing.
Q: That image enlivens my curiosity; I can't wait to see it.

Q: Tell me about your background in choreography. I understand you worked on the hiphop act The Roots.
ML: I have a very traditional background in dance. I have my BFA in dance. When one of my longterm employers came to me and asked, "Will you choreograph one of the hiphop tours for
us?" ...and it happened to be for The Roots, out of my mouth popped "Yes!" That's not necessarily my roots, so it was a real challenge for me... as much as coming to say "I know how to run a circus!" You're not necessarily doing ballet or jazz; you're watching a teeterboard artist who's performing in mid air. You're keeping track of that physically, aesthetically...I find that there's that underlying gut feeling about performance and it's what's made me successful even when I step ouside of my immediate genre. I think that's why I can go into different venues like circus or hiphop tours and find as much connection with the performers as I do in dance or choreography.
Q: That gut feeling you get when you dance is similar to the gut feeling an actor gets when he performs. It becomes so strong in you, you can translate it to just about anything.
ML: It sure does! It's the same thing the clowns are looking for!

Q: This marks the 25th anniversary year for Cirque. Is that the reason Kooza is going back to where it all started?
ML: Absolutely! And they also have a real special tie going out to the Santa Monica Pier. In 1984 Guy Laliberte the founder decided to risk it all. He put his business on the line; they were either going to do a show or have enough gas to get home (Quebec, Canada). Either go big or go home! Thankfully, they were successful, so it's all very sentimental and close to Guy's heart.

Q: Adults of all ages love this circus. It redefines the whole idea of what a circus is supposed to be. When I was a kid, it was lions and elephants. Cirque is a people circus.
ML: It takes you on that journey where you can dream and where you can think. Things that seem impossible you see being done before your eyes. That's a gift that every human needs
to be in contact with.

Q: Any special guest stars from Europe in Kooza?
ML: I have 53 artists representing 16 different countries all over the world. It's a very big running a small country.
Q: I can just imagine! You have your hands full as artistic director.

Q: If you had to define in a few words what is the most exciting aspect of what you're doing right now with Kooza, what would you say?
ML: I think it is literally the heart of the performers. These guys do 9-10 shows a week and you go with them. You're growing up a show. It grows up like a child right in front of your eyes. They're at such a level of expertise. They're always looking to finding a new moment of connection. It's like the living heart of a show; that's what this job is ... and it's so great!

Q: How long do the artists rehearse?
ML: The creative team works for about a year. They then get the artists in there and they maybe have 5 or 6 months to prepare...but the show has been in concept for a year to 2 years before that. You are kind of growing it up in your second're cleaning and tweaking and refining...and if the show ends up being the product everything centers around, in this business that's also very nice to be a part of.

Q: O in Las vegas is one of my favorite shows! It blew me away!
ML: It's a piece of artwork, isn't it? It takes you ona rollercoaster ride. Your emotions are going to be up and down; you're going to be laughing, then hoping somebody doesn't die. Kooza's a little more edgy as far as that goes, but O is beautiful, a piece of artwork.

Q: Melanie, thank you so much for your time. See you in LA!
ML: Thank you!
Judging by the photo above called Skeleton Dance, Kooza is indeed edgy. That edgy, traditional mix is what draws us like a magnet to each and every Cirque du Soleil show. Get in the groove!
Don't forget, Kooza opens October 16 at the Santa Monica Pier. To order tickets, go online to or phone 1-800-450-1480.

Interview - F*ucking Men's Jeff Patrick Olson

Sexy, attractive actor Jeff (Patrick) Olson is making waves at the Celebration Theatre in Joe DiPietro's Fucking Men as Ryan the pornstar. He's hot!! Olson is a recent transplant to LA from Chicago, where he did, among other plays, Charles Busch's Die, Mommie, Die!, but he is not just another pretty face seeking work in Hollywood.
As I did my research I realized that he is not only an actor/model, but also a practicing anesthesiologist and a champion bodybuilder - Gay Games 2006 gold medal winner (see photo above right). "Is there anything this Renaissance man cannot do?" I pondered before my
interview with him. I had little to worry as far as ego is concerned for I found him to be a sweet, warm guy, who is openly gay and totally honest about all aspects of his life - and with a tremendous sense of humor.

Q: Has acting always been in your blood? I understand you went to medical school.
JO: I was trying to pass the oral board exam in anesthesiology, and I thought, "Acting class will help me with that!" (laughs heartily) Knowing full well in the back of my brain that I really love it. As a kid I had done some performing here and there, but I went through a phase in the middle school years where I was really shy - got rejected a couple of times when I auditioned for - The Sound of Music - so I put myself into the pit and played clarinet. This was my ticket to getting up onstage and breaking more boundaries. That's what I'm all about - conquering fear and having fun.

Q: You've also sung with the Gay Men's Chorus in Chicago. What prompted that?
JO: I never sang before. I wanted to meet more people. I want to do more training with it, maybe Calvin Remsberg (director of Fucking Men) will be amenable to that. It's a great outlet.

Q: Why did you make a more urgent switch to the pursuit of acting professionally this year?
JO: During my day job in Chicago (anesthesiologist), I didn't feel I was able to fully commit.

Q: How long did you prepare for that?
JO: 12 years of medical schooling including residency. I'm close to $200,000 in debt. For the last 5 years, thankfully, I'd been doing this outpatient gig, allowing me the luxury of pursuing a lot more theatre. Otherwise, there were so many times in my hospital job, working 80-90 hours a week, that at the spur of the moment I had to cancel dinner plans. I had no life; I could not take classes. Although this gig allowed me to pursue my passion, I got bored and I didn't feel like I was really contributing to people's everyday health. It was monotony. I'm grateful for the training that I have, but I'd like to parlay that into something else, maybe doing some wellness stuff here.

Q: Did the wellness, health thing also come out of your bodybuilding? How did that get so intense?
JO: In your mid-thirties you kind of reward yourself, when you have a good job, with good eats and going out more often and having a little more than you should. That's all added calories. I looked at myself in pictures and didn't like what I saw. The Gay Games were coming to Chicago and I thought, "How easy is that!" So, eenie, meanie, minie, mo, I picked some guy that I wanted to look like... online. He was a trainer, so obviously knew what he was doing. Lo and behold he was also an actor, so it was really fun to talk business with him, learn about commercial stuff, and he had also lived in LA for a while. I knew I had to do the training, took a year out and worked with this guy, John Turk. I learned a lot about diet and to fully commit again.
I'll get naked and take off my shirt for a play, but have no aspirations about being a fitness model...I had an audition earlier for an ab machine; I probably won't get it, because my abs aren't where they could be.

Q: I wish I looked as great as you do. It's such hard work. I admire you for it!
JO: Thanks. (laughs)

Q: So, you won the bodybuilding competition and saw it as a way to help people (your patients)
feel better about themselves?
JO: Proven results always are marketable. Dr. Michael Rosen, if you ever watch Oprah!, was a sidekick of Dr. Oz, who was my chairman at the University of Chicago. He came up with this real age, kind of a gimmick, but it has a lot of truth in it... that your lifestyle basically dictates what your physical body age is compared to your chronological age. He had this book out and we were given that as a graduation present. (laughs) Dammit, he thought of it before I ever did! The idea works and it all comes full circle. Trying to be more fulfilled and more confident in your everyday life, doing things that are healthy - it will all lead to some transformation.

Q: If I could just follow that, I'd be all set!
(He laughs)

Q: How did the audition for Fucking Men come about?
JO: Serendipitously, I've been submitting myself for a lot of stuff here in LA. I definitely wanted to do gay theatre here. Michael Shepperd (artistic director of the Celebration Theatre) is also a Chicagoan and knew some of my acting teachers there. It was a nice plug. I'm very happy to have gotten into this show. I didn't know the playwright and probably could have done a little bit more research. I didn't have a monologue prepared for the audition. I just shot a movie called Pooltime. I pieced together a little scene with bits and pieces from that script in which my character is searching for love - and it was perfect. They liked it, and I couldn't believe it when Jami Rudofsky who did the casting...I went back for the callback and she started pairing me up with other people and said, "Jeff, you're our Ryan!" And I said, "Are you basically saying that I have the part?" I think David (Pevsner) and I really knocked it out of the park. We had a lot of chemistry together.

Q: That's great! Tell me about that film Pooltime!
JO: It's a gay romantic comedy. There are a lot of interesting people involved like the producer Inge Jaklin, a former Miss Austria, who plays my mother. She is always trying to hook my character Virgil up with the lead guy, David. We had this ill-fated love affair, and it's stayed mostly friendship... they just need to light the spark, to get things going. Virgil is a party guy who's always searching for Mr. Right. Things haven't worked out for him but it's right in front of his face. (laughs)

Q: Who's your favorite actor?
JO: I love the stuff that Johnny Depp has chosen in his career path. I would also not like to be tied down to what other people want me to do. I've always fancied myself as a cross between Jack Tripper (John Ritter) and an action guy like Thomas Jane on Hung. Ritter was so brilliant with physical comedy.
Q: And a really genuine human being. We miss him!

Q: What about music? Who's your favorite singer?
JO: Funny, but I really love things with a melody, like old cocktail music or Broadway showtunes. I love Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé now. I love music that tells a story and singers with impeccable technique. I do love Beyoncé too! It's interesting the fascination that gay men have with beautiful women. It's sort of empowering and with a ...sense of freedom. Women can parlay their sexuality but it's not offensive or a tool or a weapon. I think men should be freer to do that as well.

Q: What is your one goal as a performer? What would you want folks to say about you?
JO: He's truthful. I think acting is acting. I know LA has its pigeonholes. You tone it down on camera, but I want to do it all: Broadway, film TV, whatever... as long as the part is good.

Jeff Patrick Olson will undoubtedly be successful as an actor, because, like his idol John Ritter, he's just so damn genuine. He equated acting to medicine by saying, "Actors are an educated bunch; they're trained observers like doctors". Serious, yes, but don't let that fool you! There's also that light-spirited side that comes out of him rather frequently. For example, he's working on bringing the charity show Broadway Bares to LA - and to bringing stylized drag burlesque back into the spotlight. There are no limits to this fascinating man!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interview with GG's John McLaughlin

The Golden Gays (see my review on the review page) is closing September 27 at the Cavern Club Theatre @ Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake and reopening October 1 -18 @ The Complex Hollywood-East Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd is fortunate to have John McLaughlin playing Damian/Dorothy. He steals the show with his right-on-target portrayal of the bewitching Bea Arthur character.
Q: What has it been like working on this show?
JM: From the get-go the cast has been...there's no real diva in the show. There are no problems.
Q: Everyone gets on well?
JM: You know about those quick changes backstage in the space about the size of this could be very easy to fall into bitch-mode, and everyone is very conscious of that...
Q: The show is moving to Hollywood October 1?
JM: Yes. It's definitely through October now and it looks like it might be bleeding into the second week of November. It's one of those shows that has the automatic builtin niche which is so great. And then you premiere it at the Cavern Club which also has its own built in niche...Mr. Dan, in drag Gina Lotromin, runs the theatre and every night (except the night you were there) he goes out and does this little warmup for 5 minutes ...and he knows those audiences very well and is extremely funny. He gets people psyched up. And in a show like this where you're constantly breaking fourth wall, it can be exhausting, especially if you don't get back from the audience what you normally do. The audience is not always typical and it's a very give and take show. You get fed when you break that fourth wall. My character Dorothy has a lot of opportunity to do that with the staring and the glancing. She gets many responses with the wardrobe changes.
Q: Tell me about your exposure to Bea Arthur before you got this part.
JM: I've become more of a fan of hers...I wanted to be a part of this show, which came through the breakdowns. I'm not a singer and I'm not a dancer. In the breakdowns, the script was different. It said there was one part that was nonsinging and nondancing, the part of the therapist, so I submitted for that. But John Trapper (writer) e-mailed me back and said, "I don't care that you don't sing or dance. Which Golden Girl are you?" Well, I suppose if I had to choose one, I'm tall and bitchy...
Q: Well, you're definitely tall like Bea Arthur, and I know she hated being a tall girl.
JM: I know. I've done research. And you never saw her figure either. They always draped her, so you never knew what her figure was like. I show more bust than she ever did. She was very body conscious. There was a deep connection...and I really want to honor her. The last thing I want to do is make fun of her. I want to do my best to capture a piece of her humor and timing and the characteristics that made Bea Arthur/Dorothy so fantastic. It's a unique acting experience, because it's John playing Damian who's playing Bea Arthur's 4 times removed to a degree. I say a little prayer to her every night. I don't want to sound flowery, but I think it's important that we honor her, because she was a genius in what she did. And...she wasn't the best singer in the world or dancer, but it wasn't about that...she knew how to sing; she knew how to deliver - she knew how to be onstage and give them what they wanted.
Q: Any other parts onstage for you that you would compare to this one, with challenges to conquer?
JM: I did an off-Broadway play in New York about a billion years ago, when I was 5 (laughs). Actually, I was just out of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Q: I went there too, but dropped out of the second year because I wasn't allowed to showcase myself.
JM: They are so strict there. I went into the third year, in their company, which led to this off-Broadway show, a US premiere of an English show called Bad Language by Dusty Hughes. I played the character Alistair Young, which was challenging because he was on a trek to stand out and to find his corner of the sky, so to speak. In order to do that he presented himself as a homosexual. What was interesting for me...I was 20, 21 at the time ... I was in process of dealing with my sexuality, orientation, of coming out... going onstage every night and playing a heterosexual presenting himself as a homosexual. Meanwhile, I'm trying to beware of not appearing gay out there. I was very concerned about that at the time. I was told at the Academy and by a soap opera casting director, that if I was gay, "You need to supress it!" So, I had a lot of fears. "If this is known, you won't work!" I was going through my thing while playing this character who was dealing with it on a different level - a straight man pretending to be gay to get noticed and to get attention. It was difficult to find that balance...with my own shit, my own crap.
Q: Any easier role that you've played?
JM: I have to be honest. I took 10 years off. I've just gotten back into it within the last couple of years. I don't think any of it is easy. I do the work no matter what. Whether it's a 35 year-old gay man living in West Hollywood or Bea Arthur. I think it deserves the same amount of attention. Not easy, but I love it all. I do have a film that's beginning to shoot within the next 6 weeks to the end of the year called Methhead. That part was written specifically for me, by Phil McQueen and Jane Clark. I have a history of meth addiction; I was a drug addict for 2 years. You would think that I'd be able to pull from my experiences, but to go there, to go back there and revisit there has been emotional to say the least. I'm hesitant to put that character in my bones while I'm doing Bea Arthur's Dorothy 4 nights a week, but the little bit that I have done, it's visceral. I know the shoot will be tiring. I don't worry about delivering; I worry about the toll on my psyche. I'm looking forward to it, though.
Q: Do you remember The Golden Girls?
JM: Absolutely, and I still watch it in reruns! I'm not ashamed to say that I grew up on 80s sitcoms, lying on the living room floor every single night. A lot of actors poopoo sitcoms. I think if I can go out there and make somebody laugh, entertain somebody or move somebody in any certain way, that's what it's all about.
Q: That's your goal as an entertainer?
JM: I think it's very important, especially in this climate...I'm out (and have a wonderful husband, who is not in the business...he's an artist, not an actor and so supportive of me)...I think it's important to always tell the honest about my past with drugs, that I'm HIV positive...I think society marginalizes us enough without us marginalizing for me to not tell the truth about my journey of getting to this point does society a disservice.
At one point, McLaughlin referred to Arthur as fearless. What a brave human being himself on and off the stage! FYI, McLaughlin put together-all by himself -his entire stunning wardrobe as Bea Arthur/Dorothy for The Golden Gays - sequins and all !!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Interview with Stephen Schwartz

Prolific composer Stephen Schwartz has delighted us with such musical megahits as Godspell, Pippin, The Magic Show and...the most successful show in Broadway history Wicked, which is still playing in New York and on tour internationally and grossing millions of dollars on its souvenirs alone. He will perform this Sunday, August 23 at 7:30 pm at the Ford Amphitheatre in an evening entitled Making Good. Guests, tributing Schwartz's past work include Valarie Pettiford, Michael Arden, Terrence Mann and opera star Lauren Flanagan. Schwartz will present selections from his new opera Seance on a Wet Afternoon at the event. Produced by Chris Isaacson and Shane Scheel and Upright Cabaret, this is the third and final concert in the series Wicked Summer Nights which previously showcased Shoshana Bean in June and Eden Espinosa in July, both triumphant Elphabas in Schwartz's Wicked.
To quote producer Isaacson, the concerts were put together to "celebrate the past successes of these artists and to show what they are up to since Wicked."
Stephen Schwartz was been awarded a Grammy, Tony and 3 Oscars for his songs in the film scores for Pocahantas and The Prince of Egypt, and nominated for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted. He also composed the popular song "Butterflies Are Free" for the Broadway play and film of the same name.
Schwartz took time out of his busy schedule to talk via phone from New York about his work, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, and what has become his latest and perhaps greatest passion in music.
Q: Tell me about Seance on a Wet Afternoon. It is based on the movie from the 60s. Was this one of your favorite films?
SS: No, I wouldn't put it that way. I saw it when I was a kid, and I remember liking it and being intrigued by it, like many other good films, and then I more or less forgot about it. Maybe a year after Wicked opened, the idea was suggested to me by an agent, Peter Franklin, who took me out to lunch and pitched some ideas for some possible musical theatre pieces. One of them was Seance and I didn't really think it was right for a musical, so I put it aside. I guess about a year later I got offered a commission to do an opera by the Opera of Santa Barbara and asked if I had any ideas. For whatever reason, I immediately said Seance on a Wet Afternoon.
Q: Is this your first opera?
SS: Yes.
Q: How did you enjoy composing it?
SS: I actually wrote one when I was in extremely bad one. So, Seance is the first one that will actually be performed by professionals.
Q: How much more difficult is it to write an opera than an operetta or a musical comedy?
SS: For me? Considerably! This is the most challenging thing I've ever done.
Q: Will we be the first to hear it on Sunday?
SS: Some people have heard readings in various developmental stages. There have been a couple of readings of the full opera here in New York under the auspices of an organization called the American Opera Project. Accompanied by pianos, as will be the excerpts on Sunday night.
Q: Will you be playing piano?
SS: No. There'll be 2 pianos. I'll try to set up some of the various arias.
Q: What will you be performing in the show?
SS: I'm going to sing something in the second act.
Q: Terrific! When you finally got into the composition of the opera, what did you think had to be translated into the piece from the film?
SS: It's really a mood piece. The title alone suggests how moody it is. I needed music to set the tone and the mood. Also the 2 leading characters (Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough on film) are characters who want things very, very badly and are passionate about them and this is always good for musical adaptation of any sort. A lot of what is going on in the piece is subtextual in that the characters don't actually say what's going on. There's a lot of deception and dissembling, so music can be telling that subtext. There are many exciting elements at play.
Q: I'm really looking forward to hearing it Sunday.Tell me about the background of Godspell.
SS: I didn't have much to do with its origins. It was the brainchild of the original conceiver/director John-Michael Tebelak. He started it when he was at school, at Carnegie Mellon. He was always torn between being in the theatre and being an Episcopal minister. He was a sort of big, hippyesque kind of guy. The story is he was going to Easter services and they gave him a hard time getting in, and he found the whole thing very joyless ...and thought this really isn't it at all. That's when he got the notion to do Godspell. I came into the project very late in the game, when the producers decided to transfer it to an off-Broadway commercial run.
I was asked to contribute to the score and only had 5 weeks to write it before it began rehearsal. So, I came into that quite late.
Q: Another favorite show of mine is Pippin. What do you think makes it timeless? What is your most favorite production of it?
SS: I loved the recent production at the Taper. (Dead West's production at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in January of this year.) I was hoping that it would go forward and be seen in other places. It was such an imaginative reinvention of the show. Not going forward with it is very disappointing. I loved their whole approach to it. I think Pippin remains relevant to audiences because the basic subject matter is about trying to figure out what to do with your life.
What's worth devoting your time to and what isn't? Every generation and everyone growing up have to deal with these questions.
Q: What is your favorite film score that you've been involved with?
SS: I haven't done a whole score. I've done songs. The only score that I did the music as well was
The Prince of Egypt. The other 3 were with Alan Menken. I do have a partiuclar fondness for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I think it was Alan's best score.
Q: No favorite song that you've written?
SS: Well sure, we all have our favorites, but, as many writers do, I tend to duck that question. I feel it colors people's response to a song if they know it's the writer's favorite. If I hear "Someone in a Tree" from Pacific Overtures , I feel "Oh yeah, that's Steve Sondheim's favorite song".
Q: In your spare time what kind of music do you like to listen to?
SS: I listen to all kinds of music. I have very, pardon the pun, catholic tastes. It sort of depends on what I'm in the mood for. I do listen to quite a bit of opera and classical music, because I like it a lot, but I also listen to a lot of pop music. I almost never listen to theatre music. Every now and then something will come out like most recently Next to Normal or a couple of years back
Hairspray...I'll listen to those albums for a little bit, but basically it's either pop stuff or classical.
Q: Do you have any favorite pop singers?
SS: Oh sure. I have tons of singer that I like a lot that I just recently got to write with is John Ondrasik, who works under the name Five for Fighting...we wrote a couple of songs together that will be on his new album which comes out in the fall. It was fun, because he had been one of my favorite singers before I had the chance to work with him.
Q: I know you mentioned not listening to a lot of theatre music, you have a favorite musical of all time? Many singers choose West Side Story.
SS: The King and I, for a few reasons. Musically I love it, but also the way the characters were treated was incredibly influential on me... that you had 2 strong central characters who clash with one another, and they're both right and they're both wrong. It's kind of a love story and it's kind of not. Actually, if you look at Wicked, you can see that in a way it's an all-girl version, in terms of the relationship, of something like The King and I.
Q: Anything new that you've worked on for Broadway?
SS: The last couple of years it's been opera all the time. I've been in operaland! It's been really consuming. I've learned an enormous amount, and it's been daunting, but also educational and exciting in such unfamiliar territory.
Q: Well, you've got me very excited to see the concert Sunday night and to hear Seance on a Wet Afternoon for the very first time.
SS: Thank you very much.
A full press release follows:
Upright Cabaret presents the third and final concert of 'Upright Cabaret's "WICKED" Summer Nights' at the Ford Amphitheatre with a musical celebration of the Oscar, Grammy, and Tony Award-winner Composer/Lyricist of "WICKED" and "PIPPIN"...MR. STEPHEN SCHWARTZ!
On Sunday, Aug 23 at 7:30pm - Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar, Emmy and Grammy award-winning lyricist and composer presents an extravaganza of song featuring the Upright Cabaret All-Star performers interpreting Schwartz’s most popular songs including “Defying Gravity,” “Colors of the Wind” “Morning Glow” “When You Believe” “Corner of the Sky, and as an added bonus, Mr. Schwartz will give a sneak peak of his new pop-opera, “Séance on a Wet Afternoon,” featuring acclaimed soprano Lauren Flanigan!

Performances by 3x Tony Nominee Terrence Mann (Cats, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables), Tony Nominee Valarie Pettiford (Fosse) with Michael Arden (Times They Are a Changin'), Elizabeth Brackenbury, David Burnham (Light in the Piazza, Wicked), Matt Cusson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Spelling Bee), Barrett Foa (Avenue Q), Grammy winner Nathan Lee Graham, singer/songwriter Audra Mae, Michael Marcotte, Katy Mixon (HBO's Eastbound and Down), Nicole Parker (MadTV), Hila Plitmann, Aaron Refvem, Tami Tappan Damiano, Ty Taylor (CBS's Rockstar INXS), Tracie Thoms (Cold Case, Rent), Jennifer Leigh Warren (Little Shop of Horrors, Big River, Marie Christine), Brenna Whitaker, and many more! Music Direction by Charity Wicks and Christopher Lloyd Bratten.
This show is directed by Billy Porter celebrating life beyond the Wicked stage, starring pivotal figures who have created and defined this musical phenomenon.

General Ticket Prices: $55, $45, $35. with $75 VIP Artist Meet and Greet still available
Tickets can be purchased online by visiting or or by calling (323) 461-3673.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Interview with Jake Broder & Vanessa Claire Smith

Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith created and star in the multi-award-winning Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara! onstage through Labor Day Weekend in the Skirball Theatre of the Geffen Playhouse. It all began in 2008 at the Sacred Fools Theatre, then moved to the Matrix last fall and now it is going into its 6th month at the Geffen.The two phenomenal - and very humble, I may add - talents took time out of their busy schedules to talk about the show.
Q: How did the idea germinate for this show? You guys are so young! It's amazing to me that you know the music of Louis and Keely so well.
JB: This is Vanessa's seed. What is funny is that musically and story-wise, I'm the dirt. I've been unconsciously preparing to grow a story like this my whole life. Between being a jazz musician, playing Lord Buckley, Mozart in Amadeus on Broadway, and working so intensely with the audience, I've written stories about musicians who struggle with their humanity before.
VCS: I grew up around the music in Louisiana. My grandfather was a fan and would see his (Prima) shows at the Royal Sonesta, and he became a character in one of my earliest works about jazz-era New Orleans. In my research, I found myself more drawn to Louis Prima's love story with Keely Smith, and began actively writing this story when I met Jake in December 2006. He joined me in the writing later in 2007.
Q: Tell me how and why director Taylor Hackford encouraged you to change the show.
JB: Taylor wanted to add more drama and infidelity to the show. He thought we had something strong before, but thought that the audience could really cry properly at the end if we had more clarity about the journey of their love affair in a conventional narrative, rather than purely onstage.
VCS: And…through Taylor's long friendship with Keely, he knew stories that we hadn't found in any literature or in the documentary about Louis Prima. We really endeavored, with Taylor's help, to make this version of the show more accurate to what really happened. We also changed songs around to reflect the most popular titles in the Louis/Keely canon.
Q: Where are you taking the show after the Geffen? Is Broadway or Off-Broadway a goal?
JB: World domination...children in Malaysia singing 'I've got it Bad'...
(after laughter dies down)
VCS: New York is most surely a goal. However, at the moment, we have received interest from numerous theatres, yet have not made commitments to any of them.
Q: Jake has described himself as the dirt in the mix, so, Vanessa, I think this question is more appropriate for you. How did you prepare to play Keely? Did you meet her?
VCS: I have met Keely, but at that point we had already been performing the show for several months. So in order to prepare, I would listen to her CDs over and over again, just to burn the nuances in my brain. Nobody could ever re-create perfectly her sound, but one can get at her very specific vowel changes and phrasing. As for the acting of it, I've approached it like any other role: find the essences of the character, her honesty, her dry wit, her big heart, and play through the filter of that lens.
Q: Well it works, because I remember seeing her on The Ed Sullivan Show and you look and sound remarkably like her. Are you constantly changing the show from week to week, night to night, or is it pretty much set at this stage?
JB: It changes. I like to think of it as Stand Up Tragedy.
VCS: We have the freedom of being the writers of the show. We have been known to change lines in the show from time to time in the moment of the scene to more accurately describe what we're experiencing. But the variances are usually slight. Sometimes, we like them so much, we put them into the script.
Q: You work so well together. That is certainly clear! …
Frank Sinatra is not played as an impersonation of Sinatra. Neither are Louis and Keely for that matter. But, somehow, Sinatra's mannerisms and vocal style are downplayed. Is there a specific reason for that?
JB: Oh. I thought he was trying to do them. Oh well. Nick (Cagle) has the hardest job in the show. Everyone knows Sinatra, so they have a very clear picture in their mind's eye and ear of him. So his every move is scrutinized for authenticity by the audience in a way that mine and Vanessa's aren't.
VCS: We didn't want a Frank impersonator. We wanted a good actor that could sing and get at the moral ambiguity of the character we had written. Portraying real people is very challenging. Do we go for a cartoon impression, or do we try to find the soul of these people? I think Nick does a great job of finding the charisma and machismo of Frank, without doing a blatant imitation.
Q: I understand you did the recording at Capitol Records in Hollywood in one day. That’s truly amazing! Talk a little about that!
JB: It was a glorious, freaky experience. We came off of 8 shows and went into this huge iconic building that is in our show even, with the ghosts of the greats on the walls and up our noses, challenging, supporting and intimidating us. Wanting to hold back and save the vocals for later was the plan, but the spirit of the moment took over (for 18 hours) and we just played our hearts out and almost everything on that album came from that day. Lord above.
VCS: Jake was like a mad scientist that day, getting everyone to be at their best. Our company had had the advantage of playing this music for more than 200 shows at that point, so there didn't have to be a whole lot of takes. Nevertheless, it was a long day. Our poor bassist had to put anti-inflammatory cream on his hands before the last song of the day.
Q: Jake, what's the greatest challenge as an actor playing Louis?
JB: Fighting the battle between feeling the love of a glorious woman (Keely) and the legacy of a showbiz mom and the love for an audience, and Louis’ colossal ego, and making it a fair fight.
Q: Vanessa, what's yours playing Keely?
VCS: My greatest intimidation was that I was portraying someone that was still alive, and that she would show up one day. Which she did, to my surprise... and it wound up being one of the most sublime experiences I've ever had as an actor: Watching her watch me be her. Everyone has such high expectations for how she should sound and act. I've worked very hard to be able to fill those legendary shoes.
Well, they do indeed fill those legendary shoes. See them at the Geffen until September and buy the CD!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Interview with Stephanie Fredricks

Crown City Theatre's Passionella from The Apple Tree - Stephanie Fredricks - talks about her passion: the theatre.
Q: How many plays have you done for Crown?
This is actually my first show with Crown and my third stage production since I moved to Los Angeles three years ago. So I’m averaging one theatre production per year. I’d better get busy! And…knowing that this is only my first role with Crown makes me wonder how I could improve the experience, but… I’m having such a blast!
Q: What are the challenges of playing Ella/Passionella and making her delightful to the audience?
Ella and Passionella have two completely different personalities but, unlike someone with a mental disorder, they are completely aware of each other. Ella is meek, awkward, clumsy and completely talent-free! Passionella is beautiful and confident – a movie star! I find playing the different characters to be the easy part. The challenge comes when Passionella is feeling nervous or threatened and I have to bring little bits of “Ella” into her personality.
Q: What is the appeal of the three musicals that make up The Apple Tree? Do you think Passionella is the best of the three?
All three musicals have that “careful what you wish for” theme which will never lose its relevance. As far as which one is the best I’ve found that each audience responds differently to each act. Some people really connect to the charm of The Diary of Adam and Eve. Others laugh out loud at the campy flavor of The Lady or The Tiger? And, there are those audience members that respond the most to the old-school humor and Cinderella story of Passionella. It’s just a question of what appeals to the individual.
Q: How do you like teaching acting to young children?
I love teaching! It has a lot to do with that “if I knew then what I know now” thing. To have the opportunity to help prepare young people (and their parents) who want to pursue careers in theatre, film and/or television is a really gratifying experience. It’s important that they understand that their job isn’t to “book the gig.” It’s to audition and build relationships with casting directors, theatres, producers, etc. Those are the people that are eventually going to help them develop their careers. And, the only thing they can control is how prepared they are and what they do in their audition. Everything else is out of their hands.
Q: How many musicals have you done? Is it your favorite type of theatre?
I don’t know that I could actually count the number of musicals that I’ve done and come up with an accurate number. I love all types of theatre. For me, it comes down to the project I’m doing, the role I’m playing, and the people I’m working with. And, really, there’s nothing like live theatre. You never know what’s going to happen and you just have to roll with it!
Q: What role do you really want to play?
Growing up, there were so many roles I wanted to play and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to play them. Now, I’m too old to play them! I’d have to say the next dream role on my list would have to be Galinda/Glinda in Wicked. Aside from the fact that it’s an absolutely hilarious role, to have the opportunity to use different vocal styles and personalities, and to really be able to grow with a character over the course of the show . . . well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. If it does, then it hasn’t been written yet.
Q: Who are your acting idols?
Too many to innumerate in multiple mediums! When I was a kid I wanted to be Jody Foster. I’ve been a fan of hers since she was the Coppertone baby! But, I remember seeing Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice and it changed my life. I’d never seen anyone in a role like that – such emotional range, multiple languages, she even made me laugh! I just didn’t realize that was possible. It was definitely something to aspire to. Since then I can honestly say there have been dozens of actors, both male and female, that I have learned so much from. In fact, it’s rare that I leave a play or a film where I didn’t learn something from someone’s performance.
Q: What is your favorite musical of all time? Why?
That is probably the toughest question you could’ve asked me. There are so many to choose from, and while my head keeps buzzing about every musical I’ve ever known in hopes to not leave one out, I keep returning to West Side Story. The genius of Bernstein’s score and Sondheim’s lyrics notwithstanding, it is the best telling of a story through dance that I’ve ever seen. That show, in its original form, was like the perfect mating of writers, director, and choreographer that any show has ever had!
Q: How have your audiences been for The Apple Tree?
I’m so appreciative of theatre audiences especially those that support small companies. In our current economic situation I’m truly touched that people are still doing what they can to treat themselves to the things they enjoy while supporting the arts. I have hope that theatre in Los Angeles will continue to grow and thrive despite the difficulties it faces as long as there are still people who love it!

New Interview with Matt Williamson

Come Back Little Sheba
One of the stars/directors of Crown City Theatre's smash hit The Apple Tree - Matt Williamson -shares his love of theatre with us.

Q: How many plays have you done for Crown? Have you always alternated as actor/director?
MW: Since I met Bill and Gary in 1999 I've done 9 plays with them. We became CCTC in 2005 and since then I've done 4 shows. This is the first time I've directed but I really enjoyed the process so I'm sure it won't be the last. It is a challenge to do both simultaneously so next time I'll just do one or the other.
Q: What's your favorite role so far?
MW: I've been fortunate to do a lot of different roles but the ones that stand out are Lee from True West and Hamlet.
Williamson plays Adam in The Diaries of Adam and Eve in The Apple Tree.
Q: What are the challenges of playing Adam and making him interesting to the audience?
MW: My biggest challenge with Adam was to make him somewhat endearing. He's written sort of short tempered and mean on the surface but I tried to make all that come from being nervous, unsure, innocent, and very attracted to Eve. He's experiencing emotions that we all take for granted before anyone else, so everything that he feels is a surprise.
When asked if it was ever suggested that Adam and Eve be played in the buff, he responds:
It was suggested to go without longjohns and then quickly rejected. He's traditionally done wearing some sort of clothing which I think is a great idea. I don't think au natural is too risky, I just think it can be an unnecessary distraction. I personally feel that audience members miss much of what's being said when it's being said by naked people on stage. Or even mostly naked people.
Q: What is the appeal of the three musicals that make up The Apple Tree?
MW: I think there are several appealing aspects to this show. Variety. You get three shows for the price of one. Also, it's just a ton of fun. It deals with basic and powerful human emotions in a way that doesn't take itself too seriously. Finally, the music is really great. It's catchy and playful without being too overbearing.

In 2007 Williamson played the milkman to S. Epatha Merkerson’s outstanding portrayal of Lola in William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba @ The Kirk Douglas Theatre for CTG. (see top photo) In 2008 the production went to Broadway for a limited engagement.
Q: Talk a little about the difficulties of getting Come Back, Little Sheba to New York.
MW: Well, it's always a challenge to get any show on Broadway but Sheba was especially hard because it's not considered to be one of Inge's best works. I personally feel that it was S. Epatha Merkerson's beautiful performance that made it happen. I'm sure that the producers felt that it was a risk, but a risk worth taking. I'm glad they did because it was one of the most memorable experiences of my career.
Q: Did New York treat it differently from LA? I mean, both audiences and critics?
MW: Not really. If the critics on both coasts had any problem with it, it was with the play itself. I think it is a wonderful play that is funny and heartbreaking but many people don't agree. I was particularly impressed by the fact that people in both LA and New York quickly let go of the fact that Lola and Doc were a mixed race couple in the 1950s. That is a testament to the strength of the acting and directing.
Q: What role do you really want to play?
MW: Wow. Um, I kind of feel like Bottom in Midsummer in that I want to play all of them. I think acting is the most fun you can have with your clothes on so there are few roles that I wouldn't enjoy. If I had to make a short list though, I'd say McMurphy in Cuckoo's Nest, Brick from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Macbeth, and either one of the men in Pinter's Betrayal. Beyond that, I just love playing characters that allow me to break out of my comfort zone and really work. That was one of the things that made Apple Tree such a challenge was the fact that it was the first time in my life that I had to sing solo. I was terrified, but it made me work hard to avoid totally embarrassing myself and in the end it was a lot of fun.
Q: Who are your acting idols?
MW: I've always really looked up to people that can do it all and that really commit to whatever they are doing. The list is long but distinguished. Ben Kingsley and Meryl Streep are right up there at the top along with Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Kline, Sean Penn, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, and even Robert Downey Jr. The list could go on and on but those are the ones that pop out. Actually, S. Epatha Merkerson is someone that really impressed me. She brought her A-game 100% of the time and could draw on a huge range of emotions at will. I'm biased, of course, but she earned every bit of praise that she has ever received.
Q: Tell me about your film company - Nautaroc Films.
MW: My brother and I started it several years ago to produce a short film that he wrote. It was called The Box and was directed by CCTC's Gary Lamb. We would like to make a few more shorts and eventually expand to features or documentaries. However, my primary focus right now is building up CCTC to be one of the most respected 99 seat theatres in the city.
Q: Any final comments about the future of theatre?
MW: I just hope that people continue to support live theatre in Los Angeles. We have such a well of talent in this city that it is a shame that the theatre scene isn't on par with New York or London. It would be nice to have more Equity houses in Los Angeles so that more actors, directors, and technical staff can earn a living applying their craft.

Catch Williamson and Fredricks in The Apple Tree @ CCTC on Camarillo in NoHo through the end of this month!