Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2004 Interview with legend Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds will return to the El Portal from April 29-May 10 for her delightful evening of comedy and song.
When I interviewed her in 2004, she had me in stitches as she answered a question doing a Bette Davis impression. After all, who better than Reynolds to do her? She played Davis' daughter in The Catered Affair. She also does Ann Miller and others. What a talented mimic! Reynolds is no stranger to the El Portal. At the time of the interview she was about to do a benefit of Love Letters on its Mainstage with John Saxon.

Q: How often do you perform your one-woman show?
DR: I do 42 weeks a year, on the road doing night clubs and Vegas, Reno, Tahoe and Atlantic City and all the Indian reservations and different big civic theaters, like the Alex in Glendale. I've been doing that for 30 years or so. Every year I do a Florida tour.

Q: How often do you change the show?
DR: I change it every year. Different songs, different openings...I just put in a new 40s medley. My audience likes that. A Gershwin medley.

Q: You're still in great voice!
DR: Well, I learned years ago from Jack Benny, who used to stay at my Palm Springs house... he used to practice the violin. I'd say to him, "Why don't you just fake it for comedy?" He'd say, "No dear, that's not how you do it. You have to keep practicing, if you're really going to be good."
So, it's the same with the voice, you have to keep singing.

Q: Any comment about Ann Miller's recent passing?
DR: I was just devastated. She was one of my favorites, as well as of many others. At MGM, we were all under contract. It was like a school. Everybody there: Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Janet Leigh, Janie Powell, Kathryn Grayson, we were all friends all these years, since 1949. It's tough when you lose the funniest one. Annie was so loud. She said to me two weeks ago, (in best Miller voice) "Debbie, let me ask you a personal question. Why are you still working? It's ridiculous, you know what I mean, we could go to parties and we could play!" That was just two weeks ago. She had lung cancer, but she didn't tell us. She had osteoporosis, and with an 8 inch bone loss, her head was down on her shoulders. That was clearly why she developped all these other problems. I mean she didn't smoke. She was an athlete; she was a great dancer. She was in top condition when all this happened to her 8 years ago. It was just horrible! She was just fabulous, a greater talent than anyone I could say! She's going to be terribly missed. She had no family, so it's up to her friends to give her a farewell. She was one of a kind.

Q: Why Love Letters?
DR: It's fun to get back to acting. I do Will and Grace and a movie once a year, when you can find a part for older women, or a fun part. There are so few. It hit my fancy. I'm doing it for me.

Q: The El Portal has been in your neighborhood since you were a little girl, correct?
DR: I used to ride my bicycle to go to the movies there for 10 cents. I lived 12 blocks away in North Hollywood. I was raised in Burbank, right on the edge, on Evergreen Street. I was Miss Burbank of 1948 and I'd ride my bike to the El Portal with my girlfreind Jeanette from age of 8 to 17 years. She's coming to see the show. "Is it still pretty, Franny?" (Francis is her real name.) I said, "It's much prettier, Jeanette, you'll see, it's going to cost you more than a dime!" "Should I ride my bike?" I said, "No, bring your Rolls!"

Q: I just saw you in The Catered Affair the other night on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and Robert Osborne was saying how the movie was a turning point in your career. You were terrific in it!
DR: Well Richard Brooks (director) didn't want me for the part, but...I was under contract, so Mr. Mayer said, "But, you've got her!" So Brooks was really tough on me, but Bette Davis and Ernie Borgnine were great, and Rod Taylor was wonderful.

Q: So were you!
DR: It's amazing, but when I look at it, I was 20, and certainly untrained. They certainly were not thinking of a dramatic actress. They took me out of my tap class and said, "You're doing The Catered Affair". It shook me up, and I had to work really hard. Bette Davis and Ernie Borgnine got me through it, not Richard Brooks. He considered me a brat. But...(she launches into her best Davis impression)...that's where I started imitating Bette Davis and doing impressions.

Q: What's your funniest Bette Davis story?
DR: She and Gary Merrill, to whom she was married, were so ill-matched. He used to come in drunk on the sound stage, wearing a little beanie with a propeller on the top. Then we'd try to do a serious scene. It was a very strange mix. There was Barry Fitzgerald with the Irish voice (she imitates his brogue) and you had BETTE DAVIS and you had Gary Merrill with the beanie and then you had Marty/ Ernie Borgnine sitting there, a serious New York actor and then Rod Taylor from Australia, trying to do an American accent. And then you had Tammy who wasn't yet Tammy. And then the cameraman who tried to run the camera over the director; they hated him so much. It was a real mixture of emotions, but all the actors loved each other.

Q: Was Bette easy to get along with?
DR: She was. She was older at that time, and she wanted to look very ordinary. It was miscasting in a way, but she did it very well, and she was very kind to me. Ernie would tell me, "Don't try to play the scene, just be it!"

Q: What are your more recent memories of Mother with Albert Brooks?
DR: I was very lucky to get that great part. Albert is such a wonderful writer and director. It was a tough movie, because it's really a two-person show. So much dialogue, and you had to underplay. Again, like The Catered Affair, understated. Also, the reason I wanted to do Love Letters. I mean I love doing my act, but I miss acting. I wanted to do Mother on television, but Albert doesn't do television.

Q: What about a project for you and Carrie (Fisher)?
DR: We'd love it, so I told her, "Write something!" There's nothing out there. You have to write your own material. We're available.

Q: What's next for Debbie? Another book?
DR: A Disney movie for children, called Halloween Town. I turned down 42nd Street for Broadway, because I don't want to do 8 shows a week.

Q: And Unsinkable Molly Brown in Long Beach was your last musical onstage, right?
DR: It was too much... dancing. When you're doing flips in the air and that kind of hard dancing ...I was 62 at the time, now I'm 71...I don't think I should do triple flips off the bar. I think you should control yourself a little bit, so you can walk, and when you die, you can walk to your own funeral. (we laugh)

Q: You look great!
DR: Well, I'm in good shape. I love what I do, so I think that's the key. I don't have to retire to be happy.

Q: Any advice for young actors?
DR: If you're a dancer, study singing. You have to do everything and do it well. You have to study acting. You have to study all of it. You have to find workshops, get out on the stage...and fail. The only way you learn is by failure. Now if I could apply that to my marriages...

Debbie Reynolds is happy with her accomplishments, but talked about building her Motion Picture Museum in Tennessee due to the lack of interest in Hollywood. This is something that she truly wants to happen. From my understanding the project is supported by Dolly Parton and in 2009 is still in the works.

Monday, March 2, 2009

2007 interview with Sean McDermott

Jekyll & Hyde

When this interview was conducted for, actor/singer Sean McDermott was about to perform at the Ford Amphitheatre as part of a benefit for Valley Musical Theatre called Broadway Unplugged. Unfortunately, Valley Musical Theatre has since disbanded, but McDermott continues successfully to cross country singing in his one-man show and in a show with Kevin Spiritas entitled Jersey Men.
(McDermott had spent the summer of 2007 on a European concert tour with Barbra Streisand. Billed as the Broadway Boys, McDermott, Hugh Panaro, Michael Arden and Peter Lockyer sang with La Streisand in Zurich, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Dublin, Manchester and London: just 10 performances in 8 cities. Various parts of these concerts may be viewed on You Tube. I have included here a couple of the questions that relate to that phenomenal experience.)
Q: How did this whole experience make you feel?
McD: It was sort of a dream come true. Barbra Streisand was a big inspiration for me. My older sister was also a singer. We both learned how to sing, listening to Streisand...Johnny Mathis...Jane Olivor came out after that...Sinatra was great too. My sister came to Dublin to see the show and came back and met Streisand. And I told her (Barbra), "You taught us how to sing."
Q: How did she react?
McD: She was thrilled.
Q: How did she treat you throughout the tour?
McD: She was great to us. She took us out to dinner; she gave us presents. Donna Karan threw us a party in London...I only have great things to say...just standing off stage and watching her...(he is awestruck)...
Q: I'm so glad she's back doing the concert scene again!
McD: Stage fright kept her away for about 20 years. You know, she got a lot of flack for the teleprompters. They're very big. There's one that sits out over the audience. It's huge. She doesn't use it a lot, but it's there for security. She's a perfectionist. She's not a club type singer to whom patter comes easy. She wants things a certain way.
Q: Let's switch to Sean. Tell me about your recent recordings.
McD: I have a CD that was released in Europe. I'm going to go over there and do some concert work to promote it. Dublin loves singers, and so, it's a big release there. I don't know about its release here, probably via the internet. The music business is very strange now, and to get a big record company (... is difficult)... It's primarily original, with a few cover tunes like "Danny Boy" and "Open Arms". It's not Broadway like my previous 2 CDs (the last being Piece of Sky) . It's more rock and pop. I'm a Josh Grobin type and producer Charlie Midnight would pull me back on a lot of my big singing, because, for radio play, it's just not as effective.
Q: Those Broadway albums are terrific!
McD: Yes, thank you. Well my producer in London who did them (Jay Records) wants to do a third, so we were recording in London while I was there this summer. I also want to do an album of Irish songs.
Q: How's LA treating you?
(he recently guested on an episode of NBC's Medium - February, 2009)
McD: I've been out for a lot of film and TV work and done some co-star stuff.
Q: What kind of music do you like to listen to in your leisure time? Besides Barbra, of course!
McD: Mathis, Michel LeGrand. Sting is a huge favorite of mine. Annie Lennox, as far as pop is concerned. It's the way they write, so poignant.
Q: Do you compose?
McD: I do not write. Just some lyrics, but no. I wish I could. I play the piano minimally. My mother studied to be a concert pianist and she taught us. But there was a point where she really couldn't teach us anymore, so we took lessons, into college. If you can't play by then, it's not meant to be.
Q: What about the newer Broadway musicals?
McD: I've been discouraged with many, but there's a new piece called Spring Awakening (2007's Tony Award for Best Musical) that is so inspirational. I loved that. I loved Wicked, although it's a little silly. I like some of the tunes quite a bit. Spring Awakening...I can remember every song.
Q: When are you going to do another show?
McD: From your mouth to God's ears. I've been busy touring and doing a lot of concert work. When the part or the moment is right, I'd love to do more theatre out here.
Q: Do you have a favorite current pop song or singer?
McD: I watched Justin Timberlake recently. He's wonderful. I like his voice. It has this real high timber to it. I also like this rapper Timbaland who performs with Elton John. Keane, a group from London...they have a great sound, a very Beatlesish sound, yet very now.
Q: Are Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz composing material that is too hard for the voice to sing?
McD: Miss Saigon is like singing an opera. You do it 8 times a week, and it's very hard. Starlight Express was extremely high, and it's really difficult to replace people in it. But they're young singers conditioned to sing that way, so I think they've kind of raised the bar, and singers are really coming up to it. They're like machines. You have to really be disciplined not only in your technique, but also in your livelihood. It's a difficult lifestyle.
Q: Do you sing every day?
McD: No, I don't. You really have to take your time off. When you're not singing at night, you have to just be silent, so that the voice can rest. We don't get the break that opera singers have. They usually have a performance and then 3 or 4 days off. Sad to say, the younger you are, the easier it is. You have to keep yourself in shape.
Q: What is your favorite show of all time?
McD: West Side Story. Especially doing it. I know it sounds corny, but there's not another role written like Tony, if you are a tenor.
Q: Favorite composer?
McD: Sondheim.
Q: Mine too.
McD: I mean, I haven't done a lot of Sondheim shows, but I love singing his music. Every one should break out with a Sondheim tune every now and then. You learn so much from singing his material. Singing is the expression of the soul, I think, so his tunes hit the heart; they resonate.
Q: Favorite role you've played? Tony?
McD: It's Tony. Chris, too, was amazing in Miss Saigon.
Q: What role do you think is your best work?
McD: I did a production of Jekyll & Hyde. That was a stretch, a wonderful part...
Q: What role do you yearn to play?
McD: That's the big question. Probably Jean Valjean (Les Miz). Also... Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom, just because I haven't done it. Today there's so much clout in the world of musical theatre.
Q: Is there any role you'd like to play again?
McD: Jekyll & Hyde. I'm getting to the age where you kind of grow into it. And ... Billy Bigelow in Carousel.
Q: What do you feel is your mission as a performer?
McD: To make people happy, to spread the light and love. To just do...You're only as good as your last film or CD or Broadway show, so you're always wanting to do better, to create something really great. I want to just keep doing my music, and I don't know if I've ultimately found it yet. With each new project, I'm getting closer to ...finding my place.
Who is Sean McDermott?
An open, pleasant guy with good Irish genes and a keen talent. Whatever lies ahead for him, he'll surely make it great.
Visit him in his home away from home @
His achievements will amaze you!