Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview with Chairman of the Board Luca Ellis

Actor/singer Luca Ellis is having a breakthrough year portraying Frank Sinatra in the huge hit Hoboken to Hollywood at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, now extended to the end of January. Having portrayed Sinatra last year with the cast of Louis and Keely In Concert @ the El Portal, he is no stranger to the legend. It shows, for when you close your eyes, you feel you are listening to Sinatra himself. Handsome and confident, Ellis talks about the show, its eventual move to a larger space - one that has been confirmed by director Jeremy Aldridge, who also directed Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara to great acclaim - and shares other insights about singers and the art of singing.

How much of Luca is in the portrayal of the Chairman of the Board?
I would ask the question, how much of the Chairman is in Luca’s portrayal of a crooner or singer of popular song in the 1960s?  My very first influence was Dean Martin, during my adolescence. I was about 7 years old.  I can thank my mother for that, since she’s the one who initially exposed me to this music.  In my teens I found Harry Connick Jr.  I was so impressed by his talent. Not only could this guy sing, but he’s an exceptional musician!  It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I discovered Sinatra.  I didn’t even know I was a Baritone until I started listening to Frank.  I quickly realized our voices were incredibly similar.  So, I immersed myself in his recordings.  For years I would listen and learn new tunes, and since I was singing professionally 4 to 5 nights a week. I had the perfect playground to become the well versed singer of American song I am today.  In essence, Frank Sinatra was my mentor and I believe my predecessor to what has turned into a very rewarding and fruitful singing career.  Once you learn to phrase like Sinatra, it’s very difficult to sing a song in any other fashion. To sing with no inhibitions, fearlessly as if no one is listening.  Yet you do all this in a very conversational manner, taking out all the theatrics and giving the most honest and often poignant interpretation of a song. I have not been given the privilege to say I’m playing the role of Mr. S.  Hoboken to Hollywood is a tribute to the American Song Book.  If delivering these songs in the highest light possible means delivering them in a style forged and innovated by Sinatra? So be it.  Is Hoboken to Hollywood about Mr. S? That’s entirely up to the audience member.  Is Hoboken to Hollywood a love letter to Frank?  Probably. 
Tell me again how long you have been preparing to play this role and where you played him before.
When I started listening to Frank Sinatra, I had no intentions of playing him.  I was merely curious about his style of singing.  Being the legend that he is, I felt the need to check his work out.  I’d heard him in passing, but it wasn't until I really started listening to Frank that I found the similarities in our voices a little over 6 years ago.  The first time I ever played the Chairman was last year at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. It was for the Holiday rendition of Louis and Keely Live At the Sahara.  This took place after their run ended at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.  The second role came a couple of months later.  This time I was playing the role of “Ol Blue Eyes” in Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show in Las Vegas.  To end up playing the same character in an entirely different show a couple of months later at the actual Sahara Hotel and Casino, seemed a little serendipitous to me.  All while the “Hoboken Four” (Producer Peach Reasoner, Musical Director Paul Litteral, Director Jeremy Aldridge and Singer/Actor Luca Ellis) were well on their way to developing a new hit show titled Hoboken to Hollywood.  Sometimes things in life just come together.

What do you feel is the chief message of this piece? What do you want the audience to take away besides the enjoyment of the great songs?
As an entertainer I would hope my audience leaves the show with an exhilarating feeling, a sensation as if the air around them was charged with an electricity.  A voltage if you will.  Leaving an imprint on them causing them to still think about the show a few days later.  Maybe they feel the urge to pull out and dust off their old LP collections and have a listen.  Or how about the younger viewer/listener who finds themselves acquiring a taste for fine music all of a sudden.  I feel this show is as educational as it is fun.  Last but not least, for all my audience members to walk out of the theatre believing in the beauty of love and the incredible potential of human innovation.  Experiencing a night or perhaps just a moment, where the human dilemma meets fine art.

What other singers besides Sinatra and Dean Martin do you love? 
Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Keely Smith, Sammy Davis Jr., Doris Day, Peggy Lee, June Christy, Sarah Vaughan, Julie London and Jo Ann Greer just to mention a few.  Not a lot of people know who Jo Ann Greer is.  She dubbed some of Rita Hayworth’s vocals on musicals adapted for the silver screen such as Pal Joey, one of my all time favorites.
Among the newer crop of singers, who stands out?
Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall.  Unfortunately most of todays singers haven’t adopted the proper disciplines to singing a song, so I find it very hard to listen to most of them.  Unfortunately the pickings are pretty slim these days.
What are the plans for this show beyond Edgemar?
Hoboken to Hollywood is Broadway bound. What happens between Edgemar and New York, is already written in the stars I’m sure.
Do you see yourself playing Sinatra's life perhaps on film? Or is the musical enough?
I intend to keep singing this wonderful music no matter what happens with my acting career.  If anything, this show will always serve as a creative outlet for my love of singing and acting in front of living breathing audience.  I would love to keep creating other installments of the basic principal or “mechanism” that is Hoboken to Hollywood.  I say mechanism because it’s an original concept for live musical theatre.  Theatre where the actor/singer has more than one take.  Where spontaneity and circumstance can create an entirely different experience for the audience on a nightly basis.  H2H part II would consist of all new songs and introductions to those songs.  New “on set” dilemmas.  Such a future installment would only come after Hoboken to Hollywood has been enjoyed by tens of thousands of theatre enthusiasts in LA and New York.  In the meantime, if I was approached to play Frank Sinatra in a biopic? I would be honored but more importantly, as an actor I would be completely prepared.  I’ve already studied the man for 6 years, what does that get me?  A Masters Degree?  Would I go for the PHD?  You can bet your life on it.

What is your favorite Sinatra song? Why? What is it about "My Way" that keeps audiences wanting to hear it? "New York, New York"?
I’ll quote Mr. Sinatra on that one, “That’s like asking me if I like steak better than I like ice cream.  There are so many songs to choose from, it’s hard to pick a favorite”.  “My Way” I feel is the quintessential torch song for most listeners.  It paints such a picture that speaks to so many people.  People from all walks of life can personally relate to that song.  I think it’s kind of a phenomenon, I’ve heard of people getting shot or even linched in the Philippines for botching up that song in a karaoke bar.  Can you imagine?  Getting whacked for not singing a song right?! Some people take it a little too seriously.  Although “My Way” and “New York, New York” are the most requested songs, I personally feel there are far superior songs in the “American Song Book” but then again, I’m just the singer.  Since it’s never about me, and always about what the good people want.  If that’s what they wanna hear, then that’s what I’m gonna sing for them.
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                  Luca Ellis and the 12-piece Paul Litteral Orchestra, the stars of the phenomenal hit show “Hoboken to Hollywood,” will be the stars of a special New Year’s Eve celebration at Edgemar Center For the Arts on New Year’s Eve.  Commencing at 9:30 p.m., Luca and the Orchestra will perform an hour-long concert of big-band standards from The Great American Songbook and your favorite holiday chestnuts.
                  Then, a break for Champagne and strawberries.
                  Then, another set of musical standards but, this time, the audience is invited to get on the floor and dance to the great song classics made famous by That Certain Blue-Eyed Crooner From Hoboken and the great big bands.
                  Then, we ring in the New Year, with festivities officially set to conclude at 12:15 p.m. “New Year’s Eve With My Baby.” A musical celebration starring Luca Ellis and the Paul Litteral Orchestra. At Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405.  Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. Starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets: $135. Reservations: (310) 392-7327. Online ticketing: www.edgemar.org
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I watched Luca Ellis and the cast of H to H shoot a video promo of "The Christmas Song" between shows on December 18. I was immediately struck by Ellis' keen musical ear. He knew exactly how to improve an orchestral entrance and how to ease his transition into the song. After only 3 takes, it worked beautifully. Watch below!
Christmas promo with Ellis singing Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song":

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Interview with Leslie Jordan

Comedic actor Leslie Jordan is best remembered internationally for his recurring role as Beverley Leslie in TV's Will & Grace (2001-2006) for which he won the coveted Emmy Award. On stage in LA, he has starred in Del Shores' Southern Baptist Sissies as Peanut and in Sordid Lives as Brother Boy - also in the film and cable TV series in the same role - to popular and critical acclaim and in his own productions of Like a Dog on Linoleum and My Walk Down the Pink Carpet. In our talk, he tells us about his newest touring Christmas show Deck Them Halls, Y'All, which will open at the Renberg Theater of the Gay and Lesbian Center in LA on December 16, as well as other future projects. Jordan is so funny, I had to really be on my guard to control my laughter; otherwise, we'd still be talking.
How are you?

Well, I'm in Atlanta, Georgia...I'm opening this weekend and it is 21 degrees. (he laughs)

Unusual for the south, isn't it?

I grew up in Chattanooga. I thought it was unusual, and I called my mom this morning who said, "This is very unusual." I was in Fort Lauderdale before that, which makes it even colder.

Tell me about the new show and all the characters you're playing. 

I'm so excited. I've had two people, both my producer, who produced the original tour of My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, Dave Morgan, and my director, Mr. David Galligan, say, "This is the best thing you've ever written", probably because ...  it's not about me. (he laughs) For once, I wrote something that's not about me.
And the wonderful thing is when it's not about you, you don't really have to tell the truth. You can let your imagination run. 

How did it get started?

What happened was ... we are opening My Trip Down the Pink Carpet on the West End. I leave on January 16, and because Will & Grace is so popular over there, I'm opening at the Apollo Theatre which has 800 seats, between the two hottest shows in London. Priscilla Queen of the Desert is next door and on the other side there's a show based on the music of Michael Jackson called Thriller. We had planned on November and December to tour ...Pink Carpet to get it ready for London, and I finally just said, "Guys, I've done this show for years; there's nothing else to do." Plus, they were having trouble finding the right sized venue. I'm not Kathy Griffin. I can't do 1200 seat venues. I need 300, 400 something like that. Anyway, out of the blue, they just pulled the rug out from under me and said, "Well, we'll just go to London in February."
I thought, "Well, fine, but, we've got to keep the ship afloat. What am I going to do for November and December?" My booker Dave Morgan, who has a company called Reaction Marketing out in Palm Springs called me out of the blue and said, "Leslie, if you do a Christmas show, I could book you all over the place."
And I said, "Please, what would I do? Talk about baby Jesus and sing Christmas Carols? I don't have a Christmas show in me." He said, "I bet you do."  Well, I had this old Christmas ornament I bought at the Cracker Barrell, these really kind of trashy restaurants all over the south. I had bought this ornament that said,  Deck Them Halls, Y'All! I thought, "That's a title!"

That's cute!

I called Dave and said, "Well I've got a title". He said, "I'll book you into Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and a couple of nights in Atlanta, and then we'll open at the Renberg". I said, "What are you talking about? I haven't written it". That was the best thing that could happen. I sat down and I had had this idea for a long time. I met this waitress in Dallas, Texas years ago, who was a stripper in her prime. Back in the 50s and early 60s she stripped for Jack Ruby. She had her own little Kennedy assassination theory that makes more sense than anything I've ever heard. She said to me (affects a high-pitched female voice). "Honey, you know Jack Ruby was homosexual. We all knew it. The girls knew it. You didn't talk about it. You didn't mention things like that. But, we knew what was up. He was always coming around the bars with these rough young boys, they called them his muscle." She said that when she saw Oswald, she could have sworn that was one of the boys Jack walked around with. "Honey, he went in there and shot him." I thought, "That sure beats Cuba or anything Oliver Stone's come up with." So, that was the germ of this idea and I thought, "How can I make this about Christmas?" So I come out as this old stripper. Honey, she sings, she does a bump and grind. I've got great big enormous bird seed titties, bigger than Dolly (Parton). I do these corny old burlesque songs. I hired an orchestra. I've just put a fortune into it, because I think it's something I'm going to roll out every year.

That's great! What other characters do you play besides the stripper?

It's three generations. The old stripper...she's trying to win this contest on the radio, and you tell them the worst Christmas you've ever had. She just talks and talks and then, the second character...what I do, I've got this strip music and instead of doing a strip, I change into the next character...seductively remove a wig and put on another wig and, bla.bla.bla, I'm the next character, the stripper's daughter, who's a trans-gender lesbian, who's lamenting the loss of her pussy. She misses it. It turns out that the lesbian had, through the product of a rape, a kid. She couldn't raise it, so she left, and the grandmother's raising it, the old stripper. The shining light of the family, he's a little ten-year old boy...and he's in a beautiful Christmas robe. He's had it on for four days. The choir teacher told him, he has potential (his voice goes up). He's going to sing a solo in the Christmas pageant. Anyway, it's basically three generations of this white trash family celebrating Christmas. The Orlando Sentinel gave me a glowing review, which I didn't expect because I was only there two, three days. It was a love letter, saying it's the perfect anecdote for anyone who's just sick of all that cheerfulness at Christmas. 

I can't wait to see it! Since you mentioned Will & Grace... when I interviewed Megan Mullally last year, she talked about working with you on Karen the Musical, once it gets written. What's up with that?

She thought it was a bangup idea for just Beverley Leslie and Karen Walker to be loose on the Great White Way. But, when you ask someone to do a musical with you, wouldn't you ask them, "Can you sing?" It never came up. (we both laugh)
Anyway, she had the rights, but the business people stepped in and were doing another round of negotiations of the syndicated rights and they told her "You just can't do it right now". It might happen on down the road.
So, she said to me, "Honey, we know the chemistry's there. Let's you and I come up with some ideas."  Her mom's been sick so we haven't gotten together, but I have an idea, which I read in the paper, this is the most hilarious thing I ever read. It was a true story in St. Louis, Missouri. A hotel accidentally booked two vastly different conventions under one roof. The Christians, like a Baptist convention, and leather queens, whose convention was called Beat Me in St. Louis. I called her and said "This is it! I'm head of the leather contingent and you're Sarah Palin. You're this white wing Christian, Anita Bryant." We just shrieked. We haven't moved beyond that, because the two of us are so busy all the time.

Who are your favorite comic actors? Anyone you idolize?

Three. Lily Tomlin, who produced my show in New York. She and Jane Wagner produced ...Pink Carpet in New York, and they're involved in the London production. When I was a kid, I had an album of Lily's and I could act out all of those characters, and my favorite was not Edith Ann or the telephone lady. She had a very obscure character called Sister Boogy Woman. She would preach at the rest homes and get the old people up and going. When I met Lily, I acted it out for her. Sister Boogy Woman.She couldn't believe that I remembered that. She was my idol. And Phyllis Diller, who came to see one of my shows. She's tiny. I didn't know that. She's my height; she's tiny, tiny, tiny. When I was a kid, I'd act out her routines with Fang and...my third one, whom I have never met, but would love to, is Carol Burnett. I would sit in front of the television as a kid... I don't know why all three, my comedic idols are ... women. You toss Bette Midler in there somewhere, and you've got it.

Do you have a Christmas wish for everybody?

I have a lot of shame, and until I got sober at 42 years of age, I had never voted. I was just a hippie. We smoked pot, we didn't vote. I didn't know a Republican from a Democrat. I didn't know anything. Never read a newspaper. In the thirteen years I've been sober, I've gotten so politically active, but you can march in the streets and carry signs all you want...but the change has got to come from within. My Christmas wish is that every young gay man and gay woman register to vote. Get out of those bars! I'm all for everybody having fun, but at least get out of the bars and vote! There's so much happening right now and it's so important. That's my Christmas wish.

A wonderful one, and be sure to visit Leslie Jordan's website:
to buy his book My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
and for info on tix to:
Deck Them Halls, Y'All! at the Renberg Theater from December 16 - 19 only!
Call: 323-860-7300 or google the Renberg Theater online!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview - Stars, Stars, and even more Entrancing Stars via the supreme talent of Toni Morrell

Toni Morrell will perform her show Remembering the Ladies @ the El Portal throughout December.

More vibrantly alive and dazzling than a Christmas Cracker straight from the UK is singer/actress Toni Morrell who will be appearing @ the El Portal in the Second Stage Forum Theatre from December 2 through the 31st. Her show called Remembering the Ladies pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, along with Debbie Reynolds, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli, The Hitchcock Blondes, and Lucille Ball. Woa! Those are the best of the greats, and Morrell gives her audience an inside look at who these remarkable women really were and why it is so important that they be remembered.

When asked about her British background Morrell displays a piquantly genuine humor. “I began my career at the age of 17 in the working men’s clubs of England. They were some pretty hard audiences....if they liked you, they let you LIVE! However, that is where I learnt the true art of being an Entertainer....in order to be heard above the cacophony!" She went on to perform in some of the biggest and best venues in the United Kingdom, winning three major nationwide talent contests by the age of 19. She performed in Jersey (off the coast of France), Southern Spain and topped the bill at the Tenerife Country Club in the Canary Islands for a year. Morrell was also booked on prime-time television in Italy on the Rai Uno network paying tribute to Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.....for the latter she sang "La Vie En Rose" in French....and they used subtitles in Italian on the screen.  She laughs,"Would have loved to have known how those lyrics translated!”    

A voice-over artist by day, Morrell is currently the voice on all promotion for Liberace – Music & Memories in Las Vegas. She was also the worldwide-voice-over spokesperson for the Pixar/Walk Disney motion picture Tinker Bell.          

Along with the aforementioned legends, she also adores Cher, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand, but in terms of newer actresses who impress her with that special mystique, fewer come to mind. “Marion Cotillard. She was not only superb, heartbreaking and powerful in La Vie En Rose, but also delivered a wonderful performance in Nine.  She has a Legendary Lady of the Old School quality, which is quite entrancing.” 

What does she want audiences to take home with them from Remembering the Ladies? “It is difficult in today’s world, to hold on to the glamour and the sentimentality of yesterday, but we try, with the words and the music, and the moments onscreen that our legendary ladies have left us. We want to honor the memories that these ladies have given us, and never let them be forgotten, and from the audiences’ reaction thus far, we have done just that.”

Be apart of the throngs of people who are mesmerized by the legendary ladies ...and Miss Toni Morrell.

for tickets, visit: www.elportaltheatre.com

or call:

Interview - Radio City Rockettes in Los Angeles

Jingle Bells start ringing and you know the time has come to celebrate Christmas when the words Radio City hit the airwaves. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring The Rockettes 
is that one-of-a-kind special Christmas show and plays the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles December 9 - 12. I interviewed two of the gorgeous New York girls who are on tour for the first time this year: Amanda Suchy and Brittany Marcin. Both had thrilling reports on the fabulous 2010 show.
Amanda Suchy
Originally from Kentucky, Amanda has spent the last eleven years in NYC as actress/singer/dancer.

How many of those eleven years have you been with the Rockettes?

Ten years actually. 

You've been trained as a classical dancer, correct?

Yes. I danced with a ballet company in Kentucky and also was a dance major in college in Dallas, Texas. So I had a liitle bit of a taste of the big city before I went to New York.

So dance is your career?

I've also done commerical work, but for ten years I've danced with the Rockettes at Radio City.

How does it feel to tour for the first time?

It's exciting. I've never been on the west coast for such an extended period. It's really cool to see another part of the country and to bring the Christmas Spectacular to cities and people who've never seen it before.

Tell me about the show and what the dancers are doing in it.

We've actually been able to recreate the exact same show that we do at Radio City Music Hall. They came up with the Arena Tour production because we can now bring the show in tact from the great space at Radio City. It's so cool to travel with a show of  that magnitude, created especially for these large venues like the Nokia Theatre.

Is there anything in the tour show that you didn't do in New York?

No, it's the same show: our eight minute high infused classic tap number, and the ragdolls in Santa's workshop. Kids love it. Santa Claus still stars with us. Have you seen the number with the double decker bus?

No. Tell me about it.

There's this giant LED screen in the background. I believe it's the largest that's ever traveled. It shows scenes of New York City at Christmastime. The Rockettes are on a real double decker bus that moves around the stage, and it looks like we're really driving through New York City. The crowd loves it. 

That sounds like such fun. Do you still have the living Nativity?

Yes, it's been in the show since 1933, as well as the parade of the wooden soldiers. It's my favorite. So many people walk away from the show talking about it, because of the formation. The precision is so beautiful to watch.
Terrific! I'm so looking forward to seeing the show!

You're seeing it? Great! Be sure to stop back and say hi!

Brittany Marcin
Born and raised in St. Augustine, Florida. Brittany did ballet, but after high school went to New York, as she always wanted to be a rockette.

How long have you been doing the Christmas Spectacular?

This is my fifth season now. They've been in New York, so it's exciting to be on the road.

Have you ever been in LA before?

I've done two shows in LA: the original production of Curtains and the first national tour of Young Frankenstein, but it's fun to be back with a different kind of show. 

What is your favorite part of the show?

 A number called "Let Christmas Shine". It kind of gives the audience a glimpse at the rockettes like a sea. All the women wear beautiful costumes that have over three thousand crystals on them. There's a fun video montage that shows the rockettes through the years, so once the curtain goes up, it's really a spectacular moment.

Do you think that adults will like the Christmas Spectacular as much as kids?

Oh, absolutely. The wonderful thing about the show is that it appeals to all ages. Grandparents can bring their grandchildren. It becomes a family tradition and experience. If for some reason I don't do the show one year, my family will say, "Why aren't you doing the Rockettes this year? That's my favorite thing to come see." It's a wonderful thing to bring families together. And the technology in this new 2010 show is amazing!

Brittany said it. This is a treat for the entire family that you cannot afford to miss. In Anaheim first at the Honda Center (formerly the Arrowhead Pond) December 6-7and then in LA at the Nokia Theatre L.A.-Live December 9-12 only!

Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE
777 Chick Hearn CourtLos Angeles, CA 90015
for show times and prices

Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview with Legend Dick Van Dyke

Legendary stage, film and television star Dick Van Dyke brings Step In Time! A Musical Memoir to the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre @ the Geffen Playhouse opening December 16. He has much to say in our interview about his career and the people he's worked with.

What are you going to be doing in Step In Time?

Well, it's still kind of in the formative stages right now. We had a concert out here in August, we did a loose performance of our stuff, but they want it to be theatricalized a little bit, so we're going to make it autobiographical to some extent. We'll put in some film clips and things of that kind. It will be a little more structured.

Was the title, the song from Mary Poppins, your choice?

It turned out to be everybody's choice. We fooled around with a number of titles. Step in Time seemed to work on two levels: it's the name of a song and it also has an autobiographical sound to it ...  steps in time.

Will you be doing any 'stepping', we hope, during the show?

Some, yeah, I'm doing a couple of numbers from...Poppins and Chitty Bang Bang. So I'll be doing some stepping!

Great! Have you considered writing a book?

As a matter of fact, I'm working on one right now.

Wonderful! Published within the coming year?

Probably spring it'll be out. They came to me, so I had to start reminiscing. It's all there.

As you look back, anything you'd like to do that you haven't done?

No. As I said, this is not work, but a part of my retirement. Everyone else is playing golf; I'm doing this.

You love to do it, that's why!

Such a joy!

Let's play a little game. I'll give you the name of a film or show you've done and say the first thing that comes into your mind about it!

the film: The Comic (1969)

We were excited about that. We thought we had an authentic piece there. It showed the times. We went out and shot a lot of 16mm comedy schtick, a lot of which didn't end up in the film. It was an interesting movie, but opened and closed in the same week. We were kind of prousd of it. Aaron Ruben and I wrote it and rewrote it every day on the set. We had a lot of fun; Mickey Rooney was in it.

the show and film: Bye Bye Birdie (1960; 1963)

It's a case of where they Hollywoodized the film. People loved it, but it just didn't compare...the Broadway show was really a romp. Some of the best songs were cut from the screen version, and some of the best dance numbers. It turned into a vehicle for Ann-Margret, which had been a rather small part on Broadway. She deserved the break she got, but for me the movie was not nearly as good as the Broadway version.

the film: Mary Poppins ( 1964)

Almost the same thing is true there. I saw the stage version last year and it was much darker and left out some of my favorite songs, although it was a great evening of the theatre. Mary Poppins was one of the best experiences of my life.
(There's a reverse in trends to be noted here. Whereas Bye Bye Birdie started as a stage show and later became a movie, Mary Poppins began as a film and much later became a stage musical, in 2004. Although he enjoyed the stage version, Van Dyke definitely preferred the film of Mary Poppins, in which he starred.)

And you performed on stage in Mary Poppins in LA, am I correct?

(laughs) I got up there and did the old banker. It was fun.

TV: The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

Everyone of us connected with it say it was the best five years we ever had. It was never work. It had brilliant writing that Carl Reiner did. He wanted to cut if off at five years; I'd still be doing it if I could. I didn't want it to end.

TV: Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001)

That was one of those things that was just a fluke. We did the spinoff from Jake and the Fat Man and then we did a couple of TV movies. Nobody ever expected it to be a series. They'd pick up five shows and then a couple more. We just stuttered along like that for...ten years. (he laughs)

It was a very entertaining show!

We tried to keep it family style and working with my son (Barry Van Dyke) was a joy!

Let's do some of the many people you've worked with now. Give your first impression!

Morey Amsterdam
He was as happy a little guy as you would expect. The sweetest man! He wrote lyrics to the theme song, which no one ever heard. We sing it in this show. Great lyrics! He was a good songwriter, along with being a good comedy writer!

Rose Marie
Rosie...of all the people I've ever worked with in comedy...has the sharpest sense of timing. Razor sharp! And she'd call the rest of us...if it was too long, she'd nail us. Incredible!

Carl Reiner
A Genius! What can I tell you? An absolute genius! And also my favorite human being.

Mary Tyler Moore
When I first met her, I said "Carl, she's beautiful. And she has a mid-Atlantic accent. Can she be funny? And I think I was the last person ever to ask that question." Around Morey, Rosie and me, she picked it up so fast. I was so proud of her.

Carol Burnett
I did The Carol Burnett Show a few times. That group was the most fun to work with. They tried to write me as Harvey Korman and nobody could replace Harvey Korman. Ever!

Julie Andrews
A British lady...with kind of a mischievous side to her. Oh My God, she's everything you'd expect her to be.

Janet Leigh
Oh, a sweet, sweet lady. I've known her since Jamie Lee (Curtis) was a little girl. I used to go to her house and she had just been divorced from Tony (Curtis) and met Robert (Brandt) who was a mensch and a wonderful guy. And we lost Janet way too soon! Wonderful mother, just ask Jamie Lee!

Maureen Stapleton
(howls with laughter) One of the greats! My God, what an actress! I did two movies with her, Birdie...

And you did The Runner Stumbles in the late 70s. I forgot about that one.
I wish everybody would.

Chita Rivera
She was just out here a couple of weeks ago, and we spent a day together. The most electric performer ever to step on a stage now or any time! Nobody like her! Unbelievable!

Michele Lee
I don't know Michale that well. We did one movie (The Comic) and one special together. As young as she was, she always struck me as being so knowledgeable about movie making and cameras and everything. I learned a lot from her.

She deserved the break (in Birdie) and turned out to be one heck of an actress. We're still friends today.

Terrific! What a delight to talk with you and I can't wait to see Step In Time! Thank you for your time!

Thank you, Don! My pleasure.

Don't miss Dick Van Dyke live on the second stage @ the Geffen beginning December 16!
Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
call: (310) 208-5454

or visit:

Updated: December 9:

We are incredibly disappointed to share that due to an achilles injury beyond anyone’s control, Dick Van Dyke will be unable to perform in his upcoming show Dick Van Dyke – Step in Time! – A Musical Memoir at the Geffen Playhouse.  Obviously the Geffen Playhouse’s top priority is to do what’s best for Mr. Van Dyke who is a longtime friend and supporter of the theater, and as such, we have no choice but to cancel the production.

“I very much wish that circumstances allowed me to share my stories at the Geffen this winter,” said Dick Van Dyke. “Unfortunately, this injury is forcing me to be off my feet for a while.  Perhaps there will be an opportunity to revisit this sometime in the future, but in the meantime, I thank everyone for their understanding and support.”

The Geffen Playhouse will be offering refunds to all patrons ticketed to the event as well as options to exchange into Broadway Holiday or a season subscription at no extra cost.

Interview with Leslie Uggams

Actress/singer par excellence Leslie Uggams brings her acclaimed one-woman show Uptown Downtown to the Pasadena Playhouse opening November 19. In stories and song, Uggams recreates her extraordinary journey from uptown to downtown. From Mitch Miller to Roots. From the Apollo Theater to Broadway. Featuring direction by Stormy Weather's (2009) Michael Bush and musical direction by Don Rebic, the show played earlier this year at New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Tell me about the roots of Uptown Downtown.

Last year I did it at Jazz @ Lincoln Center for the American Songbook. It was one of those situations where they asked me to participate in it, so I called my dear friend and director of Stormy Weather to help me put a show together. While we were putting the music and everything together, we realized that I was an uptown girl who worked her way downtown to do Broadway. That became the title and we did the show. People just went crazy over it. They'd come up to me and say, "Oh gosh, we just loved it and the stories and we want to hear more stories, but you didn't sing Mitch Miller." It was only an hour; eventually we thought we'd expand it, because the Pasadena Playhouse had called about possibly bringing the show to LA. So I thought, "This is a great opportunity. Now I can put the television years into it as well." That's how it all came about.

I cannot think of another actress/singer who can play Lena Horne. You're it!

Thank you, thank you.

What's happening with Stormy Weather?

We're trying to get it to Broadway. Our problem is that they want a young star for the younger role. It's not easy to find that person. First of all, Lena was gorgeous. A lot of the ones who come up are not interested in doing eight shows a week.

Nikki Crawford who did it in Pasadena with you in 2009 was wonderful.

She was wonderful, but, you know, Broadway has changed. They want to make sure that there are guaranteed butts in the seats. That's how they look at it, so that's what we're struggling with right now. They're talking to a few people, so we've got our fingers crossed. That's what's holding it up; the money is there.

I'm happy to hear that. Let's move back a little. You did Mitch Miller and The Ed Sullivan Show many, many times and you even had your own TV show. If you had to compare TV then and now, what differences exist?

Well, it was live. What you saw was what you got. There was no "Oops, we'll retake this!" It was like being on stage. You had to have your stuff. There was no way it was going to be edited. And of course, it was an exciting time with television. Variety was everywhere. All these great shows that you could appear on that helped your career, because in those days there were tons of nightclubs, so from television you'd get booked in nightclubs. Now the variety shows become the talk show and the people are there to promote something, they sing a song and that's it. We miss those wonderful shows like Sullivan, Hollywood Palace and Milton Berle. All those shows had great, great stars and variety. It was a wonderful time and it was great for me, because I got to be on the shows and watch these great people and learn my craft.

You also did All My Children.

Oh, I loved that. That was so fascinating to me, because...Ben Vereen and I were out on tour. Everywhere we went, like in a restaurant, people would stare and then come up and say "Rose, we love you, Rose." I became like a rock star. Soap opera fans are so loyal. It was fabulous, and a lot of people that came to see
me with Ben, didn't even know that I sang. I had a whole new audience. They'd say, "Oh, and you sing great, too!" (she laughs) I had a ball. And I have such an appreciation for those actors. I had to learn pages and pages of dialogue. They got it down. After a while, you get in the rhythm and you can hang.

What is your memory of Hallelujah, Baby!? (1967)

Having Jule Styne sit down with me at the piano playing and teaching me the songs. It was just extraordinary, and then to have Comden and Green come into the room and do the same thing...working with people who were legendary in the theatre and here I was sitting there and they're helping me rehearse.

And now you're legendary yourself!

Ah, thank you!

How did you enjoy doing On Golden Pond? (2005)

That was great, and it 's interesting, because that was something that wasn't planned. In fact, that's another thing with this show (Uptown Downtown), is that most of the stuff that I have done in my life was not planned. Things always come to me from around different corners. What happened...it was supposed to be a reading kind of thing that James (Earl Jones) was going to do with Diahann Carroll. It kind of grew and she had had back trouble and had to bow out. I had a week to learn this whole thing and open at the Kennedy Center. I didn't have time to sit there and go, "Oh my God, I'm working with James Earl Jones." I really had to focus, which was great. It was like taking a master class onstage with him every night. I just loved it. He's the dearest, dearest man. When you work with that kind of calibre artist, it makes you raise your own bar. My career's been like that, working with people like Carol Channing (Jerry's Girls), people like that who are amazing and it makes your game even better.

Who is your favorite composer?

I have so, so many. Of course, Jerry Herman. My national anthem has become "If He Walked Into My Life". I also love Harold Arlen, any Gershwin music, Beatles songs. Usually anything that I sing in my show, the composer speaks to me. Even Irving Drake; I do a song of Irving Drake. I pick classy people. Music that has lyrics that say something.

What is your all time favorite Broadway show. whether you've don it or not?

Recently, I've done... twice... Hello Dolly! I had a ball doing that show, and that was a show I never thought about doing. Jerry (Herman) has written some great music and it's so funny. It's a classic. I would love to do that on Broadway. It's a great one and sends so many different messages.

Do you have any favorite musical artists from amongst the newer crop? 

I love Beyonce, and I also love Christine Aguilera. She can sing her butt off. She can sing anything. I've seen her with Herbie Hancock singing standards, and then she gets up there and sings her rock and roll at the same time.

If a young aspiring actor came up to you and asked for advice on how to become a big Broadway star, what would you say?

Well, first of all, I would say that if you're in it to become a big Broadway star, you're in it for the wrong reasons. You have to love the theatre, love the work. That will come if you're true to what you're doing. And I believe it's studying your craft. So many young people really don't know their craft. Go to a Stella Adler school or the Actor's Studio because it teaches you how to dig deeply into what you are doing. And also voice lessons. In theatre, you have to sustain it eight shows a week. A lot of times, these kids are great for two shows and then they're out. So I would say, learn your craft! Anything that you can possibly be in, do it! That's how you learn.

 Thank you so much. I am so looking forward to Uptown Downtown.

Thank you! You're going to have a good time.

The lady herself guarantees a good time, so you cannot afford to miss the one and only Leslie Uggams in Uptown Downtown @ the Pasadena Playhouse opening November 19 and playing until December 12. Get tix early!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2005 Interview with Jill Clayburgh

The following interview ran in NoHo LA
 in March, 2005 before Miss Clayburgh
filmed Running with Scissors.
We mourn her passing on November 5,

Interview with Don Grigware

Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang’s Jill Clayburgh
Beloved actress Jill Clayburgh (An Unmarried Woman) will
host a gala benefit concert performance of Angry Young
Teen-Age Girl Gang at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in
Hollywood Tuesday March 22. Proceeds from the benefit will
be used to send the hit L.A. musical back to New York to
Off-Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre. Originally presented
last year in NoHo, Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang went on
to the New York International Fringe Festival where it ran for
four performances at the Lortel, receiving critical acclaim.

With book by Mark W. Knowles, who also directs, and music
and lyrics by David G. Smith, Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang
tells the story of a teenage girl in San Francisco during the ‘50s,
who is sent to reform school where she sinks into deeper trouble.
The musical explores the darker aspects of teen culture and the
‘50s, while utilizing the gender bending technique of casting all
of the youth roles with women and all of the adult roles with men.
When we talked about the show, Knowles added, “It’s specifi-
cally more a sub-genre which was based on girl films. Mamie
Van Doren had done a couple. There are a handful of them.
I wanted to do something really fun, but I also love drama.
When we played New York, it kind of took people off guard.
What’s nice is that it pulls them in dramatically.”

Could he give me a ballpark figure of what it will take to get the
 show back to the Lortel and when? “We need about $260,000,
 and the Lortel Theatre is asking for 80% of it up front, so realis-
tically we are shooting for summer 2006.”

As far as the gala itself on Tuesday March 22, Knowles’
dear friend, renowned Academy Award-nominated actress
Jill Clayburgh will serve as hostess. He continued, “We’re
doing a concert presentation, a condensed version of the book.
Jill is going to read the narrative of what we’re cutting out.
Also, it’s a backers’ presentation, so it’s serving a double function.”
According to Knowles, Clayburgh has been extra generous in
helping to promote it. “The kind of thing Jill does is, for example,
she went down to Florida in November and volunteered to drive
people to the poles during the presidential election. She really
gets out there and does stuff.”

Long before they became friends, Knowles was first taken
with Clayburgh in a very special way. “It’s so wild. Her film
An Unmarried Woman was really instrumental in …I mean
I don’t want to sound dramatic...but I saw it at a time where
it really affected me and put me on the right track, ‘cause I was
living in a very small town in Oregon. When HBO aired the film,
here was this woman who is wrecked by circumstance and yet
she manages to take it and turn it into something…like alchemy
…that positive turn for the good. I was 17 and gay and all that
stuff that comes with it. Closeted, I was also from a very strict
religious background, and that didn’t help. After watching the film,
I got a therapist. So, the film got me into therapy”.

An artist can and at times truly does make a difference. Clayburgh’s
humble reaction to her effect on changing Knowles’ life for the better
 was, “I can’t believe it!”

Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang is produced by Angry Girl
Gang Prods and Emerge Arts Projects, Inc. The evening begins
with a cocktail reception beginning at 6:30pm, followed by the
concert performance at 7:30pm. There is a $100 suggested minimum donation which is tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
The Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Barnsdall Park at 4800 Hollywood
Bl. ((just west of Vermont) in Hollywood. 818-553-5190. www.angrygirlgang.com

It was a genuine thrill for me to chat recently with Jill Clayburgh via phone from her home in Connecticut. It came as no surprise to film aficionados when in 1999 Entertainment Weekly named Clayburgh in its list of Hollywood's Greatest Actresses.

JILL I’m so excited about Angry Teen-Age Girl Gang. Mark
(Knowles) wants to bring it into New York again. It’s a really
edgy, enjoyable, terrific, terrific show. And I said I’d help him.

DG I know you love edgy material. What do you find intriguing
about this show?

JILL I’ve only seen it once on film, but it’s pretty unique. It’s kind
of campy, very original.

DG You sang beautifully in Pippin on Broadway back in the ‘70s.
Are you going to sing at the gala?

JILL I’m not going to be performing in this. I’m going to be helping
with the segue-ways from one scene to another. He hasn’t asked
me to sing. Tell him to ask me to sing!

DG I will. What’s your next film project?

JILL I’m going to do a movie in LA called Running with Scissors
directed by Ryan Murphy who just won a Golden Globe for
FX’s Nip/Tuck. It’s an amazing story.
Did you read the book?

DG No. Tell me about it.

JILL It’s a book by Augusten Burroughs. Sort of a crazy, funny,
dark autobiographical novel of his childhood, and Ryan (Murphy)
adapted it. It’s about this teenage boy who has a very disturbed,
troubled mother. That’s going to be Annette Bening. She gives
her son to this family whose patriarch is the mother’s psychiatrist. He adopts the son, and I play the wife of the psychiatrist. The boy has to live in this sane family. Finally, he gets out. It’s one of those
stories like Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. You learn about
how the writer as a young man finally escaped from his incredibly
difficult situation.

DG Because of Unmarried Woman and Starting Over, you have
become associated with the burgeoning feminist movement. How
does that make you feel?

JILL It pigeonholes you to a certain extent. On the other hand,
it’s nice to be known for something so important. It’s got two sides.

DG Do you have a favorite role?

JILL Not really. Every movie is such a little journey.

DG Shy People is one of my favorites.

JILL I loved that movie. It was so difficult to make. You were
always out on the water. The cinematographer, Chris Mengyes
said he had never done anything like this. I mean if you had to 
pee, it took an hour, because you had to get off your little boat 
on to another boat. Everything was very slow.

DG Who are your favorite actors?

JC There are so many great actors. I really can’t say one or 

DG Some actors believe that American actors are under-trained
compared to those say from Great Britain or Australia.

JILL I don’t agree with that. There are a lot of amazing theatre
schools in America – Julliard, Yale... It’s a different kind of training. When I was starting out, there weren’t as many amazing actors. It’s hard to find a bad one now.

DG How did you like doing Nip/Tuck?

JILL I loved it, loved it, loved it. It’s the kind of show where you
can get really involved in the story.

DG What are your recent stage appearances?

JILL I originated in New York a wonderful play called The
Exonerated and I did All My Sons with Richard Dreyfuss at
Westport. I actually did a couple of plays with my daughter
as well at Vassar and in Glouchester, Mass., written for us by
Israel Horovitz.

DG Do you prefer working in theatre or film?

JILL I’m loving the theatre right now.

DG: But it takes a lot out of you.

JILL It gives you a lot back too.

DG Yes, the audience. What’s left career-wise for Jill

JILL I want to keep doing plays. The older I get, the
more I actually love acting. So I would like to continue.

DG What advice would you give to young actors?

JILL Start with the theatre. It gives you a good basis.
Don’t get caught up in the Entertainment Weekly-ness
of it all. Stick with the work, because the rest is so