Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Natalie Toro Interview

Natalie Toro, the brilliant co-star of In the Heights recently played Broadway in A Tale of Two Cities and has also played Les Mis and A Christmas Carol in New York. She has a mile-long list of credits in tours of shows such as Evita, Jesus Chrsit Superstar, West Side Story and Cats. She's equally at home on the theatrical stage, at Carnegie Hall and in the recording studio, having released several solo CDs - her latest entitled simply Natalie Toro. In our interview, she discusses her role in Heights, her new cabaret show - which will premiere in LA at the Magic Castle on July 12 - and other roles and theatrical passions.

Compare your role in In the Heights to other shows you've done. Is it challenging? If so, how?

This is the first time I am playing a "Mom". Not having any children myself, I had to pull from my mom. She is a strong, vibrant and take no bullshit, kind of woman. She raised my brother and I all alone. She had the resilience that I can only dream of having if I had a child. She put me through college. That was huge since I was the only one in my family to go and finish and get a degree. I couldn't imagine for a second, after all the hard work and sacrifice she had to endure, coming home and telling her I flunked or quit college. With Camila, my character in In The Heights, she is strong. But she is a different kind of strong. You see, they have a family unit, and they have had to learn to work together to even have a successful business. She is not the stay at home and cook and clean mom. But the one that would work all day at her own business, then come home and cook and clean. Pretty much they work together, and when they don't, she feels betrayed.
I only felt it challenging in the beginning because I wasn't sure how to play a mom. But now, it's a comfort zone which also comes with playing a role for 9 months now.

What is the favorite show you've done to date? Why?

That is a hard one. All the shows I've done are pretty much epic musicals with sweeping scores and vocal challenges. But I have to say, that my favorite two, can I have two? My favorite two are Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities. I performed both of these on Broadway and had two of my favorite roles. In Les Miz, I played Eponine. And in Tale, I played Madame Defarge. I'd say two roles on the opposite side of the spectrum. One a waif, who wears her heart on her sleeve and the other, an evil, vengeful woman who would kill your kid if she thought she had a reason. LOL

Your Evita was sensational. What is your opinion of this show vocally? Patti Lupone has said it ruined her voice doing it 6/8 times a week.

Thank you. So glad that you were able to see it. I LOVED playing her!
I don't know what Sir Andrew Webber was on when he wrote that score! LOL It goes from the bottom of any female range to the highest belt one could imagine all in a couple of measures. And Evita is only off stage like 15 minutes throughout the show.
In my contract, I was slated to do it only five times a week and that was grueling. I had NO life on the road. I stayed in my hotel room most days not talking to anyone until the show. But again, it's hard in the beginning, then your body gets used to the material and it gets easier as long as you have good vocal technique.

Who is your favorite composer?

I studied at The Manhattan School of Music and was trained with classical music. I LOVE Chopin and Rachmaninoff. But Leonard Bernstein and Sondheim are my favorites.

What is your favorite musical of all time?

West Side Story!

What role do you really want to play that you haven't so far?

Well, that's a little thorn on my side. I've always wanted to play Elphaba in Wicked. Think it will ever happen? (She laughs, knowing full well she is past the age to play that character.)

Tell me about your cabaret show.

I am very excited about debuting my new show The Broken Road here in LA. I've spent most of my career doing Broadway National Tours that it was a no brainer to write about it and sing about it. People don't REALLY know what goes on with people like me who live out of a suitcase to pursue your dream and to play your dream roles. It's not glamorous. But you learn different things about yourself and people and places that you might not ever get to experience. I want to share that with the public. Not to mention that it's funny as hell too!

Catch The Broken Road at The Inner Circle of The Magic Castle in Hollywood on Monday July 12 only! Also, see Natalie Toro in In the Heights at the Pantages through July 25 only.
For all things Natalie, visit:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Interview with director Gregg T. Daniel

Three Sisters After Chekhov opens July 9 @ The Lost Studio in Hollywood. Its director Gregg T. Daniel has a diversified and well-known career as director/actor of stage and television/film actor. His stage direction includes 2009's critically-acclaimed production of Tom Stoppard's Heroes at the Group rep and Sybyl Walker's Beneath Rippling Waters presented by the Company of Angels @ the Fremont Center in Pasadena in 2006. As actor, he currently has a recurring role as Reverend Daniels in HBO's True Blood.
In the following interview Daniel discusses the newly formed Lower
Depth Theatre Ensemble that is about to present Three Sisters After Chekhov.
Tell me about The Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble and its mission. Since this is its inaugural production, what does it expect to bring to the Los Angeles theatre community that is decidedly different from what most other groups bring?

Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (LDTE) was formed out of a passion of several mature theatre professionals to continue to grow. Our genesis as a company is unique in that our founding members did not recently graduate together from a theatre training program who then decided to form an ensemble. Rather, we’ve been doing theatre for decades, have ongoing careers while currently raising families. Our desire is to take the maturation and experience we’ve gained over a lifetime in
the theatre and reflect it in our choices on the stage.
Since our members work in classical, contemporary and new plays, we wish to include those in our repertoire. However, we may look to non traditional choices and places to supply the raw material. We’ve done a reading of a retelling of the Phaedra myth by playwright Nicole Brooks set on the island of Haiti. Our inaugural production of Three Sisters After Chekhov by Mustapha Matura sets the story on the island of Trinidad circa 1941. We envision an opportunity to interpret plays in the theatrical canon in unexpected and unique ways.

Why was Three Sisters After Chekhov selected as the first production? How does its message reflect the theatre group's overall and specific goals?

I wanted material which had a classical feel about it without feeling obligated or dictated to by the classics. Part of the company’s mission is to present material, “through the lens of the
artist of color.” Sounds great, but what does it mean? Well, with Three Sisters After Chekhov, I have an Afro- Caribbean playwright adapting a Russian Classic with largely African
American actors in the roles. It’s the perfect synthesis of material, race and setting which challenges our perceptions of the world. What did it mean to be a bourgeois Caribbean family living under British rule in 1941? I was also taken by the unusual resonance the story attains from the playwright’s transposition. I’ve seen many productions of Chekhov’s Three Sisters but saw the material with fresh eyes in Matura’s work.

As director, what is your main goal and perhaps underlying goals in the mounting of this play?

My main goal is to open up the richness of the play’s culture and setting in a way which is familiar, appealing and urgent to audiences. I don’t mean familiar as in a Frommer’s guide to the
Caribbean. Rather, I want audiences to identify with the internal struggles of this family to achieve happiness. In our adaptation of Three Sisters, Cambridge, England stands for Moscow. But no matter the city, it still represents an idealized world of freedom, happiness and hope. It’s the human condition for fulfillment we’re exploring… wherever it’s set.

What is your most challenging direction of a play to date?

They’re all challenging, whether I’m directing a solo performance piece or a twelve character ensemble. Every play has its own unique set of needs and peculiarities. I love tackling plays which intimidate me, plays which feel insurmountable to me. That’s when my work really begins. How do I give shape and meaning to the disorderly world of the play? My next directorial challenge is in mounting a staged reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs. It’s scheduled to be part of the Antaeus Company’s annual Classicsfest (of which I’m a member). Talk about big ideas, Les Blancs deals with pan africanism, racism, independence, and ultimately identity.

Do you have a favorite director - either stage or film - that perhaps serves as a mentor to your work?

There are a multitude of directors I like for various reasons. Some are adept at excavating the text for meaning, some create startling visual images. Ann Bogart of the SITI company based in
New York has been a major influence on my work. I had a chance to study with her in Spoleto, Italy a number of years ago. What Ann suggests can be done with two actors occupying an empty space charges it with possibility. I always read her book, A Director Prepares before I direct a show. Ann’s ideas push me beyond my perceived comfort zone.

I see a great change in the direction that casting of plays is taking not only in LA but everywhere. African American, Asian, Hispanic actors are cast in all roles, without differentiating race, color or creed, as it should be. Am I perhaps fantasizing this change or am I correct? Are you personally satisfied with this? Do you think most African American actors and directors are?

I do agree the palate for casting roles in plays, film and television has changed. There appears to be an acknowledgement we are living in a vast multicultural city, nation and world. I’m excited to see reflected on the American stage and screen, the faces of people I interact with daily. Coincidentally, Trinidad where our play takes place is considered one of the most ethnically mixed cultures in the world as a result of the sugar trade. However, I don’t necessarily feel we should seek to erase differences of race, color or creed in our work. It’s just incumbent
upon us not to use those differences in exclusionary ways. In our search for material, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble has tapped into a wealth of diverse playwrights and stories from playwrights of color around the world. These stories are as rich and varied as ones written by O’Neil, Chekhov or Strindberg. These are the stories LDTE hopes to bring to Los Angeles audiences.
US Premiere
Previews: Wednesday, July 7 at 8 pm; Thursday, July 8 at 8 pm
Run: Fridays, July 9 – Sundays, August 8, 2010
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 4pm
Guest production at The Lost Studio 130 S. La Brea, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Street parking available. Meters free after 8pm Monday – Saturday, and on Sundays
General Admission: $25; Group tickets $20
Previews tickets: $15 Preview Groups: $12
Tickets: or (800) 838-3006
Information: 213-413-6177


Friday, June 11, 2010

Interview with Keala Settle

Keala Settle is the best Bloody Mary I have seen...ever! In Bartlett Sher's South Pacific at the Ahmanson, she gives a truly amazing performance . To my compliments, her response came back laughingly and lovingly, "That's my job!" In our talk she discusses her burnout from the biz, how she came back via this show and her gigantic passion for the theatre. And..she has a terrific sense of humor, as you will witness.

Your Bloody Mary is incredible. Tell me about how you play her. Is there anyone she is patterned after in your own life?

I blame Bart Sher. Four years ago, I left this industry forever. I said I would never come back because I was too burned out. I was finishing up the tour of Hairspray, playing the lead, which I had played for two and a half of those three years. I was tired, I was done; the dream was no longer. I had a lot of health problems. Unfortunately, I was addicted to stupid things and they had made my mind crazy. I felt I needed life, because I had lost it. It was my first big show and I had no clue. I walked away and kind of became a stagehand. I didn't fully walk away because I still loved the whole idea of theatre. I love every aspect of it and what makes it happen. It goes beyond the person that's on that stage. You've got to be able to see him, to hear him; you've got to step on some kind of set. What enhances the entire show is all or naught. I fell into that world willingly and became a stagehand for about 3 years. Then (she pauses and thinks)...I had done South Pacific twice before.

Not Bloody Mary? (incredulous)

Yes. Once for a university and the second time for a community theatre project in Vegas. I saw an ad online, and I live out of Dallas, Texas now. The announcement was for a new production company for a theatre opening in Dallas for South Pacific and they were only doing it for 3 weeks. I thought maybe I can put my foot back in and see what happens. I called and they said it was a New York production. Last season I went to New York, right before the Tonys for 2009, it was pouring rain, I had thrown myself back into this whole world again, and it was nervewracking. I auditioned for Bart, he looked at me and said, "Where have you been this whole time?"

What song did you sing?

They asked me to do "Bali Ha'i". I couldn't believe I was doing it again, and they actually liked it. Bart kept playing with me, asking me questions to find out who I was. At the time I was doing tech week at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego for Catered Affair. I was freelancing as a sound engineer.

You were born in Hawaii. So you are an island girl. Is there anyone from your past, any relative, that was anything like Bloody Mary? How did you piece her together so well, because you really know who she is?

I guess it's because's a way of life...who she is. Unfortunately, it's a way of life that will never change. Whether you're Vietnamese, half Polynesian - which is what I am: my father's from England and my mother's from New Zealand. If you're part Asian, or fat or skinny, it doesn't matter. It's survival of the fittest. And that's what you do. As a human being, you find a way to survive moment by moment every single day of your life. That's what she's about. At that time in WWII, everything that was happening around her and the life she had led up to that point...she had struggled to leave Viet Nam or somewhere there abouts to come to the south pacific to get closer to freedom. And ended up learning how to make...she became the first entrepreneur kind of woman; she became her own boss. On top of that, she was trying to get her daughter into the game by marrying her off to even more freedom. That's the way it still is, unfortunately. Nothing's changed. It's just a different view.

The miraculous thing is that the show still holds up.

And it will. The music is obviously timeless, as are most of the messages that are in it that can now be brought to the surface. Whereas when the show first came out, people weren't ready. Society wasn't ready for anything near to that kind of issue.

And this production is as fresh after 9 months as when you started.

Thank you, but that's our job. It's not a movie. You can't call "cut!" and then do it again. For every performer every moment has never happened before. (she laughs)

You do it beautifully!

When I first saw the show, I sent Bart (Sher) an e-mail and tried to quit. I told him "There's no way in hell I can do this show, because I'm not that good. Either I'm quitting right now or you will have to literally work very hard with me so I don't look like a friggin' Asian Chris Farley". May he rest in peace, but that's not what the show calls for. It's not Saturday Night Live. And I didn't want to screw it up. I still struggle with that every day, which I'm grateful for, because it always keeps me in check.

Why do you think playing Tracy in Hairspray wore you down?

Tracy Turnblad in that show has a total of maybe 10 to 15 minutes of down time in a 2 hour, 40 minute show. She starts the show at 100 miles per hour and ends it at 100 miles per hour. And if you really want to do your best, which every single Tracy did and probably will until the show dies out, which is probably never due to the tremendous energy behind it, they will always give their hundred million percent. Those in that role have that spark, energy and life to go the distance. And when you continue to go the distance, you get tired. (she lets out a riproaring laugh) The show is wonderful, and when I was onstage, all the pain in my body just melted away, but I'd come offstage and was just a wreck, because I didn't know how to balance the two out. But, looking back, it was the best experience in my life and I wouldn't change it.

Which is your favorite role? Tracy or Bloody Mary?

I don't really look at it in that way. It's how much I've learned. I've learned more about myself in this show (SP) than I did when I was Tracy. I was covering everything up then; I was hiding. It was too much for me and I didn't think I could handle anything. So I chose to not handle it. In this situation because of the creative team and because I spoke to Bart, there's not a day that goes by without support. I need that support and I learned that from being on this show.

Did you have a mentor growing up, someone you just adored?

I did, I did. There were...I used to be a pop singer, well, not used to be, I am an R&B singer. My emphasis was on Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin...and then when I was in high school - they put me in theatre to keep me out of trouble - I went back to the fabulous 40s, watching all the American movie classics. Seeing how these people walked and moved. The comic work of everyone on The Carol Burnett Show...watching Betty Grable and how she would dance. That's how I learned how to dance. I would record her movies on the VCR, watch it the next day and play it again and rewind and play it again and practice every single dance movement. That kind of entertainment is very rare today.

So are you telling me you loved Betty Grable?

I did. All the good of her; all the bad of her. Just the drive that she had. The fact that she got her first movie and it was illegal. She wasn't supposed to be in it, because she was lying about her age. I love the drama about her family and how her mother treated her. Growing up in Hawaii with my mother Polynesian and my father from England, it was the ultimate American dream idea for me, what she encompassed. It was the idea of becoming famous, trying to be a star, having a specific passion and sacrificing no matter what and anything to get there. She'll always be an icon.

Do you have a favorite Broadway show?

Play is Noises off, because I love watching it. It's in improv mode and it's great seeing what the actors can do, guided by it. Musically I'm a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim and I love, love Sweeney Todd. The music is so haunting and it takes people away from the whole idea of a musical being... happy, happy, joy, joy! For someone who's never been to the theatre before, it's like a horror flick in front of their face with music on it. To see people witness that for the first time is astounding.

There's no in between. You either love that show or you hate it.

I love people that go the distance. I hate things that are lukewarm. They've got to be one way or the other and go all the way.

The great thing about Keala Settle's outstanding work as an actress is that she goes all the way and never lets down. Don't miss her as Bloody Mary in Bartlett Sher's South Pacific at the Ahmanson until July 17!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interview with Director Jeremy Aldridge

Jeremy Aldridge most recently directed the World Premiere of Savin' Up For Saturday Night at Sacred Fools Theatre, for which he received a Best Director Nomination from LA Weekly. Previously he directed the award-winning and critically acclaimed Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara (Sacred Fools and Matrix Theatres), for which he received an Ovation Nomination and LADCC and Garland awards for Outstanding Direction.
In this second interview with the creative team of Priscilla's Perfect Day @ GROUP rep in NoHo, Aldridge as director of the play describes his challenges in working on it.
What was the greatest challenge in putting together a children's play? Particularly as opposed to regular adult fare?

I think the greatest challenge is making sure that we create something that is meaningful, accessible and most of all fun for children. As Diana mentions, we do not want to pander to kids- however we know that the two biggest hits in our show are probably our six foot five lobster and a walking and dancing dog Roscoe! It is a balance. Priscilla's Perfect Day really succeeds at this by reflecting children's wonderful imaginations, while teaching a nice little lesson about expectation and what is important in life.

Most children's shows I've seen disappoint me, because they do not allow kids to interact with what's going on onstage? How are you surmounting this problem? Is there interplay with the audience?

We do have a really fun chase scene that takes place throughout the audience and sing along for everyone at the end of the show. Characters, especially Priscilla herself, regularly break the fourth wall and engage the audience. Additionally, the kids will have the opportunity to interact with the characters after the show during our Pancake Breakfast. (It doesn't get much better than a show and character breakfast for $12!) However, Priscilla's Perfect Day was actually created with a companion educational package that helps children learn about traditional forms of theatre. Our aim is to introduce the kids to the experience of theatre and have them enjoy themselves so much it becomes a viable entertainment option for the whole family. We hope the kids will leave and really be hungering for another theatrical experience.

I really feel that adults are nothing more than big kids. You have to entertain them as well, since they bring the kids to the show and are also a part of the audience. How do you feel you have achieved this with Priscilla...?

Each and every rehearsal we are finding more and more what we are calling "Pixar" moments in the show- moments that will satisfy both sides of the equation. Dads and Moms will laugh because they identify with the parents in the show and at the same time the children will totally get the relationship that Priscilla and Billy have as brother and sister.
The songs themselves also work on many layers. As an adult, while watching and listening to "Perfect Day" it truly has a profound effect. The song really touches you on an emotional level. At the same time, on its face it is about a little girl drawing pictures in her scrap book and imagining the rain away. Really wonderful song writing! I feel blessed to be working with Diana and Richard on Priscilla- the cast and crew have been great- as well as all the folks we have partnered with at Group rep.
Priscilla’s Perfect Day, directed by Jeremy Aldridge, plays Saturday mornings at 11:00 am June 12 through July 17 at the GROUP rep @ the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood.Call 323-822-7898 for tickets or visit:
Running time: one hour, followed by Pancake Party and craft making at noon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Interview Creative Team of Priscilla's Perfect Day

Jumpin’ Jehovah! A giant lobster edging in on young Priscilla’s blueberry pancake feast! Grab that lobster! Save those pancakes!! This plot sounds quite the yummy treat for kids and adults alike! It sure has my mouth watering!
Husband and wife team Diana Martin (book) and Richard Levinson (songs), pianist for the recent hit Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara, are collaborating on Priscilla’s Perfect Day to open Saturday June 12 at the GROUP rep in NoHo. They discuss the challenges of mounting a children’s show.

What was the greatest challenge in putting together a children's play? Particularly as opposed to regular adult fare?

DM: The challenge, actually the goal, was to create an entire performative event that would entertain all ages. A story that anyone could relate to... layered and nuanced and informed by historical theatrical conventions, conceits and musical genres. No stock, cardboard cutout characters that one often finds in standard Storybook Theatre. My primary responsibility is to cultivate a child's imagination. It is not necessary to be extremely literal and one does not need to resort to cartoonish tricks. I have the utmost respect for children's innate intelligence and have faith that they will get it, fill in what they need and then take it to another level within their own active imaginations.
RL: I think the first job, whether for adults or children, is to delight. This doesn't necessarily mean to just be funny or silly or giddy or wild, but to satisfy within the boundaries of the particular show. This is partly the responsibility of the written piece, but for children perhaps even more in the staging -- training focus where needed, but also to be stimulating wherever the audience happens to be looking or listening. A theater is always a dual environment, with the world of the play taking place in an actual space ; adults may be more accustomed to this than small kids, who might be just as interested at any particular moment in the cool lights hanging from the ceiling or the sound of the piano. (For example, we are using the piano for some loud sound effects rather than record all literal cues .. much more eerie and magical.) So, the experience of going to a live show is in some ways more profound for a child-- the whole environment might well be something brand new and it's good for the creators to keep that in mind as they shape the show.

Most children's shows I've seen disappoint me, because they do not allow kids to interact with what's going on onstage? How are you surmounting this problem? Is there interplay with the audience?

RL: From first walking in to the welcome speech to action occurring not just on stage but from beside and behind should naturally involve the audience personally, and , of course, with a very large lobster chasing some very small clams around the theater, some of the kids might well feel very close to the action.
DM: The theatre is a living, breathing environment; a collaboration between the audience and the actors on the stage, the vibrations are real, not synthesized, and there is always the expectation that something new and spontaneous might occur at anytime. The audience feeds the actors and vice versa, it is a symbiosis. I liken this experience to the difference between reading books aloud to children as compared to them listening to a book on tape. The entire experience is "theatrical", the lobby, the people milling around before the House is open, the colorful cards for other shows, the cast photos, the programs, the sense of urgency when the lights flicker and you rush to your seat. Then you enter the House, see the set, the overture begins and the anticipation is palpable. Our curtain speech will explain theatre etiquette and encourage appropriate ways to show appreciation and delight. The actors may break the fourth wall and take the audience into their confidence so to speak. And in the tradition of English Panto there is a "chase" scene and a sing-along and, of course, after the show a Pancake Party with activities for kids in the Green Room, which will enable them to see the backstage workings of a theatre environment.

Diana, what specific element entertains kids most, do you think? The music, the jokes, visual stuff, hands on activities...?

DM: Children want real things, things that are relevant to their everyday lives. Children are natural storytellers and they will respond to the true as well as the whimsical. And they also want valid information... think of how a five year old will memorize the most complicated names of dinosaurs or all the planets in the solar system. So, I won't condescend in my writing, I have high expectations of their abilities to sort and filter. I tried to incorporate as many historical conventions of playmaking as possible into this particular play from the conceit of the neo-classical "well-made play" to elements of Aristotle's Poetics to the three unities of playwriting. From the Greeks, there is a Clam Chorus which is informed by the Greek Chorus, painted rolling flats - "pinakes" - for scene shifting, and a "Prologue" to set the tone. Musical genres are explored in a fanciful way. For example, there is a Blues singing Blueberry and Clams who dance a traditional Cakewalk. Our choreographer Michele Bernath researched and incorporated historically accurate steps into the dance performed by a Mama Clam and her three children! We also have a Dream Ballet that is informed by the one in Carousel. By utilizing diverse theatrical conventions and musical styles, it is my intention that children's minds will be primed so that they recognize those elements the next time they see a play or hear a concert.

Richard, how do you approach working on this piece as opposed to say the very adult Louis and Keely show?

RL : I don't think I write with any really different approach, outside of age-appropriateness. I tend to work technically, from word-play and structure backwards to general theme, so the process is similar no matter the project. I would say that generally, as songwriter, I wouldn't condescend to an audience whatever the age and it's always a good idea to aim a little high rather than try to make everything easy and simple. But I need to check my own fun sometimes and remember that getting too involved in manipulating lyrics can result in a song that is unsingable and unlistenable -- I think I've got these just about right!

Richard, what kind of music do you feel really gets to kids right now? What musically have you incorporated into this show?

RL: If the music marketing mavens are any guide, young kids are just smaller versions of teenagers. I think this is cynical and just not very nice. But I'm not really an expert -- I just know that when kids hear the songs in Priscilla's Perfect Day they respond in a very natural, interested way. They learn them in a snap, and they are much wordier than most kids’ fare I've heard. They are about subjects kids know and deal with -- family, pets, food, and lots of new language, which is in itself a sort of delicious treat.
I really feel that adults are nothing more than big kids. You have to entertain them as well, since they bring the kids to the show and are also a part of the audience. Diana, how do you feel you have achieved this with Priscilla...?

DM: The premise of Priscilla started with my own experiences of family vacations, relationships, things people have said to me through the years, and my observations of children's behaviors. In Little Women Professor Baer admonishes Jo to write what she knows. I read that book for the first time when I was eight years old. So, I write from the heart and it is therefore my heartfelt hope that universal themes found in family dynamics (including sibling rivalry!) appeal to the kid in all of us.
Priscilla’s Perfect Day, directed by Jeremy Aldridge, plays Saturday mornings at 11:00 am June 12 through July 17 at the GROUP rep @ the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood.
Call 323-822-7898 for tickets or visit:
Running time: one hour, followed by Pancake Party and craft making at noon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Interview with James Denton

Actor James Denton from Desperate Housewives is immensely popular and every woman's dream man. When I met him at a charity event for SeaGlass Theatre recently, he struck me as a really nice guy, warm, friendly and very easy going. We talked about SeaGlass, their fall project, his music - and of course, Desperate Housewives.

Tell me about the fall production at Sea Glass.

Our Managing Director Paul Stroili was involved in the original production of Of Grapes and Nuts twenty years ago in Chicago. He presented this award-winning comedy, a send up of John Steinbeck, to SeaGlass and they were delighted with it. It's sort of a hybrid of Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, but lacking the one thing not really evident in Steinbeck's work... a sense of humor. The great thing is, it's a funny play even if you're not familiar with the source material. But if you're familiar with the Steinbeck works, it's truly hilarious.

You're a busy man working a successful TV show and doing theatre as well. Explain how both mediums fit into your life. Why is it important for you as an actor to stay connected to the stage?

Theater is just so much more rewarding. And that's all I knew before moving here. When I became an actor, I never expected to do it in front of a camera. You are in control of the performance in theater - not a dozen producers and an editor. You can be great or really suck on television and it is totally out of your control. But thank God for Housewives. It financially enables me to do some theater. I try to make sure I get on stage every year or so.

Talk a little about the play How Cissy Grew.

It was a lot of fun working with Erin (O'Brien, his wife) again. It's the third play we've been in together, and we had a blast. We only did it because it was such a great role for her, and she was brilliant - I basically did an imitation of about a dozen guys I grew up with in Tennessee.

What kind of role appeals to you most? Why?

I've heard actors say that bad guys are the most fun, but I don't think that's really accurate. The character just has to have some interesting flaws. The two best roles I've had were Mr. Lyle on The Pretender for four years and Judge Ripley on the Bochco show Philly. The former a real creep, and the latter a pretty solid leading man type. It just depends on how well they are written.

You and your wife Erin act together, sing together. How long have you been together as a team and what makes your marriage work so beautifully?

We met in a play at the Court Theatre in 2000 and got together almost immediately. She started singing with Band From TV because she was better than the people we were paying to back us up, and we have a blast doing it. I think we're just a lot alike, and that goes a long way.

What stage role do you yearn to play?

There's really not one that jumps out at me. I always wanted to play Pale in Burn This but got cast as Burton. Wasn't cool enough. Also wish I had gotten a chance to play Brick (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) or Chance (Sweet Bird of Youth), but those days are over. I got to play Stanley (Streetcar) in Chicago, and that was a workout.

Tell me about your music and growing up in Nashville. Is music equally important in your life?

I started playing guitar when I was 12, but put it down and toyed with the piano through my teens and never got very good at either because of it. I wrote some music for a few plays in Chicago, but basically got away from it for the last 10-15 years. The charity opportunity with BFTV got the guitar back in my hands and I've improved a lot. I was never very good - particularly by Nashville standards. But the band and I have both improved a ton in the last four years.

Who are your acting idols?

There are some actors I will always pay to see. Robert Duval, Robert Downey, Jr. Guys who never, ever phone it in. Even if the film is bad, they will be worth watching. I think Hugh Laurie is the best actor on television. And I thought that before I met him. He is slick - I never see him working.

Who are your singing idols?

I'm a Springsteen guy. 100%. I really like John Mayer - he got up on stage with us one night and was a great guy. He played my guitar - and now I can tell it's bored with me. If it's country, Dwight, Steve Earle, Phil Vassar and Dale Watson. I was lucky enough to be in videos for those last two guys.

What's up with Desperate Housewives? Do you foresee a long run for your character? Why do you think it has been so successful?

It feels like Mike will be there as long as the show is on. They've had too many good opportunities to whack me, and if it hasn't happened yet...
Mike and Susan might be too much a fixture for that. Looks like we'll get two more years for sure - which is outrageously lucky these days.