Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with Iris Rainer Dart, Artie Butler & Mike Stoller Composers of The People in the Picture

The Tony nominated musical The People in the Picture's cast album has just been released on the Kritzerland label. To honor that release the musical's composers Mike Stoller and Artie Butler and librettist Iris Rainer Dart shared their feelings about the various challenges of writing and mounting The People in the Picture.

Dart, who also wrote the novel and screenplay for the cult hit Beaches, had this to say:

"I wanted to write a story about the power of laughter. Both my mother and my father were immigrants. My mother came to America from Russia and my father from Lithuania.  My father put himself through college and became a social worker in a settlement house in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a neighborhood which was later made famous by August Wilson in his now beloved plays.  We had no money. We were always behind on payments to the phone company, the utilities and the grocery store. But the great thing was that we had something money couldn’t buy. A group sense of humor that enabled us to laugh at all adversity. Nearly all of my memories of my childhood are about laughing, telling jokes and singing. The Yiddish culture was an enormous part of it. The exquisite humor of that culture was woven into the fabric of our lives. It was growing up knowing about Yiddish films, songs and theater that made me a comedy writer and it was the same sensibility that inspired the great comics and comedy writers of the bygone eras. 
As I researched the power of laughter, I learned that the ability to have a sense of humor even during the horrific times of adversity was a characteristic of the Jews.  I found that surprisingly there were jokes told in the ghettos and the concentration camps that had a particular dark sensibility that astounded and fascinated me.  So I decided to create a character who was the star and creator of Yiddish films in Thirties Poland and tell her heroic story through the war years, culminating in 70s New York where she is a grandmother, with a grandchild eager to hear her Bubbie’s (The Yiddish word for grandmother) stories and a daughter who resists hearing them." 

Her challenges?
artie butler, iris dart, mike stoller

"The challenges with this show came with going directly to Broadway with no opportunity to experiment with what should and shouldn’t  stay in the show.  We were lucky to have  Donna Murphy, a giant Broadway star, and that was a blessing. And to work at Roundabout, the fantastic and generous not-for-profit behind us.  But it would have been nice to be more able to have time to experiment, which a Broadway opening doesn’t afford the writers." 

Co-musical composer Artie Butler shared the following:

"The main thrust of the project for me was making sure that the score sounded absolutely seamless musically. This is due to the fact that the score is composed by two composers who in life are very friendly with each other, but musically each brings his own warmth and humor to the show. It was truly an adventure of laughter and crying for me. I know it was for Mike as well."

Mike Stoller, of the famous Leiber (Jerry) and Stoller combo is currently still working on projects that he and Leiber, now deceased, began. One is about the life of Oscar Wilde and the other, based on the novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. He added his thoughts on The People in the Picture:

"At first I thought...although I am Jewish, I was not raised in a particularly religious, Jewish family. So I thought that might be a challenge, and yet it proved not to be. However, early on, I invited a dear friend Artie Butler to join me on the project. I have known him for 50 years. It was a very joyful experience to both be working on this wonderful project. "
Why didn't the show become more successful and have a longer run on Broadway?
"This is a very personal feeling. Almost every evening when I was in the theatre, people walked out with tears in their eyes. They were very touched and moved. I think some critics view that with suspicion when anything is that touching.There's nothing wrong with sentiment, but I fear they view it as sentimentality rather than sentiment. Frequently there were Q and A's after the show, and many people from the audience stayed. They loved the show, including children of holocaust survivors. It's a touchy subject, but I think it was handled very well. Iris Dart is a wonderful, wonderful writer. Our collaboration was a dream." 

To order this moving recording, visit:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview with Actor/Playwright Doug Haverty

Actor/playwright Doug Haverty has had a very busy 2011 both on stage and off. He discusses the local productions given his musical iGhost and play Next Window, Please and his acting roles in two GRT productions: the recently closed Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and the upcoming My Three Angels, set to open December 9.

Tell me about the challenges of producing your musical iGhost.

Our production of iGhost (inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost, but a complete departure from it) was very challenging and rewarding for everyone involved. As we - Adryan Russ is my collaborator on this piece; she providing music, I wrote the book and we co-wrote the lyrics - were developing the piece and doing workshop presentations, we were gifted by the performances of many talented actors. This was a very ambitious project with a cast of thirteen requiring period costumes as well as contemporary costumes; dancing and singing. We were also blessed with some extraordinary collaborators on our creative team. And, of course, we owe so much to our director, Jules Aaron. We did a lot of work on the book, prior to production and a good deal of work while in rehearsal. Jules was a saint and actually brought to the production both our choreographer and our set/lighting designer. Jules and I had worked together before on the world premiere of Could I Have This Dance at the Colony and I think the world of him. He really conjurs up a vision of the entire theatrical experience and he is an excellent dramaturg. Not long after the Colony premiere (which was very well received and gathered many awards for all involved —including my script being named Best New Play by the American Theater Critics) I was offered an Off Off Broadway production at the Village Theatre Company in Manhattan. They said I could have any director I wanted. Naturally, the first person I called was Jules. And even though it was New York in August/September, and even though Jules had already planned a trip to Italy for that exact time slot, he said yes. Jules also directed a production of our musical Inside Out (also co-written with Adryan Russ) at the Laguna Playhouse; a production that came about as a result of Jules’ suggestion to then Artistic Director, Andrew Barnicle. So, to put it mildly, we were thrilled that Jules could find the time to helm this production and he did so, clearly, because he thinks it has great commercial potential.

Looking back, I’d have to say that the main challenge we had was time. We were working under the Equity 99 Seat contract and we followed those rules religiously. And we had scheduling challenges; 13 actors, all with conflicts (previous commitments, work, callbacks, etc.). We also spent the first half of the rehearsal period working on the set of the current show at the Lyric (which included 3 trailers as it was a trailer park musical). So, some smaller scenes were fine, but it was hard to choreograph dance production numbers in that confining set-up. There were the standard stress flurries associated with any new show, compounded by the time constraints and eventually some personality conflicts arose, but everyone really seemed to believe in the piece, so we made it through all that.

Adryan and I had had some success with our six women musical, Inside Out, in part because it was easy to produce: no set requirements, just six chairs. So, when we started to work on iGhost, we thought big. We wanted a large (two-story) set, and special effects and flying. With the production at the Lyric, we were able to see how the show can be presented in smaller venues (which, most likely, will be how many future productions will be presented).

One of the best things to come out of this production is Richard Berent’s arrangements. He creates tracks that augment a live piano. So, while he was playing the show live, he would also initiate tracks to enhance the sound. And, in addition to being a brilliant musician, he is also a writer and artist himself. He treated our material with such respect and reverence. He examined each scene and the characters involved and came up with a different sound for each musical number. Yet, he restricted himself to the sound of a small orchestra. So, instead of computerized-sounding “strings,” he used one violin, one cello, one viola, one bass giving the entire score a truly unique sound. And now we’ll have use of those arrangements and tracks for future productions.

That's wonderful. And I know how successful the show turned out to be with many weekends completely sold out. Now let's talk about your play Next Window, Please.

Next Window, Please was a joy from beginning to end. We had done a series of readings at The Group Rep using their company members. When we were finally ready to go into production, two of those actresses (Group Rep is a membership company and tries to cast each show entirely from their membership) were not available. So, we sought actors from outside the company and found Shelby Kocee (from Theatre 40) and Bianca Giselle (from The Road). Trisha Hershberger, Gina Yates, Kady Douglas had all done previous readings. Stephanie Colet and Christopher Wolfe had literally just joined the company. The director, Richard Alan Woody, and I completely agreed on the casting. Little did we know that we had put together an incredible force of nature. These seven people bonded immediately and developed a camaraderie the likes of which I’ve never witnessed. Every rehearsal was like a reunion of longtime friends. We were very lucky to get this cast and most of the positive comments we received were about the cast and how wonderful they were as actors and as an ensemble. 

Next Window, Please came out of my experiences from working for various banks. I knew from the start, that this might not be the great American drama, but taking heed of “write what you know,” I thought I’d explore this chapter of my life. I was not looking to create a pot-boiling, full-of-intrigue, Moneychangers storyline. I was interested in showing the community that thrives on the other side of the plexiglass. And although the action takes place in a bank, it could be any office situation. I was actually robbed while I was working at a bank on Hollywood Boulevard. And my robbery was similar to the one that occurs in the play; almost benevolent. Maybe that’s not the best choice for a dramatic setting, but that’s how it happened and that is how the banks want them to happen; they don’t want gunshots and ambulances.

I started developing this play more than seven years ago. And even when I was working in banking there were always mergers. So, I thought it would be interesting to show employees confronting the merger and instead of just accepting the layoffs that are handed down, show people taking their fates into their own hands and making their own decisions. Little did I know that after the financial downturn of 2008, this play would become so “current.” While we were in production, Bank of America announced a huge layoff. One of the other comments we received was how timely the play was. Our director invited people from the banking industry in to see the play and they all concurred that it was very true and consistent. One V.P. from Bank of America said, “it’s almost too real.”

In one of my last conversations with The Group Rep’s founding Artistic Director, Lonny Chapman, he suggested the insertion of monologues for the women. He suggested we break the fourth wall and have each teller come up, one at a time, and instead of saying “May I help you?” tell us something that we never expected, something they may not have shared with their co-workers. So, I had each teller answer an unasked question: What was the most exhilarating day of your life? And what was the worst thing that happened to you? Audiences really seemed to appreciate these monologues.

I totally agree. They were definitely riveting. Do you prefer writing musicals or plays? 

Writing musicals is very difficult. For one thing, at least in my case, it has to be done with a collaborator (or collaborators). I’ve been fortunate to have good experiences with the few musicals I’ve written. I’ve written three musicals now with Adryan Russ and we get along famously. We’re working on two more. But they take a lot of time. Adryan and I met in the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop (now called ANMT) when Lehman Engel actually flew out from New York to teach. He ran the BMI workshop in New York as well. When he came to to Los Angeles for the first time, he was astounded at how many writers turned up to take his workshop. He tried everything he could to dissuade us from embarking on this writing nightmare. He asked of the 300+ people in attendance how many of us fancied ourselves as bookwriters. About 75 people raised their hands and he was flabbergasted. He made us stand up. He said referring to us nervous would-be bookwriters standing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the STUPIDEST people in the room! Why would you want to write the book for a musical? If, by any chance, the musical works, the book is the last thing to be acknowledged. Yet if the musical doesn’t work, for whatever reason, the book is always the first place they point the blame. Now, you’re already standing. No one will think anything less of you if you leave right now. In fact, go downstairs and buy a lottery ticket. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than you do in writing a hit musical.” No one left. We sat down, stayed and survived the entire workshop. I guess there is something about attempting the near impossible that fascinates us. Even that we write theater pieces defies logic and common sense. Each year there is less and less of a chance to have anything produced. Even though musicals are generally popular with audiences, the tendency is to mount known shows, revivals. So, we’re always competing with the past catalog. Personally, I love creating musicals. When they work, there’s nothing like it. They take a lot more effort and revising them is even more difficult if those revisions dictate a change in music, lyrics or structure. When a song works, it’s very satisfying. But it’s a huge time commitment (at least it’s proven to be that way for me).

Now let's switch gears and talk about Doug Haverty the actor. What was it like taking over the role of the judge in And Then There Were None?

Ten days before And Then There Were None opened this year at The Group Rep, the director Shira Dubrovner asked me if I would understudy the role of Judge Wargrave. The actor playing the role requested an understudy because his health was failing, he was working full-time and taking care of his wife, who was also in ill health. I agreed with the understanding that I would be guaranteed one weekend of performances.  Two days later, the actor was too ill to rehearse, so I stepped in and stumbled through the play with the actors pushing me around like a ping pong ball. Then the next night I was called in again. Two days later the actor withdrew and the director informed me that I would assume the role. This was six days prior to opening with a preview in four days. Judge Wargrave is in all three acts and has a pretty fair amount of dialogue. But, somehow, I did it. The play went into my brain. It did not always come out in the right order though. My fellow actors were great, offering to run lines with me or run scenes, come in early, stay late. In short, this was not an ideal situation for anyone concerned, but it was a challenge and therefore exhilarating. We opened and I did the entire run. As a writer, I had new appreciation for Dame Agatha Christie. Her plotting and characters are sublime. As a teenager, I read her books and, most likely, her writing instilled in me a love of true “characters” and their various idiosyncrasies.

What about My Three Angels? Are you having fun?

Again, for me, the fun is in being part of the team. This is a wonderful cast and a joy to work with all of them. I’ve never worked with Larry Eisenberg as a director and he is very creative and daring and likes to explore different options, which I find informative, challenging and fascinating. We may do a scene one way, pretty much the way everyone assumes it should be done. And he’ll throw us a curve ball and add a different intention to see if it plays better or more intriguingly. Larry strives to have everyone believable in their roles and makes that the top goal. It’s a wonderfully quirky play; not your typical Christmas fare, but we’re hoping people will like that aspect and enjoy this refreshing departure from the standard holiday faire.
 My Three Angels takes place on an island in the Caribbean at Christmas. The temperature varies between 104 and 105 degrees. My character and his wife and daughter have recently been relocated to this island, originally coming from France. Sam and Bella Spewack’s script is delightful on the surface and the subtext is quite intricate and deep. A lot happens in a very short time, none of it predictable. It’s not unlike It’s A Wonderful Life in its tone and underlying message.

What else is new? What does your work entail with Kritzerland?

I have been a graphic artist since college when I worked for the student body association doing posters for concerts, speakers, dances and other on campus events. I’ve worked at three record companies and my most recent full-time job was as Vice President of Creative Services for All American Music, where I was in charge of all visuals: package design, advertising, merchandising and videos. Fortunately, with my years in the music industry the executives I reported to were understanding and allowed me to take off work when I had new plays going into production. In 1998 I opened my own graphic design studio (out of a spare bedroom in my house) and it’s gone fairly well. I had built up a lot of contacts while working in the industry.

Since 1999, I have worked with Bruce Kimmel (and his various labels: Varese Sarabande, Fynsworth Alley and now, Kritzerland). We just released our 100th CD on Kritzerland. I also maintain the Kritzerland website, which is actually a commercial website where the CDs are sold. Kritzerland specializes in re-issues of classic film scores, some of which have never been on CD or have been newly re-mastered. Sometimes we get stills from the studios, but many times I have to find them. I’ve had very good luck rummaging through the collected stills at Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood (with a huge thank you to Claire there who maintains the archive).

Kritzerland just released a CD from 13 year old Melody Hollis called Melodyland. I’ve seen Melody in action and she is a force to be reckoned with and one of the most together people on the planet. It was a pleasure to design her CD as well as Jason Graae’s latest Perfect Hermany. I’ve known (and admired) Jason for years and when our musical was presented at the Disney/ASCAP workshop, he was the first person we called and he jumped in and helped us present there (and was hysterical as always).

I have also done design work lately for LML Music, which specializes primarily in vocal albums. I just completed working on Susan Egan’s latest (and brilliant) CD The Secret of Happiness co-produced with Georgia Stitt. Recent CDs have also been designed for: Lea Salonga, Tom Wopat, David Burnham, Teri Ralston, Melora Hardin, Ray Jessel, Robyn Spangler, Steve Ross and Shaynee Rainbolt.

Just this past week, we completed the design for the first release of the Broadway Cast Recording of The People In The Picture with Donna Murphy (which is due out in mid-December). I also just completed the design for an unusual soundtrack for ZhuZhu Pets’ “Quest for Zhu” which is an animated quartet of singing squirrels, not unlike the Chipmunks. They are a huge phenomenon with kids around the world and had a float in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I have worked with “Weird Al” Yankovic since 1992 and I recently designed a series of “baseball cards” for him that are selling like hotcakes on the internet and at Al’s concerts.

One of the hardest projects I’ve had to do in years, is a re-design of my own Off Broadway Cast Recording of Inside Out. It’s very hard when it’s your own baby and no matter what I came up with, none of us were happy (“us” being my co-writer Adryan Russ and our re-release producer, Bruce Kimmel). Eventually, I hit on something we all liked and it featured our stunning Cherry Lane cast on the front cover. 
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
As you can see Doug Haverty has little time to be bored with anything. He works diligently and gets great results. Look for future productions of iGhost, pick up Kritzerland cds - remember he designed the covers - and see this prolific man live onstage in My Three Angels beginning December 7.
www.thegrouprep.com for into on My Three Angels

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with Singer Lyn Stanley

Singer Lyn Stanley will appear at Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's on Sunday November 27. She has an amazingly diversified background to share with us.

Tell me about your background, which, I understand has taken a shift twice in totally divergent directions, from businesswoman to pro champion dancer to singer.

Unfortunately, I did not come from a performance family background and, if you could sing, it was not really thought of as a viable profession to earn a living, so not encouraged. However, I did become known as the teen in the neighborhood who played Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall album and sang her heart out when doing cleaning chores around the house. 

After graduating from college with a BA in Communications, I began a ten year career working for major advertising agencies handling some top brands, including Universal Studios and Amphitheatre, Hilton Hotels, Mattel Toys and others.  I then moved to the client-side and worked for other big brands managing their marketing efforts.  I decided to accelerate my credentials and received a masters degree in Communications from Cal State Fullerton with a high GPA and then applied to one university, Michigan State, and was accepted in a doctoral program in Communications Arts and Sciences.  Teaching became a way of life for me, and my practical background and experience became very useful in this career. 

How did dancing play into your schedule?

My children were young at this time, so I had a lot of priorities with teaching, studying and family duties.  But, when I knew I was grounded, I allowed myself one extra-curricular activity: I took up a social ballroom dance class for one hour a week, and loved it.  As life seems to connect the dots, I continued to find social ballroom classes after I left Michigan and moved to Atlanta Georgia.  It is there that I first saw competitive ballroom dancers practicing and found a partner willing to help me get training.  For the first time, I was introduced to a professional dancer and teacher in International Standard style (where dancers are always attached, and ladies wear long gowns and men wear tail suits).  This style is considered the "Cadillac" in the industry because you are physically attached to your partner at all times doing five dances, waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep and Viennese Waltz.  So, now I had both a Pro/Am partnership and an Amateur partnership and began to compete with both of them.  A year later, my new amateur partner and I won a 2004 Bronze national title and I was placing as a finalist with my Pro/Am partner.  I was now IN and hooked.

My dance career, as an amateur, led me to winning or becoming a finalist in competitions as my experience level increased to the highest level an amateur can compete without becoming a professional, called Open Gold.  In 2010 I won three events in Open Gold International Standard, and to do this I had to dance over 60 rounds in less than three hours (some rounds were three dances each, some were five).  It was a physical challenge but extremely rewarding because the judges in 2010 at the National Dancesport Championship in Orlando Florida were stellar.  On the panel were two professional world champion finalists--one was Denmark born Charlotte Jorgensen, the professional dancer on Dancing with the Stars first and second seasons as John O'Hurley's partner.  The other was Glenn Weiss.  Both have been my coaches and are amazing dancers.

And how did you transition to singing?

An odd story.  I was living in Rancho Palos Verdes at the time, and I attended a concert where Paul T. Smith was playing, and he was 88 at the time.  I just could not believe what I was hearing.  Musical candy--fluid, amazing agility, timing...I had to meet this guy and moved from the back of the open-air ocean view concert to a seat in the front row right in the middle.  I went backstage after he performed and shook his hand--dancers do this to get a feel for the musicality of a partner--and then I went home and looked him up on the Internet.  He was Ella Fitzgerald's accompanist for eleven years, produced several albums with her, and he also worked with a line up of other greats including Sammy Davis Jr, Sarah Vaughn and many, many more.  The article stated that Paul played regularly at the Terranea Resort Hotel, so I went to his next gig there and met him again.  Only this time, I had my business card in hand because I discovered his wife was Annette Warren (the voice of Ava Gardner in the movie Showboat), and she was a vocal coach.  I asked that he give her my card to see if I had a voice.  (My mom had suggested I sing in a choir not long before.) She called, tested me and said "...so you don't think you have a voice?  You've got to be kidding,."  The next thing I knew within five months (February 2011) I had my singing debut with the Paul Smith Trio and sang seven songs.  I once told Paul I had only sung in the shower, and he commented back "..lucky shower."  To this day, he and Annette are my among biggest fans and supporters.

From a video I had recorded during my performance with Paul, I submitted an audition tape to the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University.  This is an open call program and I was selected to be one of the 27 performers for their 2011 conference.  The feedback from the teachers at this conference, including Amanda McBroom, Tovah Feldshun, Sally Mayes, Sharon McKnight, Erv Raible and Julie Wilson gave me the confidence that I should pursue a career in singing.  So, here I am now with a one-woman show called Makin' Whoopee! 

Who are your singing idols?

My idols in singing are Ella Fitzgerald (what an instrument!--AND I have heard she wanted to be a dancer...go figure?), Etta James for her down to earth R&B groove style, Anita O'Day for just jazz, Amanda McBroom and Tovah Feldshun for Cabaret performance excellence, Judy Garland for inspiring me. Doris Day had a way with singing words that brings out so much emotion.  Peggy Lee--wow, calm, sweet and sexy.  To me, Barbara Streisand has given singers a new bar to reach, and I admire her. Of course, I love so many of the men too, but like everyone else, love the lyric phrasing of Frank Sinatra.

What kind of style have you adopted as a singer?

I am skirting with both Cabaret and Jazz.  I think there is a place for emotion-stirring singers in both.  Paul Smith has told me Ella could not remember lyrics to songs, so she developed scat as a technique to help her finish the songs when lyrics were not available to her.  I do not think you can achieve the same kind of emotional communication in scat that you can in the lyrics written by the finest poets in the American songbook.  Cabaret is a completely unique art form and requires many skills to deliver well. I think it is the highest form of song interpretation for an artist because you must both act the role in the song, enhance the melody with voice and drive home the lyrics with a feeling to each audience member that is personalized.

Tell me about your program for November 27 at Sterling's.

My program will be around dancing and Makin' Whoopee love song themes that range from fun to frustration! My arrangements are by Bill Schneider and Tamir Hendelman.  Bill has a great feel for Cabaret work (he plays for Janis Paige too) and Tamir is the newest jazz piano star working with his trio and has been an accompanist to Barbara Streisand and, most recently, Natalie Cole for PBS specials.

The show's songs will include American songbook selections from the 20s, 30s including "Makin' Whoopee", "Love Me or Leave Me" (both are Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson), "Funny Valentine"/"More Than You Know" arrangement, "One For My Baby" with "The Man I Love" arrangement.  Songs from musicals will include "Hernando's Hideaway" (a tango), a NEW LYRIC I have written to go to the song "Arthur--in the afternoon" from the 1970s play "The Act." I have adapted the lyrics to this quickstep tempo tune for social dancer taking lessons with her Arthur--Arthur Murray.  Another new British musical song, not yet well known here in the US I am including is called "In a Disney Way."  It is very funny.   I am also including a beautiful waltz tune written by Buffy St. Marie in the 1970s entitled "Until It's Time for You to Go,"  We will also include "Fever" and a Michele LeGrand/Bergman song called "Pieces of Dreams/Little Boy Lost." 

I understand you are donating a part of the earnings on the 27th to charity? Which one?

Yes, To Adolescents in Action, an education program for a teen drug treatment program in Malibu called Visions.  I will always donate a portion of my earnings to a local drug educational program for children or teens wherever I perform. I was able to donate to Betty Ford Foundation's Children's Program from my October 30th performance in Palm Desert.

That's wonderful...and what a great assortment of tunes we will all enjoy! Remember: Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's on Sunday November 27.
for reservations,
818 754-8700

Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview with Juliet Landau

Actress Juliet Landau, best known to television audiences for her portrayal of Drusilla in 17 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) is currently co-starring in John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea @ Crown City Theatre through December 18. In our chat the actress, who is a member of the Actors Studio, talks about what it was like growing up the daughter of famous parents, actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, her favorite plays and what drew her to playwright John Patrick Shanley in the first place.

I heard you did a gala benefit reading of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
This is the centennial year of Williams birth, so I produced a two-evening staged reading of the play, and we raised a ton of money for charity, which was wonderful. We were packed. We got standing ovations, It was really amazing. I brought John McNaughton in. (director of the reading and also of the current production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) We were looking for Stanley, and I e-mailed casting director Bruce Newberg. He had just seen Burn This at the Taper and Matt (Williamson) had gone on as the understudy in the performance, and he said "I think he would be your Stanley" and we met, and it was a great collaboration. We had a wonderful time. We tried to get the rights to do Streetcar, but they were unavailable this time. So, I have always loved John Patrick Shanley and I thought Danny and the Deep Blue Sea would be a wonderful fit for Matt and I and John and for the theatre in terms of the space.

Why do you love Shanley so much?
I love ...his writing is really beautiful. For instance this play is set in the Bronx, but there's a real poetry to the writing as well. And of course, the themes that he explores, there's just a lot of depth and so many layers, and it's incredibly rich, which for an actor that's the gravy, that's the stuff that you love. At a recent talkback, there were a couple of actors in the audience who said that they had not been on the stage in a while and that they got real excited by the play. One of them said "After 8 years, I want to do this again!"

Do you think the play is based on real people Shanley knew?
I do. Well whether specific...I think it might have been a conglomeration of a number of people. It definitely feels likes it's through the osmosis of the neighborhood and that milieu that he was in. Obviously that was absorbed.

From your standpoint, how does your character Roberta transform?
Roberta has an incredible journey. One of the things that's interesting...John Patrick Shanley calls it Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, an Apache Dance. It really is this push and pull between the 2 characters, or you could liken it to a roller coaster; there are such ups and downs in it. Roberta comes from such extreme obstacles; she carries this glimmer of hope that there's a better way, that she can have a better life. Both of the characters are at complete wits end when they meet and literally, if it wasn't for this meeting, they would both end up dead. So from the beginning of the play her emotions are driving her and she shares a lot of what her life has been, which she's never told anybody before. She reveals a lot; Danny ends up revealing a lot. Through a massive push and pull by the end of the play, that glimmer of hope, that hope comes through. She makes quite a journey.

What was your first exposure to Shanley?
I had never worked on his material, but I had read all his plays and seen his films. I had seen other people working on it in acting classes.

Do you bring a lot of material to work on into the Actors Studio?
I have, and I worked for years with my mentor and friend and incredible human being Susan Peretz, who has since passed away. I would always stretch and try new things with her in class in between professional projects.

I'm sure you're asked this question a lot, but what was it like growing up the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain?
To me, it's normal. When I was little, I actually thought that everybody was on their own TV set because everybody in the neighborhood were actors. I remember Rob Reiner lived nearby and he was on his TV. My sister had been friends with Diahann Carroll's daughter; that was before me, but she had been on her TV. Lucille Ball lived around the block and Peter Falk. I went to a friend's house one day and I asked "What time is your parents' show on?" (we both laugh) And they said "What are you talking about?" And I said, "Everybody's on their own TV, aren't they?" They said, "No!"

How old were you then?
I was pretty tiny. What's funny is I grew up to be, I guess, on my own TV. That's how it was. (we laugh some more)

That's really cute.  I mean I grew up on Mission Impossible and I watched both of them and they're both amazing. When did you first feel you wanted to be an actress?
I thought I would never be an actress. I was a dancer.

Did your parents discourage you?
No, not at all, except they didn't want us to do it as kids. They felt like the business is not necessarily a nice business. But they were completely... whatever you want to do when you're not kids anymore... that's fine. But I was a professional ballerina, and I danced professionally for about 4 and a half years. I realize now that I always approached dancing as an actor. To me, even though I was incredibly technically proficient, it was about expressing something. I then started taking some acting classes. I had been finding the dance world a little bit insular, and I loved the fact that you could have a verbal exchange with people, that you could talk about conceptual ideas, and use your body and your physicality as a component to express something but you could also use your voice. So I started acting classes.

When was this?
I studied for probably about 4 years solidly before I started auditioning and got my first job. Then I started getting theatre work, one show and then another show, so that was my progression in becoming an actress.

Did you realize that dancers at a certain age will need something else to rely on besides their physicality?

You'll have to forgive me, but I never saw you in Buffy on TV. Talk a little about the experience and how it enriched your life.
Drusilla was a wonderful role. I and another vampire were introduced as the main villains in season 2 of Buffy and it continued. We were described as the Sid (Vicious) and Nancy of the vampire set, and it was a delicious role. It had a lot of different dynamics. We were villains, but we also had this massive, incredible love affair, and it was just loads of fun. And I get most recognized for it and Angel and for also working with Tim Burton in Ed Wood.

Who is your favorite playwright?
Tennessee Williams, and working on Blanche was such a tremendous experience. When you work on Williams or Odets or Shakespeare or Shanley, the play does so much work for you; you're so supported. You spend a lot of time as an actor where the material is less than deep and your job is to fill it with as much as you can. It's such a joy when you have great material...it feels like it's right there under you holding you and then there are just so many riches in it.

What's up next for you?
I have a movie that's coming out that I just finished doing looping on a few days ago. Dark Hearts that has a really interesting director Rudolf Buitendach. It's his first feature, but he won an award from the BBC for his short film for Best New Director. He's super-talented. I'm very excited, and I play a very different character than I've ever played. Her name is Astrid and she's an artist and art gallery owner. She's sort of beatnik-inspired, dresses like an art piece and is always a little bit stoned and talks with a slight Cajun accent. (she laughs) Then I have some animated stuff and voice overs, so we'll see what happens.

Do you have any idols?

Sure. Some of them aren't here anymore. Marlon Brando. I love Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Gary Oldman. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett...Jodie Foster...

If you had one project to look forward to, what would it be?

...For me it always comes down to the role and the director. Working on this with John McNaughton...he's brilliant.
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Danny and the Deep Blue Sea continues through December 18 at Crown City Theatre in NoHo. Don't miss Juliet Landau & Matthew J. Williamson!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview with Matthew Lillard

Film star Matthew Lillard is now onstage at the Big Victory Theatre in Burbank in the world premiere play Harbor. Star of Scream, Scooby-Doo, SLC Punk and the soon to be released The Descendants with George Clooney, Lillard's first love is the theatre and he makes a return after an eight year absence. In our chat, he talks about Harbor, how it came to be and his other current projects.

How did Harbor come about and what are the challenges in playing your role in it?

I host an acting group at my house every two weeks and we read plays. Jon (Cellini) brought Harbor in to be read, and it played great in the room, and everyone was very excited about it. We were roommates at Circle in the Square for years. I had just come back off of doing a film, and in the back of my mind, months ago, I thought it (the play) would be my comeback into being an actor, having been gone and directing for so long. I decided to do it in the fall between pilot seasons. We put it on paper and committed to it. The challenges...it's outside my wheelhouse, I've never played a guy like this. Tom's a kind of blue collar Boston guy, and you go with the fact that he's wrong, he's the selfish one and you have to find the humanity in what he's doing and saying. It's such a well written play and the challenges are...just keeping him human, grounded so that you can relate to him and that he feels real.

Tell me about your film Fat Kid Rules the World.

It's based on a young adult book that I optioned eight years ago about an obese teenager that in the opening frames of the movie is about to kill himself. He gets saved by this little punk rock guitarist, and they start a band. So it's the trials and tribulations of this American teenager who's overweight and lost in America. It took me eight years to get it, and I'm super proud of it. Its stars Billy Campbell from The Killing, Matt O'Leary and Jacob Wysocki from Terri. It's got a great little cast; we're a small movie, but I think it plays really well. Our music is done by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Let's see what happens.

This is your first direction, correct? How does it feel to switch chairs to director and producer?

It's great. I mean I like being a storyteller. It's the difference between being the quarterback on the bench and the quarterback on the field. I like things hanging in the balance and having it be my responsibility... my fault or my success. Success rests on your shoulders, and I like that responsibility. So much of an actor's process is laying at the hands of other people, and for better or for worse, I've done incredible movies and I've done terrible movies. I like telling the story and I like being in charge of telling the story.

What is your the favorite film you've done?

The Descendants, which is George Clooney's next movie, and that's Alexander Payne's new film after Sideways. Right now there's a lot of buzz for Academy Awards. Clooney will definitely get nominated. To be a part of that, and it's the most exciting movie I've ever been a part of, because it's so high profile in such a critical way. It hasn't been released yet, and already it's odds-on favorite to be all over the Academy Awards. That's really exciting, and then as an actor, SLC Punk, the little independant film I did ten years ago, that's probably my favorite performance to date.

You won some awards for that, didn't you?

I did. I won the Argentinian Film Festival for Best Actor. It was a movie that went under the radar, but it's still around. If I walked down the street right now, there's a bunch of fifteen to twenty year-olds, odds are, that'll come over and say "Hey, you're the guy in SLC Punk." More so than they would Scream or Scooby-Doo.
Punk has such an incredible following.

What are your feelings creatively about Scooby-Doo?

Something like that is a piece of business in my life that ...I mean, can we talk about acting and not talk about the business of acting? Actors have to balance between how do I feed my kids and how do I maintain my dignity. More so now than ever, there's not as much work as there has been. Our industry is completely upside down like a lot of industries in America. Right now it's harder than ever to just get by. To be number one on the call sheet is an excitng place to be, but... Was Scooby-Doo the most rewarding, creative movie I've ever done? Certainly not, but it's been huge in my life and has allowed me to continue to be an actor.

Who are your idols past or present?

I grew up on Jimmy Stewart. If I picked an actor I'd like to be, it would be him. There's just something about his charm...he did drama and comedy effortlessly...he had the opportunity to be everyman.

Do you have a role that you haven't played that you'd like to play?

No, I used to, I really wanted to play George in Our Town. There's a play called Tracers, I didn't get cast in it, and I had to play that role, so I went out and started a theatre company to create the opportunity to play that role. But now I really don't hold on to that quintessential performance, that singular role. To me...all I want to do is continue to work and find things like this. I mean if you could be the first guy to play Brick (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) or the quintessential actor that brings a part to life and makes it definitive, like say a Malkovich...

Maybe yours is right around the corner. Anything else you care to add about the play Harbor?

Being back on stage is awesome. The last thing I did was the European premiere of Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire and the European premiere of Neil LaBute's Bash in London on the West End. That was eight years ago. So, it's great to be back.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interview with Tribute Artist Peter Mac

(photo: Mike Pingel)
Tribute artist Peter Mac happens to be one terrific actor/singer who does his very best work in a dress. In our interview, he talks about how it all started, the characters he honors and his gig at the Gardenia over the next year. Like Charles Pierce and Jim Bailey before him Peter Mac is keeping the art of creating impressions alive and vibrant.

In brief, how did Judy Garland influence you to become a tribute artist? You have an entire show about this Becoming Judy, so be brief, but still in detail. Mention all the personal stuff.

Well, for starters Judy made me just want to perform. I was drawn into that euphoric overwhelming sense of joy that she exuded. As for the impersonation itself? I gathered that Judy was being portrayed by the majority of impersonators as a falling down drunk (except of course by the brilliant illusionist Jim Bailey). And (forgive my French) it pisses me off when some queen dons a sequin jacket and a bouffant wig and launches into tirade about booze and pills. I don’t find humor in someone else’s adversity. Yes, Judy had an addiction problem but it is not why she is so loved and celebrated. Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery not battery.

You have such variety in your shows. I've seen three so far, and each one has been different. Each month has brought us - such a lucky audience - a diversified format! What has been your primary goal? Or what has made you diversify rather than stick with one basic show?

What I do could be described as cabaret stock. There’s summer stock and winter stock, I do Cabaret Stock. So as one show is being put up on its feet we commence to working on another. It’s a great challenge and I love that. I hate to hear an audience to say “Oh, we saw that already!” A show like “Judy in Concert” is always evolving because we keep certain material we need i.e. Trolley Song and Over the Rainbow but then I can add new material as well. Judy’s catalogue of music is enormous. Plus, all of the songs she never got to sing.

How many other characters besides Judy do you tribute? 
There are about a dozen including: Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Peggy Lee, Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, Dame Edna , Little Edie Beale, Gwen Verdon, Helen Reddy.

Which ones are your favorites? Why? Which are the most challenging to pull off?

They all have a special place in my heart. Each one is so uniquely different from the other. I love Tallulah because she was so no holds barred and raunchy. Peggy Lee had such an ethereal quality to her as she got older. It was as if she were in a trance or slightly out of focus, (but still brilliant ) in those later years. It was all about the lyrics with Peggy, what a story teller! In an evening where I do 5 or 6 of them that’s the biggest challenge. Making sure that each lady is her own individual self. Judy is without a doubt the crowning jewel for me.

Anyone you're working on that you'll be adding at some point in the near future? Care to share?

There are definitely new divas coming up for me. Some are musical theatre/film stars, some historical celebrities and a few fictional divas as well. There always has to be a connection for me, which is key. I don’t even think that I pick them anymore rather they pick me.

Tell me more about the play you did in New York that was the basis for Becoming Judy and when do you intend to mount that here?

The show Judy and Me is my autobiography. A six person play .It really is a story about intolerance and the homophobia that I suffered in school and that so many young kids are still plagued with. Twice I contemplated suicide between the ages of 12 and 16 because I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. I attribute a large part of my survival to Judy’s music, movies and her wit. People respond to the show very well…both gay and straight audiences. If you were ever the odd kid out people seem to relate to it. I am hoping that the show will play the west coast eventually. It is such an important story.

Do you like singing as yourself or do you prefer the dress up shows?

I am simply a stage whore, HA! I love any chance to perform. I do enjoy performing as “me”. Don’t forget when I was 15 I started studying voice with the brilliant David Sabella and he taught me so much and helped to mold the tenor I’ve grown into. That being said I went into this business because I love make believe. How’s this? I would love to do a 4 week run of Damn Yankees and play Lola for two weeks and Joe Hardy for two weeks!

Tell me about your wonderful costume designer. How did you two get together and how do you work? I mean, do you give her detailed ideas of what you want, or do you just feed her and she comes up with the goods? They all look terrific!

I’ve worked with several wonderful costume designers over the years. All who have been instrumental in helping to bring Judy to life. I really feel I am in the business of replicating and so I have recreations of several of Judy’s concert/television gowns. Garland fans go wild for that kind of thing. It makes my pretend work that much easier. Just recently I started working a talented young lady, Athena DeCocq, who recreated Judy’s Valley of the Dolls/1967 Palace outfit (top photo) for me and she is already working on two more iconic outfits.

 How is it different to do the show at the Gardenia and then at Oil Can Harry's? You must have two totally divergent audiences! 

It never ceases to amaze me how audiences will vary. Something that works well at one venue may not at another. Tom Rolla’s Gardenia is wonderfully intimate and iconic. It’s the longest running cabaret venue in the country, so that’s an honor. Oil Can Harry’s is whimsical and the demographic is different. I often use Oil Can’s as a workshop for new shows. Both venues are a delight to play.

What plans do you have for 2012 as you fulfill your Gardenia contract?

There are several new theatrical concerts we have planned for Judy in 2012. One in particular I’ve been hoping to do for some time. BUT you will just have to wait and see. I love my audiences to be surprised.

Anything else to add?

You’ve given me this great opportunity to say whatever I want? My you’re a brave man! What I do is a lot of fun and very rewarding and I’m extremely proud of my work but I do wish it were regarded a little higher in the cabaret circuit. There are those who do look down their noses at it. Though I don’t consider myself (and have been told I’m not) a drag queen what I do is an extension of that particular art form and yes, it is an art form. It is a shame that Drag is considered a four letter word and that in some circles female impersonation is a poor bastard relation to be avoided.
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See Peter Mac as himself in Home the weekend of November 25, 26. 27 after Thanksgiving @ the Gardenia and then in The Judy Garland Christmas Show there December 12-17.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spotlight on Pulling Leather's Ted Ryan

Actor Ted Ryan's Pulling Leather is currently on stage @ the Actors Forum Theatre in NoHo. In his first full-length play Ryan has written quite profoundly about love and also plays the central character in the dramedy. In our chat, he tells about what motivated him to pen Pulling Leather.

Give me your background—where you're from, acting training, stage experience, films you've done, etc.
I'm originally from Phoenix, Arizona. I caught the acting bug around the age of fourteen, but my family will tell you I was always the center of attention at holiday parties. I formally trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, both in New York and California. Over the years I’ve done several stage plays including Glengarry Glen Ross and Box 27. Recently, I played a serial killer in the film The Cellmate.

Did Pulling Leather start as a one-act? Or were some of your one-acts related in theme to this play?
Pulling Leather was conceived as a full-length two-act play, but was quite short at first. Over the years it evolved, lost a character, and gained a rhythm I’m very proud of.

What propelled you to write Pulling Leather?
The metaphor of struggling to stay on the horse, as it related to my own personal struggle with life's challenges at the time, just made immediate sense to me. I wanted to write a play about love, loss, and passion. The idea of making the main character a saddle bronc rodeo rider came to me when I saw the movie Brokeback Mountain. It was playing on the television and I became fascinated with the rodeo scenes. So I Googled ‘rodeo’…and have since been to one.
Are any of the characters based on real people, or is it all fiction?
Some, yes; others were just compiled from folks who have come and gone throughout my life. For example, the character of Beth, played with such eloquence by Tess Christiansen, was based on an old friend. Dr Kitner, played compassionately by Larry Lederman, is based on a therapist I used to see as a child, who remains a very close friend to this day. All the characters have stories of my life in them.

What do you want audiences to take away with them—especially regarding love?
The play’s theme is ‘How much would you give up for love?’ I would like the audience to walk away with hope—hope that love and personal passion can happen at the same time. While this may seem like something that should happen, it doesn't always work out that way.

The play is compelling in that your character has a lot of issues to deal with. What do you feel is at the core of Jacob's emotional weakness?
Because of recent circumstances triggering a repressed memory, he finds himself losing his confidence. At his core, Jacob suffers from a sense of loss and a longing for clarity.

Do you have a favorite playwright? Writer?
Sam Shepard, Edward Albee. My two favorite plays are True West and The Zoo Story.

What about actors? Any idols?
There are so many awesome actors out there, but Al Pacino is by far my favorite.

Tell me about Audrey Singer's Tuesday workshop at Actors Forum and how an actor benefits from participating in it.
The Tuesday night workshop is a place for artists to work on their craft. We have singers, writers, actors, dancers... We have fun there. We do good work. We care about and love the theatre.

Anything you care to add?
I’ve been lucky to have this opportunity as an artist. Pulling Leather is very special to me. I look forward to this play’s future.

Actors Forum Theatre
10655 Magnolia Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601-4066
(818) 506-0600