Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with David Campbell

Australian actor/singer/director David Campbell, whose recent CD On Broadway is fast approaching  international success, was in New York this past weekend as an ambassador for G'Day USA and to promote his family album Floodlight to be released in stores in Australia February 1 and already a hit on iTunes. The album is a $4.95 contribution to aid the flood victims in Australia. In our conversation Campbell talks about the album, his background and his busy schedule in Australia as artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed your performance here in LA in November at the Catalina Jazz Club.
Thank you. I had a great time doing it, and I'm going to come back within the next year or so, in more of a cabaret room.

You might like the Inner Circle of the Magic Castle for its size and Hollywood location.
I know, and it's got my favorite...magic. I wish I were a magician.

Oh, yeah. I think magic's really great, and now I have a kid to learn magic. A lot of kids have fathers that are singers, but to have a father that does magic, that's a singular thing, really cool. So maybe I'll try and get some tips if I come back there.

You're in New York to sing tonight (January 28) at G'Day USA. Tell me about that.
It's sort of an Australian/American tradition now that helps get Australian people together here. I've done this a few times here...we've done it at Carnegie Hall, at Lincoln Center and now we're doing a smaller version at Cipriani's. It's myself, the cast of Priscilla (Queen of the Desert), and also the Qantas Choir is performing as well. 

You'll be singing selections from your album On Broadway?  
Yes, a song from my 60s album Good Lovin' with the Qantas Choir, and I think we're all singing "I Still Call Australia Home" together, another Peter Allen song.

Let's talk about the Floodlight album. Terrible tragedy befalling Australia!
Yeah...obviously, these terrible things happened...and for an Australian performer...we go to those areas that were affected by the floods all the time. Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Maribor, Ipswich. The mayor of Ipswich sent my wife (formerly Lisa Hewitt) and me towels. I have all these gifts from him. He's a very generous man; it's a great town. These are all really good people that support artists going through there touring, and my father (Jimmy Barnes) and I felt very strongly.

I was performing at a telethon in Australia for the flood victims; I was singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" and he called me up that night and said "Announce on TV that we are going to release an album!" We had nothing. We had no agreements from any record company or anything like that. But I announced it and within a week we had it on iTunes and within 24 hours it was Number 1. It's 16 tracks from all of our albums. I have many family members and in-laws that perform. So, we all put tracks on the album. It all goes to the Flood Relief Victims. Both record companies got all the rights waved, and we made it very cheap so that people can get 16 tracks. It's done very well, and we're releasing the CD. The interesting thing on there from my dad and I... He, myself and my sister (Mahalia Barnes) did a cabaret show at the Festival in our first year (2009). My dad, in an acoustic mode, sang things like "Around the World", the old Matt Monro song and "Love Me Tender". You get to hear us do harmonies and live stuff together, special stuff that you can't get anywhere else. We just took it off a desk tape and mixed it. But, really for us, it's about giving back to these people who support us around the world. A lot of people tour through there, so I think it's very important that we are there for our fellow people. Queensland is a very large state, the second largest in Australia, and 75% of it was considered a disaster zone.

Being Jimmy Barnes' son, how did you get the name David Campbell?
My maternal grandmother, who brought me up, was married to a man named Peter Campbell, her second husband. I was a kid and he was only around for 4-5 years. He left before I found out who my father was. I kept his name, and when I found out who my dad was in my teenage years, there was a lot of talk of whether I should take his name. It didn't feel right; I had grown up as David Campbell. I guess in a way it's kind of a stage name really; I have no emotional connection to it. My grandmother never had any emotional connection to it, but it felt right and I never changed it. Now it seems great, like starting my own legacy. How many times do you get the chance to do that unless you're making up a name completely for yourself?

Tell me more in detail about the variety of music you grew up appreciating.
I didn't know about my mother being my mother. I thought she was my sister for 11 years. When I found out about my father, I found out about my mother. I was brought up with all these older women. My grandmother was very English, but she loved Nat King Cole...Johnny Mathis is a big favorite of hers. She loved Scott Walker; she loved swing singers as well. And she loved the old movies; we used to watch movie musicals, so I had this sort of connection to that as a kid. And my mother and her sisters would come in on a Saturday night and bring in some wine and would play Motown and the popular stuff of the day, 80s tracks. And I grew up in a very rough area and with my dad being a very rough rock 'n roller too, I had to have all of that as well. It's a really wide gamut of music that I love and listen to. I guess Johnny Mathis was a big vocal influence on me when I was starting out in cabaret. Watching movie musicals, listening to people like John Raitt, Gordan MacRae and hearing that sound a lot - to my grandmother that was the proper way of singing - these are the people I look up to. As I got older into cabaret and found my own voice, I found Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr. Peter Allen, the sort of big showmen that I have an affinity to and work hard to aspire to.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival is a very popular event. You and your wife Lisa are currently artistic directors of it. Tell me more about that.
It's in its 11th year this year and takes place in June. But we work on it all year. This is our third and final year as artistic directors. Last year we had Natalie Cole, which was wonderful and Bernadette (Peters) the year before. We get big acts like that and we also create a lot of young cabaret. It's been very difficult in Australia, because cabaret has sort of painted itself into a corner. People just doing regular shows like a Cole Porter show, and no one really wanted to see it anymore, and when we got to the Festival, the numbers were dwindling, they were not reaching out to big people anymore, so we were very cognizant that we wanted to change it. We wanted to bring cabaret into the 21st century, make it relevant. While we were bringing in Bernadette Peters or Donna McKechnie or Liz Callaway to do that classic New York cabaret style, we were also bringing in fabulous French performers from London like Sarah Louise Young or Frisky & Manish (School of Pop), and then going to Australian performers and saying "Give us something different!" like doing a show with my dad and making him sing something he'd never do live or going to other Aussie rock performers and saying "Do your shows, but do them in cabaret style!" Everyone would embrace that and then that would filter down to really young artists now, from drama schools or musicals. We have this girl who's the lead in Xanadu, Christie Whelan who's incredible. We approached her and said "Britney Spears and cabaret: perfect for you! We're going to get a director. Let's write it and do it." She's done that all over the country to great acclaim.

We try to encourage and build shows around people. We've gone one step further. Last year and this year, we're going to high schools, teach kids about cabaret and I direct two high schools in their professional debuts of cabaret. We're seeing kids that are relating to shows like Glee and dip their toe into this musical theatre/American popular song. I try to make it relate to them, make them tell their stories and we get through it. It's emotional, dangerous, but so exciting to be out there introducing it to the next generation. There was certainly a time when I was coming up, where I didn't feel supported. The support that I got in America I didn't have in Australia when I was staring out. Now the new generation's coming through, as it is here, making it their own.

You are so funny on stage. Is there a role that you really yearn to play?
(laughs) I don't know that there's anything funny that I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to be goofy and wacky on stage. Actually, the less I try, the funnier it starts to get. But I'd love to do Carousel and the other classic musicals. They don't write men's roles any more. Outside of cartoons or people flying around the room... (we laugh)

David Campbell will find an original of his own, he's so creative and fun. Don't miss him when he plays LA, New York, San Francisco in the future and order a copy of On Broadway @ It's a must for serious theatre lovers. And listen to Floodlight on iTunes!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interview - Matt Cavenaugh

Soap heartthrob and Broadway star Matt Cavenaugh has done Urban Cowboy (photo below) and more recently Tony in the 2009 revival of West Side Story. He will costar in Reprise's Gigi opening @ The Freud Playhouse at UCLA on February 16. He took time from his hectic schedule of rehearsals to speak briefly about Gigi, his other work and his new CD.
How do you feel about the short run of A Catered Affair? 

A Catered Affair was a great show. What John Doyle, Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino were attempting to do was quite bold and risky. Perhaps it was a show not quite large enough to compete on the Broadway commercial landscape, but I was very proud to be a part of it. 

What is your favorite musical of all time?   

I’ve been fortunate to be a part of so many great shows it’s hard to pick just one.  Of course I have a special affinity for Grey Gardens and West Side Story.

What was it like to do soaps? 

It was a great change of pace to work in the soap opera world. When I was doing As The World Turns I was also doing Grey Gardens – so those were some very long days! But it was terrific by day to be in front of the camera and by night to be in the theater, onstage in Grey Gardens – one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I’ve has this far. 

Let's talk more about Gigi. Tell me about your role and how it differs from others you've played. 

The role of Gaston is vastly different from any role I have played in my career this far. In some ways Gaston might share some similarity to Joe Kennedy in that Gaston is rich and has a lot of class. Gigi is a comedy of manners of sorts, different from other things I’ve done – which are more American – emphasis on the hard “r “– and there is a quality that we’ve been trying to capture with top hats, canes and gloves and how that changes your behavior. The social norms and etiquette involved in this world are something we are all learning, and something that has informed Gaston – and I get to fall in love with the incredible Lisa O’Hare, who is just so charming and hilarious. I am having a terrific time! I didn’t know Lisa before, I just met her ten days ago, and I fall in love in this show at every performance, which is always terrific.

Anything else of note happening in your life at present?

I’ve got a new CD – something my wife Jenny Powers and I have been wanting to do for a while. We are in the final stages of mixing and mastering, and we will have an official release date to announce soon. Jenny is currently starring in Dangerous Beauty, the new musical premiering at the Pasadena Playhouse.

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Gigi, which is directed by David Lee and also stars William Atherton, Lisa O'Hare, Jason Graae and Millicent Martin plays @ The Freud Playhouse UCLA from February 15-27.

UCLA Central Ticket Office:  310/825-2101

Interviews - Robert "Bobby" Moresco/Pedro Antonio Garcia

Playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia will bring his fascinating Firehouse, based on a real-life incident, in a World premiere, to the Whitefire Theatre, with artistic director Bryan Rasmussen as director, opening Friday, February 4. The piece will play Fridays only at 8 pm. In our conversation Garcia talks about his Puerto Rican roots, how the play developped and its prospects for the Los Angeles audience.

How did you become involved in writing this project?

I was raised in the projects in the South Bronx, and during my lifetime I personally witnessed the conflagration of the neighborhood, as buildings were torched day after day while fire engine sirens wailed throughout the night.  Inevitably, people were killed in these fires, including innocent children.   Along with the devastation caused by gangs and drugs, the Bronx was also physically devastated, often compared to Dresden after the bombings.   When I began my career as a criminal defense lawyer, I represented the community when the city tried to close a South Bronx Firehouse.      Later, I attended the Amadou Diallo rallies following his shooting, and I personally knew members of Diallo’s entourage.   I had discovered afterwards that two of the policemen acquitted in the killing of Diallo are now firemen.    I created the issue of the death of the little girl and the fireman’s choices from my experiences.   When I began writing plays, these matters kept haunting me, so I decided to put them together in a story.   

How long ago did this happen?  Did you change any facts for dramatic purposes?

Although every issue raised is true, the play is an amalgamation of them.   Amadou Diallo was an unarmed African street salesman who was shot and killed by four cops in the South Bronx on February 4, 1999, which happens to be the opening day for this play.     I believe the cops-turned-firemen are still on duty, and the community did protest one of the firemen as a result of the Diallo issue.    I added the fictionalized account of the death of the girl to spark the debate of police abuse and underlying currents of racism within the Police and Fire Departments.   In New York City, about 90 percent of the fire department is white. 

Tell me in detail about  the process of developing Firehouse.

I began writing the play as a playwright with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City under the tutelage of Allen Davis III.    A workshop presentation was held for a five show run at the 47th Street Theater in 2009.   I arrived in Los Angeles in January 2010 to write for the screen.   In October,  I visited a friend, Kamar de los Reyes, the owner of Jo’s  Fitness Center in Sherman Oaks,  adjacent to the Whitefire Theatre.  I asked Kamar to introduce me to the theater’s executive, Bryan Rasmussen, whom Kamar did not know.   Bryan and I began talking, we discovered our similarities, and I gave him Firehouse to read.   He liked it, we spoke about producing it, and he suggested I attend Bobby Moresco’s Writers/Actors Gym, which is held at the Whitefire on Saturdays.  Bobby began reviewing the scenes in his Gym,  giving me the opportunity to sharpen it.   In December, Laura Coker – Bryan’s friend  – attended auditions for Firehouse and decided to produce it.     Thus, a series of fortunate, random events, beginning with a visit to see a friend, led to this production.     It was Bryan’s foresight that opened the possibilities.

What do you think audiences will take away with them or what do you want them to take away?

I believe art has a dual purpose:  to dramatize moral truths through creative expression and to examine society.     For the Firehouse audience, I want them to leave profoundly affected by the work of firemen, their humanity, the culture of the code of silence, the adversity that affects the poor in ravaged neighborhoods, and the moral choices that they face daily.    I want their lives broadened by this that they feel satisfied and moved at the end of the evening.

Do you see a parallel with this story and any of those in Bobby's Crash? 

As in Crash, this work examines moral truths, right and wrong, and the convergence of different sociological aspects of similar events, all reaching a crescendo.    Crash is a tremendous work of great importance.  If this play reaches a sliver of the magnitude of Crash, I’ll be eternally grateful.   As a writer, I derive satisfaction from putting my words on paper – er, computer – and watching the interpretation of the work on stage or film.    

Would you consider adapting the work for the screen?

Firehouse, like Crash, is a perfect fit for the screen:   the relationships of Firefighters and their fights and conflicts among themselves; the fireman whose loyalties are ripped apart as he balances his duty to firemen, the community, and his lover;  the lawyer siding with the community while fighting the firehouse and her fireman-lover; the junkie’s world inside a crackhouse and the savagery of life on the outskirts of law; the politics of racism and police abuse;  the riots in the wake of governmental intrusions; the obligations of the church and its neighborhood; and the daily struggles of the community.        

How was Bobby Moresco's work most helpful to the play?    

 I am fortunate to be part of Bobby Moresco’s Actors/Writers gym, where I was able to run six of the nine scenes of Firehouse for the gym participants.   He further suggested that I fine tune the moments that mean something, to get the most out of them, to raise the stakes.  As a result, the play became clearer and more focused.  
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Academy Award-winning screenwriter Bobby Moresco (Crash) serves as consulting producer of Firehouse. In our interview he discloses his artistic reasons for encouraging the production of Garcia's riveting work.

How did you react to Pedro Garcia's Firehouse when he first brought it to the Actors Gym!

The first thing that I liked about felt to me that this is a playwright who is trying to understand something, not only about the human condition and how people deal in situations, which is what we all look for...but I felt that he was after bigger issues and dealing with them in a small human way. I think that's what good writing is always about. If we get inside of people's heads and put them into situations that are pressure-cookers and we find out who they really are, that reflects, for me anyway, a bigger issue about the world around us. That's a cool thing to be involved in. I remember clearly the Amadou Diallo situation...and if you know anything about the work I've been involved in, I'm attracted to the idea of moral complexity: you're not quite sure who's right or who's wrong; there's no black and white. Pedro was after "what the hell really happened?" in a case like that.

Give me the details of the case of Amadou Diallo, upon which the play is based.

A black man in New York City coming out of his house, evening or might have even been dark...there was a mugging or shooting nearby and the police were looking for a suspect. He was described as an African American, and this kid, who was a vendor, coming out of his house...the police thought he fit the description and they took out their guns...he didn't speak English all that well; they told him to keep his hands up; he thought they were asking for his identification; he reached into his wallet; one of the police thought he was reaching for a gun, and they shot the man...41 times. 41 times. On the surface of that, one would think "those sons-a-bitches, they shot an unarmed man 41 times, there is no excuse". On the other hand, if they really thought that there was a gun, then that one shot led to more shots makes it a more complex situation. They could have shot the man 41 times because they hated black people or it could have been a more complex situation, an untenable crisis that led to Amadou Diallo's death. Having said all that, understanding that in a dramatic context is a cool endeavor. I don't think Pedro is looking to point fingers at anybody, and I like that.

Tell me more about your Actors' Gym.

The Actors' Gym is a company I opened in 1978 in Los Angeles and then moved it to New York when I moved there, and brought it back here when I moved back to LA. It's essentially a group of  actors, writers and directors who come once a week, bring in work put it up on stage...not unlike the Actors Studio, we talk about the work. We examine ways and try to offer help to each other to take the work to a better place. We developed Crash there. Paul (Haggis, co-screenwriter of Crash and writing partner) and I brought the script in, we read it with the members who gave feedback and we made changes that we thought were helpful. The Actors Gym is for people who have been around and who don't need a teacher. They've done their studying; they just need to keep working to hone their craft. If you can't sit and listen to a piece of criticism about your work and throw away the 80-90% that is not going to help you, and take the 10% that is going to help, then it's not a good place for you. We meet once a week currently at the Whitefire Theatre.

As consulting producer of Firehouse, what did you do?

I helped to develop the writing of the play at the Actors Gym. Bryan (Rasmussen) and Pedro have done everything. I've done, quite frankly nothing except offer whatever help I could in terms of the writing. I was happy to do that. I think this a playwright with a voice. The human being is complex. He contains multitudes. It's not always what we think it is. That's what interests me about drama and I think Pedro explores deep and is trying to get there. I hope it all goes well.

What's up next for Bobby Moresco? What are you working on?

A movie for Universal that I've written that Todd Field is directing called Hubris that I'm really excited about and a new pilot that I've written that I'm supposed to direct for Fox. Also there's a play by Bill Hoffman that we developed at the Actors Gym and are doing a reading of soon. Some of the actors involved are Michael Stahl David (Cloverfield), Saverio Guerra (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Patrick Brennan (The new Twilight movie), and Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy). New play, new playwright. Important stuff!
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Opens:  Friday, February 4, 8pm
Runs:  February 4 – April 29, 2011
Plays:  Fridays ONLY, at 8pm
Whitefire Theatre,  13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
Tickets: or (323) 822-7898